Gregory Alan Norton

Insubordination Blues

Butch yelled at me, "You lazy sonofabitch. Your union got your job back for you two years ago. And we're gonna get it back again for you this time. Now you got the balls to tell me you ain't got time to help your union. It's payback time, MacNaughton. Get your goddamned coat on and let's go. We need help. "

"What do you need me for? Forget it, man. I'm not going."

I was sorry that Butch, my local union president, and sub-district organizer, thought I was a lazy sonofabitch. But I guessed from his uneducated, proletarian perspective, I must have looked that way. I regarded myself as a bohemian. A de-classed intellectual caught in a vortex of downward social mobility.

Butch yelled, "Look at all these damn whiskey bottles, Pete. What the hell is becoming of you? Are you turning into a damn alcoholic? It's ten o'clock in the morning, and you're just rolling out of bed."

"I'm unemployed. I can do that. It's legal."

The young Mexican woman furtively eyeballed me. Butch McGuire had brought her along. She was an intern organizer sent by the AFL-CIO. I guessed she had just recently graduated from college. I realized I hadn't made a very good impression with a sink full of dishes, my kitchen table cluttered with liquor bottles, playing cards, poker chips, empty potato chip bags, and porno magazines.

"Hey, my alarm clock broke. Look, I just don't have the time for it, ok? Besides, we don't have a chance of organizing that place. The guy who owns Push Electronics, Alexander Glashauser, he owns Parliament Electronics, too. He'll fire everybody who's pro-union. Three weeks from now we'll be sitting in the bar with a roomful of pissed off people who lost their jobs."

"We ain't even started yet, and you already got the battle fought and lost? You got time to help us. You're not working. I know. I talked to your mother. You're just laying around your trailer here, drinking every day."

He was right about that. But I was too hung over that November morning to be embarrassed about the flophouse appearance of my seedy house trailer. In fact, I was too hung over to worry about my own state of dishevelment—a two day old beard, and the greasy hair sticking out of the sides of my head. After Butch started pounding down my door I only had enough time to pull on a pair of jeans. I was barefoot and wore a United Metalworkers t-shirt. The Chicago suburbs are not the best place to spend a winter in an old, poorly insulated trailer with a rickety propane gas heating system. It had been too cold to take a shower for nearly a week. "Are you coming or what?"

"You shouldn't treat him like that," said the girl. I liked her right away. She was tall and slim, with dark hair and green eyes. She was wearing jeans, combat boots, a heavy loose-fitting sweater, and a surplus U.S. Army fatigue coat. Butch had introduced her as Celina Rodriguez.

Frustrated that she had single-handedly stopped his rodeo, Butch yelled, "How should I treat him?"

"With respect."

Butch dramatically flopped both arms down to his sides. He looked like a short, squat red faced Irishman with his grey hair severely trimmed in a crewcut. He had dressed for business that morning wearing combat boots, dress slacks and shirt, and an expensive, full-length, black leather coat.

"Yelling at people is not a good way to recruit them to join an organizing drive," the girl said.

"See, she knows how to organize. If you stop for coffee first, I'll go." I was sorry I volunteered, but my idealistic streak spontaneously won out despite the fact that I didn't feel like we had a chance. Worse, a little intuitive flash just barely manifested itself; I remembered student strikes in which I had participated in the 1960s that had absolutely no chance of success, yet we had won.

"Well, let's go then, goddamn it. You know it smells like cat piss outside your front door."

That was the second time that I had been terminated at the dog food factory for insubordination. When they fired me I thought, what the hell, the union will get my job back again, I'm on vacation. I figured it would take them about a year to get the job back. If I got my back pay, fine. If I didn't, I didn't care. I'd been divorced for years. My kids were grown. I'd given up on trying to write the Great American Novel, trying to open various businesses, and trying to find the love of my life. So, as they say, when you finally give up, you can just have fun.

Butch knew I wasn't lazy, because he'd seen me work over a lathe for decades. I had repaired just about every machine in the dog food factory. What he couldn't verbalize, was his taking exception to my attitude. And that attitude embodied total alienation from life in the Psychotic Atomik Empire. I got fired because I called my boss a "jackass." I called him a jackass because he had unnecessarily ordered me to machine a new part to replace a perfectly good part. A big dog food mixing machine had crashed, and they wanted it up and running. The kicker was, after I replaced the part, the machine still wasn't going to run because they hadn't identified the real problem. That meant I would continue to have a supervisor breathing down my neck for an abnormally long time. And that pissed me off.

