GALLO BROTHERS


 "River Jerd'n
  Chilly an' col'...


        One of my first experiences in the working-class world of blue-collar America occurred shortly after I reached the age of sixteen.  My father, who had worked in the harbor of San Pedro, California on weekends as a Teamsters' helper for many years, allowed me to assume his relatively high number position on the casual labor board.  So very early on summer mornings I would often endure the long fifty miles or so of crowded L.A. freeway traffic to load cargo into trucks as members of the Longshoremen’s union unloaded it off of the ships newly arrived at port.  We used to take home boxes of bananas that were too ripe to truck to the markets, sometimes along with an uninvited little green snake hiding in the bottom and we would pass this throwaway fruit out to our neighbors on the block.  The snakes who control large grocery-chain corporations eventually put a stop to this, hiring armed guards to patrol harbor refuse bins.  Similar to what is described in John Steinbeck's The Grapes Of Wrath, they were content to let good food rot in dumpsters rather than allow a little fruit to be passed gratis around the neighborhoods of their faithful working-class customers and thus, a few all-important nickels were prevented from falling out of their bulging billion-dollar corporate coffers. ¹

        Being unwilling to suffer through the incredible boredom of an American classroom any longer and, due to extreme nearsightedness, having been declared ineligible for the draft headed for the war in Vietnam, by the age of eighteen I was instead, working in a can factory and then, a furniture factory, a marble sink factory and a pizza delivery 'factory'.  I was fortunate to have a friend whose father was employed by Gallo Wine Company and, upon my friend convincing him that I was a worthy hand of potential, his father recommended me to Gallo's truck driving division.  This opportunity initially consisted of a lot more truck loading than driving, but being controlled by the Teamster's union, the wages were almost double what I had been earning based on the power of my own meager resume and so, it did not take a whole lot of convincing for me to sign on.

        In a closed union shop such as Gallo Wine Company (actually three different union locals within the same shop), virtually no one was employed because they had applied at the door.  Rather, workers there tended to obtain jobs the old fashioned way; i.e., they had a brother, an uncle, a father or a friend 'recommend' them.  At first knowledge, this may seem a little unfair to the collective-bargaining uninitiated, but after all, this was unionized blue-collar America and why should anyone such as myself take issue with what had been in place for generations?

        The Gallo workers were a real hodgepodge, melting pot assortment of primarily misfits, consisting of mostly men and a few women of various ethnic, religious, political, moral, not so moral, military veteran, one ex-college professor, one ex-Gallo Wine salesman and a few ex-convict backgrounds. Most of them felt sorry for my obvious youthful inexperience and thus, they patiently took me under their wing and treated me like family, teaching me in language somewhat definitive and considerably colorful (much of which I had already learned in the harbor), the ways of the world, wine and women and the sometime exaggerated exploits pertaining mostly to the latter.  During lunch break, they also introduced me to the essential workingman's card game known as Tonk, which is similar to poker; the main difference being that it makes for an ideal half-hour lunch break habit because one can lose three times as much money in about half the time as it generally takes when playing five or seven card stud.

        The founders of the company, Ernest and Julio Gallo, were renowned for their ability to control the California and extended American wine market, being among the first wine growers to understand the larger concept of possessing not only equipment and the general associated skills of wine producing, but also, box companies, bottle companies, truck body making companies and of course, vineyards and distribution warehouses large enough to earn a percentage off of hundreds of smaller subsidiary labels.  To their credit, they fashioned an innovative corporate structure of accountability, placing responsibility for being profitable on each individual warehouse operation as a company unto itself.  It was rumored (probably true) that any localized warehouse operation within the greater Gallo system that did not remain in the black would be closed and the workers laid off; a sound corporate policy which today in a 'dot com' era of go into debt now and hopefully profit way down the road mentality, is unwisely, not often imitated.  Gallo Wine Company (at least this particular warehouse operation) was less famously known, except among certain beleaguered union members, as being among the most tightfisted of all employers, repeatedly refusing to budge one nickel in wages or benefits unless strongly coerced by the not always entirely legal power of union persuasion.

