Pat Buchanan and Labor

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A debate on Pat Buchanan’s rhetoric and policy views on labor issues.

Segment Subjects (keywords for the segment): Pat Buchanan’s record on labor issues, minimum wage, illegal immigration, minimum wage, anti-labor, striker replacement, import, export

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re also joined right now on the telephone by Joe Palau, who is a postal worker, union member, and a strong Buchanan supporter in New York. He’s a Bronx native and comes from—comes from—what, your mother comes from Puerto Rico?

JOE PALAU: No, my father.

AMY GOODMAN: Your father comes from Puerto Rico, Joe. What are your comments as you hear this conversation?

JOE PALAU: Well, the anti-Semitic charge—I’m Hispanic. I know Pat Buchanan. I’ve been to his home. He’s been to mine when he was up in the Bronx campaigning. In fact, he started his New York state campaign in the South Bronx. We held a $10,000 fundraiser, from working-class people. I think this is like the liberal media and people in the establishment who just are afraid of his ideas, and they’re trying to dig up everything they have on him. Jesse Jackson, who has a good worker agenda, also they dug up a lot of stuff on him, too, and the liberal media treats him like a king.

AMY GOODMAN: So do you think he’s being attacked because of his views—and we’re now just beginning to get into them—on NAFTA and jobs—

JOE PALAU: Definitely.

AMY GOODMAN: —the only candidate who is against the North American Free Trade Agreement?

JOE PALAU: Definitely, definitely. What I think the establishment is afraid of is someone who is really looking out for the regular people, the American people. And they’re just trying to discredit him. I could give you some quotes that he said positive about Israel, you know, where he supports Israel. And being anti-Israel is not being anti-Semitic.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about a comment he made the other night. I guess it was reported on New Hampshire TV. They had him talking about immigration, and his comment: “Go away, José.” What do you make of that?

JOE PALAU: OK, again, coming from someone who’s half-Hispanic—my father was born and raised in Puerto Rico, came here when he was 22 years old—the majority of illegal—illegal—aliens are coming in from Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, the majority of illegal immigrants coming from Europe.

JOE PALAU: Well, they shouldn’t be here, either. The perceived notion is that most of these illegal aliens are coming in from Mexico. And Pat was just saying, “Hey, you know, José, go back home.” And I don’t see anything racial with that at all. Like, in fact, my father’s name is José. And if you are here legally, if you come to the United States legally, you deserve to be here. You deserve every right as an American. You are an American. But the ones that are coming in illegally are taking away American jobs from the American people, black or white. And I think it should be stopped. And Pat Buchanan will be the guy to stop it, coming from Europe and Mexico.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe, you say he’s pro-labor. What makes you think that?

JOE PALAU: Well, I spoke to him in the past. I spoke to Pat, and we had a lot of discussions on unions and labor. And that’s why you see him taking a hard-ball policy towards Japan. It’s because of Japan dumping their cars on us that a lot of union people in the automotive unions are out of work now. Foreign steel, a lot of steelworkers are out of jobs. Textile people in the South are all out of jobs. And most of them, as Pat’s been saying, are single women in South Carolina, North Carolina. They’re all looking for jobs or on welfare. And it ain’t right.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to Phil Wheeler, who we’re going to go on with after this segment closes. You’re director of Region 9A of the United Auto Workers, and you’ve been in New Hampshire working with the UAW on political trainings. Do you feel that Pat Buchanan is pro-labor?

PHIL WHEELER: No, I don’t think he is. I think that it’s quite obvious. I don’t know how you can say that you’re pro-labor or for the working people when—when President Reagan fired the air traffic controllers, he supported that. He also was against the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act, which was signed into law by President Clinton. And he’s been clear on his position on minimum wage: He’s against that, increasing the minimum wage. And he’s also opposed to any kind of protection for strikers, the Striker Replacement Act. So I don’t see how anybody can conclude that a person with that kind of positions is for working people.


JOE PALAU: Well, getting back to the air traffic controllers, they had a clause in their contract: They couldn’t strike. They’re federal workers. I’m a federal worker, and we can’t strike. And that’s why they were fired. The minimum wage and some of the other issues that the gentleman has brought up—getting back to the minimum wage, once Pat Buchanan’s economic policies are in in the United States, you’ll see that minimum wage start going up. Right now—and it’s been reported by think tanks also—you can’t compete with a 50-cents-an-hour Mexican worker and Asian worker on—you know, on minimum wage. They’ll wipe us out.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to move on with this discussion in just a minute. You’re listening to Joe Palau, who’s a postal worker in New York and a Buchanan supporter; also Phil Wheeler with the United Auto Workers; and Jeff Cohen, executive director of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, which is a media watch group based in New York. Coming up, we want to ask Phil Wheeler about his experience in New Hampshire organizing the UAW and the same time, in the same hotel, that a pro-Buchanan rally was taking place and the kind of conversations that you had there. You’re listening to Democracy Now! Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: And you’re listening to Democracy Now!, Pacifica’s national grassroots election show. Coming up in a little while, we’re going to talk about the living wage campaign that’s going on in New Hampshire. Right now we’re continuing on a debate around Pat Buchanan’s labor record. In the last few days, I mean, there have been quite some startling comments, or at least presidential candidate Bob Dole, the Senate majority leader, seems to be very surprised. At a rally he held where he was talking to 300 workers, he said he was surprised that jobs and trade had become the issue. And, in fact, he was crediting Buchanan a little on that. Well, I don’t think it’s surprising that jobs and trade are something that people are concerned about. But, Jeff Cohen, let me ask you, before we go on to the pro-Buchanan rally in New Hampshire and what labor activists did there. Let me ask you about the media and how it’s covered NAFTA and jobs, and how you deal with Pat Buchanan’s anti-NAFTA stance—the only candidate, including President Clinton, who is opposed and has expressed strong opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