I probably would have gotten away with calling him a jackass if we'd been alone, but we weren't. The big corporate boss had been standing right next to him. The big shot looked at my jackass boss, and he fired me on the spot for insubordination.

But I hadn't been insubordinate. I had simply called a spade a spade and a jackass a jackass.

So, I found myself out-of-work, but fully employed in the job of having fun. Ever wonder what those characters are like who live in house trailers on the back end of a lot of a modest working class house? Well, they're just like me, because whenever my life turned into shit, I moved back into the rusting relic that sat on the back of my mother's house lot between her home and the Chicago and Northwestern railroad embankment.

Whenever I ratcheted down to my lumpenproletarian existence, I'd make ends meet by delivering phone books, cleaning big rugs, shoveling snow or mowing lawns, and hauling klunky old appliances out of houses for people then reselling them to a legit repairman, Bad Bob, who operated a small re-sale showroom. The un-repairable ones? I'd throw them out of the back of my rusting van along unincorporated Cook County roads in desolate, secluded industrial areas near gravel pits or big factories or rail yards.

Because I didn't have to punch the clock everyday, I had plenty of time to visit all my old low life friends I had left back in Chicago's Uptown, in the bars along the skid-row area on Wilson Avenue and Broadway. My acquaintances sold cocaine and heroin and lived big until they got shot or shoved into prison. Bad Bob was from the old neighborhood. An Italian, he had been in the Mafia, but he was busted for selling drugs, so they told him he was out of the club. He bought a pardon from the governor, but because he wasn't with the outfit anymore, he had to watch it.

Bob was a pretty good pal, the kind of guy who helped you when nobody else would. But you had to be careful around him. A Vietnam Vet, he had seen 359 continuous days of combat over there. When things got crazy, so did he. He mostly hung out at Rockys, the local tavern which was frequented by the area factory workers including the Parliament workers. He knew everybody and everybody's business.

From time to time I'd consider selling marijuana, but I was too big of a sissy. I didn't want to wind up in prison. Bob and I visited one of our old pals in the big state prison in Joliet, Illinois. The old worn stone facade, the bars, the surly guards, and the tattooed, scarred-face inmates convinced me that was a place to avoid. I thought about bartending, but being a sissy, I didn't like fighting with drunks.

When the union got my job back, and the good times returned. I'd rent an apartment, build up my capital via overtime pay, then buy a condo. When I inevitably got sick of getting backaches from bending over the lathe, I'd get insubordinate, get fired, sell the condo, and air out the trailer again.

Whenever I thought about Alexander Glashauser, the operative emotions that emerged were fear and loathing. Fear because the guy seemed to be connected to the highest levels of the federal Republican Party and the really big national money. Loathing because of his transparent greed and neurotic obsession with controlling everything and everyone in his path. When he didn't receive the kind of press coverage he thought he deserved in one of the many elections in which he ran and was soundly beaten, he managed to get the reporters fired who had covered the story. After that episode, the video cameras always caught him from his photogenic side. When he wanted special tax relief for Push Electronics, which handled a lot of military contracts, he had the power to summon U.S. Senators from around the country to his boardroom in Illinois. He managed this by the simple expedient of contributing heavily to their re-election campaigns.

Once, when I waxed a little too vehemently against the little prick, my mother went after me. I was informed that there was good in everybody if you look for it. And we didn't live in a black and white world. I didn't argue with my elderly mother, but I was convinced that she was wrong. Glashauser was the exception that proved that rule. He had no redeeming qualities, and Technicolor wasn't the kind of world he lived in.



We met old Juan Lopez at a diner on the edge of the suburban "industrial park." The diner had been constructed out of brick in the 1950s and the building looked tired and out of date. We sat in a booth in the back for privacy. Butch and Celina Rodriguez had driven over in his Cadillac while I made a pit-stop at my mother's and got cleaned up. I dressed for organizing; work boots, black jeans, a flannel shirt and my black leather union jacket.

When I got there, I could smell pancakes and strong coffee. Butch had already knocked back a big breakfast, but Celina and Juan were still picking at theirs because they had spent more time talking than eating. I ordered the Haybailer's Breakfast which included virtually everything on the menu. I was profligate with the money because I knew Butch was putting it all on the union account. I could tell the waitress didn't like serving people in serial order; first Juan, then Celina and Butch, and then me. I knew Butch would fix her up with a big tip.

