The Real Paul Makinen
Story about how a blue-collar community’s
general strike triumphs over a
right-wing conspiracy to suppress wages
The Real Paul Makinen
“…vividly represented…thought provoking…story that is unusually rooted in a sense of
time, place, and community…”
— Midwest Book Review
“…outstanding…bittersweet depiction of love, loss, growth, and social and political
— Midwest Book Review
No Shade, a story excerpted from Chapter 4 was short-listed in the Pulp Literature magazine 2020 Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest.
I Can Still Feel Her Hand in Mine, excerpted from chapters 3 and 4, was first published in Newtown Literary.
My Mommy Questions, and My Bonnie Answers, poetry excerpted from Chapter 41 was first published in Pangolin Review.
From workers finding a legal way to take apart and cart off unsafe railroad tracks to fascinating counseling scenes where people learn how to live, love, and work together better, this novel is full of pleasant surprises. We see, stage-by-stage how a working class community that feels powerless and discouraged transforms itself into a fierce, proud, successful, and prosperous powerhouse that confronts racism, classism, and income inequality head-on.
While it is fiction, this novel is based on historical facts we can all learn from because history does repeat itself. When we win changes in the laws governing our country, we don’t eliminate greedy, power hungry special interests. They just find new ways to grab control. Our democracy is threatened again today, and it’s this author’s hope that lessons from our past can inspire and empower we, the people, to take action again.
The Real Paul Makinen? is set in a blue collar North Minneapolis neighborhood in 1971-1972. Early on the morning his new job starts as Director of Shingle Creek Park, Paul Makinen, 19-year-old son of a truck mechanic, gets his draft notice. When Paul says he won’t go to ’Nam, his parents throw him out of the house. Paul pulls himself together, and goes to work.
Sixteen-year-old Karen Ahlberg, a railroad engineer’s daughter, has worked with Paul on the Park’s Teen Council for the past year. She appreciates Paul’s devotion to the community, and his caring support of anyone in distress. Because Paul continually acknowledges how smart Karen is, she finally has the courage to say out loud that she wants to be a lawyer.
Karen rallies their friends to support Paul, and gets her family to take him in. She is vocal about wanting to be his girlfriend, but he keeps his distance. He sees her as an adorable little kid, overlooking her maturity and intelligence. Despite himself, he slowly falls in love with her. But secretly, he thinks he doesn’t deserve a woman of her caliber.
Despite his fears, Paul’s strong but gentle leadership and Karen’s considerable smarts guide the Teen Council as it runs park programs grade school kids love. They get a grant to hire a mental health counselor, and money for a community-based lawyer, firsts for their neighborhood. And their leadership club continues to help them work together and be kind to each other.
The teens wonder why their parents are so angry and grumpy. In talks with the adults, they figure out working people and unions have lost their power. Facing disrespectful bosses, dangerous working conditions, and inflation-driven financial worries, parents have gotten crankier.
Paul is the first person to say that the community can do something about work hazards in the nearby rail yard, which have killed two Creekers, and injured more. He and the Teen Council call a community meeting, ask “what do you want to see here,” listen carefully, and start working with some of the adults to make those wishes become reality. When a neighborhood factory owner attacks their efforts, it unites the community further.
The Teen Council organizes a series of meetings where they get adults to talk about what’s bothering them. People share their dreams for the neighborhood, and start figuring out how to implement them. Paul and Karen make sure every voice is heard and they vote on everything.
The anti-union Communal Association tries to smear Paul, Karen, and the teens, claiming they’re communists, Paul is Karen’s pimp, and Great Grandma Clara, who Paul and Karen live with, runs a house of ill repute. The Communal Association’s anonymous publication also alleges the Creekers built their state-funded mental health center with materials stolen from a mansion by a mob.
The teens sue them for libel, but when they win a key case, their other pending lawsuits are mysteriously sealed.
The workers at the neighborhood railroad yard have been especially hard hit. Their militant union was busted and replaced with a do-nothing company union. Forced to cut corners, they can’t maintain the tracks properly, causing accidents, injuries, and deaths.
When more men are killed and injured in rail yard accidents, and six neighborhood boys are killed in ’Nam in one week, the community, already edgy about wage cuts and tax increases, explodes with anger.
The Teen Council and their lawyer help the rail workers put together a strike plan, and build neighborhood and citywide support for the strikers. Paul and Karen’s ability to highlight the issues and inspire ordinary folks to lead gets numerous other unions and neighborhoods to join a general strike for a $2.50 minimum wage indexed to inflation and productivity.
Using a legal loophole, the workers and the Teen Council set up an Industrial Safety Commission with authority to dismantle and remove unsafe equipment. They take away hazardous sections of railroad track, leaving red “condemned—safety violation” signs behind.
When the reporters at the daily newspapers organize a union, the bosses lock them out. The Teen Council finds a way to hire the journalists, scavenges old printing presses, and starts its own major daily paper so fiercely competitive, it drives the establishment dailies out of business.
The Communal Association funds an illegal militia, which attacks a strike rally, killing or wounding six Creekers. Furious, workers citywide call for a general strike which shuts down the city of Minneapolis for weeks. The Teen Council skillfully uses the press to get widespread media coverage.
The general strike begins small, but grows rapidly over several weeks, spreading citywide, to other parts of Minnesota, and even other states. No train or scheduled airline traffic is moving in Minneapolis, truck traffic is sharply reduced, workers strike at hundreds of companies, large and small. A huge march, coming from the four corners of Minneapolis, with 150,000 people converging downtown, brings all other traffic to a halt.
Creekers and their allies city-wide form a Peoples’ Union, with 213 strike demands ranging from the $2.50 indexed minimum wage, to a Minnesota Standard Work Contract specifying minimum required benefits and working conditions.
Throughout the novel, Paul and Karen struggle to take their relationship to the next level. But Paul’s problems, caused by his abusive parents, interfere. Paul puzzles and ponders, and works with the counselor to understand what’s getting in the way of a healthy relationship.
At the same time the community wins its biggest battle, Paul also conquers his internal beast. At a community celebration, Paul announces the 206 strike demands they’ve won, with TV cameras rolling and national radio coverage. And he publicly makes a lifetime romantic commitment to Karen.