Cheri Register’s tribute to her family, especially her father, Gordon is a great read. First I picked it up to pass some time while Sue looked intently for potential summer reading. Studs Terkel’s recommendation was the starting point. The back cover summary about the combination of personal and academic methods to explain an important historical event led me to a random chapter. After that the author’s spare, direct and pointed descriptions of her life, family and the working environment of the packinghouse had me.
It brought back memories of my own father’s oiled work clothes, his tools, his union paper, and most of all his lifetime routine of working the second shift in an aircraft plant. As hard as that life was, and is, it is even harder when disrupted by strikes and layoffs. Cheri Register describes all of these in a way that must resonate with anyone brought up in a home dominated by work. Work that is the only shield from poverty, hunger and homelessness. Work that brings respect and a lifetime of physical and mental stress, danger and even death.
With this book, the author has peeled back some of the layers that protect the very powerful from ‘hiding out and staying aloof from the consequences of their greed’. After reading this book, the names Swift, Wilson, and Armour no longer represent choices for bacon. They are the uber-rich whose capital drives and sometimes decays the lives of entire communities. Their heritage of hospital wings, foundations and trust funds is the value created by the blood, bone and family ties of millions of working people.
Cheri Register’s memoir gives voice to people whose lives are rarely noted. She notes the contributions of Hazel Gudvangen, the only woman arrested during the strike of 1959. Her personal network of friends crosses class lines. People vilified by one side or the other retain their human dimension. That tension between systemic injustice at times carried out by those who genuinely want to reduce its negative consequences and principled opposition grounds the history and its dialetic in an exquisite, if difficult, frame that keeps people at its centre.
With the growing presence of the meat packing industry in today’s news, this book provides great insight into marketplace economics and community life with names, places, and facts.