Most historians maintain that labor unions are a modern phenomena that sprung into existence when workers were exploited during the early days of the industrial revolution. This theory has been disproved, however, by a recent discovery by an archaeological expedition in the deserts of Egypt. The archaeologists excavated what they claim to be a building which once served as the headquarters for a guild of construction craftsmen. Based on the records unearthed by this expedition, The following account has been pieced together of the problems which plagued the brief life and the ultimate demise of organized labor in ancient Egypt.---The sign on the door of the temporary palm thatched office read:Rakanak and Farook - General Contractors: Giza ProjectInside the office Ahmed, the site manager for the project, was reviewing the drawings for the fourteenth tier of the pyramid which would serve as the tomb for Ramatut XIV, Pharaoh of all of Egypt; Upper, Lower and Middle. Although Ramatut was still a young man and in excellent health, Ahmed was concerned that the pyramid would not be completed in time. The Giza project was already far behind schedule and it looked like things were going to get worse.Work had now been halted for more than a week because of a jurisdictional dispute that arose due to the introduction of a newly designed bracket for attaching torches to the walls of the inner burial chamber. Since the bracket fit into the handle of the torch, the A.E.B.I.W. (the All of Egypt Brotherhood of Illumination Workers) claimed the right to install them. But the S.A.E. (the Stonecutters Alliance of Egypt) countered that they should install the brackets because of the need to drill holes in the stone walls. As a result of the dispute, all of the A.E.B.I.W. and S.A.E. card carrying members had walked off their jobs on the project, even those not involved in the work in the burial chamber. So, without illuminators and stonecutters, all work on the pyramid was halted.To get the work started again, Ahmed had agreed to have a journeyman illuminator and a journeyman stonecutter work together hanging the brackets. The S.A.E. man would drill the holes and the A.E.B.I.W. would hang the bracket and attach the torch handle. And since the union contract stated that whenever a job called for two journeymen, the contractor had to hire a helper. To avoid further delays deciding which local should supply the helper, Ahmed told both unions to have an apprentice report to the project. So now, four men were being paid to do a job that one man could have handled easily; but at least the project was moving again. In fact, the morning had been unusually quiet, but Ahmed had been around the construction business long enough to know that it wouldn't last.Sure enough, Ahmed was signing some material invoices, when Nhumose, the project superintendent walked into the office. He plopped down into the chair next to Ahmed, removed his linen headpiece and used it to wipe the sweat from his shaven head."Whew!," Nhumose gasped, "If it gets any hotter out there, the crews are going to knock off early""What in the name of Ra do you mean, knock off early", Ahmed shouted, "They just started back to work after all that camel dung over the torch brackets.""Hey, it's in their contract. During the lunch hour, the union steward puts a piece of honeycomb on the top course of stones. If the wax melts, the crews are allowed to knock off. Sorry boss, but a contract is binding."Ahmed shrugged. "What next?", h e asked rhetorically.Ignoring his rhetoric, Nhumose answered. "I'll tell you what next. The heat is the least of our problems right now. That shipment of lumber from Lebanon arrived today, and the crew of woodcutters that we hired to build skids came on the same boat. They wanted to ride out to the project site in the ox carts that came to pick up the lumber, but the ox cart drivers refused to take them. They said that their contract was to haul freight, not passengers, so the woodcutters are still sitting down at the dock."Ahmed was getting steamed. "Well, let them walk for god's sake, we're not that far from the docks!""If we wanted them on this project, we had to guarantee transportation all the way to the job. They won't walk. They'll sit on the dock until we get them a ride. And they are making travel money the whole time they sit. What should we do chief?"Ahmed threw up his hands in despair. "Tell them to catch a camel taxi and just add the fare to their travel chits."The two men walked out of the office to check on the progress of the project. They noticed all of the workers descending the ramps from the fourteenth tier, and walking around to the shady side of the pyramid."Well, that's just great", Ahmed said. "I guess the bee's wax melted."Just then, the gong signaled the afternoon break period."We're in luck, boss" Nhumose said, smiling. "they're not