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February 2013

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Deals or No Compromises?

Big-name film critics and regular Joes are talking about "Lincoln," director Steve Spielberg's portrayal of the sixteenth U.S. president and his intense politicking to pass the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery.

Whether folks like the movie or not, there is a lot of agreement that it lays bare the messy deal-making that characterizes the U.S. Congress. A good argument could be made that — while few debates are as consequential as the one over the Thirteenth Amendment — we could actually use some better deal makers in Congress in 2013.

The fiscal cliff. The debt ceiling. Medicare and Social Security. On every issue, large numbers of Americans say we want our representatives to sit down and negotiate solutions with those on the other side. Too often, instead of deals, however, we hear threats by Republicans, to crash our national economy and hurt working families if they don't get their way.

If Democrats were the main ones playing this game of chicken, I'd call them out. But that's not what's happening, brothers and sisters. The same party that said its No. 1 goal in 2008 was to defeat President Obama appears to still be on that tangent in 2013.

When we enter contract negotiations with our employers, neither side expects that it will get everything it wants. But few negotiations work out well when the starting point for the employer is threatening a lockout or when the starting point for our union is to hold a strike over the boss's head.

In "Lincoln," the Thirteenth Amendment was won after the president's loyalists promised federal jobs to some wavering, lame duck legislators even while Lincoln made high-minded appeals to national unity and fairness. Yet, after the amendment passed, freed slaves still couldn't vote or enjoy any semblance of equal rights with whites.

Democracy was messy in 1865 and it's messy today. We can't expect any wholly satisfactory deal to come out of negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on our national budget, let alone on the future of so-called "entitlement programs" or government spending on infrastructure.

But, as good citizens and good union members, we need to remind our own members that politicians who sound tough by denouncing any compromise as treason don't understand the lessons of our history.


Also: Hill: Tackling Myths Read Hill's Column

Salvatore J. Chilia

Salvatore J. Chilia
International Secretary-Treasurer