As I come in for yet another day on the docks the hopelessness of my fellows surrounds me like a shroud – every day we come here, load and unload the cargo of big business for shit wages and no benefits to speak of so that we might eek out an existence while some fat cat executive sits on a gold-plated sofa and complains about how ungrateful we are for being here: “Don’t you know just how hard it is to get a job today?” he asks, “you should consider yourselves lucky to have such an opportunity.”
Yeah, lucky – ever since our union sold us out we’ve been struggling to keep roofs over our collective heads. “The company is struggling,” the union reps say. “Profits are down and all of us have to make sacrifices – look, the CEO just sold one of his three corporate jets! Everyone is cutting back!” Well, the executive can make a decent living without his goddamn jet: those 10-15% reductions in salary and the loss of medical insurance place most of us on the edge of a razor!
“Jorge!” calls out a familiar voice – I turn about to see that Dmitri Stavros, a man I’ve known since I first started working here nearly five years ago, has come to bring me the day’s news and rumors. “Did you not hear?” he says in his thick Mediterranean accent, “The word going around is that there’s going to be a strike: after all the concessions we’ve made the union finally wants to stand its ground, or so people believe…”
Yes, the executives would want us to believe that – every time the word “strike” comes up in a union meeting strange things happen. It’s not uncommon for union officials that seriously contemplate such things to be suddenly added to the missing persons list or die under “unusual circumstances”: One that comes to mind right away involves an organizer that just happened to get crushed under a freight container the day before the strike was scheduled – a cable on the crane just happened to “break loose” as he was spotting the position on the dock for the crane operator (who originally started work here as a scab during the last strike – which is more than a little suspicious considering that he’s also the brother of the shift manager, but I digress…).
Bottom line, such occurrences have prevented any kind of protest action against corporate from ever getting off the ground – yet we’re still expected to believe that our union effectively represents us and has our interests at heart. What a joke!
“I wonder who’s going to be the next unfortunate soul to meet his fate before this one too is called off?” he sarcastically wonders allowed – “Ah well, better get cracking: our quotas have been raised again, as usual, and the bosses are just looking for an excuse to be rid of us veteran workers – our positions are better filled by the young and dumb types that work for half the pay.” We both have a laugh at our pathetic plights and get to work for slave drivers that are slowly tearing out pieces of our souls…
The day is done and I return to my home – a dilapidated house on the edge of the slums. Thanks to the crash in real estate my cousin and I got this place cheap while the nation was celebrating the inauguration of it’s first black president. For a while I bought into the hype and believed that things were looking up – too bad I did not recognize that the new president, as with the house (with it’s rusted plumbing, asbestos ceilings and termite-ridden frame), were not all they were cracked up to be. In both instances I was sold a bill of goods.
As I come through the front door of this building which I had sunk countless hours into repairing to the point of habitability, I find my cousin Jeffe – a man I would have long ago thrown out if I didn’t need the money he brings in from his drug trade. While I have nothing against personal use, I find the thought of deriving profit from the sale of poison offensive and would not tolerate it if I myself were not struggling to get by: I suppose that makes me something of a hypocrite, but at least I can admit to myself that I’m too poor to afford morals.
“So, how goes the work on the docks?” he inquires of me as he slouches over an old sofa I had reupholstered at least twice. “They cracking that whip over you even harder than usual?” he says sarcastically, knowing full well what goes on there. I respond by telling him that at least I’m earning an honest, legal living to which he quips “honest and legal trades might build character, but they don’t make much bread – which is why you need me.” As much as my pride is hurt I can’t deny the truth of his words: nonetheless I can feel the guilt of my own complacency towards his deeds eating away at my soul and I badly need to purge myself of it – thus I grab a sandwich out the fridge for a quick supper, reach for my coat and prepare to leave for church (as I have done at least three times a week since I was a boy).
As I head for the door, Jeffe quips to me that God has forsaken us – that there’s no one looking out for us but ourselves. I try to make a snappy comeback of my own, but I’m tired: the youth of abundant faith I once was is now long gone – all that remains is a weary man hoping for salvation from himself and a world of pure evil that surrounds him.
I leave the house and begin walking through the neighborhood on my way to church – taking in the sight of deterioration that surrounds me. When I first came here there were a number of local businesses that were flourishing: taquerias, hair salons and other specialty shops lined the streets – sure, they took a hit to their business during the housing crash but we believed that genuine change was right around the corner and that the worst was behind us. Over the years those shops closed up and were replaced with liquor stores, crack houses and brothels (and now even the liquor stores are struggling – what does it say about a society when one can’t even afford the booze to drown his troubles in?); my heart sinks when I look at the rot around me, but there’s no escaping it.
