A flyer from The Long Island Federation of Labor puts unions and the Tea Party movement on opposing ends after federation president John Durso said enough of the tea “attacks” and “intimidation” on members at rallies.
“The Tea Party movement on Long Island has more in common with the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland than it does with the patriots of the American Revolution,” read the flyer, a reference to flag-waving Tea Partiers who rally in colonial garb. “It has aligned itself with the most conservative and anti-worker representatives in the U.S. Congress. Cleverly marketed by its right wing organizers as a populist movement fed up with government, it actually stands for an agenda aimed squarely at our unions.”
Of course, there’s a big picture. Unions have been fighting for the Democrat-controlled Congress and President Obama to extend unemployment benefits again and approve more economic stimulus money. The Tea Party and Republicans worry about how to pay for them, the debt and taxes.
Durso said the flyer is being sent to the federation’s 160 unions and 250,000 members, after many members asked why the tea party was targeting them at elected officials’ town halls and other events. In an oft-used Tea Party tactic, the labor leader said, Tea party protestors curse, yell and get in the faces of union members as a Tea Party colleague videotapes the reaction, ostensibly to put it up on the Tea Parties’ YouTube sites.
“They’re entitled to their opinion,” said Durso, who recalled the label “communist” flung at him by Tea Party protestors. “We don’t like the way they go about it . . . When you go too far, not only is it wrong, but it undermines everybody’s right to express their opinions. Intimidation – that’s not what we’re all about . . . If I want to be cursed at, I’d go to a ball game.”
An organizer for the Conservative Society for Action, one of the Island’s older Tea Party groups, rejected Durso’s account of tactics and said the movement’s rallies are peaceful.
“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” said Judy Pepenella of Patchogue, who helps organize for the society and who’s been to some of the same events attended by Duros.
“I’m not going to bite at it because I really know what’s going on. Everything we do is done in the open. This isn’t the Wizard of Oz – ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.’ We don’t do that. We’re straight and upfront with people.”
In a prepared response later, the Conservative Society for Action refuted the points in the federation’s flyer, saying it’s not against good wages, jobs creation and more. “The best way to attain that goal is to fix this economy,” said the group, noting that hit has union workers as followers. “Washington’s policies of high taxes, deficit spending and mortgaging our children future are hurting job creation. Rank and file union members know this.”
Calls to the Long Island Tea Party were not returned. Other local Tea Party groups could not be reached for comment.
In the past year or so, the movement has gained momentum on Long Island. They have “meets," interview candidates for public office and organize rallies at busy street corners and political events.
In New York State, the political distance between Tea Party and labor is exacerbated by the upcoming elections. Each side favors different candidates in many races.
The federation’s blast e-mail on its flyer said understanding the Tea Party will be “particularly important” for labor's efforts on behalf of Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), one of the national Republican Party’s targets for the November elections and not the Tea Party’s cup of tea.
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