quitting, they're just getting an early jump on break time.A young man riding a donkey stopped in front of the office and hollered to the two men."I'm riding over to the oasis, can I being something back for you?""No thanks", the two replied in unison.The boy smiled and waved. As he trotted off on his donkey, Ahmed asked. "And what does he do around here?""He's a gofer", the super replied."A what?""A gofer. You know, he'll gofer tea and honey cakes in the morning, gofer dates and orange juice in the afternoon, gofer a sharp chisel from the toolbox."All right, all right, I get it. I mean what does he do according to our payroll records?"Nhumose hesitated. "I think he is a stone cutter's apprentice.""Does he know anything about cutting stones?"Nhumose hesitated, longer this time, then, under his breath, "I doubt it."Ahmed was livid! "Why can't we have some lower paid worker run those kinds of errands?""No way boss", the super replied. "Even the unskilled laborers have their own gofers."Nhumose turned and walked away. Over his shoulder, he shouted, "I'm going to go get those woodcutters a ride so they can go to work. I'll see you later."Ahmed waved without speaking. He leaned wearily against the post supporting the palm thatched canopy outside the office. He shielded his eyes from the glaring afternoon sun as he looked out over the low profile silhouette of the growing pyramid which someday would rise three hundred cubits above the desert sand. He had been managing the Giza Project for three years now. The fourteenth tier should be completed this month. Only eighty-five tiers to go. As he turned to go back inside, he noticed a cloud of dust from an approaching chariot. He waited until the chariot pulled up beside the office. The dusty driver gave him a respectful salute."Master Ahmed?", he inquired."Yes""A special message for you, Master Ahmed, from the Pharaoh's Minister of Service"Ahmed took the papyrus scroll from the messenger and read it as the chariot swiftly departed.Master Ahmed Site ManagerGiza ProjectSir: Please meet me in my office at the Ministry tomorrow before the sun is high. Be prepared to discuss the delays in the construction of the Pharaoh's tomb.Abu ShahadaMinisterP.S.APharaoh's Services Administration The next morning, Ahmed arrived at the P.S.A. Ministry as directed. While waiting for the Minister to see him, he wandered the great center hall of the beautiful building admiring the brilliantly colored relief paintings decorating the huge supporting columns. "What an incredible piece of construction", he thought. "I wonder if we'll ever see such fine craftsmanship again? Those workers had to be really proud of their trade to build such a place as this"His daydreaming was interrupted by a pretty young woman with kohl rimmed eye shadow and wearing a finely woven black wool wig."The Minister will see you now, sir. Right this way.""Thank you, I know the way. I've been here a few times before."Abu Shahada, old, fat and bald, sat behind a huge cedar desk holding a slender greyhound puppy in his lap. He raised a hand greeting Ahmed as he entered the richly appointed office."Ahmed, my boy. Come in, come in. Have a seat. Make yourself comfortable." Smiling, the Minister gestured toward one of the matching cedar side chairs.When Ahmed was seated, the old man's smile quickly turned to a stern frown. He put the puppy on the floor and watched as it ran into the poolside garden adjoining the office. He turned, stood and placed his palms spread wide on the table so he could lean toward Ahmed. With a scowl, Shahada bellowed, "And now, Master Ahmed, would you mind explaining to me, what in the name of Isis is going on down there? Every week I look at the status report for the Giza Project and I see that you've fallen a little further behind schedule Instead of making progress, it looks like you are losing ground."The Minister took a breath, sat down and continued. "I would sure hate to be in your sandals if the Pharaoh would happen to get sick or have an accident and die suddenly. Imagine if there were no place to bury him properly. His family will probably feed you to the crocodiles."Ahmed shook his head in agreement. "And justifiably, sire. But again, let me remind you that this project has suffered many setback for which I personally cannot be held accountable. If you recall, the original workforce that I employed were all farmers who volunteered to work out of love for Pharaoh, but they would only work when the great Nile flooded their fields. When the waters receded they returned to their farms and work on the pyramid halted. And it was by your own directive that I entered into negotiations with a labor force from the building trades guild.""Right", Shahada admitted, "And my directive was issued after Pharaoh's family received lavish tributes from the guild's lobbyists, and were convinced that it was the best way to keep