A friend made an interesting observation this morning. He mused that he had never heard of the Governor of Illinois until he publicly attacked Bank of America for denying any credit relief to Republic Window and Doors in Chicago, the company that closed last week only to be met with a militant sit-in by two hundred of its workers. Governor Blagojevich, like the members of the United Electrical Workers local, took a stand. He stated unequivocally that that state of Illinois would no longer do business with Bank of America, a company that eagerly took billions of dollars of bailout money meant to loosen credit, while steadfastly refusing to pass it on to a struggling company employing workers in Chicago. After the sit-in began at week's end, Governor B, on Monday, was the first prominent person to visit the workers and take a tough public stance for the workers' cause.
As my friend noted, the otherwise obscure Governor made national headlines on Tuesday, not for his act of solidarity, but for his Federal indictment on corruption charges. Before the word could spread about his support for desperate workers, the national headlines were scandalizing his name, erasing even a hint of integrity in his bold Monday declarations.
Frankly, you have to suffer from nursery school naivete to buy this explanation. Does that mean that Governor B is pure as the driven snow? Of course not. He's a crook. Friends and relatives in Illinois have recounted his many shady deals for some time. Governor B was a willing participant in the national political sport of "pay for play", the active solicitation of personal or campaign funds in return for no-bid contracts, legal and bond work, and other public benefits. It would be far easier for an investigative reporter - if there are any left - to find "public servants" who are not players than to identify the few that pass on the tantalizing attraction of graft. The long and lucrative career of Vincent Fumo, a Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania State Senator, is only the most recent and outrageous publicly revealed example of the mind-boggling greed of public officials.
But think about this indictment. Put the justifiable indignation over the revelations about another corrupted, cynical politician aside for the moment and consider the timing. The Feds have been wiretapping Governor B for five years! They have a veritable treasure trove of self-implicating, vulgar graft-mongering. Like the infamous FBI under J. Edgar Hoover which wiretapped the mafia for two decades, they seemed more interested in eavesdropping than pursuing justice. But - aha! - a moment arrived when they could stick it to the old Governor. He dared to side with the workers!
Now I have no more insight into Governor B's mind than I do the true motives of other politicians who have signed onto progressive legislation or taken commendable public stands, but I do know this: no other Governor has stepped up to defend and support the laid-off workers of Republic except for him. And few will fail to see the possible consequences of doing so, given that the Feds may have been monitoring their deals as well. Nothing puts a damper on political boldness like an assassination - remember the sixties? - or Federal indictments.
Whatever his reasons, Governor B stepped up with real support before anyone else. It took John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO, a full five days to issue a statement in solidarity with the workers in Chicago. The machinery of class solidarity seem to be a bit rusty in Washington DC. Maybe the labor movement should consider the UE organizer who dared to take on Republic and Bank of America, Leah Fried, as the next President of the AFL-CIO. She and the workers she so ably represent seem to show a lot more fight than the UAW's groveling President who proudly stands shoulder to shoulder with the discredited auto moguls.
I salute the workers at Republic. Let this be a beginning!