After about six blocks I reach the old church – even here the rot is visible as one looks at the statue of Christ on the front lawn worn away by erosion from acid rain and peeling varnish on the doors leading to the sanctuary. However, inside I find a place of solitude: a refuge from the evils of the world that surround me – it’s here that I’ve spent many hours in prayer and confessed my sins, even my sins of necessity, to the priest so that I might be unburdened of all that which weighs down my soul.
However, it’s become harder to get that solace I seek here – year by year by year my faith in the wisdom of God has been wearing away just like the statue out front. During times of prayer I find myself thinking such terrible thoughts such as “if the wicked go unpunished, then perhaps they are meant to succeed – if that’s so, is God wicked for preordaining their success?” I try to purge these blasphemous notions from my mind, yet they continue to pop up even as I partake of the Eucharist: as the body and blood of the Lord pass through my mouth, all I could think of was the bosses down at the docks eating me and the fruits of my labor – wondering if, at heart, all men are cannibals. These unholy imaginings are driving me to insanity!
Failing to find comfort at church, I head home – passing the same stench and decay once more – and drink myself to sleep. The last thought that goes through my mind before finally passing out is “God, if you’re there, please end the suffering and misery we endure.” And all fades to black…
I come to work the next morning with a slight hangover and resume a dull, miserable existence – slaving for the pittance that the company deems fit to give me once again. As I report for the shift I hear a number of my co-workers speaking among themselves: they say that the strike is off (surprise…) after a few key union officials changed their votes on the matter – allegedly after death threats were made against them. Regardless of what the real reason for calling it off was, it’s apparent that the union no longer offers so much as the appearance of resistance to corporate and its ever-increasing demands on labor.
I try to forget about the weak and helpless union and focus on my work – I need to make an honest living as a matter of pride! I refuse to debase myself as my cousin has done: I refuse to take part in criminal activities to support myself – and if that means I must toil away under working conditions that are increasingly overbearing, then that’s what I must do!
After my shift I check the performance postings at the office – I’m barely making the minimum quota to stay employed, but then again so are all the veteran workers: people who once posted well above quota regularly and received incentive bonuses for doing so are now struggling just to keep pace – it’s as though we are rats on a wheel running ever faster only to go nowhere. And the young bloods among us; most will be gone by the end of the month – there’s no point in old timers like me worrying about them when we are barely keeping our heads above water.
I leave the office feeling even more dismayed than I was before – with performance expectations constantly rising, wages shrinking, benefits disappearing and the union impotent I can’t tell you how much longer I will even have a job. Another three months? Six months, maybe? How long until I’m broken and entirely reliant on Jeffe? To lose my position here will only validate everything he’s done, and such a thought is almost as terrifying to me as being thrown out on the streets – such a vindication of his drug-dealing lifestyle can only break my spirit and crush what little dignity I have left!
As my shift comes to a close I feel my heart sink into my chest as my mind whirls over what I will do when the walls close in on me, then Dmitri approaches me and says that he has something he wants to discuss over a drink – I ask him for details, to which he replies “not here, the walls have ears.” Dmitri isn’t usually the secretive type so I know whatever he has to say is important: I agree to meet him and discuss the matter – after fetching my things from the locker room I head out to the bar we agreed upon, take a table in the back and await Dmitri for a full five minutes before he arrives; after we order ourselves a couple of scotches Dmitri informs me of some startling events.
“As you already know,” he begins “the union has officially declared the strike is off. However, there are a few of us that are planning to declare one on our own – if the union won’t act we will.” After pausing to sip some scotch he continues on, telling me about a handful of ex-union reps that are organizing a large portion of the workers in secret: the plan is that in about two weeks anywhere between one quarter and one third of the labor force will simply not report in for their shift and gather at a park in the center of the city – from there, the plan is to march towards city hall and air their grievances before the nation.
After processing this for a minute, I have some concerns about the march. “While the plan is bold, and certainly boldness is needed right now,” I reply to his outlined plans, “I fear that this will end badly – you do remember what happened to the Citizens Against Police Brutality march last year, yes? The police shot over 100 people that day!” I take a sip of my own scotch, put my head in my hands and listen in utter amazement to the words coming out of my own mouth: “if we’re going to do this, we need something to keep the police at bay – we need weapons.” I’m looking down at the table, realizing that I’m starting to sound like my cousin now and I half-expect Dmitri to distance himself from me for such remarks.
