Wisconsinites need not be smug about racism in South

For years, northerners, such as those of us in Milwaukee, have always had a superior attitude about our racism when we think about places like South Carolina, where the confederate flag – and its symbols of slavery – for years flew proudly.

We have nothing to be smug about; racism still reigns in the State of Wisconsin.

Just a few examples from some recent personal experiences:

An African-American teacher who lives two blocks east of me in our once historically  white Milwaukee neighborhood  told me that she experienced the usual hateful racist artifacts being placed on her property after she moved in five years ago. It was a next door neighbor who was unmoved by her efforts to keep her lawn mowed and snow shoveled well above the typical standards of the neighborhood.  To be honest, her lawn is much neater than mine.  Finally, she called the police who set the man straight; to his credit, he backed off.

A friend told that he was called a “n—— lover” in an argument with a neighbor on the Northern Wisconsin lake where he and his wife had purchased an older home and were fixing it up. His sin, in the neighbor’s eyes, was that he took a nephew (an adopted nine-year-old Ethiopian boy) fishing.

While our politicians and public officials never use racist terms outwardly, there are still plenty of our neighbors in this state who do so regularly. Some will avoid openly racist terms, but soon their language will be populated with euphemisms that seek to hide their true racist feelings.

Obviously, there’s still a need to attack racism in our community. – Ken Germanson, July 21, 2015.

The fight for unions is everyone’s fight

It’s time to revisit Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous quote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.Niemoller

Niemoller (1892-1984) first made this statement in 1946 after he was freed from a Nazi prison where he had been held since 1937, and he repeated it in many versions since then, mainly to urge people to break out of their apathy and get involved when groups are being persecuted.

One thing is certain and that is that in the various versions trade unionists were often listed as groups being targeted for destruction. Niemoller at first supported Adolf Hitler’s NazI party, but soon left it when he realized its true purpose; in a sense, his famous quote became his own penance for his earlier actions.

It’s ironic that the Nazi (the National Socialist Workers Party) proclaimed to be a party for the workers and the downtrodden; in doing so, they fooled many into supporting their earlier goals. And yes, free trade unions were among the first to be destroyed, being outlawed in January, 1934, one year after the Nazis took control. In the place of the traditional unions, the Nazis established the German Labour Front in which all workers in larger workplaces were expected to join; while union membership was nominally voluntary, those who failed to join the state-sponsored unions were looked upon to be suspicious. The Labour Front’s main purpose was to serve the Fatherland, not to protect the rights of its worker members.

Many union supporters compared Scott Walker’s action in passing Act 10 with the actions of Hitler; Walker supporters roundly criticized such comparisons with the man responsible for butchering six million Jews and causing the carnage of World War II. Also, many rightwingers claimed Hitler favored unions, as shown by his establishment of the Labour Front. They were, of course, dead wrong; the Labour Front was a tool of the Nazi regime, not a free trade union capable of questioning actions of the Nazis.

Thus, the comparison of Walker’s actions with those of Adolf Hitler’s in killing the free trade union movement is chillingly accurate.   (Certainly, no one would claim Walker or others like him would exterminate millions as Hitler’s Nazis did.)

Today, trade unionists are being assaulted by a cohort of right-wing politicians (i.e. Scott Walker in Wisconsin) and their Big Business allies. Make no mistake about it: Walker’s key purpose in offering Act 10 (the law passed in 2011 to ban most collective bargaining rights for public workers) was not to save taxpayer dollars but to weaken, if not kill, an effective trade union movement in Wisconsin. His success in such anti-union legislation has made him a hero among big business and rightwingers alike.

Since less than 10% of workers today are in union jobs, there’s a tendency to read this and say, “so what?” It doesn’t matter to me.

As Pastor Niemoller’s words so eloquently tell us: it should matter to workers and to all persons who believe in democracy.

Labor unions in the United States are “free” organizations; outside of following a few procedural rules that require them to be democratically run, they are free to advocate and take actions, regardless what the government may like. If they don’t like an action of government, they are free to campaign against it.

Right now, the labor movement represents the ONLY relatively powerful institution blocking their way to turning our government over to the whims and ambitions of Big Business or the one percent. To weaken labor is to help lead the way to a government run by and for the privileged few. Can fascism be far behind?

Authoritarian regimes, like Stalin’s Russia, routinely ban free trade unions, mainly to weaken one of the few institutions capable of opposing their rule. Even in today’s Russia where trade unions enjoy greater freedoms than in the past Soviet Union times, President Vladimir Putin is beginning to crack down on some of those freedoms, precisely for the fear that they would oppose his increasingly dictatorial rule.