construction moving. And even though the price was a lot higher that it would be worth it to get a full year's work instead of the unpredictable seasonal performance that we got from the farmers. I had my orders, and I passed it on.""And with all due respect, sire, it would have been a success if we actually got a full year's work.""And what exactly does that mean?"Ahmed explained, "The first Spring that the guild workers were on the project the khamsin blew in from the Sahara and nothing was accomplished for a month because they wouldn't work in the dust storm. It was stated in some rider in their contract dealing with occupational safety. The crews would show up in the morning, and we had to pay them a half day's wages just for being there, but they would all go home when the shop steward would say it was too windy or dusty to work."Shahada was confused. "Why couldn't you work them overtime to make up the lost days?"Ahmed just shrugged. "We did work some overtime, but most of the guild workers are faithful Ra worshipers, and their religion forbids them from working after sundown." And under his breath, Ahmed added, "And they managed to get overtime pay without putting in the time."Shahada's face was turning scarlet and the sweat was pouring off of his bald pate. He was out of control by now. "What did you just say?" he screamed.Ahmed repeated his accusations and went on to explain. "It is all in the contracts that the P.S.A signed with the guilds. One part states that whenever a job calls for five or more journeymen, a master craftsman needs to be hired."Irritated, Shahada replied, "Well that makes good sense to me. Those larger crews need leadership.""You are right, sire. I agree with you. But sometimes I would need a crew of stone movers to work overtime, and if there were five of them, I had to pay for a master stone mover. But many times the master was earning overtime, but he would be home in bed while the crew did the work.""So why in Ra's name would you pay him if he didn't work?""To be perfectly honest, sire, it was far cheaper for the project just to pay him rather than risk a wildcat strike where all the stone movers walked off the job. And I know for a fact that often when the crews would get off from work, they would meet the master at the tavern and he would treat them to a couple rounds of beer with his overtime money. They have lots of clever ways to earn money without really working."By this time, Shahada had his head down on folded arms at his desk. He looked up, exhausted. "Really?" he gasped weakly."It's true, sire.", Ahmed continued. "There are the operating engineers for instance. Once a day, the stale air in the inner passageways is removed by pumping fresh air in with a large bellows. It's usually done the first thing in the morning before the other workers start. The engineer comes in early, on premium time to pump the bellows for an hour or so, or more likely, his helper does the pumping, and then they both stand by for the rest of the work day in case they are needed to start pumping again. And as far as I know, they have never been needed to do that. And the workers in the inner passages need light to do their work, so a man from the illuminators local brings in torches and oil lamps, lights them and then stands by the rest of the day and watches them burn. If the lights don't go out, he does nothing else for the rest of the day. It's like stealing, but I'm afraid there isn't much we can do about it. It's all in writing in contracts that we signed."Shahada pleaded, "Things have got improve, Ahmed. Pharaoh is getting impatient. He wants to see some progress.""I think that things will start to improve soon, sire", Ahmed assured the frustrated Minister. "The weather should be stable for a while and each tier demands fewer and fewer stones, so I believe that we will see some real headway soon.""I certainly hope so", the Minister said, calmer now. "Because the Pharaoh himself wants to come out to the site to survey your progress. And of course, where the Pharaoh goes, his entire support and security staff goes first. They will come and erect his tents the day before Pharaoh arrives. And, fair warning, be sure to have plenty of clean cool water available at his tent. It's a dusty ride from the palace and Pharaoh will bathe when he arrives. He does so hate to be soiled.""When is he coming, sire?""Really, Ahmed, you have no right to ask, and besides, Pharaoh does not confide in me.""Forgive me, sire, I don't mean to be impertinent, but if Pharaoh chooses to visit on the third day following the reappearance of the dog star, he's going to have to stay dusty.""What?", the Minister screeched."That would be the feast day of Tefnut, the Goddess of Moisture, and I'm afraid all the water carriers have the day off."Raging again, Shahada demanded, "You have water at Pharaoh's tent if you have to carry it