As I look up from the table I see seriousness written all over Dmitri’s face – “allow me to tell you a story” he says with a demeanor like an undertaker. “Some years ago in my native Greece I was a trucker: we had been saddled with all manner of expenses we couldn’t pay out of pocket and our union resorted to strike – around this time the economy was just starting to show the signs of decay. Our company refused to meet our demands, the strike continued and eventually the president threatened to call out the army to break the strike; we had no choice but to accept the terms dictated to us.”
From there, he tells me the details of how a civil war broke out and how he and a few members of his family escaped to the U.S. believing that things were better here – only to find out that we were on the same downward spiral. “Back then,” he continues, “I thought that trouble could be outrun if I just stayed ahead of it: but now, I have nowhere left to run – I can’t go back to Europe, Canada is closing its borders and Mexico is experiencing non-stop drug-related violence. I can’t run anymore, so fighting is our only option.” He takes another sip of his scotch, looks me in the eye and presents me with the question I was hoping he wouldn’t ask; “can you get those guns?”
This is not an easy thing for me to do – over the last few years firearms restrictions have tightened to the point where one needs to acquire a license to even buy a gun (such licenses start at $300 for basic shotguns and go up from there). Also, sales of various weapons have been prohibited altogether: any rife that holds more than five rounds is considered an “assault rife,” any shotgun that holds more than two rounds is considered a “combat shotgun,” any handgun that holds more than seven rounds is considered a “high capacity” weapon – and all are prohibited to civilians by law. In short, there’s no way I can get the weapons needed to fend off the cops through any legal channel.
I take a deep breath, think over my response carefully and reply in one single word – “yes.” Jeffe has all the illegal contacts for tactical weapons and equipment and keeps a few caches at various locations to defend his drug-running business: if anyone can get me those weapons, he can. I feel a knot form in my stomach at the thought of relying on him and his wicked ways yet again, but I know I don’t have much choice; without some means to keep law enforcement at bay, we are defenseless and will in all likelihood be killed when the establishment runs out of patience for us.
Shortly after this conversation we part ways – Dmitri tells me that he intends to meet with a few other key workers to plan out the details of the strike, but all I want to do is rid my soul of the guilt I just had placed upon it. I return to the church, I light candles and say prayers but I gain no relief from it: all I can think about are the words of my cousin about how God has forsaken us – that there’s no one looking out for us but ourselves. Failing to find any comfort in my faith, I head back home to humble myself before the resident drug dealer and ask for his help…
I’m now standing in an apartment with a camcorder overlooking the city streets – my eyes scan over the throngs of people that have assembled with the striking dock worker one moment then turn inwards to see men armed with heavy military-grade hardware: and in this moment I quietly whisper to myself “how did I end up here?” Of course, I know damn well what happened but I’m still in a state of shock and disbelief that it has come to this: I could only get so many weapons from Jeffe’s contacts (no easy feat considering that these Back Flag people have so many associates to supply: biker gangs, Libertarian militias and even some crazy new drug kingpin with a street name I can’t pronounce) – mostly M2 Berretta handguns and tactical shotguns with half a dozen M16A2 rifles.
After going through the arduous task of getting enough firepower to equip about two dozen of the 500 or so striking workers, the organizers voted to throw me out (only Dmitri dissented) – they believe me to be some kind of provocateur because I don’t believe that we should be defenseless against an assault by the police (assaults they claim don’t happen without provocation – HA!).
So here I am – once again relying on the contacts Jeffe has to provide security for the protest. I’m no longer officially a part of it: These men they sent for what they call an “active defense” in the event of police brutality are by far some of the most frightening individuals I’ve known – the large black man (who apparently is the leader) has a look in his eye that can kill just by glancing, the young fellow they keep referring to as “Tater” (must be an inside joke) appears overly eager to shoot at the police every time they come into view; as though he has a vendetta or something against them. Then there’s the man with the grenades – the way he holds that launcher it looks like he was born with it attached to his arm and the way he calmly glances down at the streets like a hawk searching for prey keeping his hand just below the trigger of his weapon – it creeps me out!
To be honest, if Jeffe didn’t vouch for these people I would run at the first opportunity – but now the die is cast and there’s nothing I can do but wait and record these events for future reference. I just hope that these guerrillas don’t take me for a liability when all this is over as I would hate to have them for enemies.
God help me…