Forgetting Flint

It has been a little more than a week since the Republicans shut down the federal government in an attempt to delay Obamacare, and they show no signs of letting up, as of this writing.

Why should they? The Republican leadership, unlike the president, knows its history.

Nothing makes this more obvious than President Barack Obama’s comments on the matter Monday at a White House press conference.

“I was at a small business the other day and talking to a bunch of workers, and I said, you know, when you’re at the plant and you’re in the middle of your job, do you ever say to your boss, you know what, unless I get a raise right now and more vacation pay, I’m going to just shut down the plant; I’m not going to just walk off the job,” the president said. “I’m going to break the equipment ­– I said, how do you think that would go?”

Obama might ask that question to the men and women who took over the General Motors plant in Flint, Mich., in December 1936 and held out until January 1937. What happened to the famed Flint sit-down strikers, who wanted the right to form a union after they shut down the GM plant in Flint?

Did they just get fired, and management continue business as usual, as Obama suggests would be the end result of any such attempt by folks like you and me to “hold up” the day-to-day operation of where it is we work?

Actually, no, they didn’t. The Flint sit-down strikers held out and got what they wanted – the right to form a union and negotiate with management for better pay, shorter hours – the whole shebang. General Motors had to live with it, and has continued to live with it since.

The notion that the proper way to address your concerns is to sit down and negotiate with your boss one-on-one, and that will lead to progress for all, is a profoundly conservative idea with no basis in reality.

No big, dramatic change has ever come from two sensible groups of people negotiating to make it so. Conflict, and only conflict, can drive change.

The Republicans understand this and are willing to shut down the federal government to get what they want; the Democrats do not understand this, and thus blindly stumble along as the Republicans direct the country toward enacting its agenda.

They may not get Obamacare delayed, but the shutdown might be a tactic to cut into Medicare or Medicaid, which the president has, time and time again, indicated he is willing to do.

Negotiations may yet happen, but negotiations never happen between equals; they always happen when one party has the upper hand and wishes to get what it can before overreaching.

Republicans will break ranks to negotiate only when they are assured they will get at least some part of what it is they want.

The fact that the left cannot articulate an idea that is profoundly radical – holding out until your demands are met – is a sad reflection on just how bankrupt it has become.

Devin Griggs is president of the Murray State College Democrats.


Column by Devin GriggsOpinion Editor