Friday, May 13, 2005

So Long

the scribe said goodbye to the L.A. County Labor Federation Chief Miguel Contreras today with a couple of thousand other members of the working family.

All the wonderful texture of the union movement was present. The always checkerboard panoply of names: pipefitters, probation officers, home health care workers, electricians, musicians and janitors...

...the same mosaic of faces that speak a truth of how labor cuts across all race and cultural lines, because all races and cultures need a good wage and some fairness on the shop floor, in the office conference room, the kitchen.

the scribe interviewed Contreras a number of times as he did Miguel’s wife Maria Elena Durazo. She led a Latino rebellion at Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees Local 11 back in 1986 which the scribe tuned into as reporter largely because Maria Elena was a captivating rebel girl.

The International in Washington D.C. sent Contreras in to establish some order and he and Ms. Durazo fell in love. Or something like that.

Later the scribe interviewed for a job as Durazo’s personal assistant and, after that, as an aide to Contreras in the PR vein.

the labor movement, never quite sure of what to do with its poets and overly romantic fellow travelers, passed on the scribe’s services, and that’s okay, too.

L.A. Labor lined-up behind the individual union colors at Cesar Chavez Ave. and Grand Avenue for a brief uphill (pretty symbolic) walk to the big new cathedral designed by the architect from Seville, Spain, Rafael Moneo.

It was an all-out labor affair - very few radicals of the farther left on hand - and the pilgrims wore t-shirts bearing and blaring their many affiliations - a striking code of colors and acronyms.

the scribe stood at the back of the cathedral awaiting the pallbearers to bring the casket inside. Among those recognized were: Jono Shaffer, from SEIU Justice for Janitors; Rick Icaza, leader of the local food and commercial workers union; Actor/director Rob Reiner; Paul Schrade, the United Auto Workers intellectual and staffer on the distant presidential campaign of Bobby Kennedy, Donald Cohen from San Diego’s Center for Policy Initiatives and many more hurt and weary and familiar faces.

Upon entering the cathedral one was met by members of the United Farmworkers Union and UNITE-HERE lining both sides of the corridor some thirty yards to the back, holding the black and red flags of their unions.

A bagpipe playing “Amazing Grace” led the procession, which stopped at the top of the cathedral. A single person began to clap and what seemed an awkward moment transpired as if the crowd of trouble-makers and rabble-rousers seemed to doubt the appropriateness of applause in a big cavernous cathedral.

But whatever doubts there were soon gave way to a torrent of clapping that built to three separate crescendos during an uninterrupted five minutes. Contreras’ young son’s grief burst out at the rumbling evidence of his father’s work, and mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, whom the Labor Fed did not endorse, helped him along with an arm over the shoulders.

It was the most staggering scene the scribe has witnessed in 20 years of observing local labor. A man and his moment, without the man. A project constructed - at its apex even - suddenly bereft of its architect and lost.

The emotion was swallowed soon thereafter in Catholic ritual and the scribe, who marches but does not pray, headed out into the bright sunshine that is always so out-of-place on sad days in Los Angeles.

These days it has been windy. Looking back at the vast plaza constructed in front of the church, the scribe watched gusts knock over a few of the flower arrangements dozens of unions had sent in their fallen brother’s honor. A man in a suit stumbled to pick them up, his tie whipped back over his shoulder.

It was that kind of day, brutally beautiful, too bitter and just a little sweeter.

No comments: