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Patriotism and the Labor Movement

“The greatest anti-poverty program ever invented was the labor union.”

–George Meany

There’s an undeniable truth which, if properly publicized, could make unions look pretty darn good even to those rabid Sarah Palin-Joe the Plumber fans out there.  Simply put:  Union workers tend to be wildly patriotic Americans.  Sometimes, they even go overboard in their patriotic love of country, going so far as to demand that that loyalty be reciprocated.

Given labor’s unabashed patriotism, especially in light of all the flag-waving, “country first” propaganda being circulated by the anti-union Republican party, it’s surprising that organized labor hasn’t responded with a splashy “pro-American” campaign of its own.  As corny and “beneath their dignity” as that idea might initially appear, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win should seriously consider it.

They should offer this little quiz.  They should ask our citizens who’s the more “patriotic” American:

*  The investment banker who shelters money in off-shore accounts to avoid paying his fair share of U.S. taxes, and cares nothing about how the country as a whole is doing, so long as he’s rolling in dough?

*  The business owner who ships his operation overseas in order to reap higher profits from lower labor costs, helping to put money in a foreign government’s coffers while, simultaneously, depriving hard-working Americans of their jobs?

*  The defense contractor who talks the talk, waves the American flag, and professes to put “country first,” but who cheats the American taxpayer by criminally overcharging for his services and products, all in the name of “Keeping America Strong”?

*  The politician who has allowed America’s infrastructure (its highways, waterways, and bridges) to deteriorate to alarming levels, all because he’d rather invest public money in Wall Street than in the mundane and less profitable enterprise of maintaining the upkeep of the United States?

*  Or the union member—the dues-paying man or woman—who works in this country, spends all of his money in this country, pays his fair share of taxes to this country, marches in parades celebrating the glory of this country, and wants nothing more than to keep this country as strong and proud as he or she remembers or imagines it?

Who’s the more patriotic American?

If one aspect of patriotism involves a willingness to perform national service, consider:  More union members have served in the military than have bankers, accountants, lawyers, professors, artists or professional politicians.  That’s a fact.

Perhaps the argument can be made that military service doesn’t really matter.  If that’s the case, if military service shouldn’t be seen as a noble endeavor, then fine, let’s have the politicians shut up about it.  But if it is considered a worthy national sacrifice, then let’s be clear about who it is who’s doing the actual sacrificing.

More than your entrepreneurs, corporate executives, or hedge fund managers, union workers intuitively recognize the importance of pulling together to make the country stronger.  They don’t engage in rhetoric about it, or pay lip service to it, all the while looking for ways to avoid it.  They actually do it.

Their patriotism isn’t the abstract or phony kind, the kind that exists “in principle.”  Scoff all you like at their naivete or gullibility or gushy sentimentality, but you cut open a union member’s arm, and it bleeds red, white and blue.

Organized labor needs to publicize this fact.  It needs to turn this whole “love of country” issue—which hypocritical Republicans are using to bludgeon the Democrats—into something that can benefit the unions.

Not only would portraying union workers as being America’s fiercest and most loyal patriots be an effective campaign device, it would have the additional virtue of being absolutely true.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

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