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Labor & Economy

The Dixon Family Chronicles: “Which Side Are You On?”

Gary Phillips

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“Let me say again, we are not there yet. I’m not here to sell you a 50-inch HD flatscreen around the corner for a hundred bucks.” The youthful organizer grinned warmly, her eyes shining behind a pair of stylish eyeglasses. “Since its inception, this company, this giant octopus you all work for, has successfully fought off any effort to organize. Not just shop floor wide, but sector by sector. Make no mistake, we’re talking about a long, protracted struggle.”

Jess Dixon appreciated the woman’s honesty. She figured she wasn’t the only one who’d read on the Internet about the recent loss the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers had trying to organize some of the company’s tech and maintenance workers at a facility back east.

“Even in Germany,” the organizer continued, “which is a heavily unionized workforce, you have workers lining up behind the anti-union bandwagon for fear of their jobs going elsewhere. Though let me add that hasn’t stopped hundreds of them from participating in wildcat walkouts to protest the low wages and working conditions.”

“You expect us to do that?” Sally Martinez asked.

The eight co-workers, six women and two men, were seated in Macy Farmdale’s compact living room. Through a nearby door in a hallway to her son’s room, the crash and bang of a video game could be heard.

The twentysomething union rep, Ethel Chan, held up a hand. “Oh no. But you can document when you’re asked to speed up. Write down the times you’ve been held up getting searched by security on the way out and you’ve clocked out so it’s on your dime.”

“What about the fake book?” Farmdale said.

“Fake book?” Mike Reese, one of the other workers, said.

Chan said, “Some creative types in the U.K. posted their protest on the company’s site itself, calling it A Living Wage for All Workers. They listed where a publisher would post a synopsis of what their demands were and this got a lot of hits before the company found out and took it down.”

“Did it have an effect?” Jess asked.

“It was several steps forward on a thousand mile journey,” Chan answered evenly.

Jess wasn’t all that enthused about this union talk. But being sated on her friend’s food and a beer, she was mellowed out enough to continue listening. Her phone vibrated and she saw it was a text from her uncle asking her what she was doing for Thanksgiving. Jess smiled, realizing she hadn’t seen him in many months.

.    .    .

 

“Detective, I don’t have any knowledge of what you’re talking about,” Little Joe said into the phone’s handset. He listened to the plainclothesman on the other end of the line, then said, “Look, again, I don’t know Teaflake and what all he’s up to other than I was looking for someone of mutual acquaintance.” He leaned forward in his desk chair. “No, I will not tell you who that is.” He listened some more, then said, “I am not being uncooperative.”

Little Joe all but rolled his eyes as the detective continued to vent at him. He looked at a poster on a nearby wall. It depicted the Mailman, Karl Malone, the retired star power forward of the Utah Jazz. He was in his uniform, smiling and holding a book, advocating what a cool pastime reading was.

He frowned, recalling. Hadn’t Malone killed a bear, hunting with a bow and arrow? Little Joe reluctantly halted his daydreaming and resumed his dreary conversation. “No, Detective Marsh, I have no idea who are the individuals in Teaflake’s inner or, for that matter, outer circles. I am not a party to that and again, I only went to see him on another matter. But I need to get back to work and I wish you the best in your endeavors.”

With that he hung up the phone and sat back in his chair. Between the law and Professor Vaughn, Teaflake was swimming in the deep end. Was DeMarkus in there with him, doing his best to tread water and keep his head above the surface? Should he have been more forthcoming with the cop, who from the sound of his voice he presumed was black? But that didn’t mean he wasn’t a cop first, answerable to the pressures of clearing cases and pleasing his bosses.

Little Joe was loath to have yet another young black male get caught up in the criminal justice system. If he could keep his promise and prevent DeMarkus from being sucked into that morass, so much the better. Still, he had other kids to worry about, let alone getting his squad ready for the next game. He checked his watch and headed for the all-purpose room to conduct the nutrition class for his seniors. Walking there, he got a text from his Uncle Hank.

. . .

 

Anxiously, Hank Dixon pulled out the washing machine’s replacement knob and got a satisfying whoosh of water. He pushed the knob in, shutting off the cycle. He smiled at his work, having successfully soldered the replacement part into place. That section in the how-to book hadn’t steered him wrong. Packing up his tools, he had a momentary stab of sadness. What use was doing good work if the building was going to be sold out from under them? But he shook it off. The fight wasn’t over yet—and would he answer Juanita’s challenge to join in more than just sitting on the sidelines bellyaching? He better make up his mind soon.

Wiping his greasy smudges off the washing machine, Dixon heard an engine rev outside and voices shouting. Then the pop, pop, pop of gunfire. One of the laundry room’s windows was shot out. Hank had already dived to the floor in the otherwise empty room. He heard somebody moaning.

-To Be Continued-


The Dixon Family Chronicles appears every Wednesday. See also:

Chapter 1: “The Sink Man”
Chapter 2: “SOL”
Chapter 3: “Time Is Tight
Chapter 4: “Early in the Morning
Chapter 5: “You Gonna Step Up?”
Chapter 6: “Esoterica”
Chapter 8: “A Little Past Seven”
Chapter 9: “No Justice …”
Chapter 10: “Live for Today”
Chapter 11: “The People United”

Watch Gary Phillips talk about his webserial.

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