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Building Trades Allow Themselves to Be Played Like Fools



Emperor Tangerine invited the building trade union leaders in for a meeting yesterday and boy were they excited.

At a meeting with the leaders of several construction and building trade unions, President Trump reiterated on Monday his interest in directing hundreds of billions of dollars to infrastructure investments, some of it from the federal government, union officials said.

“That was the impression I was taken away with,” said Sean McGarvey, the president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, an umbrella group, on a call with reporters after the meeting. “That the American citizenry and the American Treasury will be invested in building public infrastructure.”

Mr. McGarvey added that Mr. Trump clearly felt that much of the money should come from the private sector and that some of the investments could take the form of public-private partnerships, an idea the president floated as a candidate.

The meeting included roughly half a dozen union leaders and a similar number of rank-and-file members, as well as senior White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence; Reince Priebus, the chief of staff; Katie Walsh, the deputy chief of staff; Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist; Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor; and Sean Spicer, the press secretary. It took place in the White House and ran for well over an hour.

The presence of so many senior aides suggests that the Trump administration sees a political rationale to courting the building trade unions, many of whose members appear to have voted for Mr. Trump last fall.

“We have a common bond with the president,” Mr. McGarvey said. “We come from the same industry. He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.”

Mr. O’Sullivan was previously the chief executive of the Union Labor Life Insurance Company, and he said that during his tenure there the company invested in some of Mr. Trump’s projects and had a good relationship with him.

Mr. McGarvey said he worked on a Trump project in Atlantic City in the early 1990s and had always been grateful for the work. “It was the middle of a recession; no one had jobs,” he said. “He made investments to expand at the time Trump Plaza. I got that job after being unemployed for six months.”

The two union leaders said they had discussed a number of specific projects with the president and his aides, including the Keystone XL Pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export and storage facility in Oregon. More broadly, they discussed possible investments in building and repairing bridges, schools and hospitals.

Certain projects, like the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, have divided the labor movement, with the building trades supporting them as a source of jobs with good pay, and other unions, like the Service Employees International Union, opposing them on environmental grounds, and out of concern for desecrating sacred Native American lands.

The shorter version of this is that Trump is going to undo Obama’s decision on the Dakota Access Pipeline and run it right down those savage Indians’ throats. And nothing would make Terry O’Sullivan more excited. Because JOBS!!!! The type of job, irrelevant. Do the Laborers or the other building trades have nonwhite members? Yes they do. Does McGarvey or O’Sullivan prioritize the civil rights of those members? Evidently not. Do they prioritize a livable planet? No. Do they think they need allies in the rest of the labor movement or the broader left movement? No. Do they wish it was 1910 again? Yes. Do they hate hippies? Yes. Do they have tremendous power within the AFL-CIO? Yes, very much so. Are they acting in their members’ best interests? No. Do their members see it that way? Largely, no.

And then there’s this:

At the meeting, Mr. McGarvey raised one point of possible discord between the labor leaders and the Trump administration: the so-called Davis-Bacon Act, which requires the federal government to pay contractors and subcontractors “locally prevailing wages,” as determined by the Labor Department, on most construction or renovation projects.

Many conservatives contend that the act inflates the cost of infrastructure projects, and on Tuesday, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, is proposing a bill to suspend it for federal highway construction contracts.

Mr. McGarvey said he had told Mr. Trump that Mr. Flake’s bill would undercut wages and undermine the president’s campaign goal of producing good middle-class jobs.

The president was noncommittal in response, he said. “He said he knows the Davis-Bacon proposal well, understands how it works,” Mr. McGarvey said, but avoided taking a position.

In other words, my offer to you is nothing.

The building trades are going to have no influence on issues that matter even to their most backward-looking leadership. Davis-Bacon is going to get destroyed. And they will still vote for Trump in 2020.

There’s a few things going on here that are important for us to understand. First, if the Democratic Party or the left wants to “solve the white working class problem,” there’s a case study we can focus on. It’s called “solving the LIUNA problem.” The old adage about the Laborers is that they would build their own prisons if they got union scale to do so. Terry O’Sullivan has been an absolute dinosaur on climate issues, bullying other unions into not saying anything about climate change or other environmental issues. No one in the labor union has done more to damage relationships with the progressive community in recent years. But then these are the white working-class people Democrats need to reach to win those critical Midwestern states. Can they? Rather than focus on this in the big picture, can they win LIUNA members and other building trades members?

The difficulty of figuring this out is the difficulty of the white working class issue generally, which is the enormous cultural baggage that gets in the way of cross-movement alliances over the last few decades. A good bit of the intense focus on DAPL and Keystone is that these workers hate hippies. They see themselves as the working “real Americans” and anyone who gets in the way of that is their enemy. There is no question that environmentalists have failed to reach out to these unions effectively, and it’s a must that they create a union-centered program of green energy infrastructure. That has to be part of solving the LIUNA problem. But there are deep cultural divides here–many of these rank and file members want to see immigrants kicked out, Muslims kicked out, gay rights repealed, etc. That might be expected–it’s not like that’s not the case in every union. The problem is that McGarvey and O’Sullivan and some of these other union leaders aren’t trying to educate their workers on these issues. Instead they are encouraging them to see this as a culture war. Right now in Rhode Island, there’s a battle over whether a gas liquefaction plant will be built. At a recent city council meeting debating it, LIUNA members were outside jeering environmentalists as they walked in. That’s incredibly counterproductive.

On top of this is the fact that the changing makeup of the union movement has reinforced the power of the building trades. One of the impacts of deindustrialization and capital mobility was the decimation of the industrial unions. It was always those unions who pushed for the widespread social democratic policies that typified the New Deal and Great Society. The building trades never played an important role in the New Deal coalition and they have never articulated big social policy. But with the UAW and USWA shells of what they once were and many of the other unions like the International Woodworkers of America no more, the building trades have become more powerful within the labor movement than any time since the creation of the CIO. The public sector unions have countered this to some extent, but with SEIU out of the federation, their ability to do so is more limited. Richard Trumka is, with the exception of Walter Reuther, by far the most politically progressive labor federation leader in American history. But he can only do so much when so much of his membership is made up of very conservative building trdes.

The other thing to note is that it’s pretty clear at this point that many of the building trade leaders would have no problem returning to the labor movement of the late 19th century, where you had tiny numbers of union members in the skilled trades with no impact on government and the vast masses of workers unorganized. I don’t see how they see this as good for them, but by meeting with Trump, they are basically endorsing this position. And you can see it from the look on Trump’s face. They are being played for fools. And they largely are fools.

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  • N__B

    Cause or effect? Since the 1990s, it’s impossible to walk onto a construction site without hearing Limbaugh blaring on a radio. These guys stew in that crap all day long as they work.

    • tsam

      Same here. My partner and I feel like the two lone liberals in an ocean of dumbfuck reactionary rednecks. Also, getting played for fools is what building trades DO. They will put themselves into poverty to make sure the scary black people don’t come take their guns and rape their women and such. They’re fucking idiots.

      • BigHank53

        “Hey! I’ve got this great job that’s gonna last at least nine months! I’m gonna buy a brand new pickup truck ’cause $1200/month payments are no problem!”

        Flip a coin to see if it’s a Raptor or giant turbodiesel.

        • tsam

          It’s the diesel lately. And I can tell you the biggest selling feature is the giant exhaust tip right about the height of a Prius window. These people aren’t just dumb, they’re rotten fucking assholes. I really do despise most of my customers. Most of them are really horrible people. Their idea of a philosophical/ethical discussion is drawing a dialectic between black people and n***s.

      • Also, getting played for fools is what building trades DO.

        Yup. If you don’t want to get screwed by Trump, stop putting yourself in a position to be screwed by Trump. Not rocket science, but apparently it is.

        • tsam

          My business centers around commercial construction. Mainly: Hospitals, schools, government buildings, and a smaller portion of strip malls, retail, etc. The majority of it is partly or wholly funded by government entities of one kind or another. Yet the people making prevailing wage on these jobs (excellent pay and benefits for Spokane), despise any government spending. It’s baffling, really. They make their living from tax and spend liberals, yet despise the hell out of them. I don’t even know what to do with that paradox.

          • Once someone has bought into the belief that a square is round, its hard to get them to believe otherwise. See Himmler.

        • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

          You’d think after oh the first 100,000,000 or so examples people would figure out “deals made with Donald Trump always end badly.”

      • los

        Is stereotyping… because is apt generalization of the apparent majority.
        This is due to interests specialization.
        A sheet metal guy knows sheet metal (etc).
        A lit prof knows lib arts :-)
        Donald Drumpf knows grifting.

        a fair intellect/awareness test for registering to vote would be… sadly.. impossible. It would rapidly degrade into
        Guess precise number of thousands of Jellybeans in jar for thee;
        Guess precise number of a single Jellybean in jar for me.

    • Emily68

      True story: A friend on mine told me how he was a life-long conservative until one day, while he was installing a roof, the radio was tuned to the Clarence Thomas hearing and he realized how badly Anita Hill was being treated. This got him to rethink lots of his political opinions and he’s been a liberal ever since.

      PS–We saw him & his wife at the Women’s March last Saturday.

      • tsam

        That’s fucking awesome. Glad to hear it goes that way sometimes.

      • The spell was broken!

      • los

        radio was tuned to the Clarence Thomas hearing

        Goebbels Bannon remembers that day of infamy, “Who let anything but RWNJ radio revisionism go over the air! This isn’t CSPAN1! You’re all fired and the vermin whose hand did this goes to the showers11! got the Polonium11!”

      • Origami Isopod

        That’s really cool.

      • I listened to the Bork hearings at a job site. Taught me to pay attention to the Supremes. I’m just lucky, I guess.

    • PeteW

      The radio influence shouldn’t be underestimated. I hear it all the time in our shop and I’ve seen non-political guys turn pretty hard core conservative over the years; a true echo-chamber that I poke at as much as I can. I get some listeners. The stuff they would believe about Hillary was unreal. Trump got a free pass.

      • so-in-so

        Well, he IS a white guy…

        • PeteW

          And a business man!

          This is the one I really get confused with. When I tell them our CEO (whom they detest) is also a businessman, I get a blank look. “Who is the CEO out for according to you?” Answer: “Himself.” Soooo . . . .?

      • Linnaeus

        Political education is a really important aspect of what unions do, and when they do less of it, or aren’t around to do it, the vacuum can get filled with Limbaugh’s bullshit.

      • njorl

        It’s a difficult problem for Democrats. These shows are profitable. The advertising is disproportionately valuable to the number of listeners because they are so gullible.
        I listen sometimes on my commute, just to hear what their latest boogeyman is. The ads on the music stations or sports-talk shows are for things like cars, bars, beer, music, local businesses etc. The ads on right wing talk radio are for gold, supplements, reverse mortgages, for-profit colleges, and other scams.
        They have a propaganda outlet that pays for itself which reaches enormous numbers of voters. Fox News is insignificant by comparison.

        • Rob in CT

          The ads on the music stations or sports-talk shows are for things like cars, bars, beer, music, local businesses etc. The ads on right wing talk radio are for gold, supplements, reverse mortgages, for-profit colleges, and other scams.

          Yeah, this bit is really telling.

          These people are gullible fools. Who vote.

          ETA: off-topic rant to follow…

          I like Tennis. So I’ve been watching the Aussie Open. The commercials are also revealing, in a different way. Every commercial break there was a spot for a company that would help you with your IRS problems (tagline: “get the IRS off your back!”). It opens with “I owed the IRS $10,000. I owed $20,000! I called XYZ and they helped me…”

          Maybe you should pay your fucking taxes, assholes. Then the IRS wouldn’t be all up in your shit.

          • Joe_JP

            Aussie Open

            The Australian film up for foreign film looks interesting. First I heard about it.

          • ColBatGuano

            Along similar lines, did anyone read the New Yorker article about all the hedge fund and tech guys who doomsday preppers? They are all convinced that society is on the verge of collapse so they’re spending their billions on missile silo condos and New Zealand hideaways. Hey dipshits, maybe if you gave most of that money back to society it wouldn’t be about to fall into ‘A Boy and his Dog’ ruin?

            • so-in-so

              Half the prepper mentality is that after it all goes down, they emerge from their bunkers or hideaways and all “those people” are gone. Instant Randian paradise! Until someone needs to grow food or clean the toilets.

              • Procopius

                The neoconservatives have the same shortcoming, I think. Over the last year I’ve found myself wondering more and more, “Whatever happened to the people who understood that Curtis LeMay was insane?” I find myself thinking more and more about “On The Beach,” too. About how at first they thought the fallout wouldn’t reach them because all the bombs went off in the Northern Hemisphere, but it just takes longer. Do Robert Kagan and Max Boot and Hillary really, really think they can attack Russia and not have it turn nuclear?? They certainly act as if they do. OK, if they’re in the government they have hardened redoubts to hide in for… how long? A couple of months? I don’t know, of course, but I really don’t think the redoubts have supplies for years. How long is strontium 90’s half life?

      • los

        PeteW says:

        hear it all the time in our shop

        Safety and efficiency issue. Any entertainment is large distraction. (Including the potential for divisiveness, this is like kids bringing stuff like that to school.)

        evil exception: Muzak is to meant to persuade shoppers to buy.

        • los

          PeteW says:

          and I’ve seen non-political guys turn pretty hard core conservative over the years; a true echo-chamber

          usually in their 20s, I assume?

          I poke at as much as I can. I get some listeners.

          You’re right there in-person, an advantage over RWNJ broadcasting.

          So yeah… poke. Go with the satirical mood, but “poke” with humorous skepticism toward the “subliminal message” in RWNJ entertainment. Too explicit: “Rush hahaha stepped on that banana peel, there. hahaha”
          I myself have never had regular opportunity to do this, so my counter-FUD has probably had ephemeral influence.


    • CP

      OK seriously, what the fuck is it with the building trades? I’ve asked this here before but never really gotten a clear answer. Okay, so a lot of the people are white assholes who respond well to right wing racist bullshit, but that seems more like a description than an explanation. There has to be a big contingent of such people in every union. Why do they, in particular, end up so completely dominated by right wing assholes when most unions manage to avoid that fate?

      (I can understand it for the cops: the law-and-order mentality is inherently right wing and Republican politicians go out of their way to exempt them from all union-busting bills. But neither seems applicable here).

      • NewishLawyer

        Building seems to be largely a boom or bust industry and the booms seem to correspond with reckless economic bubbles or economic bubbles in general. Think something like the housing boom in the aughts.

        Some unions seem more prone to nepotism than others and the building trades seem like they are highly prone to nepotism. You get in via your dad or uncle. So there is an unwelcoming element to newcomers.

        I’ve done asbestos litigation for plaintiffs. The majority of our clients were in or connected to the building trades or working at places like refineries. They were largely Silent Generation or early Boomer types and those are disproportionately conservative especially the Silent Generation types because their teenage years were during Eisenhower conservatism and they were just a bit too old for the 1960s or they went straight to work and missed it all while their classmates were having fun.

        • los

          bubbles in general


        • los

          especially the Silent Generation types

          though to be terse, those guys would otherwise be retired (or “retired”) for multiple other reasons.

        • Procopius

          I think you’re looking at the wrong generation. One of my high school classmates seems to be pretty RWNJ, but others seem to be normal (i.e. moderately liberal). I think most of us tend to be skeptical of the establishment because of what we saw McCarthy/HUAC/John Birch Society do. We were too young to be hipsters and too old to be hippies. I think we were too old to get really caught up in the anti-war movement, too. By the way, I think all of us are over seventy, now.

      • tsam

        Building trade workers aren’t really different from manufacturing, mining and other types of physical labor performance workers. They’re jobs that you can make a decent living at with a high school education.

        Over the last few decades, the trades, like all the similar types of work, have been infected with an anti-union sentiment. That sentiment is fostered by corporations telling workers that their jobs depend on them getting less and less for what they do, and that unions are the reason for all the outsourcing that has happened. The outsourcing keeps happening, and more and more outsourcing, declining standard of living, and a very adept right wing marketing strategy that scares the fucking hell out of them over their guns and people on welfare, and you get this kind of thing.

        Erik is right that these guys are largely fools, but there are two other forces at play here. (Yes, I’m going there) There is desperation, causing them to cling to anything that gives them a sense that a job will be there for them next week, and the “strong boss” (Republican daddy figure) type resonates with these lower middle class workers. It’s a thing in the building trades to be a loudmouthed, barky boss who is cruel to young guys starting out. It’s a thing to submit totally to this kind of thing, and they equate this demeanor with someone who knows what he is doing and has a good reason to be a snarly shit. So largely fools, in that they think a silver spoon fucking brat who spent his whole life in perfect comfort and has never had an actual job is someone who has any sort of fucking clue what their lives are like or how to help them improve their lives. But you’re also looking at a subculture of people who see some disturbing writing on the wall.

        • los

          these guys are largely fools

          More accurately imo, victims of RWNJ Ministry of Disnfo.
          The only “Flyover-Americans”[1] media alternatives are “mad cow” msnbc (verboten by social order), newspapers (excessive literacy prerequisites plus cost), and the net (sites like buzzfeed, vox, dailykos, … lgm… are treated as kiddie pr0n in redstates).

          1. the trendy conservative appellation for redstates and redcoup purplestates

          • tsam

            At some point, you’re responsible for your own beliefs, and when they’re doing demonstrable harm to yourself and your family, well, maybe you need to let go of your need to be fucking right about every damn thing and think about how to get your kids a college education, because NOBODY is going to ever reverse the trends of globalization and automation–at least not to any meaningful degree.

            • los

              I certainly agree about the deathgrip predicament.

              Compare the two conventionally promoted “options – Moving vs Education:
              As we know, Moving breaks social connections. And, Walmart pay in Nashville is still Walmart pay.

              So, Moving appears rougher and less beneficial than Education…

              … until realizing complications of Education:
              State colleges are in or near comparitively large cities. If student family home is beyond commute distance, where is student’s income to cover college living costs?
              Is moving to an employment-market metro the viable option? (moving = Moving/Walmart, anyway.)

              and after gaining only an affordable two year degree/certificate, there are still no local jobs in family’s location. (“walmart”!)

              • los

                After iterative emigration by the younger generations, the gradual “dystopian” result (exaggerated for emphasis and fun) is:
                2/3 of Electoral College[1] misappropriated by walking dead survivor style preppers. (no Mob Rule there!)
                90whatever% of the nation’s population dis/mal/misrepresented by the those prepper dead.


                1. can almost smell the education pun…
                2. home scholars start with satanic rituals… Judas Priest cassettes in the cellar…

                • los

                  and those “rapists and murderers” whom Trump says Mexico sends across the border, look like the Moving Option master race in comparison.

  • Marlowe

    Now the labor leader’s screamin’ when they close the missile plant.

    Phil Ochs, I Ain’t Marching Anymore

  • Rob in CT

    My nephew works for the railroad (Metro-North) as an electrician. Unionized. He’s a liberal like us. He says all the guys he works with are Trumpeteers.

    • humanoid.panda

      I read a story yesterday about a rail company who does like 80% of its business with Mexico – that gives over 80% of its donations to Republicans. Seriously, a rail company!

      • Rob in CT

        Executives make the decisions and execs are Republicans by and large. Their personal tax rates matter more than anything to them.

        • los

          Robbing the shareholders is SOP, incentivized by law.

  • Karen24

    Back in the day I did some construction law related to licensing and employment issues. These guys — and they were all guys, very much, extremely, excessively and stereotypically GUYS — would be very happy as the unquestioned kings of their tents so long as women and dark-skinned people had to live outdoors. They exemplify every single stereotype of Trump voters: 1. Anti-intellecual — at least once a day I would get some snide comment about my impractical book-larnnin’ and snobby use of correct grammar. 2. Sexist — there is a reason for the stereotype of construction workers’ catcalling women on the street; 3. Racist — best illustrated by the guy who complained that black people got welfare but would never take jobs on his sites and immediately followed that with a statement that “but they’re just not smart enough to measure correctly.” He never gave one minute’s thought to the possibility that working as an electrician for a guy who wouldn’t let you measure anything because you were black might not be enjoyable.

    The worst part about this is that there is little hope for these guys to lose their jobs to automation.

    • No Longer Middle Aged Man

      Likewise. In my experience an extremely selfish group and with high racial animosity. Not for nothing that these unions were largely lily white even in the northeast until forced to open to non-whites. Essentially they will side with anyone who subsidizes them, which is how they anticipate infrastructure spending being directed, and bitterly oppose government support for any other group.

      They’re the “family farmer” agribusiness of labor: dead set against government except for the provision of crop supports, free water, guaranteed access to export markets via transportation infrastructure funded by the general public, and the right to mistreat cheap undocumented immigrant labor. Social justice or help for others? Well, sure they support food stamps as long as it puts money in their pockets. That’s the trades: MAGA by doing stuff that involves you paying me.

      Democrats may have to pander to get their votes but these guys are the Hyman Roth of labor: “Your father did business with Hyman Roth, your father respected Hyman Roth, but your father never trusted Hyman Roth.”

      • humanoid.panda

        My favorite quote about such people is from Catch 22:

        Major Major’s father was an outspoken champion of economy in government, provided it did not interfere with the sacred duty of government to pay farmers as much as they could get for all the alfalfa they produced that no one else wanted or for not producing any alfalfa at all.

        • No Longer Middle Aged Man

          That’s good but I prefer Mencken’s “The Husbandman.” Makes the same point but with much greater vituperation, esp. about the political lies behind it.

      • Cheerfull

        Also in the northwest. One of the largest spontaneous (i.e. largely unplanned) marches in Seattle came in 1970 when thousands of building union workers poured out of their hall and descended on downtown in protest of the county forcing trade unions to open up their hiring.

      • los

        No Longer Middle Aged Man says:

        mistreat cheap undocumented immigrant labor

        This is akin to original sin – most difficult to escape for those already captive. (but of course, those not captive are “angels who do fear to tread”)

        /amusing(?) application of pop-parable?

    • West

      I spent the 80s in the building trades. A major part of my decision to go back to college was that I just couldn’t stand being surrounded by so many people who fit your description completely. It wasn’t everyone, but it really was a discouragingly high percentage.

      I have a great deal of sympathy for the pro-union posts that Erik does here, but I am also glad to see this one, in which he calls out the building trades. They are like a fifth column of capitalist/racist/misogynist hate, lodged within the labor movement.

      • Vance Maverick

        How about the police unions?

    • los

      Karen24 says:

      little hope for these guys to lose their jobs to automation

      I haphazardly foresee increased automation during next two decades.
      * Prefab/prebuilt/modular factories might be pioneering this now.

      * Severe weather (almighty scheduling) advantages when onsite. Performance incentives for low-downtime projects.

      * Partial automation: hire cheap old broken but knowlegeable 50 year olds to monitor drones/bots.
      Operators will come with specialized equipment.

      * I wonder if highrise “window” washing in high market wage locations isn’t already semiautomated.

      * “Smart” or half-stupid mechanization has been growing in ag, mostly in single harvest crops. (corn for a long time.)
      Mining also, IIRC reading.

  • Cheerfull

    Public private partnerships? Public money – private ownership? Perhaps the federal government will start building sports stadiums.

    • keta

      P3, Pee three,
      It rains on you,
      It rains on me.

    • los

      Idle aircraft carrier builders could build “arks”. Republicans would suddenly believe in sea level rise.
      Stock the arks with only politically correct animal pairs, of course.

  • Murietta

    This post is an example of why I love this blog. I’m mostly a lurker, but wanted to say — this place is great, and not just because of the excellent snark and the 400-comment debates, but these really informed pieces on labor have been a huge help to my thinking about politics and I’m better for it. These posts usually don’t get a lot of comments, so I wanted to show some appreciation. Also to beg all of you FPers to under no circumstances stop blogging for the next 4 to oh my God please no 8 years.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      I found the final sentences of Loomis’s post harsh and blunt and mean. And that’s why I also love this blog. >: )

      • njorl

        I remember the first time I read something by Loomis I thought he was an asshole. I learned that getting people so angry that they want to prove you wrong is one way to get them to learn about a topic.
        We have no shortage of excessively amicable people on the left. We are sadly lacking in knowledgeable rude bastards.

        • postmodulator

          I’m needed.

    • los

      Murietta says:

      next 4 to oh my God please no 8 years

      I prophesize that the Bannon/Prince Elimination Squads will have trouble tracking me down.
      Afterall, twenty unidentifiable nude tortured headless bodies along the local highway is as good as any other twenty.

