A “Good Brother” Story

In early December while volunteering at the hall I heard yet another version of a story that seems to be pretty common in our local. It was what I call a “Good Brother” story. These are stories about how great a specific brother was/is that usually ends with some kind of cringe-worthy exception to the member’s greatness. Now I understand that everyone is human, and we all have flaws but if we remember these members simply as Good Members, then we are likely to continue to have the same problems generation after generation. We should remember that as late as 1969 out of the 2700 members of IBEW local 46 only two were “non-white”, and none were female.

Now this particular story was a perfect archetypical “good brother” story and I think that is why I found myself needing to write this. In a nutshell the story was about a brother that was one of the finest the storyteller had ever known. This brother was always the fastest, hardest worker on every jobsite. He always stuck up for the contract and he always stuck up for the brotherhood. I emphasize the brother because this particular member’s flaw was that he always said that women don’t belong on the jobsite. Upon revealing this flaw the storyteller quickly followed by saying “but he was a good brother,” that was animated with a shoulder shrug that implied that this members’ flawed understanding of solidarity should be looked past, because he was a hard worker, a fast worker, and he worked the contract.

For the sake of our union moving into the 21st century this attitude must be challenged. We must begin to truly understand what a good brother, what a Good Member, really is. The pace they work does not define a Good Member, but the quality of the work they produce probably has something to do with it. They are not defined by the amount they sweat when they work, but by how intelligently they get work done safely, and lastly defending the parts of the contract a member likes, only for the members one likes also does not make one a Good Member.

The status of Good Member can only be earned as the result of good actions. At his or her very worse a Good Members’ actions hurt no other member. On average their actions are thoughtful and considerate and serve members. When a Good Member is at their very best their actions work to inspire other members to become better. Now it should be understood that being a good member is not like being a Seahawks fan or a member of the NRA, you can’t just pay dues or initiation fees or declare that you are a Good Member. In a strange way being a Good Member is kind of like being an alcoholic. You could be sober for one day or for one decade but you will always be an alcoholic and just the same you could be a Good Member for one day or for one decade but you will always be a human being with ingrained prejudices and selfishness that you must consciously and deliberately decide not to surrender to every single moment of every single day.

When this becomes the standard of Good Membership in our local our union will win every contract, we will have dignity on every jobsite everyday, and we will leave behind a union, a trade, and an industry that we will be excited to hand off to the next generation. “An injury to one is an injury to all” has been a fundamental rallying cry for unions since they began and it is as true today as it was in 1891, whether that injury is physical, economic, or psychological.