TULSA, Okla. - During the September 13 meeting of the Republican Women's Club of Tulsa County, Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello likened Oklahoma's public sector workers to "feral hogs." Going further, he said, "I don't know if you know much about feral hogs, but they reproduce three or four times a year, they eat anything and everything, and I kind of think there is some comparison between bureaucrats and feral hogs." The irony is that the labor commissioner is a government bureaucrat, who makes close to 10 times what the average municipal employee earns. However, besides being offensive and hypocritical, Costello's comments are a stark reminder of a nationwide assault on the collective bargaining rights of working people.
Representatives of the labor movement and others who support Oklahoma's working families were quick to denounce Costello's slurs and demanded his resignation. But Costello, a business owner, has defended his comments and has announced the formation of a 501(c)(4) organization that will be dedicated to making it increasingly difficult for organized workers to collect dues money from members. This is just another in a series of initiatives that ultra-right-wing politicians in Oklahoma have taken to undermine the ability of workers to maintain a voice in negotiating the terms of their employment. What's more ominous is that the labor commissioner is an elected official whose duty is to protect and uphold the laws affecting Oklahoma's workers. Instead, he is brazenly defying the law and likening working people to wild animals.
The ideology expressed by Costello and his ilk is dangerously close to the rhetoric of eugenicists, the pre-Nazi pseudo-scientific movement that began in America which argued that the poor and lower tiers of the working class are lesser evolved than the wealthy. This ideology spread to Europe and became popular in Germany where the likes of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party became its greatest advocates. In Hitler's infamous 1925 book Mein Kampf, he expresses views that are clearly being echoed today about union workers. Hitler wrote:
Since the inferior always outnumber the superior, the former would always increase more rapidly if they possessed the same capacities for survival and for the procreation of their kind; and the final consequence would be that the best in quality would be forced to recede into the background. Therefore a corrective measure in favour of the better quality must intervene...[T]he weaker will have to submit and will thereby be numerically restricted; but even that portion which survives cannot indiscriminately multiply, for here a new and rigorous selection takes place, according to strength and health.
Compare these comments to Costello's "feral hogs" remarks, and one can see that the Oklahoma labor commissioner (himself a millionaire) shares the Nazi belief that the wealthy attain their riches because they are genetically superior to working people. European fascists opposed unions because they believed that organized workers are like a mob of feral animals that outbreed the superior specimens of the human race (the wealthy), and make unfair demands on the rich. The Oklahoma Labor Commissioner is evidently in complete agreement with fascist philosophy on this point.
In reality, it is the working people that make human society function. Without workers, there is no civilization, and there would be no riches for the millionaires to own.
But disparaging remarks against working people have become commonplace as the extreme fringe elements of U.S. "conservatism" has slowly become the dominant ideology of the Republican Party. Remember that Oklahoma's previous governor, Frank Keating, called the state's teachers "slugs." Therefore, in addition to demanding the Oklahoma labor commissioner's resignation, it is important to recognize that the ongoing assault on the rights of Oklahoma's working people is not simply the doing of one arrogant elected official, but part of a coordinated effort by certain politicians to undermine the organizations that protect workers. Even if the current labor commissioner were to resign, the battle for the rights of our communities' working people has only just begun.
In order to win this fight, we must understand the historical basis of the ugly fascist-like ideology that is being put forward by many of today's so-called "conservative" politicians. The conclusion of their degenerate logic is lower wages, fewer benefits, and a weakened democracy. When we allow them to dehumanize working people we start down the path that produced slavery and forced-labor camps. Therefore we have to denounce this rhetoric, and fight this ideology wherever it rears its head. In a time when government has become overtly dominated by the wealthy, and the CEOs of multinational corporations carry more sway than the democratic will of the American people, we must defend our unions, and recognize them as the last line of defense for workers to have some say over their lives.
Labor leaders here are now demanding Labor Commissioner Costello's resignation, and are preparing to take the offensive in the struggle to ensure that elected leaders respect the collective bargaining rights of Oklahoma public workforce. All Oklahomans - union and non-union - should take a stand against any efforts, whether by out-of-state multinationals or their lackeys in our state, to attack our local, democratic organizations and our democratic rights.
Photo: Costello, official portrait.