Unions Are WRONG to Refuse to Build the Mosque


Photo by Hagen for News Blaster, NY Daily News

I’ve always believed in unions. I come from a long line of union members: steel workers, sanitation workers, office workers, police, fire, you name it. They’re all in my family. My American family typifies the American working class. In fact, if all the unions represented by my family were to strike for a week, the whole country would suffer. Construction would stop. Crime would go undeterred. Fires would go unextinguished. And in my case, students would go untaught. Yes, I, too, am a union member. I’m a teacher.

Right now, America’s unions are under fire. Millions of workers are unemployed and companies large and small are suffering. Business owners would love nothing more than to bypass unions to use lower wage, uninsured personnel. Given the opportunity, unemployed non-union labor would replace union workers in a New York second for the same jobs at lower wages with no benefits. In today’s fragile economy, the only lovers of unions are the union members themselves.

Given how unpopular unions are, one would think union members would be extra careful to be welcoming, congenial, considerate and non-ideological with potential employers when jobs are on the line. All types of businesses and individuals contract with unions; from those held in the highest esteem, to those of ill repute. With such a diversity of contractors, not every union member feels kinship with those who foot their bills. Not every cop or fire fighter coalesces with the person and business s/he’s assigned to protect, but s/he protects them just the same.

Educators can’t choose not to teach certain pupils simply because they don’t want to. Black, white, hispanic, asian, jewish, catholic, muslim, buddhist, bipolar, down-syndrome, hyperactive students all deserve education. Teachers unions don’t boycott specific groups of students because they don’t like their sect or color, or because they’re somehow reminiscent of a painful past. If that should happen – if unions and union members should be so self-serving, unprofessional, prejudiced and juvenile to use criteria like ethnicity, religion, race, disability or reminiscence to defer services – those unions and union members should be stripped of union privileges and forfeit their jobs to those who prize propriety. Unions are contracted because of skills and compliance with rules and regulations – not because of bias and ideology. The only ideology acceptable for a union should be dedication to the excellent performance of one’s job.

Of course, there are legitimate circumstances where unions are correct in refusing contracts and in making demands in the interest of their rank and file. Members’ health and safety are of paramount importance. No effective or worthwhile union should accept unsafe working conditions or an unhealthy workplace. Abuse of workers should never be tolerated. Unions exist to negotiate the best possible work environment and compensation for their members. However, nowhere do unsubstantiated fear, contempt for religion, or resurgent memory factor into union contracts as negotiable provisions for worker rights and protection. Such issues are frivolous, unprofessional, and unworthy of consideration; except of course if a worker’s emotional or psychological state as a result of such fear renders him legitimately unable to perform. That’s another matter.

The New York Daily News is reporting that union construction workers are refusing to build the Manhattan mosque to be located two blocks from Ground Zero. This is ideological impropriety that union leadership should cease immediately. It’s bad enough that only 41% of Americans had a positive view of unions prior to this unfounded anti-Muslim tantrum. Adding cultural and religious bias, logistic sensitivity and unfounded fear to the existing union stereotypes of over-coddled and over-paid, affords union detractors greater ability to incite anti-union sentiment with new pejoratives like hyper-sensitive, hysterical, illogical and emotionally weak.

Yes, weak!

Those union members vowing not to work on the mosque may believe they’re taking principled stands, but what they’re really doing is exhibiting unnecessary fear and being emotionally and mentally weak.

Honestly, just how weak can we Americans be? We flatten other nations to the ground. We decimate their schools, hospitals, hotels, apartment buildings, playgrounds and businesses. We kill and maim babies, children, teens, the elderly, women, men and animals. We destroy entire cities with aerial and ground attacks using weapons of mass destruction that sometimes last for weeks, without a second’s consideration for the suffering we cause. But we Americans can’t tolerate the terrible memories of one horrible day nearly a decade ago.

Believe me, I don’t mean to sound callous or disregard the horrors of September 11th. I had a close family member in the towers in 1993 and 2001 who escaped unharmed both times. I have first responder family who were on the ground in the aftermath of the attacks. I grew up in Rockaway Beach, New York, home to many first responders. I was devastated by the events of September 11th. I understand.

But considering what we’ve done to the people and infrastructures of Iraq and Afghanistan who did NOTHING to us, we really have little to complain about. We lost two buildings and 3,000 innocent people in New York City, but we’ve destroyed two countries and over a million people in return. Can’t anyone see that that in comparison our casualties and suffering, painful as they are, actually pale in comparison?

We send children to bed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan every night, terrified of America’s bombs, yet macho men in hard hats can’t overcome their memories? Come on, union members. You’re stronger and better than that! Don’t succumb to your weakness. Stand tall in your strength. You can do this project. You can build this mosque. Just do it!