        An example of the parsimonious nature of the Gallo theory of enterprise was uncovered the day we delivery drivers got together and decided to not pick up any more used boxes unless the company agreed to pay us the ten cents per box that other beer and wine delivery drivers were now accustomed to receiving, instead of the nickel per box Gallo continued to insist on paying us. The company used these boxes to ship out single bottles that were due their customers because of previous 'dry ' breakage.  That is, breakage not obvious when initially delivered, often faked by various liquor store and bar owners or deliberately buried by warehouse personnel in the load.  Of course, as a matter of time-honored custom, drivers are invariably blamed for this damage.  Rather than give in to our reasonable demand to be remunerated the same as other similar drivers, the company decided instead to use new boxes, which reportedly cost them thirty-two cents each compared to the ten cents it would otherwise have cost if they had been fair and reasonable toward us.  Such 'us against them' mentality it would appear, is the habitual general mindset between company and worker in a typical strong unionized work environment. *

        While it is true that there is a great deal wrong with American unions, organizations that are famous for greed, graft and corruption, it is equally true that there is a great deal more wrong with greedy American business owners, historically largely, individuals totally unsympathetic to the lot of the average common laborer.  The callous nefarious record of pre-unionized American steel, coal and meat-packing conglomerates is enough to convince, after so much profuse vomiting, even the most biased conservative modern Republican that Adam Smith was as wrong about his conclusion of business left to 'free' market devices policing and ultimately purging it's own, as Frederick Engels was about workers voluntarily uniting unselfishly toward the common good, without the necessary impetus of political coercion and economic incentive.  There is an unwieldy double-edged sword between company management and industrial serf that is often dangerous for one's health to swing in either direction, both sides being entirely self-centered and blinded to the reality of the other's needs by the overt greed of their respective agendas.

        My own grandfather, a shoe-cutter in pre-unionized industrial America, worked six eleven-hour days with no breaks except one-half hour for lunch, no time-and-one-half, no benefits, and no holiday or sick pay.  Wages paid to him were so inadequate that he was forced to sell vacuum cleaners on the side in the evenings and on weekends in order to survive and still, he often went to bed hungry in order to afford an orange or pear for his two children.  He was ultimately rewarded for his many years of faithful service in the industry by becoming severely buried in the overwhelming debt of hospitalization costs when his young son became very ill, a burden that took him a great many years to be out from under.  And unlike the modern majority of us would likely do, he stubbornly worked extra hours for years and eventually paid every penny owed.

        Sadly, my grandfather's experience was quite typical for his era rather than unique and illustrates just how despicable and callous industrial ownership can be in the absence of union pressure.  And, as bad as the experience of the average worker of his generation may have been, a great many American employees only a couple of generations earlier endured much worse working conditions and poverty (see Conspiracy Theory; Credit #3 for more details).  In my own lifetime, I witnessed drivers for the non-unionized Coors Beer Company earning higher wages than any of their union counterparts in California; this was only the case to prevent the Teamster's Union from organizing their drivers.  In the Coors home state of Colorado, employees performing the same exact city delivery jobs were paid little more than half of what union beer and wine drivers in California earned during the same 1980's; this because Colorado was a "right to work" state ²  and thus, unions there could only achieve minimal power.

        Workers who imagine the companies who employ them to be generous or even adequate of their own volition are truly fooling themselves and economists and politicians who hide under a false banner of theoretical voluntary corporate compliance resulting from the natural pressures of the free market are, in the light of historical reality, plainly liars.  There are of course, a few beneficent mainly smaller companies, but these are very much the exception and not the general rule of corporate avarice thumb.  Most companies who may appear even overly generous in the absence of a union would soon shift back toward the sweatshops of my grandfather's era described above, if there were no pressure from unions and employee-protection laws in America to keep wages and overall working conditions, at least somewhat bearable.  Part of the problem with larger corporations tends to be what is referred to as "middle-management"; the more middle managers a company acquires as it grows, the more and more decisions are made for personal performance gain at the overall eventual expense of both company and employees alike.  This same scenario of course, multiplies toward the unbelievably absurd in the case of large quasi-government and civil service organizations.

        Having been employed by Gallo Wine Company for about ten years, I became restless to experience other trades and towns and places and thus, over the next fifteen years I traveled considerably throughout the Western half of the United States, belonged to several construction trade and other unions and, due to my inability to remain content engaged in one profession for very long, eventually ended up working for well over one hundred companies involved in a great many blue-collar trades.  Through it all, my consistent experience has been that workers who are unionized are usually treated better, generally earn more, almost always work under safer conditions and for the most part, are over-all more content.  People today who do not consider work safety an important priority have probably neither worked in high-rise construction nor studied much about American labor's recent past.

