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Friday, August 27, 2010

Woman of the Year

It’s a classic movie plot. Think “Woman of the Year,” with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. At first the man and the woman hate each other, then they fall into each other’s arms? Well, feature the fight that has erupted between the president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, and Governor Palin of Alaska. The leader of Big Labor went to Anchorage to give a speech and attacked Mrs. Palin, accusing her of doing everything from writing notes on her hands to coming out with conspiracy theories about President Obama and his “death panels” to getting close to calling for violence. “Sometimes — about Sarah Palin — you’ve just got to laugh,” Mr. Trumka said. “ . . . But it’s not really funny.”

Mrs. Palin turned around and gave as good as she got, or better, in one of her patented Facebook postings, a demarche headlined “Union Brothers and Sisters, Join Our Commonsense Cause!” She wrote as a one-time card-carrying sister of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, by virtue of her jobs at a local power utility and telephone company; her husband, Todd, was in the Electrical Workers and then in the Steelworkers, where he was an officer of the local. Responding to Mr. Trumka, she asserted that it was “kind of ironic that a union boss has the gall to accuse anyone of threatening violence,” particularly in light of what she called the “violent attempts” by the Service Employees “to intimidate those who wanted to make their voices heard in last year’s town halls.” She argued the real jobs problem was being caused by the policies of President Obama.

Suddenly the Internet came alive like the silver screen, so much so that a columnist of the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne, issued a long complaint. It seems that Mr. Trumka can’t get anyone to listen to, let alone write about, his usual speeches about what Mr. Dionne characterizes as “social justice, fair wages, dangerous working conditions, and, of course, the role of unions in building the middle class.” But all Mr. Trumka had to do was release the prepared text of the speech attacking Mrs. Palin and suddenly, as Mr. Dionne put it, he’s “drawing big time page views both from her staunch supporters and from her many critics. Maybe if [Mr.] Trumka turns himself into one of [Mrs.] Palin’s leading public adversaries, his substantive comments will start getting attention.”

In newspaper terms, the reason this story is getting so much attention is that it’s a man bites dog story. It’s just not often that someone with a union card takes on the head of Big Labor, challenging head-on the idea that liberal economic policies are good for the working man. Nor was the Battle of Anchorage a chance encounter. Mrs. Palin signaled her intention to mark the union point the very moment she burst onto the national stage; these columns have written about it before, in “Palin’s Fraternal Greetings.” The last Republican to reach out to union workers in such a premeditated way was Ronald Reagan. And for those genderists who will say that hard-hats won’t respond to a woman, let them look at the clips of Prime Minister Thatcher being hailed by the shipyard workers of the labor union Solidarity at Gdansk.

The part of the story that we like best is that history will record that Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party and Richard Trumka’s American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations were on the same side in that fight. It was Thatcher, Reagan, John Paul II and — very much not least — Lane Kirkland who understood that the interests of labor were with freedom. This is the principle that Mrs. Palin has picked up in the coming political clash in America, and Mr. Trumka can laugh at her, but eventually he’s going to be confronted with this history. It may be unlikely that the Trumka-Palin feud will have what they call a Hollywood ending, but it wouldn’t be surprising to seek America’s union members discover which strategic course — Mrs. Palin’s or Mr. Obama’s — offers more growth and jobs. (Source)

1 comment:

Janis said...

That's an awesome post by her -- I've never heard ANYONE ELSE say the same thing that I think about unions before. Great idea, very badly needed, but they've gone sour. They remind me of Animal Farm, a rebellion that came from the right place but wound up as bad as what it replaced. But a world without labor unions is not a world I want to live in. Too many horror stories like Triangle Shirtwaist and coal disasters for me to think otherwise.