  • science_goy

    Davis-Bacon is obviously on the chopping block with this government, but do you really think these folks will still vote Trump? I’m not so sure. DB is one of the few Federal laws that has an immediate, tangible, and simple-to-understand impact on their lives (the workers I know covet Davis-Bacon jobs because it means 25-50% higher hourly pay). If that’s eliminated, any competent Democrat candidate should be able to parlay that into a sweep of labor votes in 2020.

    So… actually, you’re right, they’ll still vote for Trump.

    • Asteroid_Strike_Brexit

      Davis-Bacon is obviously on the chopping block with this government, but do you really think these folks will still vote Trump?


      • humanoid.panda

        I’d qualify this by saying that the vast majority of these folks would still vote Trump. Peel off a small amount, and you win.

        • lunaticllama

          In addition to only needing to peel off a minority of these people, Davis-Bacon is the type of simple law (similar in some ways to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) that should be trivially easy to run on as a prominent part of the Democratic platform if it gets repealed.

        • los

          Peel off a small amount, and you win.

          But only before the voter purging and ballot miscount/discount.

          Which factor overrides the other?
          Omen? We recently saw the Koch Party’s ever-accelerating systematic election crime machine put the Putin/Bannon regime into power.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    the weird thing is going by that picture they know they’re screwed just like Romney, and Cruz, and Christie did when they had *their* photos taken while meeting with Trump who sits there with his shit-eating grin while they look sort of “omg”

  • humanoid.panda

    The building trades and their dalliance with Trump is only one facet of the big problem environmentalists face: a key premise of the anti-pipeline campaigns was “people over corporations” etc. But the problem is that, by and large, people, even Democratic-voting people, support pipelines, and fracking and “energy independence.” I am not sure how to resolve the problem BEFORE Miami drowns..

    • mds

      Eh, my parents support two out of those three, but they think hydraulic fracking is a disaster. Earthquakes, the fact that it makes a big mess in the water by design rather than accident, etc. And they’re right-wing fundigelical Trump voters. So pure anecdote and all that, but I wonder if there’s a tiny bit of room on fracking in particular. Didn’t even Oklahoma finally start regulating it at least a tiny bit?

      This doesn’t do any good on the general overenthusiasm for the fossil fuels that will destroy us all, of course, but maybe baby steps are possible.

  • I have to add that it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. Here in Boston, we’ve got Mayor Marty Walsh, who’s a former building trades local president, and he’s a pretty solid progressive (with a few issues) who gave a strong speech at the Women’s March. I don’t know how to make this sort of thing more common, though.

    • humanoid.panda

      Yeah, well: being the mayor of large city requires one to be attuned to constituencies not well represented in the building trades unions. Would he give the same speech if he was still in that union?

      • As far as I can tell, yes. He served as a state legislator while being a union leader, and only left the union to be mayor, and I don’t think his rhetoric has changed at all.

        • humanoid.panda

          Good for him! Not knowing MA politics, any chance he would challenge Baker?

      • Jordan

        politicians can give lots of speeches. My local womens march had Donald Norcross, for gods sake, as a speaker and he gave a perfectly fine, pro-union pro-feminism speech.

        • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

          Better Donald than George…

        • econoclast

          When Dukakis was running President, I heard Lloyd Bentsen give a speech at a union hall. You would think he’d spent his entire career in Washington as a tribune of the working class.

    • And not all the building trades are exactly the same either. The Painters are significantly more progressive than most of the others, for instance.

      • Jordan

        Is there a reason why other than “thats how it developed” or “just cause”?

        • Not really sure actually

          • Jordan

            hmm, cool, fair enough. Was just wondering if there were lessons to be learned there.

          • tsam

            Paint fumes, M8. I always make sure to visit our fab shop when the Bondo is being mixed…

          • Vance Maverick

            Humanizing influence of the fine arts?

            • los

              art paint-over by day; artist by night :-)

              • los

                paid; pro bono. :-)

          • los

            My guess:
            * Shat upon a lot because of Use Permit pressure/abuse.
            * Perhaps also because there’s not much expertise required except for field-applied special coatings.
            Thus among subcontractors, Paint’s power status is closest to being just a laborer’s.
            Landscape is the other.

            (and Maintenance isn’t even in this beauty contest.)

      • JL

        IBEW seems to be also, in my interactions with them. Though I’m getting a biased sample since when I see them it tends to be at marches.

    • JL

      Of course, Walsh’s ties to the building trades were a real problem for the No Boston 2024 organizers for a while. He was very pro-Olympics, as were the local building trades, and a lot of the community town hall things had building trades guys showing up hassling women who were testifying, and some of the No Boston 2024 organizers have found it more difficult to, for instance, find employment in Boston, since the successful effort to oppose the Olympics.

      • West

        Indeed, and one of the most obnoxious offenders was a guy named Martin Walsh, who is the cousin of Mayor Marty Walsh. That other Martin Walsh was a real piece of work, and he did his cousin no favor.

        Walsh (the Mayor) and others have also been under investigation for strong-arm tactics, regarding incidents from back when he was not yet mayor. I don’t think it’s turning up anything, but it was a bad look.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    The type of job, irrelevant. Do the Laborers or the other building trades have nonwhite members? Yes they do. Does McGarvey or O’Sullivan prioritize the civil rights of those members? Evidently not. Do they prioritize a livable planet? No. Do they think they need allies in the rest of the labor movement or the broader left movement? No. Do they wish it was 1910 again? Yes. Do they hate hippies? Yes. Do they have tremendous power within the AFL-CIO? Yes, very much so. Are they acting in their members’ best interests? No. Do their members see it that way? Largely, no.

    As I read this, I thought, “Would they gladly build the camps to put hippies and tree huggers in? Yes.”

  • twointimeofwar

    Yet again, the worker/common “man”/whatever fights for scraps. You’ll get the shit leftover — and, what’s more, you will beg for it & say thank you afterwards.

  • Origami Isopod

    From Erik’s TNR piece:

    By the late 1980s, when environmentalists sought the end of logging in the Northwest’s ancient forests, many activists had open contempt for the loggers who feared for their jobs, telling them to work at Walmart.

    There is an anti-humanistic contingent in environmentalism that absolutely refuses to acknowledge power differentials among humans, whether of class, race, or anything else. See also: “deep ecologists” blithely talking about global catastrophes thinning out humanity into a harmless remnant. Never mind that the ones most likely to survive are those with the most resources and therefore those who have wrought the most destruction.