        In the case of various construction trades I have been involved with, union crews experience much safer working conditions than their non-union counterparts, they earn more and projects constructed by union labor are stronger, more reliable and adhere much more closely to required state and federal regulations.  In particular in the "right-to-work" state of Colorado, I witnessed deliberate slip-shod construction to shave a few economic corners on non-union projects.  On a condominium development in the Denver suburb of Aurora, I eventually elected to walk away from what I perceived were intolerably unsafe conditions (the only time I ever quit a construction job without a better one to take it's place).  Two workers were buried alive while working alone in a ditch that was not shored---two completely unnecessary deaths resulting from the exact same gross violations of safety regulations six months apart on the same non-unionized construction site.

        There may well be no viable economic system that will in the long run, eliminate the ongoing historical battle between the rich and the poor, the have and the have-nots, nor it's modern American incarnation of collective bargaining power verses corporation stinginess.  On the contrary, it is unfortunately necessary to point out the obvious problem, as many individuals today within the current conservative political and entrepreneurial climate of the Regan/Bush dot com era, seem to have blindly bought into the Adam Smith unbridled capitalistic pipe-dream absurdity of economic markets freely regulating themselves toward the common good. ³   As any astute student of world history soon realizes, both heaven and hell are likely to pass away long before such a naive fairytale ever becomes a reality in the real world of economic gain, greed and avarice.

        Those familiar with only mainstream sanitized American versions of the turbulent and often contradictory historical record of the United States, tend to erroneously conclude that we enjoy a comparatively (to some but not all modern nations) superior economic lifestyle because of our constitutional form of government and military prowess.  Far from what modern lassie-faire puppet-economists of the ultra-rich would have us believe, the overwhelming historical truth is that some (but not nearly all) modern day working-class Americans experience a certain measure of liberty and economic comfort almost entirely because of strikes and other similar resistance by the poor and more often, destitute American laborers of previous generations.  Spread throughout more than 300 years of savage economic oppression by the wealthy elite, often violent worker reaction has carrot by hard-earned carrot, forced former unbridled capitalists to concede (to prevent outright revolution and preserve the established order that keeps the wealthy soulless, obese and happy) such ‘workers rights’ as a minimum wage, eight hour workday, forty hour workweek, retirement, medical and vacation benefits, work safety regulations, equal opportunity employment and similar.

        Absolutely none of these modern workers' benefits now taken largely for granted were volunteered by government authorities or greedy owners left to their own "hands-off" capitalistic enterprise devices, except in the instance of non-unionized companies attempting to prevent labor forces from organizing (a somewhat common union-busting trick, such as that used by the Coors beer company noted above) or in the case of government authorities beholding to the wealthy elite for political support, to prevent outright revolution.  Everything that inexperienced well-fed youth of today now assume to be the workplace norm was secured over a great many bloody years of bitter struggle against wealthy company owners and landowners.  The unbridled greed of the capitalist elite was protected by presidents, congressmen, judges and federal and state troops, while factory workers, farmers and other working-class laborers, bent on achieving an adequate enough wage to at least halfway feed, clothe and house themselves and their families, clawed their way out of the American economic slave sewer by whatever means available and at whatever the cost and outcome or form of government that might ultimately emerge, or be falsely claimed to have been achieved.

        Undoubtedly the only real answer to the ongoing historical dilemma of possession verses desire is to change the hearts of individual business owners and workers alike, in the hope that both will come to treat each other with a little more dignity, care and respect.  As long as people on our planet buy and sell, there is likely to be the ongoing and continual struggle between those who own and those who produce for and to a greater or lesser degree, are enslaved by those who own.  This is a perpetual battle, continuing on within our modern theoretically 'advanced' civilization, leading to the discouraging and anxiety-inducing modern reality of theft, murder, war and rumor of war and on to the resultant heart failure and all manner of physical, emotional and psychological disease, terrorism, anarchy and eventual decline of once thriving nations.  (See Notes on the Great War for more details.) **

        If there is any historical lesson to be learned, the scary truth is probably that Marxist and similar violent-style communism is the inevitable bastard child of unbridled capitalism and, as we can see in the recent example of the former Soviet Union, where communism was initially embraced due to the incredible greed and avarice of the Czars and their land-controlling cronies, the prodigal son of capitalism eventually seeks to make it's freedom-less way back home. Fortunately, although both have reared their repulsive head from time-to-time, neither unbridled capitalism nor Marxist communism has been largely embraced in the United States.  What seems to have worked to a somewhat satisfactory degree for us here is a mixture of capitalistic, socialistic and some communistic theory, seasoned with a generous amount of government corruption and mismanagement within the profit-driven, economic reality and tempered with untold worker strike upon strike sometimes leading to outright revolt.

