The Universal Notebook: Maine's boss is anti-labor

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Gov. Paul LePage looked as though he was going to blow a gasket Sept. 26 when NBC news anchor Brian Williams asked him on national television about his decision to order the Maine labor history mural removed from the Department of Labor offices.

Noting that union workers at BIW helped win World War II by building a destroyer every 17 days, that the mural depicted Rosie the Riveter, and that LePage had also ordered a room named for Frances Perkins, the U.S. secretary of labor for whom the U.S. Department of Labor building is named, changed, Williams ambushed LePage by saying such actions would “lead a normal adult to ask, ‘What do you have against organized labor?’”

Good question.

Like many of the tea party Republicans swept into office in 2010 by voters freaked out about the economy, LePage is no friend of organized labor. These far-right conservatives see unions, their contracts, and especially their pensions as the causes of our collapsing economy. Forget wars, under-taxation, lack of financial regulation, the growing gap between rich and poor. Working people are to blame.

LePage was very clear back in March when the mural controversy erupted that his actions were prompted by the fact that he and a handful of unnamed others saw the mural as too one-side, i.e. too pro organized labor.

That was his argument then. And that was essentially the argument the Maine attorney general used in the lawsuit still pending, arguing that ordering the removal of the mural was “government speech,” that LePage had a right to silence a pro-labor point of view that his administration did not endorse.

Now, trapped on national TV, LePage has advanced the fiction that his objection was not to the mural’s content, but merely to the source of funding. The governor maintains that the $60,000 in federal funds used to pay for the labor history mural came from unemployment insurance funds, that the Baldacci administration had “robbed that account” to pay for the mural. He must know that’s not true.

The U.S. Department of Labor and the former commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor have explained repeatedly that the funds came from accounts used to support administrative functions, in this case funds left over from the Maine Department of Labor’s move into leased space to save taxpayers $300,000 a year. No Maine resident or American citizen was deprived of an unemployment check because of the Maine labor history mural. That’s more than can be said of Republican leadership.

And that’s really the point here.

Not only does organized labor not have any friends in the GOP wing that seeks to blame all of our economic woes on unions, teachers, firefighters, police officers, transportation workers, postal workers, human services providers, and public employees in general (including, but never stated, the military and military veterans), neither do women, children, minorities, immigrants, the working poor, the elderly, the disabled and the unemployed.

Rather than raise taxes to balance budgets and erase deficits, Republicans would prefer to bust unions, raid pensions, and gut Social Security, Medicare, and anything else that smacks to them of an unwarranted entitlement.

Bosses, you see, believe not only that money is a good thing, but also that having acquired a great deal of it is virtuous. Not having enough money is seen by the nattering nabobs of the right as a form of moral failure. Unions have had the temerity to fight for more money and more rights for workers. Bosses hate that and don’t like being reminded of the role organized labor has played in seeking economic justice for working people.

LePage ordered the Maine labor history mural removed because he is the boss. That’s all there is to it.

Let’s just hope the courts look at the governor’s changing alibi, reject the tortured logic of the government free speech argument, and restore the mural that tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the history of labor in Maine.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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