I would like to thank the United States of America for welcoming my grandfather, Alex Rozoff, who was a refugee from the Russian Revolution. Things were tough in Russia, which is why he left. It must have been damn tough because he left the only home he had ever known to come to a place where he knew no one and could not speak the language.
It must have been hard for him, but somehow he managed to land on his feet. It was a time of mass immigration and there must have been a sizable Russian contingent in the states, one that was willing to help him in one way or another. He got a job at Youngstown Sheet and Tube and worked there for forty years, worked there until a brain tumor stopped him from working and eventually ended his life.
It was hellish work, the kind of work his son and his son’s sons wanted no part of. Without any proof backing this statement up, it might well have been the work conditions he endured that contributed to his condition. After all, workers back then had nobody looking out for their safety or questioning what chemicals were being used. In fact nobody was looking out for the workers at all. Things got so bad that they decided they had to look after themselves. They went on strike for better wages, better working conditions, and a chance at a decent life. Things must have been bad for someone so far from home to risk everything he had in order to fight for a better life.
It must have been bad too for those workers in the mill who were born in this country. You see, all those immigrants that were let inside our borders weren’t brought in because the U.S. had a mission to help the poor and the dispossessed. Sure, words to that effect are inscribed upon the Statue of Liberty, but that was a gift from the French who wanted to believe the U.S. was something special, a beacon to the world. It was a symbol of our promise, not a reflection of our reality. No, the U.S. wanted cheap labor, that’s why we opened our borders to tens of millions of people from all over the world. The U.S. wanted it, and by that I mean the rich people who owned the politicians who made the rules wanted it. You see, they had been using cheap domestic labor for a while now. They had been getting away with it for decades, promising that once U.S. industries reached a place of prominence that it would then be U.S. labor’s turn to share in the good times.
Of course, the rich industrialists never had any intention of sharing the profits equitably. Promises are just a tool in the capitalist’s tool belt to help motivate those who earn profits for them. But it is a tool that can only be used so often before the workers can’t accept the status quo anymore.
That’s when the immigrants started pouring in, to awaken the working slobs from the delusion that they had some degree of power. All of the sudden a working class that was beginning to feel its strength had to contend with competition from beyond what they believed was a closed environment. All those promises they had been given in return for their blood and sweat and sacrifice were swept away in a flood of foreigners willing to work for a fraction of what U.S. labor was already being given, which wasn’t enough to begin with. You see, those foreigners were just looking to survive, they’d take promises of better days to come, just as the U.S. workers once had.
I can imagine just how much the U.S. workers hated those foreigners. If they weren’t taking their jobs then they were driving down wages. They were taking over neighborhoods and driving up rents. Those damn foreigners were living five families to a house. They stunk like garlic or other unfamiliar spices. They worshipped God differently, they spoke a different language and made people feel alienated in their own country. IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY.
So it must have been really hard for those foreigners and their coworkers who were born in the U.S. to somehow come together and join a union. They had a hell of a lot of differences to overcome, and there were assuredly company forces working really hard to drive a wedge between them.
But somehow they managed to pull together. Somehow they realized they were on the same team, that they all wanted the same thing, a decent life for the people who did the work and created the fancy mansions for the bosses. They faced the private muscle that the company hired, and they faced the government troops that were sent in because in the end the government always works for the people wealthy enough to make a politician understand that he is in office only because of the power and influence of the people who write the campaign checks.
I won’t lie to you, the struggle was real. It was very real. It was real in the way that most of us, living in an imaginary world constructed for us by a very powerful propaganda machine, do not wish to contemplate. There was blood on the streets and there were cracked heads, and there were threats of so much worse. Those who took to the streets, who walked off their jobs, risked so very much. Perhaps they were capable of doing so because they had already learned how precarious life can be. Perhaps there were many who, like my grandfather, had already left all they had known behind in search of a better world. Perhaps it was because they had been born in a time when values and convictions meant something, when a secure life wasn’t more or less assured to you so long as you didn’t make waves.
I don’t know for sure what was going on in the mind of my grandfather, or the tens of thousands of men who stood with him, or the tens of thousands of wives and mothers who stood with them. I really wish I did because I’m sure I’d be a better person for having a taste of it. It must have been something special, because what they accomplished is nothing short of amazing. When people are able to put aside their differences—real as well as imagined—in order to work on their mutual interests, there is where greatness is to be found. That is how the world is changed for the better, that is where we as humans discover just what we can accomplish and how absolutely wonderful it is to be a human being.
We are capable of great stuff. We can send people to the moon, we can transform the planet. We just have to do it together. We have to put aside our differences and understand the goals we share. And we have many shared goals. The examples of what we can achieve for the individual by working together are endless. We just have to start looking at them, learning from them, honoring our fathers and forefathers by showing once again what we can do by working together for the common good.