"This here is our inside committee," Butch said and pointed a butter knife at Juan.

Juan nodded and smiled at me. He had a mouthful of gold teeth and a weathered look of decades of factory work. He was wearing a blue factory uniform with his name stitched over his breast pocket. I pegged his age at around 60, about the same age as Butch. Juan still had jet black hair and sideburns. I liked him right away.

"Ready to rock and roll, huh, Juan?" I asked.

"We need the union very bad. We have lots of safety violations on our machines. And they don't pay us nothin'."

Celina interviewed old Juan at length in Spanish. I savored the taste of my hot sausages and bacon while she went over the situation with Juan. She eventually pulled out a notebook and starting taking notes. Butch, who sat across from me, kept nodding and winking at me. I could read his mind. He thought he had an inside track and the organizing campaign would be a sure thing. I knew otherwise, because I had been a volunteer organizer for years. The likelihood of success was remote because Glashauser had so much money and power.

When she and Juan finished, she thanked him in English. Juan stood up and shook hands with me, then Butch, thanking us, too. Butch hung on to his hand while he brought out a union card and swung it around on the table in front of Juan.

"I need you to sign this before you go."

Juan looked at Celina and asked her in Spanish what the card was all about. She frowned at Butch, then explained to Juan that he was asking for union representation by the United Metalworkers. He looked somewhat concerned but he signed the card, thanked us all again, and departed.

"You're not supposed to shove the cards at them like that," said Celina.

"Why not? They want to join the union don't they?"

"Yes, but you should sign everyone up together at the first meeting."

"What's the difference?"

"So, they get a collective sense of power from doing it. When they all sign individually, they're all scared they're sticking their necks out."

"Don't take for Gospel everything they teach you at the AFL-CIO organizing school. I know what I'm doing. I've been at this for years. You're supposed to learn from me," said Butch. I rolled my eyes. Celina caught it and laughed. Butch didn't and wanted in on the joke. "What's so funny?"

"You are."

"I am. Right. That guy is no good anyways. Did you see how reluctant he was to sign that card?"

Celina looked in my direction.

"Give me a break. He's a good guy. I can feel it," I said.

"I don't think so."

Celina excused herself to use the washroom. Butch glanced in the direction she had taken, and once he was sure she was out of earshot, said, "Pretty hot stuff, huh?"

"She's too young for you Butch."

"Who says?" and he cackled like a maniac. Then the lightbulb went on. "She's too old for you, too."

I was 45, but I wondered.

"You think she's tough enough for this kind of work?" I asked.

"Sure. Why not? I think it's mainly women working in there at Parliament. We're gonna need a woman organizer. Especially somebody who talks Spanish."

"She just seems so inexperienced."

"We'll break her in. She won't be a virgin when we're done." Butch smiled obscenely.

"You know sometimes you make me sick."

"Ahh, lighten up. Would you please? I not in the mood for your sensitive, bleeding heart liberal crap this morning."

"Fuck you. I'm not a liberal. I'm a revolutionary socialist."

Butch leaned across the table and affected a look of intense concentration. "Fuck you, too. You're an unemployed, radical shit-stirrer. You're a fucking Communist, is what you are. Good thing Communism is dead, or I'd be scared."

We both laughed. And then he added, "And that's why you're so good at union organizing."

"Seriously. You think she's tough enough for this shit?"

"She's not what you think."

"What do I think?"

"You think she's some Chicano girl from Texas."


"Chicana, Chicano, whatever. She's Harvard educated." Butch studied my face. "Hah. Never guessed that did you?"

"How do you know that?"

"She told me."

Celina returned. "What are you guys arguing about? I could hear you all the way across the room."

"Union strategy," Butch replied. He pulled out a big wad of flyers from beneath his coat. He had printed them on red paper. One side presented the standard AFL-CIO rap for joining a union, the other side was a union card to be filled out. "We'll hand these out in front of Parliament today."

"That's not a good idea," I said.

Butch looked at me. Then with very calm deliberate motions reached inside his coat and pulled out his cigarettes. The first one of the day. His doctor had him carefully rationed to one pack a day. "OK, I'll bite. Why is it a bad idea?"

"Because you'll tip off Glashauser that a union drive is going on. He'll call in the union buster business consultants as soon as he sees the flyers," Celina said.

