One reason why some Republicans view me as a RINO is because of my support of organized labor. I grew up in a UAW household, and, for a few years, was even a UAW member, myself. In some ways, my political views are reminiscent of the Bull Moose Republicans of a century ago.
Unions have been instrumental in securing human rights for workers from unscrupulous employers. Child labor laws, overtime work hour laws, worker safety laws, collective bargaining laws, and many other laws to protect laborers from one abuse or another have come into existence because of the advocacy of unions. Labor Day, a federal holiday, is an appropriate time to reflect on the contributions of labor, and particularly unions, to our society.
Nevertheless, there are those, and I acknowledge that many of them are within my political party, who show no gratitude whatsoever toward labor unions. This is unfortunate. I wish they would compare their working conditions with the work conditions of those who live in foreign countries, especially countries that have no labor unions. Would they want to live that kind of life? Would they want to work for such unscrupulous employers as exist in other nations? I don’t think so. Among the many things that make America great are the working conditions we enjoy on the job, and labor unions have a lot to do with it.
Accountability is a buzzword in Republican circles. Republicans expect accountability from government. What about accountability in business? In light of ethics lapses at major firms in America (like Enron, Arthur Anderson, Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae), I believe businesses need to be every bit as accountable as government. Unions do provide a check and balance against employers that definitely increase accountability on the part of the business. Some would argue that there’s less accountability from union workers, but, if the truth were known, employers who follow due process can discipline and dismiss union workers, so long as they collect evidence to support their reasons for doing so. Collective bargaining is useful for making sure that employees obtain equal pay for equal work without regard to gender or office politics. In the at-will employment world, office politics and personality clashes have much to do with who gets a raise, who gets disciplined, who gets fired, etc. In the at-will employment world, de facto job performance often doesn’t count for much if a boss just doesn’t like you. Similarly, it’s easy to get passed over for promotion if someone is sleeping with the boss, no matter how much harder you worked. Collective bargaining agreements curb such excesses.
What would family life be if there were no overtime pay for overtime work? Isn’t it hard to keep your marriage vibrant when you spend more time at work than you do at home? Isn’t it hard to raise children when you’re never around? When employers have to pay above and beyond your normal rate of pay, it is a disincentive that prompts them to keep your overtime hours to a minimum. Efforts to roll back overtime pay laws are not just anti-worker, they are anti-family.
Some of the most ardent union-bashers are evangelicals of the religious right. I often wonder why. If they read the Old Testament story of Moses, who confronted the Pharaoh of Egypt about the working conditions of the Children of Israel, isn’t it obvious that Moses was a prototype of a union leader? When Moses told Pharoah to let Israel go, wasn’t it a prototype of a strike notice? When Israel fled Egypt, wasn’t it a prototype of a workers’ strike? Why wouldn’t the religious right be opposed to worker oppression? I haven’t figured that out.
However, on the flip side of the coin, labor unions have branched out to support causes that have nothing to do with the rights of workers. These days, it appears that they support every plank of the Democrat party, even when it makes no sense to do so. Many union members are gun owners, yet the unions give material support to candidates and campaigns that strive to implement more gun control measures. In this part of the country, many union members are Catholics who firmly believe that abortion isn’t right, yet the unions give material support to candidates and campaigns that promote abortion. As a result, many Republicans, who might have looked upon unions with some favor, instead see that the unions are merely a caucus within the Democrat party rather than an independent organization that is strictly concerned with workplace issues.
And that brings me to Lorain.
Barack Obama has said, “There is not a red America and a blue America. There is just the United States of America.”
Sorry, Barack, but yesterday, I found Blue America.
I went to Black River Landing in downtown Lorain yesterday. For more than a dozen years now, labor unions in Lorain have sponsored the largest labor celebration in Ohio held during the Labor Day weekend. The Labor Day Family Celebration draws tens of thousands of people. Each union has its own exhibit booth with freebies that they distribute to the festival-goers. There are amusements for the children, like laser-tag, pony rides, and a giant slide. There are refreshment stands selling the usual gyros, sno-cones, funnel cakes and other festival food favorites. There are live bands performing on an outdoor stage. And there are politicians. Several featured politicians are granted some time to address the crowds from the main stage.
Black River Landing is public land owned by the city of Lorain. I was surprised to see signs posted that read, “No Soliciting. NO campaigning or distribution of campaign literature.”