        Today at the turn of the 21st Century, reminiscent of an earlier "Gilded Age" of Samuel Clemens' era, we are in danger of being controlled far too much by the malfeasant materialism of corporation lobby-pocketed puppets of congressional graft and far too little, by the will and consent of the governed. Such a bribe-oriented political climate invariably leads to a padding of the pockets of those who already have more than enough, at the greater expense of those who for the most part, had little to begin with.  Most probably, nothing short of a Gandhi/King inspired national strike of unprecedented population cross-sectional coordination will substantially improve against the insipid “Gilded Age” disease of unbridled economic and political corruption now spreading its malignant social cancer from American sea to once shining sea. (See also Conspiracy Theory for more information.)

        There is a certain dignity and brotherhood felt among people who work hard with their hands and a self-respect that cannot be purchased with silver and gold.  I feel sorry for some of the youth of the 21st Century who consider it beneath their dignity to perform manual labor, as such builds character and is worthwhile toward the positive development of the soul.  It is unwise for people caught up in the turmoil of nations and tongues on Planet Earth to be without employment and to otherwise, lack proper avenues of interest with which to fill our days.  I have known blue-collar workers who are people no one enjoys being around and I have known carpenters and furniture movers and waitresses, factory workers and bartenders who are very highly skilled and take great pride in their work,  as much as a DaVinci,  a Shakespeare  and a Picasso.
4   As a wise man noted many years ago, unlike the many charlatan priests and preachers who habitually misquote him way out of any semblance of true context, we should strive to pay not only our own way and thus, not be a financial burden to others, but "working with our hands" 5 ,  with whatever endeavor we may find ourselves engaged in, we should perform as true artists who honor our Father in heaven, giving our excess to Jerry's Kids and the poor. Why would any sane individual seek to do otherwise?

        Looking back, out of several hundred some very ethical and well-meaning people I have worked side-by-side with in the modern world of blue-collar America, there has been no overall finer group of individuals I have had the good fortune to be associated with than my brothers and few sisters of Gallo Wine Company.  There are probably not many American preachers or conservative Christians who would care to hear or believe this to be true, but then again, the self-righteous who pretend to be better than the rest of us, invariably support those who screw the common and poor people who Jesus claimed to love and we really do not care to hear and most assuredly, do not believe any of them either.  Modern preachers, self-help gurus, ivory tower 'fantasizers' of futility and others who do not work with their hands and backs for a living are not at all likely to be qualified to instruct those who do, as to what may or may not be in their political, economic, moral and/or other best interest. Most assuredly, many of us are well aware of this universal truth and thus, we are more than likely to continue to acknowledge and salute them with the universal blue-collar middle finger of ridicule, open disparagement and experienced unbelief, accordingly. ***

 ...Kill the body
    But not de sol"

Please Support Union America.  To not understand why it is necessary
for workers to unite is to not comprehend the history of humanity entirely.


International Brotherhood of Teamsters      A. F. L. - C. I. O

United Farm Workers of America      United Auto Workers


DEDICATED TO:  The late Albert Sophier, former dispatcher of Gallo Wine Company who represented by example, the dignity and immense value of the common working people of Blue-Collar America.


Credits:

1. Not that there is particularly anything unique about California grocery chains allowing good food to rot rather than give it to the working-class and poor.  During the Reagan years of "I, me, mine", homeless advocate Mitch Snyder found a similar situation to be true in Washington D.C., where wealthy grocery capitalists hired armed guards to keep the hungry and homeless from rummaging through their trash bins, preferring to allow day-or-so-old food to be carted off by city garbage trucks to rot in refuse piles instead.  It is one thing to read about capitalistic greed and pitiless excess in the works of notable American authors such as Mark Twain and John Steinbeck and it is quite another to actually witness industrial callousness with one's own two eyes.  Although exact figures are difficult to calculate, some have estimated the amount of quite edible food thrown away daily in the United States to be more than enough to end starvation throughout the entire continent of Africa.

2. "Right-to-starve" state, the term often used by blue-collar workers who have lived in such a 'free' state, is indeed, a fair view with considerable merit.  During the 1980 years of the Denver savings and loan fiasco, which bankrupted large construction firms as well as many other sizable companies, the author personally witnessed carpenters with twenty and more years experience being forced to accept non-unionized jobs for six and seven dollars per hour or face the greater uncertainty of having no job at all.  A journeyman carpenter with this much experience is comparable in training to a highly skilled surgeon or an over-priced lawyer, which skill means nothing to the average company if a depressed economy dictates they can get away with paying at or near or by piece work, well below minimum wage.

