Robert J. Gregg ~ The Makings of a President

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President Draper remembered an incident in Chicago, still very vivid, no trifling matter.  He and Andy were scheduled to speak at a trade union get-together.  It was one of those days in which there had been no time to check beforehand exactly what the political basis was to each scheduled appearance.  There were group interests to be considered, approval or disapproval to be expressed, promises to be made.  The two were bussed from one place to another, the only breathing space, the few moments while the other made his speech and his promises.  There were hands to be shaken, cheering, applause, backs to be patted, old party boys to congratulate, then on to the next meeting.  Actually both enjoyed themselves immensely.

On that particular day, late afternoon and still going strong, they were dropped off at a huge parking lot in the industrial part of town.  There were banners and flags and crowds of people standing around apparently waiting for them.  As they moved through the crowd toward a speakers’s platform that had been erected in the middle of the parking lot, the people close to them began to hiss and boo.  There were policemen interspersed through the crowd and a ring of police holding shields at the south parking lot exit.  Several police cars were in evidence.   The place was packed.  Great.

This was the kind of meeting both liked.  The hissing would soon turn to cheers.  This would bring some life back into what had that day become a rote speech give and take, no challenge.  But they soon thought otherwise.  The crowd was not there for political speeches, a good time to be had by all.  They had been locked out.  The factory with its main offices in the building adjacent to the parking lot belonged to an important manufacturer of automobile parts.  The workers had a personal gripe, and had threatened to strike.  The owners of the factory, feeling they had done far more than enough to meet the constant demands of the union, decided to remain firm, the union got tough, votes were taken, a strike seemed imminent.  The owners acted first; they locked them out.  Neither labor nor management considered concessions of any kind.  Each side had had enough.

Unaware of all this, both Draper and Andy shoved and pushed their way toward the large platform that dominated the parking lot.  Andy climbed up on to the platform thinking the brief lull in the general pandemonium meant that it was his turn as the first speaker to take the rostrum.  The first tomato hit him in his second sentence and splattered his suit jacket.  The second, rather juicy and very rotten, got him squarely on the cheek.  Andy broke off with the nice words and got some good four-letter beauties in before the next tomato sailed by and struck Draper standing behind him.  The driver of their bus made his way to the front and shouted to Andy and Draper on the platform, “Its a strike, a strike.  They think you’re management.“  There had been a speaker on the platform when Andy arrived.  He saw him make a quick retreat through the police ring at the south exit of the lot.  The police let him through then closed up again.  They looked pretty serious, but they didn’t look like they were preparing to make their way through the crowd to the speakers’ platform to help Andy.

“There are peaceful ways to solve this,“ Andy shouted.  The crowd roared.  Draper joined Andy at the microphone.  Unfortunately he looked more like top management than Andy.  His words were drowned out in boos, whistles, and chants that told him politely what he could do with his factory.

There were signs among the crowd.  Autoworkers and teamsters.  Either the teamsters were part of the work force or they had simply been sent in as support.  Teamsters have a way of thinking that nothing really gets solved unless they mix in with a little muscle.  Andy kept his place at the mike.  “We’re with you,“ his voice boomed.  “Listen to us.“  The crowd didn’t listen.  They started moving toward the platform.

Draper stood next to Andy and together, both tried to shout something to the crowd.  It wasn’t heard.  And the crowd was angry.  “Tell us what’s wrong.  That’s what we’re here for.“  That didn’t help.  A group of men climbed onto the platform and grabbed Draper and Andy before they could even think of running.  Draper was slugged.  His nose started to bleed.  The police began to move in.  Andy was pinned down, his shirt and jacket torn off him.  Andy fought like a wildcat.  Andy grabbed the microphone and shouted into it, his voice carrying across the square, commanding but somehow still friendly.  “Calm down!  All of you.  Play it easy!“  His voice rang out clear.  He was not much more than just a kid, but his voice was a booming canon.  “Calm down!  Calm down!“

Three big teamster truck drivers were trying to hold him but couldn’t.  His undershirt was ripped down the front; his tie still in place hung over his bare chest.  “Calm down!“ he shouted into the microphone he held in his hand.  Someone grabbed his shirt from behind and ripped it off.  One of the truck drivers managed to get the microphone away from Andy.  Andy grabbed it back and shouted again, “Calm down!“  His words were starting to have an effect.  Two men holding Draper let him go and turned to the crowd.  Both held up their hands, waved the crowd back.