Flashback to my state rep campaign of 2002. A public event was taking place in Veterans Park in Lorain. I was introducing myself, shaking hands, and handing out campaign flyers. Local elected officeholders were making speeches at the occasion. The Chief of Police confronted me after a few minutes and told me to stop campaigning on the premises. Of course, the local elected officeholders were Democrats, and I was a Republican. What ever happened to my 1st Amendment rights of freedom of speech?
Fast forward to the Democrat National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, which sandwich the Labor Day weekend this year. Republicans are in Denver to get their message out, unmolested by the throngs of Democrats crowding into the convention venues. Democrats are in Saint Paul, and Republicans have promised to extend the same standard of civility to the Democrats.
Back to yesterday in Lorain. Despite the sign prohibiting campaigning and distribution of literature, the Democrats were out in full force. They had their own booth on the grounds, emblazoned with signs of the various candidates up for election this fall. They were passing out stickers with Democrat candidate names on them. The printed program is chock full of Democrat print advertisements. Democrat politicians monopolized the main stage when the time for public speaking arrived.
I happened to see a booth with volunteers that were attempting to register people to vote. The volunteers were wearing shirts that read “Reclaim Lorain.” I chuckled. Who are they going to reclaim Lorain from? The Republicans? Laughable. There aren’t any Republicans holding public office in Lorain. Surely, they don’t mean to reclaim Lorain from the Democrat “Machine” because, in addition to the registration forms, they were compiling a supplementary list of addresses of voters for the Get-Out-The-Vote drives in October and November.
From the stage I could hear a politician shouting out “McCain is Bush. Bush is McCain.” (spoken as if from the Orwellian Ministry of Truth)
Now, I don’t mind if a politician shouts “Obama is better than Bush,” because that’s an opinion. I don’t mind if a politician shouts “Obama is better than McCain.” That’s an opinion, too. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But I mind when someone says “Bush is McCain. McCain is Bush.” That’s just a flat-out lie. Somehow, repeating falsehoods over and over again never bothers the consciences of these Democrat politicians. I find the falsehoods enfuriating. Democrats don’t think they can win by stating only what’s true? I suppose if they started telling the truth they’d have to include the fact that the Palin household is the only union household on either major party Presidential ticket. They might also have to recognize that the off-shoring of jobs rapidly accelerated during the Clinton administration and hasn’t abated since. OK, I can see why they resort to lies.
I’ve taught on a substitute basis in Lorain City Schools. I think about the children who won’t apply themselves in school, who don’t academic support from home, who are at risk of dropping out and who may never enroll in college, let alone get a college degree. These kids have such a limited world view. What are these children exposed to, politically? A steady diet of Democrat maxims and icons. They grow up in a decaying town with a failed government monopolized by the Democrat “Machine,” and their minds will never branch out far enough to look beyond the Democrat Party as a means of finding solutions for their community.
Someone I know well who is a member of the teachers’ union remarked to me, “I don’t think there are as many people here today as I’ve seen in past years.”
I said, “Republicans don’t come here any more.”
She asked, “Why?”
I showed her the sign that prohibited campaigning.
“But the Democrats are here,” she observed.
“Yes, they are. Republicans don’t come anymore because their isn’t free speech here. Just censored speech. Filtered speech.”
I’m Republican. I was there. But I’ve paid union dues. My attendance should be begrudged by no one. I nearly had an altercation, though, as someone spotted my “Brusky for Commissioner” t-shirt (Nick Brusky is a Republican candidate for Lorain County Commissioner this fall), and started to make a beeline for me. A third person swept by and put his arm around the angry man and led him in another direction, engaging him in conversation. Close encounter of a hostile kind.
Other Republican candidates stopped going to candidate forums sponsored by the local unions when I ran the 2nd time for state rep in 2004. In 2002, Republicans were always invited to speak before the unions, but were always shouted down and vilified. By fall of 2004, when I was the only Republican to show up, they thanked me for coming, and wondered aloud why the other Republicans didn’t come. I haven’t been a candidate since. Democrats have swept the local elections. Now, not only won’t Republicans come to union events, they mostly don’t even run for office anymore.
I’m still willing to advocate for labor unions. I still want to weigh in on issues that affect working conditions. I’m willing to take on politicians within my own party while doing so. The unions are going to have to adopt a view of America that is not just a Red America taking aim at their Blue America. They’ll have to open the channels of discourse. They’ll have to reprimand the “Machine” for putting up signs that forbid campaigning that are meant to silence Republicans and that Democrats are permitted to ignore. Heaven help me, when I show my face again in union environs and have it slapped, to turn the other cheek and renew my efforts to build that bridge between the unions and the GOP.
[UPDATE] More discussion at Word of Mouth appears in these two posts.