Posted by: mutantpoodle | March 2, 2011

Awakenings

There’s a wonderful scene at the end of Working Girl, when Oren Trask asks Tess (Melanie Griffith) how she came up with the idea for Trask industries to buy a radio network. It’s a great moment, largely because it is true to Tess’s character, and to how people connect things in their mind:

TESS

Okay.  See, this is Forbes.  It’s just your basic article about how you were looking to expand into broadcasting, right?  Okay now, the same day, I’ll never forget this.  I’m reading page six of the Post, and there’s this item on Bobby Stein, the radio talk show guy who does all those gross jokes about Ethiopia and the Betty Ford Center.  Well, anyway, he’s hosting this charity auction that night…real blue bloods, and won’t that be funny?  Now turn the page to Suzy, who does the society stuff, and there’s this picture of your daughter.

TRASK

Ah.

TESS

See, nice picture.  And she’s helping to organize the charity ball.  So I started to think, “Trask, radio…Trask, radio.”  And then I hooked up with Jack, and he came on board with Metro, and…and so now here we are.

So, here I am, inundated with news about Wisconsin, and I see thisFrank Buckles, last veteran of WWI dies in W. Va. at age 110

And I remember that 29 years ago, the last research paper I wrote as I was finishing my degree at Brown was about the American Legion and 1932 bonus march.

To review: in 1932, a group of World War I veterans marched across the country to demand that Congress make bonuses available immediately that were otherwise scheduled to be paid in 1945. The marchers were denigrated as reds and commies, despite the fervent – and sometimes violent – way they removed actual communists from their ranks.

The House passed legislation that would have advanced the bonuses, but the bill went to the Senate and died. Some of the marchers left shortly thereafter, but quite a few stayed. When the District police tried to evacuate  them, there were bricks thrown, and two veterans were killed.

President Hoover took that as an excuse to call out the troops, and the Army, led by General Douglas MacArthur, routed the veterans who remained. Two infants died, and soldiers bayoneted a 7 year old boy as he went back to retrieve his pet rabbit.

The American Legion – a largely conservative, establishment organization – had, based on the personal pleadings of President Hoover, gone on record in 1931 against paying the bonus early (Hoover claimed it would explode the deficit). In the aftermath of the violent conclusion of the bonus march, the legion was turned upside down.

The Legion, which had been bound by the common service of its members, split along economic lines in the wake of the violent expulsion of the bonus marchers. Whereas the year before the march the leadership (read: officers and the economically well off) were able to play on members patriotism and respect for the Presidency to go on record against the bonus, after the march those same leaders were helpless to prevent the bulk of the legion from passing resolutions  demanding immediate payment of the bonus.

Put another way, a weak bond will survive until a stronger force rips it apart. That’s what happened in 1932-33 with the American Legion, and that is what’s happening today, I believe, with otherwise conservative union members.

[If you want the whole academic paper, go here: The American Legion and the Bonus March. And remember: it was 29 years ago, and I was young.]

Today, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and John Kasich in Ohio*, and their legislative enablers are showing themselves to a whole swath of Reagan Democrats. And while labor may be a declining power in American politics, it is not dead yet.

I said a few days ago that I thought the overreach by Walker, Kasich, et al could be compared to Hurricane Katrina, in that it revealed to people the reality of the “competence” of the Bush administration.  In this case, it was revealing an essential truth: that the GOP is not – at all – about protecting the economic interests of people making union wages. Except if those interests happen to dovetail with the interests of very rich people.

There’s more evidence of this overreach today: an NBC/WSJ poll shows while most people think public unions should make concessions, very few think they should be neutered:

In the poll, a whopping 68 percent find it acceptable requiring public employees to contribute more of their pay for retirement benefits; 63 percent are fine with requiring these employees to pay more for their health-care benefits; and 58 percent are OK with freezing public employees’ salaries for one year.

But just 33 percent say it’s acceptable — and 62 percent say it’s unacceptable — to eliminate these employees’ collective-bargaining rights as way to deal with state budget deficits.In addition, 77 percent believe that public employees have the same collective-bargaining rights (when it comes to health care, pensions, and other benefits) that union employees who work for private companies have.

[It turns out that some people who voted for a Republican State Senate candidate in Ohio were laboring under the assumption that he supported collective bargaining rights for public employees. Why would they assume such a thing? Because he told them so.]

If the upshot of all of this frenetic anti-union activity is that a bunch of Reagan Democrats in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Indiana decide that voting for a Republican is not in their self-interest, and if they can’t be scared away by throwing teh gays and teh immigrants at them – then the GOP has dug a mighty deep hole that an awakened populace won’t let them crawl out of easily.

An awakened populace is not so easily put back to sleep.

* Republicans in Ohio are so committed to deficit reduction that they have included, in their anti-union bill, language stripping rights from gay couples.

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Responses

  1. This is a very informative post. I knew about the march, but not about the Legion’s involvement.


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