LePage right; mural deserves a new home

We were fully prepared to join the chorus of voices condemning Gov. Paul LePage's decision to remove a mural depicting significant events in the state's industrial history.

Then we looked closely at the panels and at the way they dominate the lobby of the Maine Department of Labor. Then we considered the department's mission to fairly arbitrate between the interests of labor and industry.

And you know what?  The governor is right — the mural deserves a better home, perhaps in the Maine State Museum. If not there, then it would be an ideal addition to our own Museum LA.

As first reported by the Sun Journal Tuesday, LePage ordered the 11 panels removed after receiving what appears to have been a single complaint.

The $60,000 mural was installed three years ago when the Maine Department of Labor opened a new consolidated office in Augusta.

Artist Judy Taylor was selected by the Maine Arts Commission, who then worked with University of Maine Professor Charles Scontras to depict important chapters in Maine's trade and industrial history.

Events profiled in the work include child workers, the 1937 shoeworker strike in Lewiston-Auburn, women working in the war-time shipbuilding industry, striking paper workers in Jay and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.

Coincidentally, today is the 100th anniversary of that horrific fire, which claimed the lives of 146 immigrant garment workers in New York City.

Maine, like much of the U.S., has a long history of labor strife, and it is certainly strife and conflict that dominate the murals.

The union movement is an important part of our industrial heritage, but it is only one part. Maine also has a long and proud history of industrial innovation and cooperation.

We have champions of the labor movement, five of whom are depicted in the murals, including Frances Perkins, a Maine native and U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, and the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet.

But Maine also has had more than its share of noteworthy industrialists, including Harold Alfond, Hugh Chisholm, L.L. Bean, Benjamin E. Bates, Chester Greenwood and the Stanley Brothers.

The labor/industry relationship is by necessity a partnership. Industrialists supply the ideas and the capital to build mighty mills and manufacturing plants. Workers supply the skill and labor to make those businesses successful.

One does not succeed without the other.

It has, of course, often been a contentious and even bloody partnership. Workers have had to fight for gains in wages, safety and working conditions.

As we have seen this year, it is a struggle that continues.

Today's Department of Labor is not a museum, it is a place where workers and private industry must meet to work through their differences in a purely neutral setting.

Having a mural in the lobby dominated by worker abuse and labor conflict simply does not set the right tone for a public agency that must represent all sides fairly.

What's more, the mural would get far more exposure at the Maine State Museum where it would help educate visitors and the countless school children who visit each year.

Let us celebrate the mural and the history of unions in our state. But let's do it in a more appropriate setting.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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Jason Theriault's picture

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Jason Theriault's picture

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Leonard Hoy's picture

"Our View" of the Labor Dept Mural Removal

What a thoroughly pleasant presentation of insightful opinion! I find myself emailing a friend in Alabama who had seen an MSNBC presentation of the issue and wanted a local perspective. I was pleased to let this editorial represent my thinking. Nice work!

I notice that defensive union supporters quickly resort to the time period covered by this mural as they seek to burnish the image of the present-day labor union movement. And well they should! Back in the day, unions had an honorable and necessary role to play in the economy of this nation. We're much the better as a country because of the sacrifices and struggle characterized the early days of the union movement.

I also notice that unions don't much refer with pride to what they've been up to since, oh, WWII or so. Unions Present claim the honor due to Unions Past.

Unions, like the early Christian Church, suffered a moral decline once brought into the halls of power. The Roman Emperor's Constantine's Edict of Tolerance did more to hobble the Church than any persecution. President Roosevelt's embrace of unions on behalf of the Democrat Party did more to ruin their integrity than any corporate oppression.

Once unions became attached to the teat of government largess and got their hands on political power, everything changed. Union Bosses now match Corporate Bosses greed for greed. Union lobbyists, like corporate lobbyists, swarm around the Congress like buzzards on fresh carrion. Unions, like giant corporations, banks and the like, now need reining in, too.

