Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and a good time to acknowledge there are powerful people still determined to undo the progress made by organized labor in the aftermath of that disaster. Here’s Robert Reich on one such splendid fellow:
Maine Governor Paul LePage has ordered state workers to remove from the state labor department a 36-foot mural depicting the state’s labor history. Among other things the mural illustrates the 1937 shoe mill strike in Auburn and Lewiston. It also features the iconic “Rosie the Riveter,” who in real life worked at the Bath Iron Works. One panel shows my predecessor at the US Department of Labor, Frances Perkins, who was buried in Newcastle, Maine. The LePage administration is also renaming conference rooms that had carried the names of historic leaders of American labor, as well as former Secretary Perkins. The governor’s spokesman explains that the mural and the conference-room names were “not in keeping with the department’s pro-business goals.” Are we still in America?
That depends on whose America you’re asking about. Reactionary forces have been chipping away at workers’ rights at least since Reagan’s election and probably since George Wallace’s third-party candidacy in 1968 helped Richard Nixon slither into the White House. The seeds planted in those days have sprouted to full-grown trolls like LePage and other Republicans who campaigned last year as reformers. Voters drank the Kool-Aid and here we are in the Jonestown that Reich describes:
Governors across America are slashing corporate taxes as they slash state budgets. House and Senate Republicans are intent on deregulating, privatizing, and cutting spending and taxes so their corporate and Wall Street patrons will do even better.
LePage, who seemingly would like to wipe out the history of the labor movement, has more in common with Benito Mussolini than with Perkins. He and the other trolls want to push back the clock to as close to 1911 as the law will allow, and the law will be on their side unless the backlash against their efforts is fierce and determined.
One obstacle to a backlash is the Republicans’ ability to pit one wing of the working class against the other while claiming to be pro-jobs. They’ve gained ground because they know how to tweak people’s fears — OMG, what if there were no jobs at all! — and because the current crop of high-profile Dem politicians, from Obama on down, are more afraid of making enemies of the wealthy than of fulfilling promises they made to the people who elected them.
And it’s why we need a president who will fight for workers and fight against this assault – just as Perkins and FDR did.
I’m with you, Bob. Any suggestions?