Yes, Labor unions remain a bulwark of democracy.

Secret GOP Right-to-Work love potion

Maybe it was the drag of the long debate, but Republicans supporting the right-to-work law used some weird arguments.

“It’s for your own good,” they said over and over again to the union members and the Democratic legislators who opposed the bill as the debate continued in the Wisconsin Assembly overnight into Friday morning. (March 5 – 6)

Once you weed out the freeloaders, your unions will be stronger because the members who will be left will be dedicated “true believers,” argued another Republican. As that occurs, he said, unions will become more effective and as a result workers will rush to join. And, he added, employers will be eager to sign contracts with the strong unions because they will provide a skilled and dedicated workforce.

You continued to hear Republicans say that unions are “good” and they wanted them to thrive; for a while, it sounded as if they were speaking at a labor union convention.

One Republican let the cat out of the bag, however, when he admitted to seeing how effective his union had been in representing him back in his younger days. Yet, he felt he shouldn’t have been “forced” to join and pay membership fees to cover the costs of providing such help. The ultimate “freeloader!”

So there, unionists, you can close down your rallies around the State Capitol and stand outside to applaud how friendly the Republican legislators can be to you. Just drink down their potion of goodwill and enjoy the results.

If unionists accept such logic, will it not be much like the innocent college freshman girl who was offered a drink made especially for her by a fraternity boy at her first party on campus? The last thing she heard that night was, “Here, drink it, you’ll like it.”

And you know what happened to her!

Ken Germanson, March 6, 2015

Corporate greed set stage for Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This essay, written by Makena Easker, a sophomore student at Durand HEaskerigh School, was entered into the 2014 National History Day competition.  It is reproduced since it brought the meaning of the 103 year old Triangle Fire into the present day, and to represent many of the efforts of young people who participate in the Society’s various “Labor History in the Schools” projects. Makena presented her paper at the May meeting of the Western Central Area Labor Council at Eau Claire in May 2014. Also presented was a video of by Sarah Vetsch, entitled, “Fight for Rights, Failing in Responsibility: Conflict and Casualty in the Copper County Strike of 1913.”  The students were joined by their parents.   

___

In 1911, William Howard Taft was serving his first term. The Philadelphia A’s had beaten the Chicago Cubs in the previous World Series and the dance, the tango, was trending throughout the nation.

Also during this year, on March 25, in New York City, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The doors were locked to prevent theft, so leaving the building was difficult. For many workers trapped inside, their only means of escape was by jumping out of the windows. A survivor, Pauline Cuoio Pepe, later discussed the event with a man compiling stories about the fire into a book:

“I saw the people throwing themselves out the window. I wouldn’t dare. I didn’t have the courage…We were all torn to pieces. My hair was a mess. My coat was torn. I had no pocketbook or nothing. When my mother saw me, she thought somebody got ahold of me and was killing me… We were also angry. “What the hell did they close the door for? What did they think we’re going out with? What are we gonna do, steal a shirtwaist? Who the heck wanted a shirtwaist?”(Kisselhoff 325). *

These were thoughts shared by many of those trapped inside the ill-fated Triangle Factory. Nevertheless, the fire’s influence in history will not soon be forgotten. Even though strides have been taken to improve factory conditions, including the creation of the Factory Investigation Commission and later OSHA, many workers’ rights are still overlooked; it is our generation’s responsibility to change that. To fully understand this statement, however, it is necessary to start at the beginning of this tragic tale.

Background Information

Max Blanck and Isaac Harris were immigrants from Russia who arrived in the United States during the early 1890s. They met and started a business together based on Blanck’s business sense and Harris’ industry expertise. In 1900, they opened the Triangle Waist Company on Wooster Street. The products they produced were shirtwaists, loose fitting tops styled after menswear. They were more liberating than Victorian style bodices, and, therefore, popular with female workers in New York [Refer to Appendix A]. The men priced them “modestly” at $3 each, which is over $70 today (U.S. Department of Labor n. pag.). In 1902, the pair moved the company to the ninth floor of the new Asch building. The tables were arranged so conversation would be minimized among workers [Refer to Appendix B]. This was done in an attempt to increase productivity. After four years, they expanded to the eighth floor and again in 1908, when sales hit $1 million, to the tenth floor.

