By Patrick Devlin
Greater Detroit Building and Construction Trades Council
"Now more than ever the people are responsible for the character of their
Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the
people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption."
-President James Garfield, 1877.
After more than 200 years, it's true that the American electoral system is still the best way on the planet to put people into public office - but it's also true that people usually end up getting the government that they deserve.
In Michigan, especially, organized labor is in a fine mess politically. Nearly every issue that the building trades and the rest of organized labor holds dear, like prevailing wage, job safety, and the collective bargaining process, is threatened. It's not a stretch to say that if the Nov. 7 election doesn't put labor-friendly candidates in office in some key positions, unions will exist in name only.
On a state level, labor has Attorney General Jennifer Granholm to represent our interests, but she has no legislative authority, and frankly, no one else in power gives a damn about working people. On a national level, President Clinton's veto power has been the only thing standing in the way of wholesale assaults by the Republican Congress.
Politics are so black and white these days. Politicians rarely seem to work with each other, rather, the side that wins is the one that yells the loudest or puts the proper spin on an issue in order to curry public opinion that wins.
Our state and nation need more balance. Current Michigan Gov. John Engler and former Gov. William Milliken are both Republicans, but Milliken was a guy who labor could talk to and work with. Engler has just plain been vicious in his dealings with organized labor, and his attitude has filtered down to both the House and Senate in Michigan, which are both controlled by Republicans, and they reflect what's going on nationally in the Republican-controlled Congress.
The state and the nation have become much leaner and meaner over the last decade, but what has gone on only reflects the will of the people who put the politicians in office. Or, more accurately, what has gone on has reflected the will of the people who actually voted.
George Stephanopolous of ABC News visited Wayne State University a few weeks ago to gauge the sentiment of college students about the upcoming presidential election. The answers and the apathy were scary. One student said he hadn't given the presidential election a thought until 10 minutes before.
The building trades and the Michigan AFL-CIO have a candidate endorsement list that appears on Page 10 of this issue. We realize that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to endorsing candidates, and that our affiliated members may cast a vote based on their own concerns and issues, such as gun legislation and abortion.
We would never minimize those issues, but the historic, primary role of labor unions is to keep an eye on candidates' records as they relate to health and safety and wages and benefits. The way we look at it, what could be more important to our members than earning a fair wage, working on safe job sites, and having a good health insurance and a retirement package?
We hope you feel the same way, and then vote on Nov. 7.