Let me say this about that

By Gene Klare

March 21, 2003

THE ATTACKS on the American labor movement by Texas right-winger Tom DeLay have focused critical attention on the 52-year-old congressman from a Houston suburb who is the Republican Party's majority leader in the United States House of Representatives.

At a meeting of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council in Portland, delegate Ed Barnes of Electrical Workers Local 48 labeled DeLay "a draft dodger just like Bush and Cheney." Barnes, a retired business manager of Local 48, was referring to President George W. Bush, who joined the Texas Air National Guard to avoid being drafted for service in the Vietnam War, and his vice president, Dick Cheney, who evaded the draft in the same war.

BARNES SERVED in battlefield combat with the U.S. Army in the Korean War. A NW Labor Press reader with access to the Internet retrieved the following 1999 report by Tim Fleck of the Houston Press:

"In 1988 a little-known Texas congressman gathered a crowd of reporters in the lobby of a downtown New Orleans hotel housing several state delegations to the Republican National Convention. Clutching a pole topped by a drooping American flag, 22nd District two-termer Tom DeLay launched into a rather implausible defense of Dan Quayle, an Indiana senator freshly picked by George Bush as his presidential ticket partner.

"Bill Clinton's draft-dodging efforts would become an issue in his successful campaign against Bush four years later, but now Quayle's own past manipulation of family ties to get into a National Guard unit was touching off a classic feeding frenzy among the convention press corps.

"DELAY SEEMED to feel the issue applied personally to him, and perhaps it did. He had graduated from the University of Houston at the height of the Vietnam conflict in 1970, but chose instead to enlist in the war on cockroaches, fleas and termites as the owner of an extermination business, rather than going off to battle against the Vietcong.

"He and Quayle, DeLay explained to the assembled media in New Orleans, were victims of an unusual phenomenon back in the days of the undeclared Southeast Asian war. So many minority youths had volunteered for the well-paying military positions to escape poverty and the ghetto that there was literally no room for patriotic folks like himself. Satisfied with the pronouncement, which dumfounded more than a few of his listeners who had lived the sixties, DeLay marched off to the convention.

'"WHO WAS THAT IDIOT?" asked a TV reporter who arrived at the end of the media show. When he was told the name, it drew a blank. DeLay at that time was a national nobody, and his claim that blacks and browns crowded him and other good conservatives out of Vietnam seemed so outlandish and self-serving that no one bothered to file a news report on the congressman's remarks."

The Northwest Labor Press reported in the Feb. 21 issue that DeLay's attacks on labor unions were made in a six-page letter he signed to raise funds for the anti-union National Right-To-Work Foundation in Virginia. The letter "equated unionism with treason and accused union members of deliberately sabotaging national security," the NW Labor Press reported.

DELAY'S LETTER also said the labor movement was a "danger to the security of the United States at home and the safety of our Armed Forces overseas."

THE TEXAS REPUBLICAN'S letter slandered the labor movement in general and several unions by name, including the International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Machinists and International Longshore and Warehouse Union. DeLay also attacked public workers in Minnesota and indirectly slammed the American Federation of Government Employees, the NW Labor Press reported Feb. 21.

Labor leaders lambasted Republican House Majority Leader DeLay's insulting diatribe, the Feb 21 Labor Press further reported.

The purpose of the DeLay letter was to generate contributions for greasing of national "right-to-work (for less)" legislation, which he and other so-called Grand Old Party congressmen are promoting. Twenty-two states have such laws, which prohibit union-shop clauses in collective bargaining contracts. Such anti-union laws, which drive down wages and weaken workers' unions, are permitted by the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act's Section 14(b). A Republican-controlled Congress passed Taft-Hartley over Democratic President Harry Truman's veto. The anti-union law was authored by Senator Robert Taft and Congressman Fred Hartley. The most recent state to adopt a "right-to-work" law was Oklahoma in 2001. The campaign for passage was led by Oklahoma's then governor, right-wing Republican Frank Keating, a former gumshoe for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

THE INTERNET contains page-upon-page of information on a caper in which DeLay and another Texas right-wing congressman, Dick Armey, became apologists for sweatshop employers on the Pacific Ocean island of Saipan in the 1990s. The employers kept their 31,000 workers in slave-like conditions and marketed their garments with "Made in the U.S.A." labels to big-name retailers.


CARPENTERS LOCAL 247 of Portland is spearheading a campaign to reclaim May Day - May 1 - for workers.

"May Day has been a labor event since 1886, but in recent years its history and labor significance have become lost to a large contingent of other issues from every corner of the political map," Local 247 said. The union's announcement continued: "How can we get the focus back on the struggle for the eight-hour day and all the other benefits unions have fought for and contributed to the American workplace? Come join us in finding a way. We are The May Day Coalition and we are meeting at Carpenters Local 247, Upper Meeting Hall, 2205 North Lombard."

The May Day Coalition will meet at 7 p.m. on the following Fridays - March 21, April 4 and April 18 - at the Carpenters Building, 2205 North Lombard. For more information, call 503-289-9632.


THE LABOR HISTORY CALENDAR of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association lists as one of March's highlights the founding on March 14, 1928 of Laborers International Union Local 483.

The calendar says it was Portland's first city workers union. Laborers Local 483, also known as Municipal Employees Local 483, was founded by workers in the Portland Parks Bureau, now titled the Parks and Recreation Bureau. This year marks the union's 75th anniversary.

ONE OF LOCAL 483's founders and charter members was James T. Marr. He went on to become one of the most outstanding labor leaders in Oregon history. In the mid-1940s he was elected executive secretary-treasurer of the Oregon State Labor Federation, the Beaver State affiliate of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Executive secretary-treasurer was then the top job in the state labor federation.

In the 1956 merger of the Oregon state councils of the AFL and the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations), Jim Marr was elected as the executive secretary-treasurer of the new Oregon AFL-CIO. (The national merger of the AFL and CIO had taken place a year earlier, in 1955.)

Marr retired from the Oregon AFL-CIO's top leadership post in 1965 at age 65, which was then the federation's mandatory retirement age. Marr led the the state labor federation for 21 years, longer than anyone in Oregon labor history. One of his principal duties was directing the federation's political and lobbying activities. Along with his colleagues, he put laws on the books that produced benefits for Oregon workers - union and non-union. Marr also helped bring about the Democratic Party's landmark election victories in the 1950s.


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