(As many people know, I write elsewhere also. They have asked me to write a story about a strike, and there are some strikes I know about first hand, and here is one. I have told this story before, but it has a lesson about the right time to strike and how to function during a strike if you want to win.)
After the Romanian revolution, the world was turned upside down. They were coming out of Communism, and all of a sudden, the homes they had had for years were no longer their homes. They were expected to buy their homes from the government. If they didn’t have money, they were turned out of their homes. There were people just living on furniture in front of apartment buildings all over Romania. I walked through furniture in front of an apartment building in town when I went to the apartment of my friend. I saw on the news pictures of furniture sitting outside with people living on the furniture all over Romania.
In the village where I lived, there was a coop farm. There was a group of apartments for migrant farm workers that were very small The people heated and cooked by wood, and had to carry the water from outside. However, the people still needed a home, and they wanted to buy their apartments. The apartments were going for only about $2,000 a piece. They could buy them, but the boss of the farm coop was trying to milk the situation for all the money he could get.
The wife of the boss of the farm coop opened up a butcher’s shop in the larger town. She bought all her meat for the butcher’s shop at the farm in the village where her husband was the boss. He fixed the scales so the animals she bought would weigh in half starved and not weigh much at all so she could buy them cheaply. She took them to the bigger town and sold them for a much higher price. They also had another scheme.
They decided they wouldn’t sell the apartments to the farm laborers, but keep them, tear them down, and build a big hotel. Most of the farm laborers were uneducated, and when they were told they couldn’t buy their apartments, they didn’t know anything different. However, there was one many who he and his wife had an education. They had recently become Christians, and they were extremely honest people. They were poor, but when others were stealing milk from the farm to give to their children, this couple refused to steal milk. They were adamant about doing things right. The wife actually had a law degree. She went to the library and did some research. She learned that by law the farm boss had to sell them all their apartments.
The husband of the lawyer went to the farm boss and told him what he knew and insisted that the farm boss sell the apartments to the people. However, the farm boss refused. This man went back day after day trying to talk the farm boss into selling the people their homes. Day after day, the farm boss refused. Finally, this man decided he needed to do something to force the farm boss to sell the apartments like he was supposed to.
He went on a hunger strike. He sat outside of the farm boss’ office. The only thing he had with him was a bottle of water. He sat there day after day not eating. He went into the office everyday trying to talk the farm boss into selling the apartments to the people, but the farm boss always turned him down.
The man on the hunger strike happened to be a friend of mine. I went to visit him. He was so happy to see me. He said all the people were so afraid that the were not coming to visit him, but I went with his wife and another of the farm workers to visit him. His wife had been bringing him water everyday. It was the only thing he was putting inside himself. He had lost weight, and he was beginning to get weak. He had big dark circles around his eyes and was looking very drawn. He was losing weight and had no energy, but he wasn’t going to give the hunger strike up. He had been there for almost weeks on strike. I was really worried about him. I understood why he was doing it because I didn’t want to see anyone else thrown out of their house. I appreciated what he was doing, but I was afraid he was going to starve to death. I kept thinking I needed to help in some way, but I wasn’t quite sure how.
I came up with an idea. The Romanians have something they call “rușine,” shame. They use shame to try to control one another. If someone was doing something wrong, they would just threaten to expose them, and it forced them into doing the right thing. It was the right thing to sell those poor people their apartments. It was the wrong thing to let that man starve and let the farm boss keep cheating the people. I decided the farm boss needed to be exposed, and so shamed.
I went to the newspapers in the big town. I explained to them what was happening in the village. I asked them to send a reporter. The next day, they did send a reporter. He interviewed both my friend and the farm boss. The farm boss was afraid the reporter would paint him in a bad light in the article. The farm boss filled the newspaper reporter’s car full of fancy cheeses and meats hoping it would sway the newspaper report to be benevolent to him in the article.
A couple of days later, I heard the article had come out in the newspaper. I went to see my friend who was on a hunger strike, and he was finished with his strike. He said the newspaper reporter had not been as benevolent to the farm boss as the farm boss had wanted, and the farm boss had caved and given the people the right to buy their apartments. My friend went home, began eating, and took a much needed rest. My friend and all his neighbors were able to buy their homes. My friend had become a hero!