    That’s absolutely not to excuse the bigotry and self-delusion of wingnuts in the building trades.

    • tsam

      Yeeeahhhh, I live out here, and I’m sure someone told them to go work at WalMart, but as a group, the Sierra Club and other actual environmentalists never said anything like that. You have to understand that the whole Spotted Owl debate was about as fact based and intelligent as the Syrian refugee debate. “Hate logging? Try wiping your ass with a Spotted Owl.”

      Your point stands that environmentalism has an element of completely nutbag fuck ups (the population control people, for example), but the loggers and other tradesmen make them look like cute little puppies playing in your shoes.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        I’ve been wondering if “go work at walmart” was the logging equivalent of the vietnam veterans being spit on

        • No.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            when you were younger did you ever want to work in one of those logging-related jobs (whether or no that was a viable choice at the time isn’t my point) or did you always kind of know you wanted to teach and write?

            • My father refused to even consider the idea of me following him into the timber industry. That was made clear to me from a very young age. So it was never an option and by the time I was finishing high school, the jobs were mostly gone anyway.

              • Rob in CT

                Wise man, your father.

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                thanks, I know that was kind of offtopic and personal to ask

                there’s times you remind me of my younger brother- when we were kids all I wanted to do was farm but he couldn’t get away from the farm fast enough and he took the academics/college/professional businessman track and has done okay for himself- much better than I have. Now that he’s older with a family the farm means more to him now, which is great- but sometimes I get the sense he romanticizes the thing in ways he wouldn’t if he’d stuck with it the way I did

              • ScottK

                My wife is from KY coal country and tells the same story. She can’t abide the people who want to keep working coal like their daddy and granddaddy- “My grandfather* would have been appalled- he worked himself to death in that crappy job so his kids would never have to.”

                He was also doing union work and helping the other workers figure out how the company was screwing them on their paychecks, because he could read and do math.

                * or great-grandfather, I forget

                • BiloSagdiyev

                  Had a high school history teacher who grew up in a coal mining town in PA. While still in h.s., the students were taken down into the mine for a day to show them You Do Not Want to Work Here. I think he said all (?!) of his class got out of town.

                • ColBatGuano

                  The sudden nostalgia for coal mining jobs has been baffling me since early in the primaries. Maybe it’s the idea that dying from black lung means you don’t have to worry about health care?

                • Linnaeus

                  The sudden nostalgia for coal mining jobs has been baffling me since early in the primaries.

                  If your alternatives are 1) getting out (to do what, we don’t know) and 2) nothing, then a shitty job that paid decently doesn’t look as bad as it might have otherwise.

        • tsam

          No, it happened. But that time period also coincided with rise of the Imperial WalMart, and every small town around here was being cleaned out of small shops and grocery stores and replaced with a giant WalMart, which the locals flocked to like stink on shit. There was some earnestness to the suggestion, but most of it was pure ire.

          • Slightly OT, but I remember rural retail in middle Tennessee before Wal-Mart. Lemme just saw Mr Sam’s store was a huge improvement when they opened up in the county seat. Yes, it drew life away from the town square, but you’d have had to have been Dr McCoy with a sensitive tricorder to have found any before then. There was something like a department store (a place called Hammer’s) but it was literally dusty throughout, and if you wanted something so technologically complex as a stadium cup (this was mid-80s), too bad. Go to Chattanooga or Nashville or do without.

            WalMart has obviously morphed in the years since (it once had a buy-American policy) but there are reasons it prospered in so many places. The biggest was that it was a real improvement on what came before.

        • los

          jim, some guy in iowa says:

          logging equivalent of the vietnam veterans being spit on

          Either way, evading The Clap Enemy Threat was Herrrrr Rumpf’s grandest[1] battlefield victory of so many. (he says, so Rumpf probably “was never at Woodstock”)

          1. “I could evade The Clap and be PissQueen President at the same time. Nobody else could do it, but I can, believe me.”   /Hoorah

      • There were plenty of leading environmentalists in Oregon and Washington during those years who were expressing open indifference to the fate of workers. There were also environmentalists pointing out correctly that environmental protection was not the primary reason for the decline of timber jobs. But as I point out in my book, there was a long tradition of timber worker environmentalism before this that makes their own participation in the conflicts between the timber industry and environmentalists much more complicated than you are claiming.

        • tsam

          Fair enough. There’s a personal ax being ground here.

          I used to hunt grouse pretty frequently, and fish in a small stream that’s fairly close to my home. It’s a beautiful stretch of foothills near Chewelah, WA. Most of the land had been owned by Boise Cascade. All my life my brother and father used those forests for recreation, even cut most of our Christmas trees out of there. One day I went back there and it was ALL GONE. They fucking destroyed everything. They didn’t remove the slash, they just left it laying there. Right down to the stream (out of sight from the road, of course), and now it’s just all gone. Meanwhile, BC is running constant commercials patting themselves on the back about their forest stewardship. They stewarded that ancient forest down to the brush underneath.

          • So lumber workers are like carpenters—every one owns and maintains his personal ax?

          • The fault of all of this is the timber companies, not the workers. And the IWA for years ranted against this very kind of forest management.

            • tsam

              I know. I’m being an asshole. I suppose loggers themselves were told that their jobs depended on that kind of “stewardship”.

        • S. Oelek


          Multi-year veteran of the spotted owl wars here chiming in.

          I’m sorry but I’m just not seeing it. “Plenty of leading environmentalists” is a little on the squishy side, no? How many’re “plenty”? Who qualifies as “leading”?

          In my experience, the *overwhelming* sentiment at the time was sympathy towards the workers in the industry. Yes, the noisy college-aged kids doing the Earth First-style direct action got disproportionate attention. But significant hostility or even “indifference” from the so-called mainstream? I don’t remember it.

          Oh I’m sure a quote or two will be uncovered (book research and all) but what I’m seeing characterized here does not square with my life, as lived in the PNW for 50 years.

          I do appreciate the complexity of the issue, and am quite interested in reading the book. But big timber in general paid their workers well to create moonscapes all over Washington and Oregon. And by the time the Owl Wars got going, we were really just squabbling over the crumbs.

          The “ancient forests” were already all but gone, mined out of existence and never to be replaced.

      • Linnaeus

        Your point stands that environmentalism has an element of completely nutbag fuck ups (the population control people, for example)

        It’s not just a matter of the nutbag fuckups. When even the mainstream environmental groups are largely made up of and run by white middle-class (and up) folks, it should come as no surprise that their activism will reflect that. That’s changing for the better, such as the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy here in Washington, and this trend needs to be encouraged.

        • Origami Isopod

          Yes, this. It’s not always just the overt acts of aggression, it’s the overall bias toward white middle-class (and up) people.

    • Snuff curry

      There is an anti-humanistic contingent in environmentalism that absolutely refuses to acknowledge power differentials among humans, whether of class, race, or anything else.

      Yes. Self-style “nativists” come to mind. There’s always a bit of a dust-up when they clash with the local nurseryman’s / grower’s association, because bougainvillea is the real enemy and using (non-pernicious) ornamentals to quickly batten down burn areas and protect rural communities from mudslides and debris is a deal done by the cooperative extension with the devil hisself, etc.

  • AMK

    Seems like unionizing the low-wage service workers who outnumber these guys 50-1 would be a better use of time and energy than trying to get a bunch of white trash to somehow not be white trash.

    • FlipYrWhig

      This. Let populist conservatives remake the Republican Party rather than trying to finesse them into the Democratic Party that’s already full of the kinds of people they hate.

    • Linnaeus

      To be fair, there’s quite a bit of “white trash” among low-wage service workers, too.

      • FlipYrWhig

        Fair enough. But there’s this nexus of I AM PROUD HARDWORKING MANLY YOU ARE LAZY WUSS in the Trumpiest corners of America. Far fewer service workers have that same skew.

    • aturner339

      I think that eventually the left will have to deal with racism and classism directly. We keep edging around the problem but if the people some call “white trash” (a term that encapsulates both racism and classism into a neat little bow) raise there children wit their racial values we will be fighting them to stalemate for centuries.

      In the short term turnout is the key. Long term? We need to put the liberal back in liberal academia. Start teaching the problems with these views.

      • FlipYrWhig

        But why count on their ever becoming liberals? They’re not. If the stalemate is between liberals and resentful working-class white people, good! That would be far better than a stalemate between liberals and plutocrats.

        • Linnaeus

          Depends on the numbers. You need sufficient numbers to offset the resources that the plutocrats control.

          What’s more, there are still a fair number of folks, of various classes, in the Democratic coalition who are not liberals, at least not by LGM standards.

      • Origami Isopod

        but if the people some call “white trash” (a term that encapsulates both racism and classism into a neat little bow)

        Yep. Worth pointing out that the term implies that people of color are trash by default, and that only the white kind is worth noting for its color.

  • Crusty

    I spend time in courthouses. The court officers who work there, all union members, all government employees, all hate Hillary and love the Orange One.

  • Timurid

    The shorter version of this is that Trump is going to undo Obama’s decision on the Dakota Access Pipeline and run it right down those savage Indians’ throats.

    The Indians will come armed next time…

    • Colin Day

      Do Native Americans have tanks and artillery?

      • BigHank53

        Can you imagine something less defensible than a pipeline?

        • N__B

          Trump’s tax returns.


        • so-in-so

          Yeah, but much of the easy damage would cause the very disaster they want to avoid.

          • rhino

            ‘He who can destroy a thing, controls that thing.’

            • so-in-so

              Sure, but the easiest way to damage a pipeline is to make holes in it. If your problem with the pipeline was that it was over a water supply, you either need to go on somewhere else to do the damage, or find another tactic. I suspect the various valves and control areas are easier to protect.

              • rhino

                Make a hole, report it. Pipeline shuts down for repair after small spill. Wait a week, repeat. As long as you report it right away, the spills are minor, the damage is minor, and the company is bleeding money even faster than they would on a major spill.

                The company will run out of money before the freedom fighters run out of places to put a hole in the pipe.

                And that’s if they’re nice. If things get nasty, they make a hole, and then ambush the repair crew as soon as the repair is done.

                Remember that if we are actually going down the road to fascism, this is going to become a shooting war, and infrastructure, for the most part, simply isn’t defensible. Some things can be guarded, but most of it is a big fat sitting duck, and for insurrectionists fighting a much more powerful opponent, that will be how they hurt the regime.

                If you want to look at the future of America, look to Iraq.

      • Timurid

        Do the Taliban?

        More seriously, I don’t expect it to escalate to that level right away, but we’ll likely get an answer to the ‘what if a nonwhite group attempted the Bundy/Malheur gambit’ question. It will not be pretty.

    • VCarlson

      But, not being white guys, they would not, I suspect, see the same restraint that was exhibited toward the Bundy and Malheur freeloaders.

  • evodevo

    Yes. This. I have several acquaintances/co-workers, all union members, who voted enthusiastically for the Orange Sh^&gibbon and hated Hillary (corrupt lying untrustworthy etc. etc.), both of whom have family dependent on the social safety net AND Obamacare. it boggles the mind.

  • Seanly13

    Many good points in your post except one. I don’t think they will vote for Trump in 2020. They will vote for the first full term of President Pence. Trump’s odd combination of thin skin and huge ego will make him hard to control (even with Pence as de facto President) so he will be out of the picture as of February 2019. Just my prediction.
    I don’t think Pence could win an election, but by getting Trump out of the way in 2019, he could be president for 10 years.

    • humanoid.panda

      Yawn. Unless Trump dies in office, and Pence is riding a wave of sympathy, any “Pence replaces Trump” scenario is one in which the GOP gets crushed in 2020.

      • FlipYrWhig

        No one feels the emotion “sympathy” for Donald Trump. Even a suddenly dead Donald Trump.

        • Murc

          Trump dying in office of natural causes allows the Republicans to reboot their brand.

          Trump being shot to death in office would allow them to impose fascism directly; we’d get a “security” bill that would make the Patriot Act look like the Bill of Rights, with the full-throated support of the populace.

          Neither is great.

      • Joe_JP

        Pence is riding a wave of sympathy

        Yeah, not seeing that as likely. Guy isn’t LBJ in that regard, more like Ford. And, even there, JFK was shot.