Removing the mural may seem petty, but I see the removal as fair notice that the past is the past and the present is the present. Unions now hang upon the economy and our nation's politics like so many albatrosses round the neck of the Ancient Mariner. Let's put artistic depictions of the union movement's proud history where it belongs: in a museum, not in the offices of a department of government which now must objectively manage the excesses of its bloated and selfish present-day versions.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Our View LePage right; mural deserves a new home

. . A l l , Friday , 20:20 HST • 
“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” -- Leonardo da Vinci . While working in DC and VA for > 7 years , we found the most a m a z i n g american art to be that of the old W P A era ( Works Projects Administration -- 1930's ) . There are sculptures and buildings and everything . A lot of it is cataloged on - line . The Old Post Office building is a sight to behold , from the inside
In " Old State " where i first worked - the old State Dept. Bldg . - we had simply i n c r e d i b l e murals with manly men and rough and tough horses , dam builders , and farm scenes with women sowing and casting seed . Most people do not realize that during the war ( the big one : W W I I ) there were office buildings built o v e r the reflecting pool to help keep workers cool . This was before air conditioning . Construction of the Pentagon replaced all of them and they were torn down . They were not artistic
The 2nd largest U S Federal Building where i also worked as 11th floor security warden during 9.11 ( http://www.itcdc.com ) has some interesting recent art objects including a chunk of the Berlin Wall . i remember looking out the window across the Potomac and seeing the Pentagon billowing smoke . That was one dark day . .. although the weather was extremely beautiful . Traffic was at a standstill , it was extremely quiet outside , and there wasn't an aircraft in the sky except for a lone F - 16 circling the White House two blocks away
After all , L \ A , ya' gotta' have art :) Aloha from Pahoa ?

Bert Lambert's picture

Bullies

As most people know, bullies are really cowards who are frightened by seemingly harmless things. LePage feels threatened by a mural and room names that depict actual historic events.

Like most bullies he surrounds himself with authoritarian, ditto heads who help him try to hide his cowardice. They usually made statements like the one that Demeritt made, "It's a very small thing, I just want to emphasize that we were merely looking to achieve a little aesthetic balance. It's very minor." Those statements can best be understood by ascribing to them just the opposite meaning. Another symptom of a bully is bluster that again hides their cowardice - "I'll tell the president to go to hell" - and many other such statements.

Spending thousands of dollars to remove a work of art is more about assuaging LaPage's paranoia. It is a shameful waste of state tax dollars. It reminds one of the Taliban blowing up the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan—stupid and ugly. Recall time, anyone?

Doreen Sheive's picture

Artwork

The artwork in public buildings is supposed to represent the purpose of the public building. The artwork fully represents the Department of Labor's purpose which is to represent the interests of the workers. Like it or not, the fact is that the Department of Labor was established because it was and is clear that the workers need someone to represent their interests. It could not be more apparent than today with the greed of businesses and some politicians. This mural is perfectly appropriate. It is not an insult to anyone. It s a historical representation of our history.

Joe Morin's picture

Dumb Move

I feel Lepage should have left the mural up. Solely for the reason that trivial things of this nature are often magnified by people that want to distract the populace from issues that truly do affect them. Do I really care what kind of painting is displayed? No. It's curious that Lepage removing a painting that has been up for three years gets more press than the fact that our state Govt. is commisioning paintings for $60,000. At the time the painting was commisioned the per capita state tax burden was approximately $3,000.00. That's 20 Maine residents! Figuring half of the state is either elderly or on welfare then more like 10 people @ $6,000.00. The last thing I need is a govt. that finds unique and creative ways to spend my tax dollars.

GARY SAVARD's picture

I think this is a very good

I think this is a very good editorial . Obviously, there are those that will always believe that business and labor must constantly be at odds but in reality neither can survive without the other and the Department of Labor should be promoting that instead of being a showplace for various low points in the history of business/labor relationships.

Stan Tetenman's picture

The mural

Rex Rhoades may be correct that there may be a better home for the mural at the Department of Labor. But Mr. LePage did not say that was his reason for taking it down. From all his actions it appears that his reason is a disdain of labor unions. Perhaps those in the tea party, Republicans, and others who hold Ronald Reagan is high esteem should heed his words.
"Where Free Unions And Collective Bargaining Are Forbidden, Freedom Is Lost"- Ronald Reagan
His political roots are in his activism in a labor union.

MICHAEL LEBLANC's picture

There are no free unions.

In the private sector, all unions are almost extinct. In the public sector, unions are so intertwined with politics that it's impossible to say when one ends and the other begins.

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Rogues gallery

"Harold Alfond, Hugh Chisholm, L.L. Bean, Benjamin E. Bates, Chester Greenwood and the Stanley Brothers." How did these folks avoid jail or did they. They became rich by despoiling Maine, by socializing their costs, by exploiting their workers, and using national and racial hatreds to divide their workers. I don't think waterproof shoes were worth it.

