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March 2011, Week 4

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Thu, 24 Mar 2011 19:46:11 -0400
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Maine's Labor Murals: Latest LePage Order a Piece of
Work 

by Bill Nemitz

Published on Thursday, March 24, 2011
by The Portland Press Herald (Maine)

http://www.pressherald.com/news/latest-lepage-order-a-piece-of-work_2011-03-24.html

Distributed by Common Dreams

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/03/24-3

Back in November, long before he decided to hide from
the media behind his own weekly television show, Gov.
Paul LePage sat down along with his wife, Ann, to chat
with WCSH-TV's Bill Green. 

[Mural panels 1 through 4. (Imbrogno Photography photo
courtesy of Judy Taylor Studio)] Mural panels 1 through
4. (Imbrogno Photography photo courtesy of Judy Taylor
Studio)

They talked about, among other things, how they met
while they worked at what was then Scott Paper Co. in
Winslow -- Ann had a union job, Paul was a member of
management.

"Scott was battling its unions," recalled Green in his
set-up. "She was a union rep from a union family when
she took the manager home to meet her father."

Cut to Ann LePage:

"And my dad looked at me and said, 'Ann, you've got to
be kidding me! What are you doing with him? Those white
collars don't know how to work!' "

Nor does this one know how to govern.

We won't waste valuable space this morning trying to
discern what was going on in LePage's head when he
ordered the removal of a mural and the names of meeting
rooms -- all commemorating Maine's deep and rich labor
history -- from the headquarters of the Maine
Department of Labor.

Searching for rational thought inside this guy's
noggin, after all, is like wandering through an
abandoned coal mine without a headlamp.

Besides, it's the things LePage clearly didn't think
about that make this latest assault on Maine's
sensibilities so stunning.

For starters, he didn't think about his own heritage as
a French-speaking kid growing up on the
rough-and-tumble streets of downtown Lewiston. [Mural
panels 5 through 8. (Imbrogno Photography photo
courtesy of Judy Taylor Studio)] Mural panels 5 through
8. (Imbrogno Photography photo courtesy of Judy Taylor
Studio)

Panel Seven in Maine artist Judy Taylor's widely
acclaimed, 11-panel homage to Maine workers focuses on
the 1937 shoe mill strike in Lewiston-Auburn.

Seventy-four years ago today, 5,000 of the area's 6,300
largely French Canadian shoe workers voted to walk off
the job over low wages, dangerous working conditions
and discrimination, to name but a few of their
grievances.

They shut down 19 shoe factories before it was over,
but paid dearly when police and then the National Guard
moved in and forcibly put down the insurrection.

Just a thought, but how many of those workers do you
think might have been named "LePage?"

Nor, speaking of history, did LePage stop to think that
Taylor's Panel Three ("The Textile Workers"), Panel Six
("The Woods Workers") and Panel Nine ("Rosie the
Riveter") all celebrate eras in which hard-working
Mainers, through their own sweat and blood, made this
state what it is today.

Also lost on the governor is the simple fact that the
Department of Labor, by definition, exists first and
foremost to protect Maine's workers.

The laws and regulations it enforces are in place
because without them, those forlorn child laborers in
Panel Two ("Lost Childhood") would still be walking
around with bandages on their hands, and that parade in
Panel Five ("The First Labor Day") would have dissolved
into just another endless September workday.

Then there's Panel Eight, titled "Frances Perkins."

Born of Maine parents, Perkins went on to become the
first female member of a U.S. Cabinet -- she was
secretary of labor through the 12-year presidency of
Franklin D. Roosevelt and played a lead role in the
creation of our Social Security system.

Her lifelong love of Maine is reflected in the Frances
Perkins Center, on the family homestead in Newcastle,
where Executive Director Barbara Burt found herself
shaking her head in disbelief Wednesday at our "very
mean-spirited" governor.

"Unemployment insurance, child labor laws, workplace
safety law, the minimum wage -- those are all things
that you can directly trace back to Frances Perkins,"
said Burt.

Removing both the mural and Perkins' name from one of
the Department of Labor's meeting rooms, Burt said, "is
an attack on something that's so deeply ingrained in
American life that it's almost inconceivable to me. I
mean, Maine should be so proud of Frances Perkins."

Instead, Perkins and all she stood for soon will come
down off the wall and head for what acting Labor
Commissioner Laura Boyett, in her email to department
employees this week, euphemistically called a "new
home."

Boyett, a 17-year labor department veteran who we can
only assume is just trying to hang onto her job (ah,
the irony), also explained in that email that the rush
to redecorate stems from "feedback that the
administration building is not perceived as equally
receptive to both businesses and workers."

That feedback undoubtedly came from Team LePage the
moment it first entered the building. And those labor
department employees who may hold a different view have
been told in no uncertain terms to shut up and keep
working.

"Whether or not the perception is valid is not really
at issue and therefore, not open to debate," wrote
Boyett.

Expect little more from Dan Demeritt, LePage's
communications director, who achieved a new level of
tone deafness this week when he told the Lewiston Sun
Journal that the labor department's face-lift is "a
very small thing."

"I just want to emphasize that we were merely looking
to achieve a little balance" Demeritt said. "It's very
minor."

Except it isn't.

In fact, coming just a few days before Friday's 100th
anniversary of The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in
New York City -- 146 young women perished that day in
what Frances Perkins later called "the birth of the New
Deal" -- it's an insult to those who over the last
century fought, and sometimes died, for the workplace
rights we all take for granted today.

Back when the LePages sat down with Bill Green, Ann
LePage portrayed the governor as the kind of guy who
always identifies with the downtrodden because, as an
11-year-old who left home after his abusive father put
him in the hospital, he'd been there and done that.

"Because Paul had the upbringing he did," promised
Maine's first lady, "Paul will fight for the underdog
every time."

To paraphrase her father, she had to be kidding. (c) 2011
The Portland Press Herald Bill Nemitz

Bill Nemitz is a news columnist for the Portland Press
Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram. After 10 years as a
city editor and assistant managing editor/sports for
the Portland Newspapers, he began fulfilling his
long-held desire to put aside the budgets and
performance evaluations and returned to writing in
1995, with his three-times-a-week column.

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