there yourself."Ahmed smiled, knowingly, "Then, sire, we would have a complete walkout. Management is absolutely forbidden to perform any task assigned to a union worker."His patience spent, Shahada pounded his fist on the desk, he stood, his fat face quivering with rage and pointed at the door. "Get out of here you contemptuous trouble maker, and get those crews of yours moving, or I'll arrange a cruise for you on the Pharaoh's galleon."Ahmed quickly headed for the door."Chained to an oar", Shahada added with a roar.The next morning Ahmed had a meeting scheduled with the business agent of the Ox Drover's Guild, Local 1104. The agent was late as usual, and Ahmed enjoyed a cup of tea and a slice of sesame seed bread while he waited. Nhumose entered the office and announced that the business agent was on his way. The business agent, a tall slender man dressed in a fine gold trimmed toga, entered the office without knocking. He nodded respectfully to the two men seated at the drawing board."Good morning, gentlemen, I am Sheshonk, business agent for th--.""I know, I know", Ahmed interrupted with his mouth full. "Sit down" he demanded spraying sesame seed bread crumbs in the direction of Sheshonk.Nonchalantly brushing away the crumbs, he began, "Thank you. I'll come right to the point. As you might recall, when you first engaged the services of drovers from my local to haul limestone facing blocks from the quarry, we made a most generous offer to provide our own teams and carts. However, at that time you chose to not take advantage of that offer, and you supplied my men with teams and carts owned by Rakanak and Farook.""Right", Ahmed answered. "And it was a far sight cheaper than paying the price that your bunch of bandits demanded, and our equipment was in much better shape too."Sheshonk ignored the slander of his constituents and continued. "True, it was good equipment, but unfortunately, it was strange to my drovers who were familiar only with their own rigs. And not being familiar with the maintenance routines on that strange equipment of yours, I'm afraid it has fallen into disrepair and it is no longer safe for my men to operate. And those oxen."He glided on with a smooth, confident voice. "Surely gentlemen, you both have enough experience in construction to know that a drover and his team are like a family. They know and love each other. It's almost impossible for a drover to control a strange team safely. Why already, three of my best men have been gored by those brutes you supplied. So I am here this morning gentlemen to clearly state that the drovers from my local cannot work with your unsafe equipment and your unmanageable ox teams. But in the interest of completing the project, we are still willing to lease our carts and teams to you".Sheshonk formed a steeple with his fingers, leaned back in his chair and smiled smugly. "Oh, come on" Nhumose raged. "Your men sabotaged those wagons, and I've personally seen your drovers beat our oxen until they bleed. That's enough to make any beast wild."Pointing his finger into Nhumose's face, Sheshonk said calmly, "That's a serious charge, Master Nhumose, and unless you a prepared to back it up with some solid evidence, I suggest you retract it immediately."Nhumose looked to Ahmed for support. All that Ahmed could do was shrug his shoulders in defeat. The superintendent threw up his hands in exasperation."All right, Ra damn it, I take it back!" Nhumose rose from his chair in such anger that the chair fell over, he stormed from the office, slamming the door so hard that pieces of thatch rained down on Ahmed's desk.The agent turned slowly to face Ahmed. "Well?", he said through a sleazy grin, "Do we have an agreement?""Yeah, I guess we do", Ahmed mumbled. "I don't have much of a choice.""Very good. So starting this payday, the drovers from Local 1104, in addition to their regular wages, will receive one hundred piasters for the use of their ox teams and their carts.""Hold on a minute", Ahmed protested. "Your original offer was for fifty piasters a week.""Ah, so it was, but that was before my drovers realized how rough this project was going to be on ox carts. Yours didn't seem to last too long."Sheshonk reached out his hand to Ahmed to shake on the deal, but Ahmed pushed it aside with such force that it spun the agent around so that he faced the door."Now, get your fancy toga covered ass out of my office before I change my mind", Ahmed hissed through clenched teeth. Sheshonk headed for the door in a hurry, and passed through just ahead of Ahmed's tea cup which smashed against the door frame.During the next few weeks, work on the project moved along at a favorable pace. The fourteenth tier was complete, and the fifteenth was well under way. Only one minor incident slowed the progress. An independent caravan carrying some special order materials from Thebes arrived, and stopped at