Thursday, March 31, 2011

Picket Lines: Maine Murals

Any lingering suspicion that the anti-union actions of Ohio Governor John Kasich, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or Florida Governor Rick Scott were merely coincidentally simultaneous sops to far-right voters and their anti-government sentiment was dispelled last week when Maine Governor Paul LePage's office announced the removal of a mural of Maine's labor history from the state's Department of Labor. The rights of laborers need to be so anathematized that even depicting the exercise of them becomes publicly offensive.

As with any GOP decision this extreme and senseless, the satirical responses outweigh any credible explanation. Just off the top of one's head, for a party obsessed with pushing the creeping influence of "Shariah Law" as a 2012 talking point, you have to adore the sudden need to remove forbidden graven images of humans in art. Just minutes ago according to the Republican clock, the only people in America hellbent on suppressing art were The Left's fifth-column political-corrections officers — the moral screws from Manhattan and Mecca — who were bending forward and eastward to make sure that artistic representations didn't offend anyone. Somehow this kind of protectionist pandering to interests is more dignified for being about money instead of something so shallow as religion.

But this decision supposedly reflected none of the negativity above. It was fair and balanced, according to Acting Labor Commissioner Laura Boyett (emphasis mine):
We have received feedback that the administration building is not perceived as equally receptive to both businesses and workers — primarily because of the nature of the mural in the lobby and the names of our conference rooms. Whether or not the perception is valid is not really at issue and therefore, not open to debate. If either of our two constituencies perceives that they are not welcome in our administration building and this translates to a belief that their needs will not be heard or met by this department, then it presents a barrier to achieving our mission
(The complaints sent to the LePage administration initially were described as faxes, in dozens of journalistic organs. Only after releasing an alleged complaint fax that looked nothing like a fax did LePage and personnel claim that the complaints they received were letters and counter the fax talk. It doesn't really matter what kind of complaints they were, though, since apparently valid complaints and specious, invalid bullshit must be weighed with equal consideration.)

At first glance, this might seem like reasonable stuff, making sure the Department of Labor doesn't evince an allegiance to any side in the eternal Labor vs. Management debate — that is, until you understand what a Department of Labor is actually for. Take this quick-and-dirty explanation, which admittedly about the federal labor department, but which says that it is
responsible for occupational safety, wage and hour standards, unemployment insurance benefits, re-employment services, and some economic statistics.
In short, those are all things won by labor, at the expense of ownership, through striking and aggressively campaigning for pro-labor legislation. These were not terms born out of Management Zeus' head but rather rights brutally deferred or denied by employers and strikebreakers, demanded and agitated for, for decades, by people with little income or safety nets. These are profound things, and they are all fundamentally labor.

To have these things and ascribe them to anything other than labor requires a personal dictionary where words are whatever you hope they will be when you look them up. You can't have a Department of Labor that is equally about ownership or the investor/developer class, because otherwise it would not be a Department of Labor and would probably be called the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. Or the Chamber of Commerce. The Department of Labor's mandate is in its name. Nouns exist.

LePage and Boyett's claims are patently absurd. Business hardly needs pro-business illustrations in the Maine government when it already has the governor and his cabinet. The stuff on the walls of a mansion are irrelevant if the owner already signed you up for direct deposit from his bank accounts. When someone hands you a check, you hardly feel any necessity to take a photo of the exchange and make that person hang it in his home. Doing so doesn't create Super More-Real Bucks.

Consider how nitpickingly comical it would seem if the GOP demanded that federal departments ignore the mandates for their creation and stagily orient themselves to be "equally receptive to both sides" to make sure "that either of the two constituencies are... welcome." Consider a Department of Defense whose mission statement remained "Death Neutral." Or a Department of Transportation that tore down murals of planes, cars, boats and trains to devote thirty expansive and intimidating feet of canvas to "all those folks who just kinda like to stay put." The last thing we should do is affiliate the Department of Education with a first-class public school system. And if the GOP can just de-fund it more, we won't have to worry about that happening again anyway.

The entire gesture is just so callow and petty and mean-spirited. It's not enough to divest unions of their power, crush them with corporate governmental influence and reduce groups of like-minded people to mere individuals less able to pool their meager resources and seek a redress of grievances: now we have to eliminate even their nostalgia. It's as if someone determined to legislatively walk back the ferment of the 1960s also attached a rider to a bill that mandated destroying every extant copy of the Beatles' discography.