3. Those who believe the nonsense of lassie-faire economics generally are those confined to the ivory towers of scholastic surrealism who may possess a certain understanding of the French language, but who have never loaded trucks, raked concrete or worked for very long down at the assembly-line factory of minimum wage for maximum back pain reward.   (See also Conspiracy Theory; Credit #3 for more information.)

4. If the slackers in Congress who enjoy the many frills and perks of the Washington D.C. elite would perform their jobs only a tenth as well as many blue-collar workers the author has personally known, there would be no need for the power of union persuasion and there would be no homeless problem in America.  "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted."  --Martin Luther King, Jr.

5. Ephesians 4:28.


*FootNote:  As is the case with many companies in the not too distant past, Gallo Wine Company at one time promoted warehouse foreman and delivery management from within. Companies that do this tend to be supervised by individuals experienced with and sympathetic towards, the many problems faced by those who they supervise.  And like many modern companies, Gallo eventually decided to hire management from without, putting people in charge of truck drivers and warehouse personnel who had never driven or loaded a truck.  As any sane individual might expect, a deep rift developed between management and worker that only became deeper with each appointment of a new supervisor.  And though possessing various degrees in managerial skills from expensive colleges, it continued to be lost on Gallo supervisors entirely as to how it could possibly, legitimately take a competent driver thirty minutes to deliver two cases of wine and only twenty to deliver forty cases.  Any experienced city-delivery driver could easily explain why without having to think twice.

**FootNote II:  As hard as it is to fathom, some radical leftists today openly criticize Mother Teresa for not attacking more of the systems of 'corporate evil' that these erstwhile political novices perceive as being the fundamental global problem; even though the solution was plainly nailed down over two thousand years ago, being that the only correct way to change a nation or our world is to change the people who inhabit it.  As a wise man said long ago, there is truly "nothing new under the sun".  Social anarchists continue to attack the surface-problem structure of systems and fail to see the beam of greed and lack of historical perspective in their own eye.  If the legacies of Lenin and Adam Smith teach us anything, it is that changing governmental and economic systems will not solve the fundamental problem, nor is there ever likely to be a viable system of government or theory of non-governmental anarchy that will of itself, bring peace to our planetary home of murder and mayhem.
        There is no greater solution than that practiced by individuals such as Mother Teresa and Albert Schweitzer, for there is no just cause but to love one another; Schweitzer, a man of letters and great learning, Mother Teresa, a woman of great practical wisdom and dedication and Jesus, the mentor of both, all three very strongly agree.  Although changing systems of controlling structure for the better in a non-violent manner such as Gandhi, King and Chavez strived to do is a worthwhile endeavor, it is number two in line of solution next to actually pitching in to physically help someone in need.  King himself was planning a poor people's march for all Americans at the time of his assassination for, unlike some modern activists who lean toward anarchism and forceful structural overthrow, King very much understood the larger picture of helping rather than violent revolution.  Those most effective in bringing legalized American slavery to an end such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, also physically pitched in to help in a variety of actual practical ways.  There is truly nothing more hypocritical (and comical) than preachers who fail to likewise, practice. Individuals who would condemn a Mother Teresa, an Albert Schweitzer, a Jacques Cousteau, a Jonas Salk, or a firefighter or police officer trying to rescue others from a disaster, are announcing to the world that they are followers of insanity's confusion.  And individuals who do not comprehend why Jesus was the consummate political revolutionary are likewise, those who do not have a clue as to what works for the positive good in the real world of people acting, interacting and reacting (see also Revolution for more information).

***FootNote III:  Though no longer employed in blue-collar trades due to a severe back injury, the author nevertheless if physically able, would gladly trade in his white-collar banking enterprise for the much better, much more free, less stressful and healthier lifestyle he once took largely for granted.  Many people in ignorance seek the presumed 'easy' life of non-physically strenuous employment, never having the opportunity to learn from comparison that manual labor is a much easier endeavor.  And, at least from the author's experience, one tends to feel overall, a whole lot better.  In the author's opinion, it is especially important for people to experience working hard with their hands in cooperative effort while young and in the prime of their youth.



           


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Copyright © August 20th, 2003 by Richard Aberdeen.

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