The success experienced by the factory owners allowed for them to move from their cramped apartments to large brownstones that overlooked the Hudson River. Harris had four servants, and Blanck had five. They arrived to work in chauffeured cars. Additional shirtwaist factories were opened in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Blanck partnered with his brothers and opened more around the country. With all of these factories the men operated, they were producing more than 1,000 shirtwaists a day. They were given the nickname “Shirtwaist Kings.” Little did they know, over 100 years later, they would earn another nickname: The Fourth Worst Bosses of all Time (Gibson n. pag.).

The majority of the workers were young immigrants – Italian, Russian, Hungarian, and German – who didn’t speak English (“141 Men” 1). In time, they began to feel like the machines they worked with. Morris Rosenfeld, a Yiddish poet living in the early 1900s, described this feeling in his poem, “In the Factory”: “And void is my soul,” He complained. “I am but a machine. I work and I work and I work, never ceasing.” In order to retain high profit levels, it was necessary to produce the cheapest shirtwaist in the largest quantity. The production team worked long hours for little pay. Some journalists during the late 1800s and early 1900s recognized factories with similar conditions. Wirt Sikes, a popular social reformer, was one of these news reporters and described a factory he toured in his 1868 testimonial, “Among the Poor Girls”: “The room is crowded with girls and women, most of whom are pale and attenuated, and are being robbed of life slowly and surely. The rose which should bloom in their cheeks has vanished long ago. The sparkle has gone out of their eyes…they breathe an atmosphere of death” (Stein 12-13). Young girls who should have been celebrating life were, instead, packed into rooms and drained of their vitality. Additionally, security was tight. A foreman monitored the workforce during the day and inspected workers’ bags as they left at night. Blanck ordered the secondary exit door to be locked.

Eventually, in November of 1909, the workers could not take the cruelty anymore. They went on strike, and the owners took the walkout as a “personal attack.” Harris and Blanck hired policemen and brutes to beat, reprimand, and cause panic among demonstrators. Finally, after a few months, the owners agreed to allow shorter hours and higher wages, yet they still refused a union.

About a year later, on March 25, 1911, at 4:40 P.M., a fire started in the northeast corner of the eighth floor. A lighted match was thrown into clippings near oil cans (“Crowd” 1). While smoking was prohibited, it was constantly indulged. There was no explosion, but the blaze still spread quickly. Soon, the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors were engulfed in flames. Some workers escaped by running down the stairs; however, that avenue was eventually cut off by the fire. Others survived by getting rides with Caspar Mortillalo and Joseph Zito on elevators. Zito said, afterwards, that he saved over 100 (“Blame” 2). This, combined with the firemen’s futile efforts to put out the fire, left many girls still trapped in the building. These girls rushed to the windows and looked down at Green Street, 100 feet below them. After the first girl jumped, they all began to drop. The crowd below watched in horror. They yelled, “Don’t jump!” Their shouting did nothing [Refer to Appendix C]. William Shephard described what he experienced while on the telephone: “I learned a new sound – a more horrible sound than description can picture. It was the thud of a speeding, living body on a stone sidewalk. Thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead, thud-dead” (Shephard n. pag.). One body was referred to as “A mass of ashes, with blood congealed on what had probably been the neck” (“Sad” 1). It was a gruesome, painful end for all victims. The fire net did not save over one or two (“Stories of Survivors” 1). The trapped girls did not have chance.

The day after, 50,000 watched the ruins. Starting at 6:00 A.M., 500 frantic men and women demanded to be let in at the gate of the improvised morgue (“Crowd” 1). The covered pier of the Charities Dock served as a gathering place for mourners and curious onlookers [Refer to Appendix D]. The bodies were arranged by degree of likeliness to humanity. All those seemingly beyond recognition were near the end of the line. The last forty coffins contained bodies that the authorities said would probably prove impossible of identification (“Sad” 1). The women rushed about moaning and crying, tearing out their hair. At the end of the day, on March 26, fifty-five remained unidentified.

The papers reported the death toll was anywhere from 145 to 147 people. Of course, since the owners had escaped unscathed by the fire, they were put on trial for manslaughter in the first and second degrees. They testified that the doors were never locked, yet witnesses reported otherwise. Robert Wolfson, who had worked for the company for almost ten years, swore that Harris purposefully locked the doors. After the fire, Harris reportedly said, “The dead ones are dead and will be buried. The live ones are alive and they will have to live. Sure the doors were locked; I wouldn’t let them rob my fortune” (“Triangle Fire Case” 1). When asked why every employee had to leave the factory by the Greene Street exit, he responded that it was to prevent theft. He went on to talk about how he had discovered over ten shirtwaists were stolen in 1908. The prosecutor asked the magnitude of losses. Harris quietly admitted it would not be more than $25 a year (Hoenig n. pag.). Nearly a year following the fire, the court brought in the startling verdict of not guilty. The judge was pleased with the jurors’ decision, yet the public was mortified. Despite the shockwaves sent out by the fire, the owners did not learn their lesson. In the summer of 1913, Blanck was arrested for locking a door during work hours. The despicable pair also filed insurance claims far exceeding their losses, receiving $60,000 above documented damages (Hoenig n. pag.). The men were greedy, selfish, and materialistic murderers.

Efforts to Preserve Peoples’ Rights

There was one good thing that came from the fire, though. The district attorney foretold it in March of 1911. “I have no doubt that this disaster will lead to a general investigation as to the conditions existing in factories in this city” (“Blame” 2). His prediction came true. Union ranks swelled from 30,000 in 1909 to 250,000 in 1913 (Hoenig n. pag.). In 1912, the Factory Investigating Commission, headed by Robert F. Wagner and Alfred E. Smith, was created. The commission examined thousands of workplaces in small and large industries. It served as a model for the rest of the nation. One organization formed in the Factory Investigating Commission’s footsteps was the Bureau of Fire Prevention in May of 1913. In the past hundred years, the bureau has saved innumerable lives by imposing fire safety codes and remains to be the driving force behind new initiatives. In the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt passed a series of programs, known as the New Deal, to stabilize the economy during the Great Depression. These reforms won safer factories and shorter hours for garment workers. After many years of founding progressive organizations, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration was established in 1970. OSHA, an agency of the Department of Labor, is charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation. The fire emboldened the call for workers’ rights and, for the most part, it seemed as if the lives of workers could not get much safer. Employers began recognizing and acting upon their responsibilities to provide a secure work environment.

Though many believe the resulted labor legislation from the fire has created ideal workplaces throughout the globe, this is simply not true. “Dozens of ordinary workers die in a fire, making the shirts ordinary Americans will wear on their backs. Doors were locked. Some succumbed to smoke. Others jumped several stories to their deaths in a desperate, inevitably fatal, bid to evade the flames. But this wasn’t New York, 1911. This was Bangladesh, 2010” (O’Neill 24). Rory O’Neill, writer and professor, put everything into perspective with the opening sentence to his essay. However, Bangladesh is not the only country where disasters like this occur. Similar stories are told in nations such as China, Pakistan, Philippines, Nicaragua, and Cambodia. “In 2010,” O’Neill went on, “British oil multinational BP, operating in U.S. waters, saw its reputation torn to shreds as a result of its thirst for deep sea oil dollars. Eleven workers died and the Gulf of Mexico was coated in a toxic smear” (O’Neill 24). O’Neill told another story that sounded familiar. “In 1988, U.S. oil multinational Occidental, operating in British waters, was the villain behind the Piper Alpha rig explosion. While 167 workers died, Occidental escaped unscathed” (O’Neill 24). Accidents where neglecting CEOs evade consequences unearth feelings of frustration and injustice, but they tend to occur the most frequently.

As much as Americans would like to believe that tragedies such as these only exist outside of the United States, the facts show otherwise. Tom O’Connor, Executive Director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, made this clear in his essay. “Some 15 workers still lose their lives every day on the job from injuries – and many more from long-latent illnesses” (16). One example of a long-latent illness is exposure to silica dust, which continues to claim the lives of hundreds of workers each year. Wal-Mart was sued in the past decade for routinely locking their night-shift workers in their stores to prevent theft. Steven Greenhouse published an article in The New York Times about the company’s hazardous practices.

For more than 15 years, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, has locked in overnight employees at some of its Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores. It is a policy that many employees say has created disconcerting situations, such as when a worker in Indiana suffered a heart attack, when hurricanes hit in Florida and when workers’ wives have gone into labor (1).

Car wash workers had severe chemical burns and California’s pesticide-soaked fields cause immigrants to bake to death. Just like during the days of the Triangle fire, immigrants are being taken advantage of due to their needs for jobs. Twenty-nine workers died in the 2010 Massey Energy underground mine explosion in Montcoal, West Virginia (Romney 15). In 2013, information was released concerning Massey’s CEO’s advanced warnings of surprise federal inspections. This way, he could afford to have his mines in poor conditions until he knew an examination was scheduled. Other reports of carelessness include a construction worker with no harness falling to his death and an eighteen year old buried alive in a collapsed trench. Wisconsin is not picture-perfect either. The United Students against Sweatshops (USAS) forced UW-Madison to cancel its contract with Nike due to labor violations in Nike’s Honduran plants. “These incidents happen daily across the U.S. and each one is the sort of hazard that we have known about since the days of the Triangle fire, for which simple preventable measures are easily available,” said O’Connor. “Yet they keep happening, day after day, year after year” (16). While the aftermath of the Triangle fire had a large impact on history, it was obviously too inadequate to prevent the disregard of basic human rights.

It has been the goal of many committees across the world to reduce the chances of death and injury in the workplace, but their efforts are not enough. Tragedies that sound so similar to that of the Triangle Fire happen too often in the U.S. and the world. Despite how dismal this sounds, hope is not lost. There are ways to fix this problem. Laws can be passed, relief funds can be donated, and organizations can be created. In the words of Jeanne Stellman, professor and lecturer at Columbia University, “The best homage we can pay to the young women and men who died in the Triangle fire is to redouble efforts to prevent the needless toll of occupational hazards that don’t blaze behind chained doors but plague the lives of working men and women every day” (23).  

(Note this essay is available, along with an annotated appendix that lists the sources and a bibliography, at the Wisconsin Labor History Society website: http://wisconsinlaborhistory.org.)

What God does Gov. Walker answer to?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said that God is guiding him. I’m wondering whose God he is listening to. Here’s what Walker told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt in answering a question about when he’d reveal his decision to run for President (as quoted in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 8, 2015):

“I think with what I’ve had to go through in the last four years, both politically, but also in terms of the policies, certainly I feel that there’s a reason God put me in a spot to do things that we’ve done and take on the kind of challenges we’ve done.”

What chutzpah! Is there really a God out there who guides him to refuse to expand Medicaid and to participate in the Affordable Care Act, thus denying thousands of low income Wisconsinites access to health care? Does his God tell him to cut on education aids, to weaken unions and thus deprive workers of a means to a better life, to turn down the light rail plan taking away more jobs and to do other mean-spirited actions?

To claim that any God would support actions that line the pockets of the wealthy at the expense of ordinary citizens is beyond comprehension. Besides, what’s our governor doing spending all this time with nutty talk show guys anyway?

Christmas Is Cool, Right?

I started to write something poetic about Christmas, something that was not full of clichés . . . you know, things like it being “a magical time of the year,” and putting “Christ back into . . .” You all know them, including the pictures of chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Has anyone ever done that?

My struggle at writing something fresh failed, as you can see from the segment at the end of this comment, but the more I thought about it, I realized Christmas is really kinda cool, isn’t it?

Of course, I write this as one who grew up in the Catholic Church, but isn’t the real Christmas message one that all humans can understand and take to heart. “Peace on earth” and so on.

The Christmas Story – whether it’s true or merely flowing from the imaginations of people some 2000 years ago – is an inspiring one: the pregnant young woman and her husband being denied housing and finding refuge in a back shed among other struggling families. From his crib of straw, the child is born and rises to spur on a world-changing revolution.

As the story goes, this child grows up to cast the money-changers out of the temple, preach among the despised people of the times and eventually befriend prostitutes. It’s this spirit of Jesus – whether he is the Son of God in your mind or a myth – that most reverberates for me. It’s this spirit that should inspire us in this day, instead of the desire to find a cool, expensive gift under the Christmas Tree.

Yes, Christmas makes me wish that for 2015 all of us could take pause from slinging divisive rhetoric at each other and begin reasonable dialogue about the tough issues of the day. Can we in Milwaukee (and in St. Louis, New York and Cleveland) find a way to build trust between our police officers on the street and the citizens of our poorest neighborhoods? Is it possible to find a compromise between those who support a woman’s right to choose and those who cry “baby-killers” at workers of women’s clinics?

And then there is cousin Billy Boy who seems bound and determined at every family gathering to shout out his conservative views as Aunt Sally responds with an even louder voice with her liberal response. Will they – or our politicians and pundits – ever be able to bring reason into red and blue disagreements?

The spirit of Christmas is cool, isn’t it? It means for all of us to pause and look at each other with fresh and open eyes. It means for us to search out the humanity in the other person and to build off our discoveries to a new spirit of peace. And what’s wrong with that?

Thus it is I end with a cheery (and correct) “Happy Holidays.” What else?

A Holiday Wish

What a wonderful story: a child born in a crib of straw in a back shed
Rises from simple beginnings,
And a revolution is born
Promising a new Society based on peace and justice for all.

‘Twas just a fiction, some might say,
“Twas a divine action sent from a benevolent God, say others.
Who knows the truth?
Of what matter is it?

The story provides a lesson and hope for all, the believer and non-believer alike:
A lesson that the human spirit may overcome our divisions
And a hope that through living these lessons
We may all find hope for peace and justice.

— Ken Germanson, Dec. 25, 2014

Saving the Democratic Party from itself

(History tells us grassroots actions needed to spur action)

Often overlooked in the marvelous Ken Burns’ PBS Roosevelt series was that much of FDR’s New Deal rose as much from the grassroots as it did from the President’s skillful, if sometimes crafty, political leadership.

Today’s Democratic Party has lost its appeal among the very people for whom the New Deal was designed to help out. Spurred on by advisers like Harry Hopkins and Harold Ickes and Frances Perkins, FDR was quick to understand the ferment that was stirring among the exploited workers, the hard-scrabble farmers and the terribly impoverished families of the Great Depression could explode into a terrible chaos that might rip the country apart.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to see that the growing strikes among workers in the early 1930s, the lines of unemployed at soup kitchens and the milk-dumping strikes and other actions of farmers might lead many into the revolutionary clutches of the Communist Party or even into the Fascism of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the National Labor Relations Act on July 5, 1935

Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the National Labor Relations Act on July 5, 1935

It was in that scenario that FDR and the Democrats forged the reforms of the New Deal and developed the “Roosevelt Coalition” that helped the Party wrest control from the hold of the Republicans. Now that has been reversed and there’s growing evidence that even the changing demographics of the nation (with GOP-favoring Caucasian voters soon to be in the minority) may not save the Democrats from continued minority status.

Essayist Kevin Baker made this exact point in a recent New York Times opinion piece (Sunday, Nov. 15) in looking to history to indicate that if the Democrats resort to tired old centrist policies they do so at their own peril. He wrote:

“The Democratic Party that shot to some 50 years of overwhelming electoral success beginning in the 1930s was helped in part by changing demographics. But many of those who built what George Packer calls “the Roosevelt Republic” started out as Republicans. Or “Bull Moose” Progressives, or Populists, or Socialists, or Communists, or simply the politically alienated and disengaged.

“The people who built that party rallied around big things — and usually big things they had come up with themselves. The reforms that Democrats embraced were almost all culled from grass-roots movements, and they were big enough to erase the lines between cultural and economic issues.”

(From an opinion in the Sunday New York Times, Nov. 15, 2014 by Kevin Baker, an essayist and the author, most recently, of the historical novel “The Big Crowd.”)

The Republicans have committed a masterful con upon the body politic. Hitting upon the theme of “Freedom” they have convinced far too many people that it is the shackles of “big government” that have brought about stagnant or dropping family incomes, failing farms and tight, expensive housing. Thus people – even the economically disadvantaged – have turned to Republicans and the Tea Party in the misguided belief that somehow the freedom they seek will solve their ills, rather than make matters worse by freeing big business and the wealthy of taxes and regulations.

The Republican message has been sadly adopted by the nation’s media, even among the so-called liberal media; GOP leaders are constantly being quoted, courted by pundits and sought out where they repeat their message scaring the public against “Socialistic Democrats” who are unpatriotic and anti-family. Such tactics have scared too many people.

The fact of the matter is, however, that most Americans agree climate change must be addressed, that taxes need to be more fair, that banks and hedge fund manipulators must be curbed, that comprehensive immigration laws are passed, and that workers at all levels need decent wages and benefits. The Republicans offer nothing in these areas.

Working people – union and nonunion alike – need to look at ways to make their voices heard, whether it be through letter-writing campaigns or street rallies, whether it be through growing more active within the Democratic Party or staging wildcat strikes. The time for a little creative civil disobedience may be now!

Many would like to start a third party – perhaps a Labor Party. As commendable as those desires may be, they’re unrealistic. The fate of working people rests in the hands of the Democratic Party; somehow working people must wake up the Democrats to return to the Party’s roots of serving all the people, and not merely the favored few. Ken Germanson, Nov. 15, 2014