JEFF COHEN: Well, I think that economic nationalism or protectionism alone does not make an economic program. So what the mainstream media, if they were doing their job, would be doing is asking him all of these questions about striker replacement and federal minimum wage. The minimum wage doesn’t just glide up on its own. It’s set by the federal government, and Buchanan is against raising it. So I just think that the specifics of what is your program, it’s pure rhetoric. He can talk about the American worker 29 times in a speech, but his program is actually anti-worker. And, you know, that last speech he gave, which was quoted widely in New York Times and on Nightline, here’s what he says: “What is my party doing, hauling all the water for the fat cats on K Street? What are we doing? That’s not the party of Ronald Reagan,” unquote. Well, if you’re running for president today and all your TV commercials feature Ronald Reagan, a man who presided over the greatest redistribution of wealth from American working-class people and middle-class people to the rich and to big business, there’s a contradiction there—an obvious one that even mainstream reporters should be able to see, which is: How can you pretend to be for getting more wealth and more share of income to working-class Americans when you’re still embracing Reaganomics?

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of fat cats, Jeff, in a little while we’re going to be speaking with a member of a New Hampshire political theater group called just that—The Fat Cats—and exposing these kind of views throughout the New Hampshire primary. But what about the mainstream media and its stance on NAFTA? I don’t think it’s surprising—

JEFF COHEN: Well, yeah, they’re—yeah, let’s face it—

AMY GOODMAN: —that Bob Dole is surprised people care about NAFTA.

JEFF COHEN: Right. I think what’s happened, if you look in The New York Times, there have been front-page stories going back several months that talk about Patrick Buchanan and his reckless views on trade, his extremist views on trade. The fact is, when Buchanan was getting anything resembling negative or critical coverage months ago, it was purely because many in the mainstream media are biased in favor of NAFTA and GATT. But in those early articles about Buchanan and his wacky policies, the words “race,” “racism,” “bigotry” were almost impossible to find. But, yes, the mainstream media, as FAIR has documented in studies, is pro-NAFTA. It’s pro-, quote, “free trade.” But I just—I believe that their biggest flaw in covering Buchanan, besides giving him a—almost a free ride on bigotry, up through the Larry Pratt incident, is that they don’t ask him, “What is your policy?” And then, I think if they did, American workers, whether union members or not, would realize that this guy talks the rhetoric of workers, but he still, aside from NAFTA, is putting forward the economics of Reaganomics.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s move on to Phil Wheeler again, director of Region 9A, United Auto Workers. You’ve been in New Hampshire working with UAW members. Can you tell us about the event at the hotel, the pro-Buchanan rally that took place in the same place you were doing a training?

PHIL WHEELER: Yes, that was on Sunday, and Buchanan was having his rally in the same hotel. So some of our members decided they wanted to go in and see what he had to say and ask him some questions. And so, when they got in there, he started talking about NAFTA and how he thought that he really supported working people. So one of them asked a question: “What about striker replacement?” When he asked that question, he went on to talk about his pro-life position. When he got back onto NAFTA again, the same person asked again, “What about your position on striker replacement?” And he changed the subject again. And the third time the question was asked, a couple of Buchanan supporters came over and told him he had to leave, and escorted him out of the room. And then, a little while later, another one of our members asked a question about minimum wage, and Buchanan didn’t answer that question, either. And he asked it again, and two other campaign people came over and told him, if he said anything again, he’d be asked to leave. So he walked out. So it’s pretty hard to understand why anybody would think that this is a person that supports working people, when working people asked the questions that concerned them, and they’re asked to leave a rally that’s open to the public, and he refused to respond to those questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Palau, this doesn’t jibe with what you are saying about what Pat Buchanan represents.

JOE PALAU: I wasn’t at the rally in New Hampshire, so I really can’t, you know, really go into that. But when—when Japan sells us—I think it’s 400,000—when Japan buys 400,000 American-made cars, and they sell us 40 million, there’s something definitely wrong. And this is from 1970. Pat Buchanan’s the only candidate who wants to change this, and that’s why I’m backing him, as I’m a worker.