        • los

          Pence is riding the sidecar of the wave of Trumpism. There is no wave of Pencesism (and Priebus is clinging to the exhaust, burning his fingertips[1] while being repeatedly run over under the rear tire)
          Pence doesn’t emit Trump’s requisite charisma exquisite aura of hospital neurology stairwell hermit.

          Indiana gubernatorial election took place on November 6, 2012. Incumbent governor Mitch Daniels was term-limited
          Republican candidate, Congressman Mike Pence; the Democratic candidate, former Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives John R. Gregg; and the Libertarian candidate, youth mentor, small business owner and reality TV personality, Rupert Boneham, were all unopposed in their respective primaries or conventions and contested the general election.
          Mike Pence   John R. Gregg
          49.6%           46.4%

          but there was a libertarian who was allowed to participate in the single gubernatorial debate/”debate”.

          1. ‘burn that mutha down’… too late to be revolutionary, if it were, but beats the peak disco pack. the keyboard (as recorded. Hear the future at 9:00,9:25!) is well-tweaked… Lead singer better than average, IMO…
          (3:50 through 10:10 is dancefloor filler…)

      • Seanly13

        I don’t think Pence could win, but these are people who think their stupid economics work, that ideology beats facts & reality, and that their shit don’t stink.

  • “We have a common bond with the president,” Mr. McGarvey said. “We come from the same industry.

    Scams and failures?

    • mds

      Yeah, Jesus Herschel Christ, that’s either peak suck-up or peak fuckwit right there. Find me any other time when McGarvey considers the property owner or developer to be in the “same industry” as the workers. And if that is his usual attitude towards management, the rank-and-file need to turf him out tomorrow, because then he’s always been a goddamned sellout.

  • NewishLawyer

    I’ve always wondered how Trump still gets contractors to work for him even after a decades long history of bilking and screwing them. The builders/contractors seem to be chumps and they think working for this kind of stuff is big league.

    My other guess is that the building trades are highly likely to be culturally resentiment and Trump is their idea of a rich guy.

    • Crusty

      There’s that and sometimes a construction contract is good enough that the first upfront payment prior to the commencement of work is enough to make starting the project worthwhile.

    • Jordan

      Does he? My impression was Trump gets his brand on there and his organization manages the thing, but doesn’t actually build it?

  • maurinsky

    I work with municipalities on construction projects, and sometimes prevailing wages become a tight noose. A prior state DOL administrator told the towns that if they had a written plan for any type of construction, then everything in that plan constituted one project, which meant they would all be subject to prevailing wages – this was related to a question about a town’s five year capital plan.

    And because I work with these municipalities, I know they don’t want construction workers not getting paid appropriately, it’s just that sometimes it means they can’t get work done correctly or at all.

    • Jordan

      ya, but if you can’t pay fair/prevailing wages its worth asking whether its worth doing at all, for lots and lots of projects.

    • Murc

      And because I work with these municipalities, I know they don’t want construction workers not getting paid appropriately, it’s just that sometimes it means they can’t get work done correctly or at all.

      Unless these municipalities are enjoined from raising taxes or issuing bonds, it is not that they can’t get work done correctly or at all, it is that they chose not to.

      Caveat: some municipalities are enjoined from doing just that.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    We’ve been mentioned on the telly!

    Er, I mean, Papa Pierce linked to this post.


    • tsam

      I had to google the term “shebeen”. I’m not embarrassed that I didn’t know the definition.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Yep, I only learned it at his shebeen, myself.

      • los

        darn liberells gnowit auls11! gnowien thees https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shebeen#United_Statesilleegell wurds soe they uoze them11!! Paytriauotik Leeder Donehole Trump will stup thim at the bowrder11!!

        yu need to spiek eelngish well now americu in yurin now111!!

        Locker up11!
        Urine Nest T. Blogger

        • los

          (macros ~fail)
          darn liberells gnowit auls11! gnowien thees illeegell wurds soe they uoze them11!!

    • los

      BiloSagdiyev says:


      It’s not Trump TV, but   !!!

      Charles P. Pierce Jan 24, 2017

      “We have a common bond with the president,” Mr. McGarvey said. “We come from the same industry. He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.”

      Is he kidding? The president’s chief skills in business were a) slapping his name on things; b) gaming the bankruptcy laws;

      and generally, the civil court system

      and c) stiffing the subcontractors, some of whom presumably are represented by Mr. McGarvey’s union. They are in “the same industry” in the same way that Bernie Madoff and the Mets were in the same industry.

      IOW, McGarvey confessed to being in the mob.

      • los

        the mob
        don’t remove the blinders McGarvey, because you’re also in bed with unionwatch/norquisling

    • los

      Charles P. Pierce Jan 24, 2017 (quoting jsonline, then)

      (In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline blew and dumped 683,000 gallons of glop into the Kalamazoo River. That cost $1.2 billion to clean up and the company settled with the EPA for $177 million.)

      The innovative Trump EPA will create JOBS11 by paying $1.2 billion to oil transport companies to spill.
      Broken Casino Economy, Trump Business Genius redux.

      Sooner or later, we will lose part of the Great Lakes, but there will be jobs cleaning it up, so it’s all good.

      “there will be jobs cleaning it up”
      No. Cleanup is like nursing – not macho enough…
      but RWNJ snowflakes will selfie themselves while roasting marshmallows.

  • trdonoghue

    I’m with you on every single word, except about Trumka. I’ve met the man, I like the man. But Mary Kay Henry is the most progressive union leader in America right now. She’s been a major factor in cross movement organizing and linking progressive unions like SEIU to the broader fight with faith, community, enviros, women’s rights and gay rights. And then of course there is the Fight For $15

    • Yes, but that’s different than being the president of a federation. RoseAnn DeMoro is pretty lefty, but she’s not relevant in this conversation either.

      • trdonoghue

        Agreed. I missed the word “federation” in my first read

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    Related: I know the WWC woe and angst has been trampled to a pulp lately, but this piece is one of the most profound explorations I’ve seen so far, and touches on how direct the line is between WWC resentment and the cherished myths surrounding the Civil War and Reconstruction. Plus it’s written by a college professor, so it’s like LGM Yahtzee.

    Depressing, but illuminating:


    • Gregor Sansa

      Yes, that’s good, thanks.

      Turns out they are entitled to their own facts.

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