Jason Theriault's picture

First off, Just wanted to

First off, Just wanted to point this out:
"Then we looked closely at the panels and at the way they dominate the lobby of the Maine Department of Labor. " - The editorial board

"It is in a small lobby area. It OVERWHELMS the room, and even I felt a little uncomfortable."
-Me, on the March 23 story comments section

HA HA! I made the point first!

Ok, purile gloating aside, I disagree with the point "it is a place where workers and private industry must meet to work through their differences in a purely neutral setting."

No, because the Department of Labor is about regulating and protecting Labor. And don't tell me the abuse of workers is a thing of the past, all one must do is look to where labor regulation is non-existent, and see what corporations will do. You go to third world nations, and sweatshops become the norm. Child labor is acceptable. Long workdays with poor pay is considered an advantage to companies, not a moral wrong.

I don't fault business. The job of companies is to make money, and to expect them to work otherwise is foolish. So it falls to Government to regulate Business. Much like a nuclear reaction, balance is key. You let business go to far, you get meltdowns. You overregulate, the reaction shuts off and no power is generated.

Working with both to make an environment where both sides thrive should be goal of the DoL.

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

All wrong.

These are the purposes of the Maine Department of Labor are expected to fulfill:

•Assisting individuals, families and communities when jobs are lost;
•Helping people prepare for and find jobs;
•Protecting workers on the job; and
•Researching and analyzing employment data to support job growth.
Being pro-business is not among them. This editorial is intended to mislead the public that the Mdol's mission has somehow changed because of an election which brought us a Governor who hates workers and has contempt for the people of Maine. Removing the mural and changing the names of the conference rooms may make LePage and his friends feel confortable as they proprose the return to child labor, but working people know what's going on. Children have to work because LePage and his friends don't pay a living wage.

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

The point is

This is just one more reason that most business managers are ill suited to govern. They rule, forgetting where the real power lies.

In Lepage's place it is because demonstrates most managers' unwillingness to listen to anyone but themselves. They may talk the talk, but they make the decisions (then point fingers and fire subordinates when it hits the fan). The Catholic religion calls it Pride - the first of the 7 Deadly Sins. I think of it in harsher terms - arrogance.

Paul LePage is unsuited to sit in the Governor's chair because that chair belongs to us - not him. He has yet to understand that and, in my opinion never will. All his training and life experience are based on his will prevailing. Might I suggest that four years down the road, we return him to Marden's as defective. Would that we had recall and could do it before the destruction is near complete.

Mike True's picture

worker exploitation

Given the long history of exploitation of labor by industrialists working to increase the bottom line - it is (was) only fitting to have bold, impressive murals in our Government building of labor. We need to be mindful of the possible evil that the profit motive takes in abusing men, women and children. Workers have struggled to get safe working conditions, reasonable hours, middle class wages, rights to health care and some input into the operation of businesses. Taking down the murals is an affront to all working class people and the SJ should be ashamed at this editorial.

RONALD RIML's picture

"An Impression" - From an Unsigned Letter Writer to the Guv...

Now there's a really valid reason to haul down the Murals.

If America's "Titans of Business" are such wusses no wonder all the Foreigners have been able to steal, woo, undercut, and otherwise grab every bit of manufacturing, technical savvy, financial and real-estate power than we ever held......

Robert - did that unsigned missive originate from you?? God knows the lengths I took to embarrass you into finally signing your work here after your resurrection as "Thinkingman' et al.....

If it hadn't been for a cowardly wuss in the first place - this latest kerfuffle of Boss Hogg wouldn't be on the nation's airwaves. And Robert has the gall to intimate that it's we liberals who are the 'wusses.' Gee, Bob - you never answered when I asked if you, yourself, applied for a Military ID. Perhaps you're more the "namby pamby momma type who needs the whaaaaambulance" than I am.

RONALD RIML's picture

Oh, My Hero goes Camping!!!! Then complains.

You take action?? I thought I asked you about when you applied for that military ID - but you never answered. So you got your 'Combat Action Ribbon'...... What campaigns???

Randall Berry's picture

Fear Art

Shame on artworks that create emotion! I suppose the SJ could ask the Dept of Environmental Protection to remove paintings/photos) of wildlife or forests and replace them with pictures of bulldozers,clearcuts and perhaps some foam plumes in the Androscoggin River from Mr. Chisolm's factories to be balanced.