the edge of the site to ask directions to the material storage area. A watchman at the gate asked to see their manifest, and when he saw they were independents, wouldn't open the gate. It was just another featherbedding opportunity for the union. The shop steward from the Camel Teamsters Local informed Ahmed that unless he called for a union man to unload the non-union camels, he was risking a walkout. And, the man from the local had to be retained and not laid off when the caravan was unloaded. Even though no other caravan from Thebes was expected, Ahmed made the tough choice. Acquiescing to pay a featherbedder was painful, but cheaper than risking a work stoppage. Due to pressing matters of state, Pharaoh cancelled his visit to the site and that took some of the pressure off of Ahmed. But there was still one obstacle before the pyramid could progress to Ahmed's complete satisfaction. The working contract with the locals of S.M.I, Stone Movers International, was to expire at midnight of the last day of the month. Since S.M.I. members made up the major work force on the project, any pay raise would put the general contractor in serious financial trouble. It was a tough spot for Rakanak and Farook. They were already over budget and the stone movers traditionally set the wage trends for other crafts. Over budget, behind schedule and with negotiations with S.M.I. at a stalemate, the deadline past and by dawn, the picket lines were circling the project. Their signs were cruel.RAKANAK AND FAROOK ARE STARVING MY CHILDRENPHAR O - UN PHAR NO FOOD FOR MY TUMMY - NO TOMB FOR YOUR MUMMYAs expected, Ahmed was once again summoned to the P.S.A. minister's office. Abu Shahada was in an extra ugly mood since his family had been threatened by Pharaoh's elite guard. He was desperate for some answers. He started shouting as soon as Ahmed came through the door."When are your men going back to work?"Agitated by the question, Ahmed replied "They are not my men, and I have no idea when work will start. They want more money, my company is broke, and you refuse to allow us to increase our budget. Talks have broken down and there's not a thing I can do.""Well hear this, Master Ahmed. There is something I can do. General Akemeton's legion has just returned from their victorious campaign in Thracia and they have brought with them ten thousand prisoners who I am sure will be honored to labor in Pharaoh's service. They will begin work on the pyramid tomorrow at dawn""But sire", Ahmed protested, "Pharaoh has a binding contract with my company! You can't send in slaves!""Pharaoh has already ordered it. It's good to be Pharaoh."Shahada struck a small gong next to his desk, and two muscular guards dashed into the office."Send this laggard to the galleon", he commanded.And as Ahmed was dragged away, Shahada shouted, "Now we'll see some progress out there."The prisoners were herded to the project site at dawn the next day. There were some brief scuffles as the pickets tried to prevent them from entering the work site. Akemeton's soldiers quickly took charge and at spear point gave the pickets a choice. "Leave now or stay and work alongside these prisoners"The pickets dropped their signs and ran!Lawyers for Rakanak and Farook filed a breach of contract suit against the P.S.A., but Pharaoh had it thrown out and ordered a seat for the lawyers on the galleon bench next to Ahmed. Slave labor was used throughout the entire Giza Project, and while quality went down, productivity certainly went up.Nhumose, who had been retained as site manager was quite surprised when Sheshonk the former business agent walked into the field office."What do you want? I thought we had seen the last of your kind around here.""All I ask is a moment of your time, Master Nhumose. While the drovers from my local are greatly offended by the illegal introduction of scab labor on this union site, we feel that we are still willing to offer you a useful service.""Really now. go on." Nhumose replied sarcastically"Yes, really. You see, with the experience my men have in handling oxen, they are perfectly qualified to handle the lashes necessary to keep the slave scabs working hard. I mean, my people are really good with whips."Nhumose quickly came from behind his desk, seized the agent by the neck of his toga and dragged him toward the door."Get out of here you creep!" And as he threw Sheshonk into the dust, he declared proudly, "That's one job management can handle!"And so as the business agent departed, he was the last member of the building trades guild to ever set foot on the Giza project. The pyramid was completed by the slaves, and gentle Ramatut XIV was recorded in history books as an arrogant tyrant who used forced labor to build himself an ornate, extravagant tomb, and throughout his reign, he could never count on support from labor.
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