Sunday, September 02, 2007

Dr. Bill Roy: "How can we still call it 'Labor Day'?"

Dr. Bill Roy,
Lawyer, doctor and former Congressman (2nd Dist., Ks. '70 - '74)

The summer is winding down, as always more quickly than we expect. Our final fling was centered around going back to the land of my birth and youth.--and making a speech!

I told an Illinois audience I would use the opening line their Senator Barack Obama used in Topeka a few months ago. Obama, referring to his Kansas-born mother and her parents who substantially reared him, said simply, “I am home again.”

I mused I never expected to talk to 300 Democrats in (notoriously Republican) McLean County. “Not that I expected I wouldn’t. I just never gave it a thought.”

Our trip began with son Bill insisting I see a ball game en route in new Busch Stadium. After all, I had taken him and the Dolan or Cornish boys to St. Louis for a ball game nearly every summer of the 60s.

We began watching aging Cardinal Stan Musial aiming for the short porch in old Sportsman’s Park. And to Bill it seemed only right and symmetrical that I should watch games in all three parks, Sportsman‘s, Busch one and Busch two.

There are more than physical differences. Tickets used to be $2. Our mediocre seats were $48. In the 60s people watched the ball game. Today, they make trips to the refreshment stands for $8.50 beers and other overpriced items. Oh yes, hotel room was $288, and an entree at Mike Shannon’s Grill is $45.

Thanks, kids. I will understand if this is my last complimentary ball game in St. Louis.

Back in the 50s, Musial and I drew about the same salaries each year. I compared. Today, as toys of billionaires and wards of cities, mediocre ballplayers make more in a season than a clinic of cardiologists.

But, it was a well known Bloomington-Normal family, the Penns, who were responsible for my speaking burden. My cousin June, on the Irish side, is matriarch. Her husband Paul was a union leader, and their three sons have succeeded Paul in union work.

I introduced our daughter Randy as Democratic National Committee Woman for Kansas, adding, “as was her mother.“ I then observed nepotism is okay as long as you keep it in the family“--Kennedy humor and Penn reality.

But even deep in the magnificent cornfields of Central Illinois, labor lives on, perhaps not as robust as formerly, but alive and kicking all the same. And the Penns are the face of it.

My sister Marian, also a former Republican, lives in Bloomington and is acutely aware of the community boards, community projects and other important roles labor plays in her community.

Even the local Mitsubishi auto plant is unionized. When they chose McLean County the Japanese signed a contract with the United Auto Workers and Illinois Republican Governor Jim Thompson to be a union plant.

When I expressed my surprise to Don Paxson, who is seeing Jane and me to the Stratford, Ontario Shakespeare Festival, Don put it cryptically, “Bill, Bloomington is north of the Mason Dixon Line.” (where non-union Japanese auto plants thrive with lower-paid workers who have never known any better.)

Everyone from Jim Cates to Lou Dobbs is bemoaning the rapid disappearance of the American Middle Class, that great, happy but short-lived phenomenon that began with the GI Bill after WWII and thrived until arrival of the Great Communicator in the White House.

President Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers, and politically dominant Republicans have been systematically and successfully destroying organized labor and the American Middle class ever since. In McLean County you can see the corn, but you cannot see the healthy infrastructure that includes organized labor and makes that area the fastest growing in the great Blue State of Illinois.

(Bloomington’s huge State Farm Mutual Insurance Company, whose management has chosen to retain policy-holder ownership, helps.)

The punctuation mark on good American jobs came when we crossed into Canada at Port Huron, Michigan-Sarnia, Ontario.

Seven plus miles (11 kilometers) of trucks, parked bumper to bumper, were waiting to clear U.S. customs; Not a single truck was waiting to enter Canada. How much longer can we legitimately call the end-of-summer holiday Labor Day?

Dr. Roy may be reached at

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