"Bingo," I said sipping my strong black coffee.

Butch exhaled a lung full of smoke straight up over our heads. "So, what do we do?"

"Sneak around the factory and collect all the license plate numbers we can find. Then have the union run them through the State of Illinois. Then we call on all those folks at home. After we talk to them at home, we'll know what the issues are inside the factory. When we know the issues, we hand out a flyer calling for action on those issues. The same day we call a meeting. We form our inside committee at the meeting. Then we go from there to get two-thirds signed up on cards, then ask for an election from the labor board." Celina smiled when she finished.

"You must have gotten straight A's in school," I said.


Two weeks later Celina and I waited around in the union hall for the Parliament Electronics workers to show up for their first organizing meeting. The union hall, in reality, was a rented VFW meeting room with poor lighting and ventilation. We had set up a multitude of folding steel chairs. Outside, the trees were blanketed in cold November mist and fog.

"You ever wonder why Glashauser named the place Parliament?" Celina asked.

"Sounded fancy, I suppose."

"I think he had ideological reasons for it."

"Like what?"

"It sounds democratic. The longest lasting dictatorships always have lots of democratic window dressing."

"Learn that at Harvard did we?"

"It's true."

"Yeah. You're right. I can't argue it."

"Can I ask you a question Peter?"

"Sure. But you can call me Pete."

"Why do you always act distant around me?" She smiled. But I could tell she was nervous. She stood in the middle of a jumble of chairs with her arms tightly folded across her chest.

"I like you Celina. But I can't figure out if you're fish or fowl."

"What?" She frowned, bushy eyebrows raised high.

"Your father was a farm worker in California, right? Where'd he get the money to send his daughter to Harvard? You speak perfect uninflected English. And when you're speaking Spanish it sounds very refined. It doesn't sound like street Spanish."

She smiled. "Oh. Yeah, my father was a grape picker. My mother is white. My family, from her side, is from San Francisco. My grandfather owned a big insurance company. So, yeah, my father was very poor, and my mother's family was wealthy."

"You must have had a very strange home life."

"Not really. They got divorced before I turned one. My father died in a bar fight in Oakland. My mother raised me."

"Did she speak Spanish?"

"No. She met my father at one of the rallies for the United Farm Workers. I learned Spanish in school. My name was Collins until I went to college. I changed it to my father's name my senior year. So, yeah, you're right, I'm not really part of anybody's world. I see that in you, too."

"Me? How so?"

"You're an intellectual but you work in a factory. You're neither fish nor fowl either. You play mind games with Butch. He doesn't know what you're talking about half the time. When you kid him about waiting for a phone call from the Fourth International for the day's orders, he thinks it's a joke."

"It is a joke."

"Yeah, but the Fourth International really does exist doesn't it?"

"Yeah. But it's just a joke."

"Butch doesn't know that it exists."

"What Butch doesn't know won't hurt him."

"Butch won't ever have to worry about being hurt, then."

"He's not college educated, but he's a sharp guy."

"He's a very sexist guy."

"Yeah, and nobody is going to change that. He gets the job done."

"He's not exactly diplomatic when it comes to dealing with people."

"That's because he's not a diplomat. He's a union organizer."

"Looks like you're the organizer. He relies on you to do the thinking and planning."

"Yeah, but we both do the shit work."

"He's overly judgmental. He jumps to conclusions. He knows everything. He's got a big bullshit story about everything. And he doesn't respect women. He's a pain in the ass to work with. And he's just plain dumb."

"He's not dumb. He just doesn't see the big picture. I'm telling you, he's a good guy, especially when things get tough and everybody else wants to quit."

"I don't understand what you see in him."

"You will."


Mostly Mexican women showed up for the meeting. Juan Lopez and his nephew, Fernando Garcia, were the only two Mexican men. Fernando was about Celina's age. He was classically tall, dark, and handsome. And he smiled a lot. A half-dozen young white workers showed up. They were classics, too. Long hair, tattoos, jeans, flannel shirts, and work boots made them industrially interchangeable. One middle-aged, white guy, Gene, did stand out. He was rotund and had a conservative haircut. I took one look at him, and knew he was trouble.

The organizing campaign had gone according to plan up to that point. Using Celina's detailed notes, we understood what was happening in each department in the factory. We knew how many people worked in each department, their genders, their nationalities, and whether they seemed to be pro or anti union. We knew the issues; unsafe working conditions, no say in how they did their jobs, no medical benefits, and lousy pay.

