Prepared by Tom Connors, TLHRC
Among the many 16mm film cans in the Teamsters Archives was one labeled on the leader “We the People – Flood Story, 4-25”. This was a small reel – 8” in diameter, signifying a short film, about 10 minutes long. Physical examination of the film told me that it was brittle and I refrained from projecting it for fear of breakage.
Quite by accident, as I was systematically reviewing the International Teamster, the IBT’s monthly journal, I came upon a story in the June 1952 issue titled “We the People - Operation Evacuation.”
The story told of a segment of a national television program concerning Teamsters Local 554, Omaha, Nebraska, and how local drivers assisted in the Missouri River flood evacuation of hundreds of Omaha families and households.
Bingo! The short film reel had to be a kinescope of that segment.
I consulted film transfer and restoration vendors as to transferring the reel to DVD. In most cases the cost of transfer was steep. I finally sent it to my local film-and-video-to-digital vendor who had been doing very good transfer work for us over the past year. He assured me that he would be able to produce an excellent digital copy with no breakage of the film original. And right he was.
The program segment is about 9 minutes long and includes footage of the rising flood waters of the Missouri River in the spring of 1952. We the People host David Seymour introduced Local 554 president Peter Capellupo and Ralph Nogg, president of the Nebraska Motor Carriers Association, explaining and showing via reenactment scenes how labor and management, despite current tensions over contract negotiations and a strike threat, came together to undertake the mass evacuation.
The final scene shows Nogg and Capellupon speaking noble words of labor-management cooperation in service to the community. (No mention was made as to the resolution or resumption of negotiation tensions.)
The beauty of this We the People program segment is that it highlights community service by a local union and was broadcast nationally The local and the truckers association got together at the behest of the Omaha civil defense office in opposition to price gouging independent truckers and drivers offering to evacuate people for $200 or more per household. The labor-management team did it for free.
The program is indeed dated in its scripting. But interestingly, it is not cynical; it suggests a society of mediating institutions, where labor and management are on equal footing, equally legitimate, each with a role to play. Given today’s typical management anti-union sentiments this We the People message from 1952 is a breath of fresh air.