I remember hearing the phrase, “Never cross a picket line” before I knew what it meant. What I instantly understood is that if I did this thing, the lesson uttered gravely by my mom, I would be committing a serious sin. Now that I understand the purpose and history of labor unions and the injustice workers can be subjected to without them, I know why this lesson is so important and means so much to the people who believe it.
A labor (or trade) union is an organized group of workers who come together to make decisions about and negotiate for better working conditions and wages in order to ensure fair treatment of its members in the workplace. The union acts as an go-between connecting members and management and allows workers to have a collective voice. In short, it’s very much the idea of strength in numbers.
I am extremely proud of my own union supporting family background. My DiBagno family especially has deep labor union roots since the beginning of their time in the United States. My great grandparents Giulio and Adela DiBagno immigrated to America in 1920, coming from a deeply impoverished part of Italy at the time. They settled in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, a fairly young and growing borough which would gain city status in 1938.
Giulio’s older brother Pietro “Pete” Di Bagno had come over years earlier in 1904 and found work in the coal mines of Wehrum, Pennsylvania. At some point, he became involved in the coal miner’s union. One of Pete’s step-grandchildren said that at one point Pete actually traveled to Washington, DC to speak with congressional leaders about the workers’ grievances in the mines (I am still hoping I get to see the rumored photo that exists of Pete from this visit).
His brother Giulio joined the bricklayer’s union in Pennsylvania and helped get his son Tony (my grandfather) in as well. It was actually getting into the union around 1948 that caused my grandfather to leave beautiful California, where he and my grandma had been living the previous two years, and return to Pennsylvania.
A descendant of Giulio’s, my second cousin Mike, is currently a labor reporter, formerly for Politico, now for The Guardian and his own creation Payday Report, “The South’s 1st Unionized Digital News Co-op.” Some things I think run in the blood.
I myself now work for a union and couldn’t be prouder. It’s one thing to love your job (and I do), but it’s even better to know that the work you do goes towards helping others. Every once in a while it’s good to remember that we’re all in this together.
A following post will continue this labor theme…curious what my favorite labor themed onscreen offering is? Stay tuned!