The Universal Notebook: The GOP war on women, workers

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Though they deny it forcefully, the extremists in the Republican Party are clearly waging war on American women and American workers.

That’s fine as far as I’m concerned; it’s a sure strategy for defeat in November.

The GOP war on workers has been in the news since Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin fired some of the first salvos last year by eliminating collective bargaining rights for state workers. Walker brought the anti-labor war back to the front page this year by surviving a recall election. Thanks to fat-cat donors from around the country, Walker was able to outspend the labor union campaign to unseat him by 7-to-1. Throw enough money at a problem and you can make it go away. That’s the GOP strategy.

Our own anti-labor Gov. Paul LePage, whose union battleground so far has been a fight over a Department of Labor mural being too pro-labor, responded to Walker’s victory with an embarrassing Jamaican “Yah, Mon!” LePage promises to go after state worker unions, too, just like his cheesehead hero.

I think I first realized that labor unions were losing the battle for fair pay, safer working conditions, and worker rights back in 1987, during the International Paper strike in Jay. Rather than supporting the striking papermakers, Maine people became strike-breaking scabs, taking the short-sighted position that papermakers made good money. If they didn’t want the jobs, plenty of their neighbors would take them. Same thing happened with the railroads.

The reason the scab mentality is so short-sighted is that it fails to comprehend that organized labor raises wages and benefits for all workers. The decline of organized labor has seen a resulting decline in wages. Without unions, we’d be working 80-hour weeks for $1.65 an hour, no overtime.

The GOP war on women is even more egregious. Republicans have tried to defund Planned Parenthood, fought reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, opposed equal pay for women, tried to limit reproductive health-care choices in a dozen different ways, passed mandatory transvaginal ultrasound exams for women seeking an abortion, and tried to deny insurance coverage for contraception.

The transvaginal ultrasound requirements are nothing short of state-sanctioned rape, forcing a woman to undergo the insertion of a wand into her vagina in a cynical attempt to intimidate her into not terminating her pregnancy.

When it came to insurance coverage for contraception, the GOP tried to make the completely bogus argument that requiring non-religious, church-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and colleges to offer such coverage was an attack on religious freedom. The Obama administration attempted to address this specious concern by proposing plans for insurance companies, rather than churches, to pay for contraceptive services. Conservatives and churches argued that it would still be church money.

Baloney. It would also still be church money being used if a Mercy Hospital employee purchased contraception on his or her own.

We saw what the Republicans were really up to, however, when Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, proposed his historic amendment that would have allowed employers to deny employees insurance coverage for anything on religious grounds. They want to control women and workers in the name of corporate profit.

“Mammogram? Sorry, lady, it’s against my religion.”

The Blunt Amendment failed 51-48. Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, having announced only days before that she would not run for re-election because Congress had become too polarized, cast the sole Republican vote against the amendment.

The GOP, having lost its moderate middle, has effectively become the party of the bosses and the good ol’ boys. Billionaires and big business will spend billions this year trying to persuade you otherwise, but you can get the simple truth right here for free. If you are a woman or you work for a living, the Republican Party has nothing to offer you.

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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.