We had paid house visits to about half the workers we had identified via their license plate numbers. The overwhelming majority of the Parliament workers wanted a union to represent them. We had distributed a flyer which hammered away at the issues in front of the factory on the day of the meeting. The flyer had brought out a lot of people we hadn't been able to reach. We wanted to get everyone to sign union cards at the meeting, form an inside committee, then petition the company for an election through the labor board. We had been lucky so far, the company apparently didn't know what was happening. After we passed out the flyer, we became public knowledge, and we could expect the company to strike back.

Butch brought the meeting to order. That took some doing. None of those folks had probably ever previously attended a public meeting, let alone a union meeting. For most of them, church, the Cinco de Mayo parade, or sporting events represented their only experience of public gatherings.

"Brothers and sisters, we're here today to form the union to represent you in your dealings with the company."

"Can they fire us for joining the union?" a Mexican woman asked. Dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, she looked to be about 60.

"That's illegal. You have a right to join a labor union to represent you. That's Federal law."

"Who's gonna represent us?" Another woman asked.

"You are. You are the union. We'll send you to school to learn how to bargain for a contract and how to defend that contract with grievances. After today the company will have to follow procedures and rules when dealing with people. Everybody gets treated the same after today."

They continued to pepper Butch with questions for over an hour. But he had it down pat. I had seen the same performance a dozen times. He peppered them back with his own questions, "You folks think you got the balls to stand up to the company? You know unions aren't for sissies. You gotta have a backbone if you wanna be union. You think you got what it takes to be union?"

By the end of his performance he had some of the young kids standing on their chairs shouting in unison, "Union, union," while pumping clenched fist salutes in the air. Of course, I got the clenched fist thing going early on, while applauding points that people made. Celina applauded and yelled too. But I could tell she was studying the Butch and Peter show. I think that's when it dawned on her that Butch wasn't just a hack. He really wanted those folks to have a better life. Butch asked for volunteers for the inside committee. Everybody except Gene put up their hands.

Butch continued to work the congregation up to a fever, "Are we gonna take the company's crap anymore?" Simultaneously they shouted, "Hell no." Then Butch demanded, "Will you all sign union cards?" They swarmed to Celina who held the cards aloft over her head.

Gene sat back alone with his hand politely raised. Butch, not one for recognizing trouble when he saw it, called on him. Gene stood up and quietly asked, "How do we know God wants us to join this here union."

"God's in favor of unions," Butch replied.

Celina stared at Butch. She worked hard at producing a look of overdone exasperation.

"We don't know that. If God wanted us to join a union, there would already be one there. "

"No. You gotta form the union," Butch answered patiently. "It's OK with God."

I could sense the steam starting to leak out of the crowd. "What do you want from us, Gene?" I demanded.

"I just think we're overlooking God's role in this."

Butch picked up on new tact. "What's it say in the Bible about unions, Gene? I bet you know the Bible backwards and forwards."

"I do. And it don't say nothing about unions."

"Well, then, it's ok," said Butch.

"No, it ain't. We should wait for a sign from God."

Now Celina was eyeballing Gene with the same look she had used on Butch. The workers paused in their signing activities. Sensing that Gene had brought us to a critical juncture, I said, "I think we should sign the cards because we haven't received any sign that we shouldn't."

Gene was the only person who didn't sign a card.

That evening, after having yet another restaurant dinner with Butch, Celina stopped by the trailer instead of just heading back to her motel room as she usually did.

"I should take you out to the rock quarry on the edge of town." I leaned back on the side cushions around my bed. I usually slept in a bunk on the other end of my decrepit trailer. That night I had folded down the kitchen table put away or threw away all the junk, and had folded out the full bed. We were both fully clothed. Celina in jeans, socks, and a union t-shirt. My clothes paralleled hers with the exception of my mismatched socks. I had all the lights out. The only light came from the television.

"Rock quarry? What for?" I watched her languid movements from behind as she nestled down her head on her arm after having propped it up for quite some time. My portable color TV bathed us in the flickering electronic light. If I reached out, I could have touched her hair.

"Go skinny-dipping. What else?"

She indolently turned around, flashed me a wicked smile and said, "It's too cold."

An intuitive flash told me that we had reached the continental divide of our relationship. She stretched out, flexing her legs, then her back, then her arms. I watched. I sensed that it could go either way that moment. She was willing to take it in either direction. The lurid light from the TV shimmered through her hair.

