I would like to share a few thoughts with you all about a friend, Carl Boye, who died Thursday. Most of you don't know Carl but he was an important guy to all of us, to the real labor movement, the real UAW, to our families and communities because he spent his entire life believing in workers and doing his best to kick the capitalists' greedy ass.
It seems like many, many years ago, I considered joining a socialist party and went to see an old friend, Carl, to talk about it. I was a young union rep and frustrated with the uaw's turn to company unionism and I was thinking that lineworkers weren't too hip to the change; that socialists were and that maybe I could find a little more support there.
Carl was really opposed to capitalism and as much in love with working class people as he was disgusted with big business. He worked for Ford before the UAW and was the second president of my Local back in the mid-40's. He was a tough, tough old UAW-CIO type guy who was happiest mixing it up on picketlines when he wasn't driving the bosses nuts at the St. Paul Ford Assembly Plant.
Maybe the CIO type was patterned around Carl or certainly patterned after guys like Carl who believed workers ought to run the show.
He told me he thought going that socialist route was a waste of time even though he was interested in socialist ideas. He never thought communists or socialists really cared about people. He saw them as people who thought themselves more intelligent and better than us. Carl was verrrrry big on common sense as coming from common workers. He was also devoted to democracy and that meant democracy from the shop floor up. He told me that as far as he could see my politics came off the plant floor, that what I was good at was listening and working with lineworkers and "sticking to your guns" which he meant as the lineworkers' guns. He poked a big finger in my chest and said: "YOU DON'T SELL OUT!" I didn't talk back much to Carl either. I always thought he meant that sellout statement two ways, as an observation but also a command - that I didn't sell out but it was an order too, that I better not ever even think of selling out. Much later he told me that I couldn't ever sellout because I was too close to the workers. It was one of the nicest things anyone ever said about me in my entire life because he meant it in the best way.
In Carl's democratic view, if you followed it, you could never sell out, ever, because you always stayed a worker. He told me he thought my politics were better than any party system because I was still willing to fight for what I believed in when I was a lineworker. He taught me to always look for the best Union people in our plant, to stay close to them, to listen, argue, fight with them even, over everything we thought was important to make the Union stronger. "There's your party, the workers," Carl said. "You don't need to go to some goddam party headquarters to have someone else tell you what to think. Stick with the best people. You will always find that the better the person, the better the Union man. [Carl worked in our plant when there were no women.] Just listen. They'll tell you what to do. Just listen, but don't ever waste time with the company stooges - they don't have it. You can't change 'em. They're the enemy, you have to fight 'em."
He taught me to never pay too much attention to big shots - never to pay heed to company bigshots. And, only seldom to the UAW bigshots. He could never accept that the UAW had become so dismal as to freeload in Vegas with corporate execs and enter company unionism. It was so far away from his experience and everything he valued so deeply about the UAW that he just tuned it out. It was like, "What's going on in the plant?"
"The bargaining committee's in Palm Springs with the company."
"No. What's going on in the plant?"
"They're speeding up the line and cutting jobs."
Carl had mucho health problems. His legs were paralyzed and he spent the last 25 years in a wheel chair. Since he had retired 2 years before I started at Ford I had only heard legendary stuff about his life in the plant. Things like running a whole heat of glass onto the floor when a line foreman tried to ignore him on a grievance. They fired him for that but he never made it as far as the front door because the glass workers said, "Might as well fire us too because we ain't working without Carl." Carl just saw himself in his committeeman days as a guy who simply worked for the lineworkers. He didn't set out to "lead" them. The relationship was that THEY led HIM. The lineworkers were his boss and the Ford Motor Co. could go screw itself on everything.
I met Carl at a Saturday meeting of the Progressive Roundtable; he was the bright spot in a fairly large assembly of Twin Cities liberal sillies. I introduced myself after the meeting and he actually pulled himself up out of the wheelchair and propped himself on the table with one hand and grabbed mine with the other. "You're Tom Laney? Boy, have I heard alot about you - all bad!" Not sure what was coming next because Carl was pretty close to some uaw porkers who hated my guts, I asked if we could get together and talk Union? And that began one of the terrific friendships of my life with this guy I will be telling people about as long as I live.
When the porkchoppers in the uaw forced a big political division in our Local over support for the P-9rs, Carl never wavered. His directness in telling everyone that P-9 support was not optional but a UNION obligation cost him some old friends, which I think is a heavy price to pay for principle in your late days. But he was solid. Just incredible in his integrity and sense of duty which always included loud, animated lectures to ANYONE who saw it otherwise.
Five years ago, when my first granddaughter, Laney Erin Henehan, was born, I took her to meet Carl. He wasn't doing too well that day but it was unbelievable the way his eyes lit up with Laney! He held her and announced, "She's got something!" I think it's probably Union organizing she's got, at least that's where I'm pushing her. I'll tell her all about Carl in a few years. But already, she sits next to a kid on the kindergarten bus who the other kids are shunning for whatever reason and has just told a bully to leave a friend alone. There's a connection between Laney and Carl which is just that connection that Carl always explained as "most guys are pretty good." He meant women too.
Some weeks ago I think a machinist wrote here, or no it was Richard Mellor - that the Union leaders like Lewis and Mortimer and Thomas and Green and Murray and some others from years ago were such "giants" compared to what we have today. And isn't it true that with all their faults that they were giants when compared to the corporate pimps masqued as "labor leaders" today?
But isn't it really true that they were giants because they understood that they worked for the workers and their greatness was only a reflection of the lineworkers and the farmers and steelworkers and fitters and cafeteria workers and miners and drivers and teachers and everyone else who works and is allowed a fair chance to express themselves and thereby define the action?
I think that is absolutely true. It is the most important truth Carl taught me and the most important truth in understanding the need to revolt against this company-union labor movement we've been saddled with and the need for starting up the road to real Unions and a just society RUN BY US!
In 1987, my Local honored Carl with a big plaque and annual Carl Boye Awards to the people in our local who best typify Solidarity principles. I guess the leaders decided that this is too radical an idea and they no longer observe this. In making the award back then, the Local quoted Martin Luther King in saying that the test of courage doesn't come in times of comfort and convenience but in times of turmoil and controversy. We said that Carl never had trouble with the choices or the controversy. He stood up always for equality and solidarity and democracy. It was pretty cool that we recognized his constancy as a worker and his courage as large as King's.
His daughter Mick (Marguerite) told me in a long talk last nite, where we seemed to alternately laugh and cry, amongst all the stories from Carl an to Carl busting some knuckles on the line to Carl hanging out with bigshots but never being affected by them, that Carl will be buried near Lansing, Iowa next Friday. There will be no prayers, no service, no memorial. She says that Carl's religion was the Union and this is the way he wanted it.
I said Carl had a life-long love affair with his family and Ford workers. "Mick" said I had it backwards.
Whatever, I am sure that God will bless this wonderful man.
I did not mean to be so lengthy. I'll be writing something more organized later on but I needed to do this just now.
I do mean to let you all know that this good man's life has made things better for my kids and grandkids and yours too. Carl really did change the world!
I just wanted everyone to know about him.
Merry Christmas to all,