Thursday, June 25, 2015

"It Won't Work" Ch 13 Excerpt: Taiwan's Wilted Sunflowers

     This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 “Emerson, I need you to take down your Facebook post. I am NOT public as an IWW member in China and it endangers me and others to post about my involvement in the IWW in this way. Please take down or make the post private now!” Mr. Ferric Mole, a man of twenty-five, younger than he thought himself to be, had blond streaks of hair swept to a side in his Facebook picture, a quizzical pose, slightly drunk-looking, slightly weary about a world he thought he knew but really did know not much about, outside of his inflamed imagination. He would have been a great model for ‘office yuppie’ in another lifetime; the guy at the water cooler sharing negative gossip about his office competitor to his clique. His e-mails were full of flagrant bullshit. To say he meant nothing to any government was a gross exaggeration. Emerson had run into his kind of inflated self-importance many times in the IWW.
     A month later, Fellow Worker Ferric Mole had a softening of heart; he saw what Emerson had accomplished in Taiwan. He wrote back: “
Hi Fellow Worker, I saw things are coming together with the IWW in Taiwan! That's great news! I wanted to get in touch to see if you would be up for having a conference call with other Wobblies in East Asia. If so, I can try to get one together. I am hoping we can have some kind of meeting next year; the energy of one group can encourage the others. I don’t know what I can do here in Mainland China. I can’t mention any names but I am connected to labor activists here. I want to see if I could invite a few from your group to visit and meet me and activists here. I live in Guangzhou, which is close to Hong Kong," like anyone in Taiwan wouldn’t know. “Would you be interested in coming to visit and meet activists here?” Sure, Emerson thought, if you paid me and you weren’t so full of crap.
      "I'd like to make it to Taiwan this fall, if you're up for it.” Emerson was trembling with excitement. “I would have stopped there on my way to China, but I thought it would be more politically sensitive to stop in Taiwan afterwards,” like anyone in China would care, thought Emerson. 