"Why do you live like this?"

"Like what?"

"Like this." She opened her arms to encompass the interior of trailer. "Like a bum." She didn't sound judgmental. Just honest.

I shoved my way past her and up off the bed. She looked up at me with a look of concern. She sat up briefly, then laid back.

"I don't know. I gave up, I guess."

"I didn't mean to offend you. You have the right to live anyway you want."

"I'm not offended." I drank the last of some very strong, very bitter, fast food coffee out of a paper cup. Then I lit one of Butch's cigarettes that I had bummed.

"You don't smoke."

"Oh, yeah. In past lives I have. This is just one of the ghosts coming up."

"You talk like you're an old man."

"I'm gettin' there."

She slumped back down, with her head propped up again. She just looked at me. I stubbed out the cigarette in the coffee after a few hits.

"I live like this because I'm too chickenshit to move forward with my life anymore. I need to find something meaningful to do with myself if I want to continue to grow. Guess I'm at that proverbial turn in the road. Only this time around, I get the feeling if I don't take the turn, I'm not getting any more chances."

Celina sat up again. She brushed her fingers against my arm. "Please hand me my beer."

"You know, kid, I get the feeling you're wondering about your job, too."

"I'm always on the road. I'm always staying in a hotel. I'm always losing union elections. I'm always saying goodbye to good people, and I know when I leave town their employer is going to fire them for standing up for themselves." She recited her words like a litany. In the faint light I watched her stare vacantly at her beer bottle.

I pulled on my workboots.

"What are you doing?"

"Puttin' on my shoes, so I can drive you back to your hotel."


We all got together again on voting day. The labor board held the election on-site at Parliament. The campaign had taken several heavy hits after the organizing meeting but the workers faltered ahead with the help of the three of us, Butch, Celina, and myself. First, the company called in the union buster consultants. This was a Loop law firm of douchebags who lived in Lincoln Park and wealthy suburbs like Barrington Hills and Inverness. These guys played golf with Alexander Glashauser while the folks he paid minimum wage ran unsafe punch presses during the torrid summer days in his noisy factory.

First the lawyers called in the Federal Immigration Agency, "La Migra" as the workers called them. A lot of our women supporters found themselves clutching one-way-tickets on the bus to Mexico. Some of their children had been born in the USA and could prove it, so they didn't have to go. Some of the spouses were legal too. The resulting havoc of split-up families served as a cautionary omen to those who hadn't made up their minds about voting for the union.

Then they fired Juan Lopez for poor job performance. Butch got him a union lawyer and pitched a bitch with the labor board over an illegal firing. Butch thought they could get it resolved in six months, maybe. Meanwhile Juan was out of a job. The union offered to put him on full time as an organizer until they resolved his case, but he went sullen and turned down the offer. Celina, who was spending a lot of time with Juan's nephew, Fernando, tried working on him via the family, but she was unsuccessful.

They made a couple of the white kids into foremen, which took them out of the voting because now they were management. For awhile it looked like the whole thing would come apart.

With Juan gone, our inside committee dwindled to seven really tough Mexican women. They ranged in age from 23 to 61, they were legal, and they intended to fight it out with Glashauser and Parliament until the last bullet. They helped us call on people in the evening at their homes, and they handed out the flyers that blasted the company for splitting up families.

The company managed to get the union vote pushed out into the future by filing different complaints with the labor board. Meanwhile they unleashed an unremitting anti-union terror campaign in the factory complete with mandatory anti-meetings, posters, bumper stickers, and rewards of overtime and secret pay raises for the weak-minded and disciplinary action for anyone suspected of being pro-union. Butch filed complaints on the illegal stuff the company did, but the labor board would never get to the cases in the same decade they were filed.

On voting day, we met at Rocky's Bar and Grill after the conclusion of the first shift at Parliament. We had held meetings there previously because Rocky was an old steelworker and he welcomed the business. I didn't like it because everybody had full access to booze before, during, and after the meeting. Butch always asked Rocky to go "slow serve" until the meeting was completed.

The first guy in the door that day was Gene. He was wearing a union button. "Got the sign, huh?" I asked.

"Indeed I did, Peter."

Celina and Fernando arrived next, arm in arm. "You know Juan went against us, man?" said Fernando.

"What?" I felt personally betrayed.

