MORE

Start Making Sense

Mr. Miguel Contreras Executive Secretary-Treasurer The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO Dear Miguel (or, in the parlance of labor salutations, Dear Sir and Brother): Now here’s a fine mess if ever there was one. The most profoundly pro-labor mayoral candidate in Los Angeles history is on the ballot this May and, as I hardly need tell you, is the clear favorite to win. And how are you and all the sirs and brothers and mesdames and sisters responding to this? By backing his opponent, of course. Those of us on the realo? wing of the left are always warning our comrades not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Somehow, you’ve managed to flip that: You’ve made the good (by labor’s standards) the enemy of the far better. I know: Jim Hahn has lived up to the commitments he made to you when he enlisted labor’s help to defeat secession. On big-box concerns, on city contracts, on the policies of the Redevelopment Agency, on the campaign to unionize security guards, he’s done almost all you asked. By the normal standards of the labor movement, a Hahn endorsement certainly makes sense. After all, since the days of Samuel Gompers, labor has lived by the contract, by the deal: You give your word, you keep it. If you didn’t, what would keep employers from blowing you off altogether (which is increasingly what they do anyway, but that’s another story)? Gompers also coined (or at least appropriated) the adage that labor should reward its friends and punish its enemies. But he didn’t say what to do when an election pits a friend of labor against a warrior for labor. That’s your term, Miguel: “a warrior for working people.” Somebody who goes beyond the norm, as Hilda Solis did when she jump-started the initiative to raise the state minimum wage back in 1996 with funds from her own campaign treasury. And you backed her, Miguel — a controversial and gutsy move — in her successful challenge to Marty Martinez, an incumbent Democratic congressman who had a decent labor voting record. Antonio Villaraigosa, as you know as well as I, is one of your warriors if anyone is. It’s not just the time he’s put in as a union staffer organizing picket lines, or building community support for union actions, or his efforts as an elected official to help janitors or MTA bus drivers, or garment workers struggling for a decent living in conflicts that don’t have a prayer of making the 6 o’clock news. It’s that Antonio has spent the better portion of his life working on behalf of L.A.’s underpaid working class; the cause animates his being. It’s that a Villaraigosa administration would be staffed with talented people animated by the same cause. And Hahn? We do not speak here of someone animated by much of anything. So, too, his administration, save by the cause of their boss’ re-election. The rest of the city gets this distinction. The L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce endorsed Hahn less than 48 hours after the primary. The big local business law firms, reports the L.A. Business Journal, are lining up behind Hahn as well. The money guys who oppose the living-wage compacts are scrambling to back hizzoner. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the public officials you’ve worked so hard to elect over the past decade — Solis, Fabian Nuñez, Jackie Goldberg, Karen Bass, Martin Ludlow, the list goes on — have endorsed Villaraigosa. Yvonne Burke’s endorsement of Antonio last week opened the floodgates in the black community: As you’re well aware, almost every African-American elected official is going to come down in Villaraigosa’s column. Henry Waxman and Howard Berman head the list of Villaraigosa backers in the Jewish community. Not to oversimplify unduly, but almost all your natural allies, the lion’s share of the legislators who carry your water, are siding with Antonio — in some cases because it’s a good political fit, in other cases because they smell a winner. Some local union officials genuinely support Hahn, but in my informal and unscientific poll of area labor leaders, more of them, in the privacy of the voting booth, cast their vote for Antonio last week. Some of them are finding ingenious dodges to avoid campaigning for Hahn: The shock troops from Local 11 of the Hotel Employees have been busily campaigning for Westside council district candidate Bill Rosendahl, who’s assisted their efforts to organize the airport-area hotels. But the crunch on you, the pressure to pony up for Jimbo, is now. The Hahn people are realists; they don’t expect labor to produce the thousands of activists who walked precincts for Villaraigosa four years ago. All they want is your money, lots of it, to fund independent media campaigns. Suppose you comply, suppose you come across with megabucks. And suppose the Hahn campaign, slashing desperately at Villaraigosa with ads that make the Vignali spots of four years ago look like public service announcements from the Girl Scouts, manages to eke out a victory with your assistance. How would you feel? How would it feel knowing that you had blocked the creation of the most seriously pro-working-class government in the United States, at a time when there really aren’t any other pro-working-class governments in the United States? Wouldn’t that negate everything you’ve worked for so persistently and even boldly over the past decade? You don’t have the freedom to walk away from Jim Hahn, I suppose, but you do have the freedom to measure the Federation’s support for him. Indeed, not to limit your support for Floundering Jim would be deeply perverse and self-subverting. It would be an affront to the L.A. working class whose cause you’ve led so brilliantly. Ironically, you’ve done more than anyone to create the Los Angeles that is soon to elect Antonio Villaraigosa as its mayor. You’ve registered the voters and highlighted the issues, you’ve built the public awareness, you waged the campaign four years ago that made Villaraigosa a household name. Now, you and your labor movement are trying to put the brakes to the very bandwagon you helped create. Miguel, sir and brother — does that make even a smidgen of sense? In indignant solidarity, Harold


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >