“Who’s the loudmouth over there?” The short stocky man asked the bartender as he lit a cigarette.
“Oh, him. That’s just Union Jack going on like a fool trying to get a union started at the mines. Comes here all the time. Gets the guys all riled up. McCarthy this, McCarthy that. The red scare, the Korean war, Christ, he even defends Negro rights in here.”
“Why don’t you kick him out? Sounds like a communist to me.”
“Well, sir, I’ll tell ya exactly why I don’t kick him out. I sure as shit ain’t no red, but it ain’t my place to tell paying customers what they can and can’t talk about in here. Each one of those men over there pays for each drink. Never argue the price, never try to get a deal. Nothing. They come in and pay their way. For me, that’s where it ends. Believing in capitalism means believing in the almighty dollar. That’s what keeps me afloat. I didn’t get into this business after the war because I believed each man in here would be talking sense. No, sir.”
He nodded, smiled a dishevelled grin, and turned around to look at the crowd. Union Jack was standing up, speaking in a tone of aggressiveness and passion so fierce, so telling, so manipulating, that the men were like children staring up at their hero. Believing every word he had to say like it was scripture.
The strange stocky figure at the bar figured that if Jack told his soot-covered disciples to go out and start killing for the good of the people. For the rights of the working class, to take down the ruling class, that they wouldn’t hesitate. He held a power that he admired, no doubt. Union Jack was a monster. A tall, fascinating brute who believed every word he said, so how could that passion and energy not transfer to those who listened?
“Do you think they’d mind if I went over?”
The bartender shrugged his shoulders while cleaning a mug with a dirty rag.
“I can’t imagine. Jack likes to talk. Loves to persuade and loves to debate. So no matter which side of the fence you stand on, he’ll have words to say, no doubt about it.” Then he paused before adding, “Go over at your own risk.”
The stocky man put out his cigarette in an overfilled ashtray next to a bowl of peanuts, grabbed his drink and headed over to the angry working class round table, where the miners sat in fearful admiration, and obedient anger. Dirt still lathered on their work clothes. No doubt in his mind that they had come straight from work.
“You see what they do, don’t you? They start a war 6000 fucking miles away. Mr. Truman. The strongest man in the west will jump at every opportunity to flex his muscle. To show that the Americans are strong, and that they can’t be pushed around. But the Koreans, the communists, aren’t travelling 6000 miles to take us over. Not a chance. They’re doing this to avoid all the problems that are going on in their own goddamn backyard.”
Union Jack was pounding the table with his fist. Spilled beer was flowing like a calm river across the old splintered wood, but no one seemed to notice. Or if they did, they didn’t give a shit.
The miners in unison were shouting, “Yeah! Yeah! You’re right!” Just like the stocky man in the expensive suit had thought. These dirty workers would chant and yell no matter what Union Jack screamed and pounded his fist about. They were hypnotized.
“Tell them Tim,” Jack said, pointing to a dull looking young man on the right side of the table. “What happened after your accident?”
“Hurt!” Jack cut him off. “Then what happened?”
“I-I had to”
“Go to the hospital. Right. And during all that missed time that was only missed because of a company error, did you make a cent?”
“No, sir. Not a penny.” He said, and looked down at the suds floating to the top of his mug with a look of disgrace and shame.
“Not a penny. And you know what? Mr. Freeman has ten million dollars. But no, please, God, no, don’t bat an eye at that. Please put all your money and your military into a non-exist threat half-away across the world. But if we say anything about this, God forbid we say anything about wanting a better wage and working conditions, or Mr. McCarthy and HUAC will come down here, blacklist us, and send us to court. Does that seem right to you? Does that seem just? Does that seem fair?”
The table roared so loud that the other patrons of the bar were startled, and muttered obscenities before going back to their drinks.
“Hello, uh, sir?” The stocky man asked, raising his right hand like he was in grade school. Jack looked at him quizzically.
“I haven’t seen you around. What’s your name, sir?”
“Benny, uh, Benny Harlow. I’m a reporter with the The Worker. I’d, uh, love to interview you quickly, if you had a minute?”
Jack laughed and looked at the table.
“Well, I’m a little shy, ya know?”
The table burst into laughter.
“Maybe we could go outside for a few minutes?”
“Yeah, sure, friend. No problem. Hey, Walt. Get these lowlifes another round, would ya? And put it on my good friend Senator McCarthy’s tab, eh?” Jack winked at Walt, who just rolled his eyes and nodded.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said to himself with the face of an old man who had seen every act of this play, played out far too many times. The same rhetoric. The same arguments. The same speeches, night in and night out. The workers might not tire of it, but old Walt sure as hell looked like he’d heard enough to last a couple of lifetimes.
Jack brought his half-empty mug of beer and wrapped his arm around Benny like this was a long-lost reunion between two war time brothers, who hadn’t seen each other since the days of blood and fury.
Jack pushed through the swinging doors, and the quiet of the late evening mining town hit them with the absolution of a C.S Lewis fantasy world. Stars invaded the cloudless sky, and smokestacks rose like the barrel of an industrious howitzer in the distance behind a mass of equally sized oak trees.
“Have you read any Karl Marx, Benny?” Union Jack asked while grabbing a pack of Lucky Strike from the breast pocket of his work shirt.
“Can’t say that I have, no.”
“Well, you know what he says about capitalism? He says that capital is money, and capital is commodities. Do you know what that means?”
Benny shook his head slowly, lighting a cigarette of his own.
“It means that it’s inherent in the term capitalism. It’s simply about money. That us, the working class. All the men inside that bar, all the men along this road, and roads like this all over the world, are just commodities. We’re not people. We’re not human. We don’t have souls or hearts. We are judged by the ruling class on our usefulness. And our usefulness depends entirely on labour. And if we can’t perform these duties. Then we have no use. Now, do you know what Marx says about communism?”
Again, Benny shook his head, blowing smoke rings into the cool night air.
“Only in community with others has each individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions. Only in the community, therefore, is freedom possible.”
“I like that” Benny said, and again Union Jack let out a hearty laugh that echoed through miners’ row.
“I’m not saying I’m a communist. You can’t say that here. All I’m saying, sir, is that people are losing their livelihoods. People are losing their lives based on what HUAC is saying, what The VFW is saying, what all of these red channels are saying, and it’s sickening. It’s sickening the amount of power that Mr. President and Mr McCarthy have over us. It’s absolutely sickening. It’s terrifying!”
“You have a big heart, Jack, uh?”
“Jack Brockman, and I don’t know about that. My father died during the depression, and my mother not long after. I fought to stay alive and bounced around all over the country looking for fair wages.”
Benny was starting to feel the magician’s spell of this man. But he had to remember the danger of men like this, and why he was here.
“Mr. Brockman. You have a big heart, though it might be misplaced.”
“What are you saying, mister?” Jack asked, his quick temper from the bar appearing on the lines of his forehead.
“I’m sorry, Jack. But this has gone on far enough. We can’t have this anymore. It’s dangerous. It’s too dangerous.”
Benny hauled out the 45.
“There’s no such thing as fair in this world, Union Jack.”