"Yeah. It's true. He's got his job back with the company."

"I told you he was no fucking good," said Butch.

"What happened?" I asked.

Fernando waved Butch and myself over to the barstools where he and Celina had roosted. I thought the kid looked really good for herself that day. The other workers were drifting into the bar now, and Juan apparently didn't want his story to be on the public record. "You know you got a friend, Peter. His name is Bad Bob."

I looked at Butch. Any story with Bad Bob in it was bad fucking news. Somebody got shot. Somebody got cut. Somebody went to jail. "He's not actually my friend. We're just acquaintances."

"I don't think so," said Fernando.

"OK, OK. Friends, acquaintances, what's the difference," said Butch.

"Yeah, yeah. What happened?" I asked.

"Juan goes to your buddy, Bad Bob, and asks to buy a kilo of coke."

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"Bad Bob told me this morning. He stopped us in the parking lot."

Celina nodded in affirmation. "He asked me if I was the union organizer helping you." She pointed to me. "I said, yeah. Then he said..."

Fernando interrupted her, "Let me tell it. It's my story."

"Go ahead," she said.

"Then he said, 'You tell that fucking MacNaughton that he owes me a big one."

"Owe him what?" I asked.

"He said that he knew Juan had been fired and didn't have any money. He asked Juan where he got all the money to buy a kilo of coke. Juan got smart with him. So, Bob pulled his gun and took him over to the machine shed in back of Parliament. He hung him upside down from a motor shaft and told him if he didn't say where he got the money he was going to turn on the motor. Juan was scared shitless, so he told."

"Yeah." Butch and I both hated the relaxed pace the story insisted on taking.

"He got the money from Parliament. They wanted Juan to stick dope in your trailer."

Then they were going to call the police. They offered to give Juan his job back if he did it."

"Fuck me," was all I could verbalize.

"No, fuck them," Butch said, loud enough to get the attention of the folks at surrounding tables. "I'm taking this shit to the police."

"Whoa. You can't do that, man. You'll get Bob in trouble. That's not how I repay favors."

Butch yanked his sports coat down hard. "Goddamn."

"So, Juan. He's OK?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah. He walked around all day with a big No-Union button."

"And two shiners," added Celina.

Fernando laughed, "Yeah, Bad Bob kicked the shit out of him."

The meeting was dismal one. One of the Mexican women brought the results over to the bar after second shift had voted. We lost the election 122 to 101. We had no doubt there would be another round of reprisals in a couple of months. The union buster lawyers usually recommended waiting until the union stuff had died down completely, before firing, one by one, everyone who had participated in the organizing committee. Fernando went looking for another job the next day.

Celina was ordered to Alabama to help on another campaign. But she had caught on to the losing strategy of the AFL-CIO, which consisted of; pump up the workers, follow the rules no matter how badly they were stacked against you, watch the workers get crushed, then abandon the workers when they lost the vote. Precisely the opposite way the CIO had signed up millions of people in the 1930s. Mobilizing people for mass direct action scared the shit out of the bureaucrats who owned the AFL-CIO.

So, she quit. She got a job in the Loop as an administrative assistant for an environmental attorney. She and Fernando moved in together to an apartment on the near Northwest Side of Chicago in Humboldt Park. I was happy for her and glad I hadn't given in to temptation the night she watched TV in my trailer. We both needed to move on and follow our own stars.

I cleaned out my trailer, and bought a newspaper to look at want ads. Celina had provided the necessary impetus I needed to find a career that made sense and got me off the road to nowhere. Butch called and informed me he had gotten my old job back. I told him I wouldn't be needing it.

I bought Bad Bob a steak dinner in a nice restaurant under the L tracks on South Wabash down in Chicago's Loop. We talked about the old neighborhood until after midnight. The next day I put the trailer up for sale. Parliament fired Juan one last time.

Gregory Alan Norton is the author of There Ain't No Justice, Just Us. His short stories may be found in The Princeton Arts Review, The Rockford Review, George and Mertie's Place, Nebo, The Missing Spoke Press Anthology, Struggle, The Oyez Review, Writer's Corner, Short Story Bimonthly, Slugfest, America Laid Off: Literature of a Downsized Nation (anthology), Mobius, and a Dallas literary magazine, Jack the Daw. "Insubordination Blues" is part of a larger collection of short stories on which he is currently working and is entitled, The Infinity of Days in the Psychotic Atomik Empire.