“Hi Chum: I finally meet Calcutta, He-Haw, and Pee-Wee, two of them Wobblies. We made up to meet again soon after the rigging from GHQ finally arrives.” Emerson had to hold himself down to contain his enthusiasm.
      “We spent over three hours in Dante’s coffee shop discussing the IWW. I ended up doing most of the talking as I answered their questions about organizing in Taiwan. They talked about how they had been active pushing for recognition of workers' rights for workers who seemed to resent their help. I pointed out that we should let the workers come to us who want to organize their work place but we should agitate workers and show solidarity to them in demonstrations. The first step was organizing in our own work places. He-Haw, who works in a small crew for a documentary producer, shouldn’t consider him a friend since he is a boss with power to hire, fire, and pay. He-Haw should ask for an increase in salary. I was just making a point.”
      “We touched on all subjects. Someone had asked if I was affiliated with the NYC branch anymore.” Back in New York, Binge Henchman read this, he questioned what Emerson had said. What he told them was, “I wasn’t because a Dante ‘Union’ job-shop was eating up GMB funds.” He told Henchman he left because he was moving to Taiwan; no sense in making the fool angry, Emerson thought. In fact he explained how Ry Grossinger jumped the gun by filing with the NLRB for recognition before getting a super majority at Dante’s. Emerson knew it would make the union lose the election. He wrote on to Chum, “I told my three fellow workers in Taiwan that we shouldn’t look for stardom as Grossinger had because of the conditions of no government union protection.” They had to be clandestine there, he emphasized. “There is apathy from workers and gangster-ism from bosses,” he concluded. “We really must let the workers come to us.”.
      “I gave Calcutta and He-Haw some gifts on behalf of the IWW and lent them the Kerr IWW Anthology I brought from Brooklyn. I gave them my signed copy of Wobblies, the graphic history. I also gave them a print out of Henry’s 25 page Mandarin (with Taiwanese characteristics, I learned) translation of IWW history and goals and one of three Wobbly pennants I brought. Calcutta was interested in the Wobbly City I brought as I discussed how David Graber had come to our GMB meeting in 2005 when he was fired from Yale and now was a good author; we should be that for disgruntled Taiwanese workers. I will copy the newsletter and send it as an attachment to her.”
     He also brought up his desire to keep localism as their focus even as they were international. He pointed out how Jacob Zhu of China Wash was a spy for China who came to the Chrysanthemum Tea House talk he did about the IWW and grass-root unionism. He distracting Taiwan University student with his ulterior motive of promoting unification with China even while he was anti-WTO, mainly to be anti-American, not pro-worker. He-Haw looked him up on his smart phone and knew who he was referring to. He also showed He-Haw and Calcutta the list of students he’d met ten years ago in Taipei and they recognized at least one former student as still being an activist.
In trying to start a Regional Organizing Committee for the IWW family in Taiwan, Emerson felt like a papa; he didn’t understand the kids. For example, the two native Taiwanese 22 year old members here who signed up in Melbourne, Australia didn't bring their red cards to the first two meetings they had. He fought with GHQ to get one of them delegate rigging. Finally, Calcutta received her delegate rigging from GHQ so she could pay her own dues. Then, she didn’t want the rigging! Emerson told her that they would have to give quarterly report to GHQ by the end of January 2014. 
     Jagger, a 32 year old Taiwanese man Emerson met ten years ago, hadn't signed up, yet. Emerson gave him a booklet of a Mandarin IWW translation he put together. Without Jagger signing up, and without proof Calcutta and He-Haw were in good standing, they couldn’t have a quorum for an official meeting. He gave everyone but Jagger a Referendum Ballot. No one completed Referendum ballots.
Robert Abraham, a 40 year old Canadian, hunkered into Taiwan with a wife and child for twelve years, paid initiation fees and dues (400 + 400NT) when Emerson signed him up; he’d been a Wobbly fan for years. GHQ hadn’t mailed him applications in his rigging but Sham and/or Yarn mailed them to Calcutta. Emerson took one from her for Abraham’s application and an extra copy for himself. Abraham wants to study the ballot questions again. Emerson sent an e-mail when he got home to them and Dusty Shu in Kaohsiung with his mailing address if he wanted to vote and if they want him to mail back their ballots together, otherwise he would mail his back alone.
As far as Emerson knew, Calcutta and He-Haw hadn’t paid dues since they were signed up in Melbourne, Australia in June. He had never seen their red cards. At sub-minimum rate, they owed 50 NT a month each or 600 NT together for six months. The IWW doesn’t care if you stop paying dues and go back later, Emerson reasoned. They kept your number and continue sending you junk mail, anyway. He-Haw was working so his income was higher than Calcutta’s. They should pay something to show good faith, Emerson reasoned. Maybe they didn’t want to pay dues; this was why they didn’t bring red cards to the two meetings they had, Emerson suspected
Emerson wanted to be a catalyst and motivator for the IWW organizing in Taiwan but Calcutta and He-Haw, or someone who spoke Mandarin well, had to be the main ingredients; without their dedication they were losing a beat, Emerson feared. He thought they had to be getting two labor organizations, Cooloud and Youth Labor, to sign up and help organize the union there but they, admittedly so, didn’t know much about the IWW. Only the translation Emerson gave them had guided them. They all spoke English well. He openly suggested someone translate the Agenda into Mandarin but they didn’t take the request. Maybe Jagger, he hoped, was mature at 32 years old to take more responsibility than the twenty-two year olds. Emerson thought Michael Stern was great, well-committed and responsible, even a half hour early. Calcutta and He-Haw were fifteen minutes late and Jagger didn’t show up until an hour later, after Calcutta text-messaged him. Emerson was becoming frustrated. He stayed up late at night wondering why he was bothering with young fools like that anymore.
At the meeting He-Haw agonized over how the IWW could become relevant to workers in Taiwan. He kept talking about the Taiwanese character of conciliation with their employers and acceptance of top-down management. He was really getting on Emerson’s nerve. Emerson suggested they take Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s tact of agitating workers who had been displaced by mismanagement. For example, workers from the Chang-Chi Foodstuff Factory Co. who made substandard food products would be on furlough and possibly lose their jobs. The IWW could suggest to them that they take over the factory after the owner files for bankruptcy, as the boss probably would. The same was true of the workers from Chuan-Shun Food Enterprise Co that were found mixing cheaper Vietnamese rice with Taiwanese rice and selling the mixture as domestic rice in August 2013 or Top Pot Bakery management that lied about not using artificial flavorings. Emerson thought that would affect workers who could lose their jobs. Those workers needed agitators and organizers and might be prone to listen to IWW ideas of self-management and organizing.
      Abraham seemed to understand what Emerson was talking about. He mentioned how Sun Yat-Sen, a socialist, perhaps an anarchist, could be a thread with which to agitate Taiwanese workers and move them from acquiescing to employers. Emerson agreed. At any rate, the IWW had to become known in Taiwan to labor groups and organizations and fellow workers. Abraham’s idea of a business card was a good idea. Emerson explained how adding articles and endorsing workers organizations to their blog, Facebook, and the main IWW website could be used to put us on the page in the Taiwan labor movement.
Emerson thought they were well on their way to having ten members needed for an R.O.C. He could almost smell it. He could count six or seven, but only two he was sure of. Who knew how many would have them verified within two weeks; he could attach the applications in e-mail back to Chicago by November.
Emerson got the e-mail from He-Haw .It was in Mandarin so he asked Phoenix to translate; as usual, she put him straight. In the e-mail Emerson got, He-Haw called Emerson an “old fart” that should stay out of Taiwan politics. “You should spend your time learning Mandarin so you can speak with us on our level instead of bothering us.” Emerson’s old Taiwanese activist friend was an fart, too, according to He-Haw. He-Haw and Calcutta had no time for and nothing to learn from either of them. The letter hit Emerson like a bomb. He scratched his head in wonder; what had he said to so inflame He-Haw? Emerson knew he was wasting time associating with them.
He contacted Robert on an Instant Messenger call to get it off his chest:

E: Hi Robert. Are you there? Let me know when you're available to IM.
R: I'm available right now (8 pm). Please don't try to contact me between 10 pm and 11:30--I'll be exercising then.
E: Hi Robert, Em here.
R: Hi Em.
E: Glad we can chat
R: How was the meeting?
E: It didn't happen
E: You mean today’s?
R: No. The Skype conference? How about the Kaohsiung meeting?
E: The meeting last weekend with Dusty Hsu was nice. He brought his girlfriend, Sooty. Today I tried to Skype him but his father answered and told me to call back later.
R: I got up today at noon to be ready to chat with you, as we are now; but we didn't, of course.
Anyway, what was discussed at the Kaohsiung meeting?
E: I discussed that I have run into a dead end with the Taipei Wobs and Lin It-Hong's youthful followers
R: Who is Lin It-Hong? I talked to one of my students about the taIWWan website, and she checked it out. I'd like to give some of the IWW cards to my co-workers in the two schools I have part-time work in, but I'm worried they'll show 'solidarity' with the bosses, and I'll get canned.
E: That's great. Dusty H. said a friend signed up for regular taIWWan updates. Lin It-Hong is an activist I met ten years ago. He is at the heart of the land rights battle in Miaoli. I'm not sure where we can find more members.
R: Do you want to do the next meeting here in Keelung?
E: Why not. I was hoping it might be at Lit It-Hong's cafe in Miaoli but it doesn't look like that will happen.
R: There's a Dante Coffee shop on Chung-Shan Road, which isn't far from the railway. I'll have to check if there's Wi-Fi; if there is, I can bring my computer,
E: We are all computer idiots. Okay so where were we. Oh yes, right now it is you, me and Dusty H. in Taiwan. Calcutta and He-Haw are assholes
M: Well, we have to deal with the language barrier, or else we won't get anyone on board. The locals will naturally want lots of Chinese spoken at the meetings.
E: I asked but she plays dumb when I ask her to do it.  I asked her or He-Haw to translate the agenda but they played dumb
R: I'm sure she can translate, but doing so is a long and laborious process. It probably wears her out.
E: okay. Did you see the e-mail He-Haw sent me? I'm never writing to him again
R: I don't mean to take sides here, but we have to deal with the fact that English isn't easy for the locals here. I read some of the correspondence, and I know there was some friction; but I thought you worked it all out.
E: He-Haw said I don't understand 'how' Taiwanese people think, and he wrote it in Mandarin. He dissed Lin-It-Hong, too even though he is Taiwanese.
I think he, Calcutta, and Jagger are in this unification mindset and don't like 'independence' thinkers
R: Do you mean that they have a 'Taiwan nationalism' mindset? I ask that because, unfortunately, there's a lot of that here, as I'm sure you know.
E: Their group Youth 95 and Cooloud support unification with China
Why else would they did Lim It-Hong?
R: Whereas we have a more internationalist way of thinking. Is Lin more pro-Taiwan independence?
E: Yes. They know him well. He was on the news again tonight.
R: For my part, I have no use for nationalism in any country, be it China, Taiwan, Canada, Germany, etc.
E: Exactly
R: Lin was on the news? What happened?
E: A professor who supports their groups protest against the Miaoli mayor's knocking down buildings there was seriously injured in a car accident yesterday and the police are refusing to release the CCTV tapes. A few months ago, his cafe's window was smashed in the middle of the night
He's been on the news a lot and Calcutta, He-Haw and especially Jagger know him.
R: And Calcutta has no sympathy for him?
E: It doesn't look like it. He-Haw called him an “old fart” like me and said he should retire, too.
R: So you mean this is a 'young vs. old' thing?
E: Maybe. The bottom line is, Calcutta and He-Haw haven't shown their red cards and refused to vote in the referendum
R: Well, whatever their attitude is, I think that--in order to get as many locals on board as possible--we'll have to cater to their need for as much Mandarin as we can give. Otherwise, they'll feel alienated.
E: I agree but they're blaming me and not helping. I want to have the meetings in Mandarin, too!
R: Yeah. Well, if Calcutta et al don't want to be involved, then I guess it's goodbye to them, and we'll have to find other locals elsewhere.
E: You were at that second meeting. They could have changed the language to Mandarin in a second and just translated for you and me. I wouldn't have minded and I told them so, bilingually.
R: It's sad to lose them, but I guess it's a case of 'c'est la vie'.
I would have been willing to let them speak in Chinese, and would have had a tough time through it. After all, it's only fair.
E: That's why I'm upset. I was hoping we'd be on the way with six or seven members in good standing towards the Taiwan ROC and instead we have three, three solid members, but only three nevertheless. I hope we can get more, though there is plenty of time until Sept.'14 when our provisional ROC expires and we have to send the funds we raise to GHQ
R: When we get some more Taiwanese members in future meetings, I think it would be a good idea to volunteer speaking in Chinese a lot, in order to show good faith to them.
E: I agree, starting with the meeting near you. At the meeting in Miaoli with Lin-It-Hong my wife, Leona, translated.
R: It will make the locals feel more at ease.
E: OK Robert, it's been grand. Stay well and keep in touch
R: Good to chat with you, too.
E: OK Fellow worker for OBU

R: Solidarity! Ta-ta! :)

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