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