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 heres 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, youve managed to flip that: Youve made the good (by labors standards) the enemy of the far better. I know: Jim Hahn has lived up to the commitments he made to you when he enlisted labors 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, hes 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 didnt, what would keep employers from blowing you off altogether (which is increasingly what they do anyway, but thats another story)? Gompers also coined (or at least appropriated) the adage that labor should reward its friends and punish its enemies. But he didnt say what to do when an election pits a friend of labor against a warrior for labor. Thats 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. Its not just the time hes 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 dont have a prayer of making the 6 oclock news. Its 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. Its 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 youve 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 Burkes endorsement of Antonio last week opened the floodgates in the black community: As youre well aware, almost every African-American elected official is going to come down in Villaraigosas 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 lions share of the legislators who carry your water, are siding with Antonio in some cases because its 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, whos 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 dont 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 arent any other pro-working-class governments in the United States? Wouldnt that negate everything youve worked for so persistently and even boldly over the past decade? You dont have the freedom to walk away from Jim Hahn, I suppose, but you do have the freedom to measure the Federations 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 youve led so brilliantly. Ironically, youve done more than anyone to create the Los Angeles that is soon to elect Antonio Villaraigosa as its mayor. Youve registered the voters and highlighted the issues, youve 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
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.