PHIL WHEELER: I don’t think that’s the case that Buchanan is the only one that wants to change it. President Clinton has been clear on problems of the exports and imports from Japan—

JOE PALAU: Well, as a Republican—

PHIL WHEELER: —and has been trying to do something about it. The problem—the problem is, I mean, here’s Buchanan, who drove a Mercedes for years, and he’s yelling and talking about the problem of imports. He didn’t support the position of American workers when he was driving that Mercedes. He didn’t care about us at that point. Now that he thinks it’s a politically right position to be taken, he’s up there on the soapbox talking about exports and imports.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Mark MacKenzie into this discussion, president of the New Hampshire state AFL-CIO and full-time firefighter. So, Mark, just let us know if a fire erupts, so that you can go save someone.

MARK MacKENZIE: Good morning. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: Good morning. Well, what about the working people of New Hampshire? What do you see as your issues? Is Pat Buchanan addressing them?

MARK MacKENZIE: Well, I mean, I think that, as Rick Trombly, who’s a Democratic leader in New Hampshire, said a few days ago to Vice President Gore when we had a chance to meet with him, the issue in New Hampshire is about security. It’s about job security. It’s about wage security. It’s about health security, healthcare security. It’s about retirement security. It’s about living in a community in which you can get a decent job and afford some sense of a quality of life. And those are really the issues in New Hampshire, an economy that has been devastated, you know—and I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigns, a lot of presidential campaigns. I remember the days when Pat Buchanan and other people would have met thousands of workers in the mills of Manchester, in heavy manufacturing, in textiles and shoes and other things. Today there’s no stops by any of the presidential candidates in the [inaudible], because they’re gone, as well as thousands of jobs at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are gone, as well as places like Wang and Digital and other places who have reduced their workforce. We have a workforce in New Hampshire that has—that is in transition, and it’s going someplace that none of us are real comfortable with the direction it’s going. It’s not going towards high-wage, high-skill jobs, but rather towards an economy that is really small business. Small business is not paying very well. And people are nervous about the future.

AMY GOODMAN: But what about Joe Palau’s comment that he thinks all the attacks on Pat Buchanan are a way to discredit him because of his strong anti-NAFTA position, and that the establishment and the corporations, they don’t want to hear from him?

MARK MacKENZIE: Well, let me first say, you know, for any of—for Joe and for Phil and other people that are in the labor movement, I think it’s a victory for us that—the fact that Pat Buchanan from the Republican Party is forcing Bob Dole and other people to talk about working-class issues. And I think we should take some credit for that, because we’re the ones, the labor movement, that’s been beating up on these guys for a long period of time to talk about those working-class issues. Do I think that Pat Buchanan from the Republican Party talks about his position on NAFTA makes Republicans nervous? I think it makes them very nervous. And it should, because for the longest time Bob Dole and other people have ignored working men and women in this country, and it’s time that they have to look at changing that mix and changing the whole power structure within—within this. So I think that it’s a victory, in one sense, for us that they need to talk about that. And I heard somebody mention the union—the quote that was on a page of the Union Leader today, where Bob Dole talks about never realizing jobs and trade would be a major issue in the campaign. I said that it was a major issue in the campaign a year and a half ago, and they continue to be, as they will be around the country. Pat Buchanan is making people nervous.

The problem with Pat Buchanan, from my perspective, however, is that, you know, Pat has been—you know, I live in New Hampshire. I live in Manchester, the biggest community in the state. I have an office in Concord, the second busiest community in the state of New Hampshire. I’ve never seen Pat Buchanan. I represent more workers in more industries than anybody else in the state of New Hampshire, and Pat Buchanan—with the exception of one call that they made on Saturday, some staff member made to my house, Pat Buchanan has never reached out to working men and women, certainly never reached out to organized labor within the state of New Hampshire. And I think it undermines his credibility with working men and women, when the people that represent—the AFL-CIO, who represents working men and women, he doesn’t contact us. That’s a real problem for him and his campaign, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Palau, you’re a union man; you’re in a union. What do you feel about this? You’re also pro-Buchanan.

JOE PALAU: Well, I agree—I agree with what he said, and I think it was a mistake for the campaign up in New Hampshire not to, you know, get in some outreach into the—

AMY GOODMAN: Joe, turn your radio down, because—

JOE PALAU: I don’t have a radio on.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, sorry.

JOE PALAU: It’s not me. I agree with everything he just said, and the campaign would be at fault for not reaching out to some of the unions up there in New Hampshire. I don’t know why—

AMY GOODMAN: It sounds like—it sounds like the criticism is beyond not reaching out, but also specific stances he has taken—for example, not supporting the Family Medical Leave Act, not supporting minimum wage or also not being against replacement workers. What do you think of these positions?

JOE PALAU: Well, I didn’t know his position on the replacement workers, and I’m going to bring that up when I see him in New York. And Pat Buchanan has evolved from his stance 10, 20 years ago. He was a free-trader. And when he went out campaigning in '92, he saw what everyone was going through, especially up in New Hampshire. I was up in New Hampshire back in ’92. And Pat Buchanan has evolved. His whole economic policy has evolved into what it is today. And I'm sure some of the other issues that we might not agree with from now on will evolve also.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe, just before you go, what does Pat Buchanan’s house look like? You said you’ve visited it.

JOE PALAU: Yeah, it’s out in McLean, and everyone would think that it’s a big mansion, something like. It’s a nice, nice home. Nice home, really nice.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Joe Palau, I want to thank you for joining us.

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