Jerome Young's picture

Oh yes, they were sooo

Oh yes, they were sooo exploited. My great Grand father came from nothing. Only to be exploited into owning his own home. Having two Model "T"'s in his garage. And owning ocean front property. He was a machinist and an inventor. But yeah, he was sooo exploited. It's terrible that he was not paid the wages he was worth. So, I guess the good old days were always much better right? No "education" no formal training, but he was exploited into having a good life. The murals represent only the strife. Which no one denys. But to have murals that depict ONLY the strife is wrong. The Gov was right. Those that deny this no NOTHING of Maine history. The editorial staff is right. Rex too.

CRYSTAL WARD's picture

No REX

Gov. LePage did not go the Dept. Of Labor and say "these painting are beautiful and really deserve a bigger better placement they should really be shown off " he said "a few businees people complained "and I want them to come down now . And the Labor names on the rooms must go --we must be business friendly .. I am waiting for the new name the Dept. of Business. What is going on is so transparent and is clearly a slap at labor unions.
How did the SJ miss it?

RONALD RIML's picture

You blew it again, Rex.

You write: "The labor/industry relationship is by necessity a partnership"

But what kind of 'partnership,' Rex? Certainly not a partnership of equals, but long one of capital vs. labor.

Adam Smith in his treatise 'Wealth of Nations' tells us that wages of laborers rise and fall both with the competition of laborers both with manufacturers and with other laborers.

- Hence it is also neccessary for laborers to form relationships with other laborers. Yet it is the philosophy of the present state administration that this relationship (Unionization) be not only discouraged, but vilified.

The Department of Labor exists, Rex, solely because capital historically dominated, intimidated, and misused labor in the most egregious manner. The murals are a reminder of the real history which predicated the necessity for the Department's founding. They should stand as a constant reminder that injustices should never again be tolerated.

If 'Business' finds such reminders disquieting, perhaps it is they who should re-examine their collective conscience.

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

Workers have been and are now being exploited

Good comment.
Workers in America have not had a raise since 1981. Many in 2008 saw their wages or benefits cut. Since 1981 their real earnings have fallen by 25% or more (except for wall street). Why, because business has changed the laws and regulations in this Country to allow them to increase the pool of labor by bringing in illegal immigrants (Ronald Reagan's 1986 Immigrantion Amnesty Law which opened the flood gates), outsourcing, creation of various visa classes like H1-B, by changing child labor laws, and by breaking unions etc. Business' goal is to reduce us (one of their costs) to the lowest level they can. To see children strarving in the streets might be a sign that they have reached their goal. There is no partnership.

KATHY WILLIAMSON's picture

I respectfully disagree

Workers' rights is not a museum concept. It's here and now. Those industrialists built their empires on the backs of good working people, and those people need to be at the forefront of everything we do.

KATHY WILLIAMSON's picture

Impertinent and irrelevant

Personal attacks have no place in intelligent discourse. Debate the point.

RONALD RIML's picture

Dan works hard in getting the truth out here

Which is a full-time job considering the likes of your side of the aisle.

KATHY WILLIAMSON's picture

They're pretty though

And so well informed!

Jerome Young's picture

Thank you LSJ. i get to

Thank you LSJ. i get to speak with the folks who worked in the mills all the time. They never talk about strife or being exploited. They speak with real pride about what they did there. The millrights, the carpenters, pipefitters, weavers, sewers, and on and on. They swell with pride over their jobs. And they should.

KATHY WILLIAMSON's picture

Oh, that's good news.

I'll be sure to tell that to my grandparents and their sisters and brothers who all dropped out of school to work in the mills because they had to help their parents, who weren't being paid enough to cover medical bills and such. They'll be so happy to know that it wasn't even true.

RONALD RIML's picture

The bad old days were always "The Good Old Days"

The worst thing about exploitation is that folks are kept so ignorant they don't know they're being exploited......

Damn, I'm getting a whole twelve cents an hour raise, Hot Sh*t!!!

Finally an objective look

Finally an objective look

KATHRYN PENDLETON's picture

Amazing!

I totally agree with the S.J. editorial board!

AL PELLETIER's picture

good points

I agree with your editorial , but if Lepage would have explained his reasoning for this "little dumb thing" prior to doing it and did it as well as you did, he would not have drawn all this negative attention . He really needs better political advisers and quit shooting from the hip.

Geraldine Thompson's picture

Amen!

I agree completely.

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