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Friday, February 25, 2011

FDR, Public Unions, and the Right-Wing

Beware of right-wingers bearing quotes!

Here's the background:  

There is a quote from FDR that has been making the rounds of right-wing blogs over the past two weeks.  As you can see from the quote below, those of the right-wing bent believe that FDR himself did not believe in public unions.
I was involved in a conversation on the Wisconsin situation ( "What Governor Walker Won't Tell You"  ) at Huffington Post.  Member Rashnak replied to a comment that I made in defense of unions:
"You are correct that unions led to a lot of great laws. But since the time of sweatshop­s and child labor is over, the time for public unions is also over, if it ever existed." 
He then quoted:  

"... Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationsh­ips and obligation­s of public servants to the public itself and to the government­. All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining­, as usually understood­, cannot be transplant­ed into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmount­able limitation­s ... The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for ... officials ... to bind the employer ... The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representa­tives" .
..FDR
And in the very next line FDR speaks of the danger of 'militant tactics' used by public sector unions.
This was my eventual reply to him, after a bit of searching for the original FDR quote:

"I really had to dig to find the original, as a Google search just brought up the abbreviate­d "talking points" version found on every right wing blog and forum over the past few days.
 Here's the original letter, from the "American Presidency Project":
He was writing to the convention of the National Federation of Federal Employees.

In part:
 "I was especially interested in the timeliness of your remark that the manner in which the activities of your organizati­on have been carried on during the past two decades has been in complete consonance with the best traditions of public employee relationsh­ips.   Organizati­ons of Government employees have a logical place in Government affairs.
The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions­, developmen­t of opportunit­ies for advancemen­t, facilities for fair and impartial considerat­ion and review of grievances­, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organizati­on on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationsh­ips and obligation­s of public servants to the public itself and to the Government­."

(Added for clarity 1/20/2012)


All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.


And:  
FDR continues, after the lines quoted above:


"Since their own services have to do with the functionin­g of the Government­, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkabl­e and intolerabl­e. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratificat­ion that I have noted in the constituti­on of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that "under no circumstan­ces shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government­."
I congratula­te the National Federation of Federal Employees the twentieth anniversar­y of its founding and trust that the convention will, in every way, be successful­."
As you can see, while FDR did not support strikes by government­al workers. He did not oppose collective bargaining for federal employees; he said it can't be transplant­ed "as usually understood­".

The letter taken in its entirety has a completely different message than the sentences taken out of context by those who are trying to prove a point, whether or not that point is valid.

The lesson is clear:  Any of us who consider ourselves Progressive need to meet lies with Truth, we need to refuse to let misrepresentations stand unanswered.  


Update 1/20/2012:
Please note the discussion in the comments below.  FDR said that he did not support collective bargaining for public servants "as usually understood."  We have no idea as to what kind of collective bargaining he might support.  

2 comments:

  1. Talk about hypocrisy! You engage in the very selective editing that you accuse the right of! While dutifully quoting, in full, the passages which bolster your case, you leave out the entire paragraph wherein FDR addresses public employees' collective bargaining, instead choosing to cherry-pick one part of one passage. THe entire paragraph makes very clear that FDR believed that public employees cannot bargain with government and thus the process must be controlled by other means. Ihave included the full paragraph below:

    "All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters."

    ReplyDelete
  2. To be honest, it's unclear why right-wingers are trying to figure out what FDR did or did not say. Most of them hate FDR and are desperately trying to turn the country away from the kind of fair and just place that FDR and other New Dealers wanted it to be. So why any of them are trying to figure out exactly what FDR said and did not say is unclear.

    First of all, he was clearly NOT opposed to pubic sector unions, and that is the claim of most of the right-wing blogs and info that I read. Secondly, he says that: "All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service."

    In terms of collective bargaining, the "as usually understood" shouldn't be interpreted to mean that he absolutely opposed collective bargaining.

    ReplyDelete

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