Despite Republicans’ objections, the Maine Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee heard a presentation Friday on the racist origins of the exclusion of some workers from New Deal legislation.
Committee chair Senator Craig Hickman (D-Kennebec) said comments during the April 7 public hearing on bills to extend protections under labor laws to farm workers showed that it was necessary to revisit history.
“I have heard many testimonies which made it clear that there was a misunderstanding or misunderstanding of how we got to this place and why our farm workers, domestic and knowledgeable workers are excluded from all reforms. of the work that took place in this country. Hickman said during Friday’s working session on LD 1022.
As tag previously reported, DL 1022 – one of the two invoices related to agricultural workers echoed by the committee at this April hearing – would deal with a long-standing exclusion of agricultural workers from basic labor protections, subjecting “agricultural workers and other workers” to state wage and salary laws. hours, allowing them to be covered by the statutes on minimum wage and overtime.
Friday presentation was given by Andy O’Brien, Director of Communications for Maine AFL-CIO, who has a background in history and was a teacher. During his speech, O’Brien traced the history of the country’s labor to the colonization of the Americas by Europeans.
“This is the history of blacks, which is also the history of work in this country, and the history of work is also the history of colonization and the birth of capitalism,” he said. he says.
O’Brien explained that throughout U.S. history, including after the abolition of slavery, southern landowners have profited tremendously by keeping black laborers, such as farm laborers, in an economically subordinate position. And when President Franklin D. Roosevelt began proposing labor reforms in the 1930s as part of the New Deal, Southern Democrats acted quickly to ensure their power over black workers would remain, O said. ‘Brien.
Out of this, O’Brien explained, arose the exclusion of certain people, such as agricultural workers, from New Deal legislation such as the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act. While technically a racially neutral exclusion, O’Brien said it clearly targets black workers. Today, people of color continue to form the backbone of the agricultural in the United States and are a significant part of that workforce in Maine.
Several Republicans on the Legislative Committee objected to hearing about the story of this exclusion and its connection to the colonization of the Americas.
Less than three minutes after the approximately 25-minute presentation began, Senator Stacey Guerin (R-Penobscot) interrupted as O’Brien spoke of the acts of violence committed by Christopher Columbus against Indigenous peoples.
âIt doesn’t appear to be a bipartisan presentation that I think is appropriate,â Guerin said.
Representative Dick Bradstreet (R-Vassalboro) also lodged a protest, saying he valued historical education but did not believe the working session was the appropriate venue.
Hickman heard the complaints, reiterated the presentation was non-partisan, and asked O’Brien to proceed. But minutes later, O’Brien was again interrupted by Guerin, who reiterated his claim that the presentation was partisan.
âThis is not a partisan presentation,â replied Hickman. âIt’s a presentation of the history of the United States of America. It is not a partisan issue. ”
Rep Gary Drinkwater (R-Milford) then called for a caucus. Hickman said a caucus could take place after O’Brien’s presentation.
âIt’s very irregular, sir,â Drinkwater said. âWhat we are hearing is a story about racism. We all agree that racism existed. We have made great strides in eliminating it. ”
Bradstreet also again objected to the presentation.
Following this, O’Brien continued his speech. After finishing the presentation, several committee members asked questions, including Drinkwater.
âI understand what you’re trying to say – I totally understand,â Drinkwater said. âI still see racism today. In fact, last night NBC NewsI have seen Jews beaten up by Palestinians and vice versa in New York. Drinkwater was then interrupted by Hickman, who asked him to ask a question.
“The question is whether we are still victims of racism?” Drinkwater said.
O’Brien said Drinkwater should speak to people from historically marginalized populations. However, he added that “they can tell you that they are living this legacy of slavery.”
Bradstreet also posed a question, referring to O’Brien’s point that certain professions were excluded from employment law – as well as the discriminatory housing policy known as redlining – dramatically reduced the ability of black workers to accumulate wealth.
âYou talked about the ability to create and maintain wealth on the part of minorities. Do you think whether or not [LD 1022] would help or hinder this opportunity should be relevant to our discussion? Bradstreet asked.
O’Brien replied that it is certainly true that exemptions from the wages and hours laws have prevented many workers in the agriculture and domestic sector from achieving the American dream.
Following the presentation, the committee held a working session on LD 1022. No decision was made on the bill during this session and the bill will be taken up by the committee this week.
Hickman thanked committee members for hearing O’Brien’s presentation, saying the question “is about the fundamentals of the US economy.”
âIt’s no surprise that a black farmer who chairs the Labor and Housing Committee wants everyone to know a story that I know very well, and I got off of it,â Hickman said.
“So I appreciate your indulgence, and I hope you understand that I presented this in good faith, so as not to try to hit anyone,” he added. “But history is history.”
Top photo: Farmworker Justice via Facebook