Others in the crowd followed suit, fought for attention, waved their arms back and forth and shouted “Calm down.“  The police slowed their advance and lowered their shields enough to show their faces, for the moment no longer the challenge of blind authority, suddenly not exactly the enemy, the change in atmosphere immediate.      Andy’s “Calm down“ came over the loud speakers, this time, no command, this time, a voice enjoining order.

“Calm down,“ Andy repeated, and calm began to spread.  People backed away from the speakers’ platform.  One of the teamster tough guys on the platform still held Andy’s left arm in an armlock behind him.  Andy didn’t seem to care.  He held the microphone in his free hand and called for attention.  Draper had been released and was trying to stop the bleeding, the hankerchief already bright red, his suit jacket in shreds, but still in a fighting mood, no coward, this man Draper.

The teamster managed to hold on to Andy, but couldn’t keep him from speaking.  “We came to tell you to ‘Get Out the Vote,’“ he said.  “This was supposed to be a political meeting, not a wrestling match.  Somebody here has made a mistake.  If this meeting has anything to do with politics, then Senator Draper and I have made a mistake.  You don’t sound like the voters we’re after.  But if it has something to do with a strike, then you’re making the mistake.  Its difficult to negotiate at the same time that someone is trying to break your arm behind your back.“

The teamster let go of Andy’s arm and backed off.  “Why not make room for someone from the company to address us.  They probably can hear my voice from where they’re standing.  I’m sure they heard you.“  The crowd began to laugh.  Slowly they opened a way to the south exit.  The police in the meantime had pulled back to their original positions around the exit and the southern half of the parking lot’s periphery.

Andy noticed that there were also women in the crowd.  He directed his attention to them.  “Why don’t you women quiet down some of the noisier of the men around you.  I can hardly hear myself.“  The crowd roared with laughter.  Andy was a sight.  Except for the tie still hanging around his neck, he was naked from the waist up.  Senator Draper stood next to him, smiling at Andy’s jokes, his nosebleed stemmed but his shirt, tie and jacket red with blood.  This didn’t seem to bother him.  The two men, Andy and Draper, on the speakers’ platform looked at each other and began to laugh, and the crowd laughed with them.  Teamsters may be rough, but they recognize two good fighters when they see them.  The striking auto workers from the factory, too, had had their say and began to applaud.  The police were laughing, too.

Two men and a woman crossed the street from the factory offices and walked through the parking lot entrance.  A hush went up from the crowd.  The police opened their ranks and the crowd moved aside enough to form a lane to the speakers’ platform.  The three made their way to the platform and climbed up the steps.  Andy and Senator Draper remained on the platform.  The teamster driver and the others who had fought with Andy and Draper jumped down.

Five people stood on the platform now and looked first at one another and then at the crowd.  The woman, who could have been his mother, smiled at Andy.  Then she turned to the crowd.  “We’ve been making axles for almost a hundred years.  We’re proud of that.  For a good many years there was hardly a vehicle on the road that wasn’t equipped with one of our axles.  Things have changed since then.  The market has changed.  There are other good axle manufacturers around nowadays, and there are different types of axles besides those we’re known for.  But we’re still here.

“We had intended to fight on so that our children would be able to boast as much as we do.  But for the first time in the history of the company, we considered closing down.  A manufacturing company is not just a group of managers, shareholders and a few of us of the original founders; it is a whole family.  Office, factory, sales, engineering; we all belong together.“  She paused to catch her breath.  “Everyone has a job to do and a responsibility to fill.  Mr. Bonner, who you all know, tells me that the company is in trouble.  It is not management’s mistake that has caused it; for the most part, its the market situation that is to blame.  Perhaps we should have invested money in more modern machinery, computerized more of the operations than we did, sourced out some of the work overseas like others have done, but we did not, not because we were being considerate or because the financing was not available, simply because it didn’t seem to be necessary.

“But recently we discovered that we had to adjust to the changing conditions of the market.  It has become global, and the competition is suddenly right around the corner although its on the other side of the globe.  We studied the problem and we began to discuss it with you.  You blocked us at every turn.  The alternatives open to us disappeared one by one.  It was exasperating.  We did not know what to do.  The family still owns enough stock to make the necessary decisions.  Mr. Bonner called us together to discuss the situation.  Because of the losses we are incurring, one of the possibilities we were forced to keep in mind was to close the company.  All of us found this unacceptable.“

No one in the crowd made a sound.  No one moved.  The police listened as intently as each of the factory workers.  The teamsters in the crowd, who were strangers to the area and had been bussed in as supporters, were also silent.  They looked around them and felt the hush of the crowd; also they were moved by the surprisingly strong but sympathetic tone of the woman addressing them.  Two boys began to shout strike slogans, but were quieted down by the men around them.

Mr. Bonner and the assistant manager in charge of production stood behind the woman holding the microphone.  They made no attempt to add to what she was saying, their demeanor was enough; it said everything.  There was nothing to add.  The woman represented the owner family, over twenty percent of the outstanding shares, and it was clear that management and the family were of one accord.

“Your last demands were too much for us.  We are as much a part of the community as you are.  We can do no more than what we deem is possible without destroying everything that has been built up over the many years of the company’s existence.  I repeat, we are as much a part of the community as you are.  We may not be so dependent as each of you are on the paycheck you take home, but the work means as much to us as it does to you.  We can no more afford to lose it as you can, for it is our livelihood, too.“  She paused again.

“Before I go on, does anyone have a jacket for this young fellow behind me.  The way he spoke before, I almost feel as if he is one of us; I mean all of you and my family, our office and our management.  Will someone lend him a jacket?“

Hardly before she had finished the question, a jacket was reached up to Andy from someone in the front row.  Someone else reached a raincoat up to Senator Draper, which he put on, the blood on his shirt and suit covered somewhat.  Neither of the two said a word.  A ‘thank you’ was not expected.  Suddenly, all were family.  Everyone felt it.  It was also obvious that Senator Draper did not intend to address them as a politician.  The woman had the microphone, and what it was she had to say was the only thing worth listening to.

The woman continued.  “It was perhaps wrong of us to close the doors on you, but you also were wrong.  You closed the doors on us, too.  But be assured, that closing you out did not and does not represent our decision of what to with the company and least of all what to do to solve the problems the company has before it.  We are part of this community, and you are part of this community.  We have different functions, and these functions may well mean that we see things very differently.  Nevertheless, we are dependent on each other.  We have to talk.

“Its useless for me to repeat the old cliché that we all have to make sacrifices for that’s what started all the troubles which led to today’s demonstrations.  I understand that the sacrifices that seem to be necessary ask much more of you individually than it does of us measured in terms of dollars and cents, hardship and loss, although I’m not so sure of the ‘hardship and loss’ part.  We all lose if the company closes.  I can’t offer you any solutions today, none of management can.  But I insist in saying that a certain amount of togetherness is necessary, that perhaps by talking we can better see the problem through your eyes, perhaps even find solutions that will be less painful than those we have already begun to initiate.“

The woman hesitated a moment and looked at the crowd in front of her.  She seemed to look at each one.  She seemed to give the impression that she knew each one.  We are a community her words had said.  Now her look said the same thing.  “Please come back to work tomorrow.  It is true that some of you will lose your jobs, but let us try together to keep it at a minimum or perhaps even to find another way.  Let us talk and work together.“

The woman turned around and accompanied by the two men from management left the speakers’ platform and made her way slowly through the crowd to the  southern exit.  No one said a word.  Slowly the people in the park began to leave.

Andy and Senator Draper gave back the jacket and raincoat that had been given them and walked out slowly with the rest of the men and women and young people there.  The driver of the bus that had chauffeured them from one political meeting to the next was waiting for them at the exit.  Together the three returned to the bus.  Luckily, Andy had an extra sweater in the bus.  He pulled that on.  The driver took off his own sweater and gave it to Senator Draper, who draped his suit jacket over one of the seats, beyond repair, but now, part of one of the most indelible memories that would accompany him through his ascendancy to President of the United States.

 

The Makings of a President is extracted from Qui Tacet – Two Deaths & A Democracy, the newest thriller from Robert J. Gregg available exclusively on Amazon.com from Hammer & Anvil Books.

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