Maine’s governor assaults the dignity of working people

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I have to admit, I'm infuriated.

I was raised in Maine, the son of a high transmission lineman and a mother and stepmother who were state employees bringing home a paycheck that didn't do much more than make ends meet. (Luxurious living was a stranger in our house, and in most households in Maine, and still is today.) So I find it infuriating that the Republican governor there has ordered the removal of a 36-foot-wide mural in the state's Labor Department building in Augusta that depicts the role of Maine working people from the colonial era to the present.

Supposedly Gov. Paul LePage received complaints from business people and an anonymous fax saying the mural was akin to murals in North Korea that the government there uses to "brainwash the masses."

Give me a break! If anyone believes this, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

If this wasn't so serious, it would be hilarious - a good skit for "Saturday Night Live." LePage would be a buffoon, a village idiot. But it is serious.

This is an insult to Maine's working people.

LePage not only aims to cut the wages and benefits of state workers and eviscerate their collective bargaining rights, but in removing this mural, he also wants to steal from working people, their history, their dignity, their sense of self-worth.

No one should have that power - not LePage, not Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, not Gov. Rick Snyder in Michigan, not Gov. Mitch Daniels in Indiana - no one.

LePage's plan, according to various spokespeople, is to relocate the mural to another site - maybe the national headquarters of the AFL-CIO, maybe the state museum. Of course, either place would be a good home for such a mural, although I think it is better to make a fight of it, to keep the mural where it is. But that isn't my decision, it's up to the people who live in Maine today.

For the past 30 years, working people have been the ground zero of a coordinated attack, orchestrated by the Republican right and heavily laced with racism and sexism. Its purpose is simple enough: crush and divide working people, reduce them to serfs with no rights that corporate America has to respect, take away everything that they have ever won.

This decision by LePage, whose wife was a union steward and who hails from Maine's Franco-American community - a community that has labored in many of the worst occupations and is honored in the mural - is of a piece with this wider assault. Indeed it is emblematic in a very striking way of the utter contempt and undisguised hostility that LePage and this right-wing corporate crowd have for people who labor in the public and private sector.

In their twisted view of the world, they think that they can do anything, literally anything, to working people; nothing can stop them now, in their minds.

But you know what? They got it wrong! A working class counteroffensive against the LePage crowd that dates back to the 2006 elections, and continued in 2008, is shifting as I write into a higher gear in the nation's heartland and beyond.

By next year it's going to be at warp speed and I have only two words for LePage and his fellow travelers - Watch out!

Photo: Panels 7-9 of the 11-panel mural in the lobby of Maine's Department of Labor (slightly cropped). Artist Judy Taylor won a competition in 2007 to create the mural, commissioned by the Maine Arts Commission to depict the "History of Labor in the State of Maine." These panels show, left to right, the 1937 shoe-workers' strike - the largest strike in the state's history; Frances Perkins - FDR's secretary of labor, the first woman in U.S. history to head a federal department; and Maine's version of Rosie the Riveter: Maine women working as ship-builders during World War II. Dirigoblue

 

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  • Without knowing the political situation inside Maine, one can hope that it is advanced enough for the idea of civil disobediance to raised as an approach to this fight. Besides the fact that it is a wonderful piece of art, we need to mobilize workers to defend their own culture. That is very much a part of the developing class struggle.

    Posted by bruce bostick, 03/26/2011 7:36am (4 years ago)

  • Maybe Gov. Page's "utter contempt and undisguised hostility" mask his true wish to protect these pieces by donating them to institutions that can properly care for them - Tamiment Library perhaps?

    Posted by Cathy Goodman, 03/25/2011 9:12pm (4 years ago)

  • Art is always an expression of a point of view. Whether visual art, a story, novel, lyric, play, or whatever, it expresses the creator's point of view. So, no wonder, that the first thing any despot or dictator does is censor art. That way, only the despot's point of view is allowed expression. No difference here that I can see between this particular despot and Hitler burning the books he banned.

    Posted by Lawrence Graham, 03/25/2011 4:59pm (4 years ago)

  • What a noxious move by this GOP governor!

    It looks like the right is making a coordinated effort to squelch free speech across the nation (e.g. by defunding NPR, banning "offensive" art from the Smithsonian, etc.).

    The right would like to revise workers completely out of US history, like the GOP school board in Texas revised African Americans and Latinos out of the textbooks.

    They couldn't remove the workers themselves from the state building in Madison, so they'll take their pictures down in Augusta.

    Posted by chris e., 03/25/2011 2:31pm (4 years ago)

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