The New York Daily News further reports that Andy Sullivan, a construction worker from Brooklyn, has started the online petition drive “Hard Hat Pledge,” which asks others to vow not to work on the mosque if it stays in its current Park Place location. Sullivan says:

“Thousands of people are signing up from all over the country. People who sell glass, steel, lumber, insurance. They are all refusing to do work if they build there” [Park Place]. Hopefully, this will be a tool to get them to move it. I got a problem with this ostentatious building looming over Ground Zero.”

This “ostentatious building” Sullivan describes will be thirteen stories high. I’m a native New Yorker. I don’t know many thirteen story buildings in Manhattan that loom over anything. By Manhattan standards, thirteen stories is pretty damn low.

The Daily News also reports on a Manhattan construction worker, L.V. Spina, from my old neighborhood of Rockaway Beach. Spina told The News he’d be fine if the mosque were built next to his house in Rockaway Beach but not near Ground Zero. Somehow I have a problem believing that. 

I wonder if Spina and  Sullivan would have taken that same “Hard Hat Pledge” not to build the sex shops and liquor stores that exist today near Ground Zero. Perhaps Spina would prefer the sex shops also be built next to his home in Rockaway instead of near Ground Zero. Somehow I think not.

Bottom line, fellow union members. Our unions aren’t looking too rosy in the United States right now. Sure there are like-minded ideologues who believe the mosque should not be built on Park Place and they will support you. But there are many others, some of whom are anti-union, who believe the mosque should be built on Park Place and that you as over-coddled, over-paid union members should stop caving to your fear and ideology and do your union duty and build it.

So why stir the pot? Do what unions are expected to do. Be the masters of your craft. Use your well-honed skill. Do an incredible job and build it. You’re not being hired to worship. You’re being hired because you’re the best at your professions. Set an example for union excellence and build a work of art.

You can do this! You should do this!

Linda Milazzo


  1. dusty says

    It is a laugh that this is even an issue. I would bet that the concerned partisans and anti-Muslim chorus who cheer Unions for not building this community center heavily support right wing politicians who are anti-union to the core. People need to begin to ask the question: “Who benefits from these wedge issue fights that turn us against each other?” “Why do they propagate these issues that have little to do with the rebuilding of our economy and the strength of our social bond with each other and instead sow distrust and bitterness?”

  2. says

    What is at stake?

    In terms of classic American values – including positive roles in society for unions as well as for religious and ethnic communities -the basic issue is simple: so long as the Islamic center sponsors and their plans follow the law and demand for themselves no more than for others, it is their right to build their worship place or community center, and moreover it is our duty to uphold them in that right. It’s morally inconsistent and wrong (not just bad tactics) for a union selectively not to hire on and pitch in.

    However, the particulars of this project recall two very real and inconvenient truths – truths unhappily avoided by almost all sides – about today’s Islamic world, truths which now have no parallel in regard any other prominent religion. Addressing these truths does not call for bigotry, but it does call for honesty and clarity.

    First, inconveniently enough, the USA and much of the world is beset by a ‘war on terror’ – a misguided and dishonest tag (by the OBushma administrations) for what is in reality a ‘war for Islamic supremacy’ started aggressively by Islamic supremacist regimes and movements.

    [NOTES: (1) The Islamic Supremacy War erupted in 9/11, but a telling precursor was the Iranian regime’s fatwa against the non-Iranian Salman Rushdie. (2) As in other wars (e.g. Hitler’s), the supremacist aggressors have used as convenient pretexts actual or alleged misdeeds of the intended victims, with moreover the aggressors cast as innocent underdogs. That Big-Lie tack will always fool some guilt-prone dupes, would-be ‘progressive’ or other. (3) The war continues ferociously in many places and ways: the Pakistan murder of reporter Daniel Pearl, persecution of Egyptian Copts, imposition of Sharia in Nigeria, etc. etc. (4) Contrary to Milazzo, neither of the costly and eventually bloody US Iraq and Afghanistan interventions were justified or made sense as blows against Islamic supremacism, or in any real sense somehow ‘evened’ (let alone more than evened) the score for 9/11. Instead, to this day in Afghanistan, the USA cravenly claims to be fighting a nigh-pointless campaign against just two particular supremacist groups – Qaeda, and their Taliban hosts.]

    As in other wars, continuation of the Islamic Supremacy War owes to the attackers’ hopes, not to victims’ wishful-thinking appeasements, apologies and other would-be conciliatory actions – short of abject surrender. Unless and until Americans and others accept rule by fanatic Islamic regimes, the war will continue as long as the attackers maintain their hopes and fantasies. Victims’ would-be conciliations will only fuel the hopes of militant supremacists, who typically see such actions as evidence of victims’ weakness and irresolution.

    Second, and yet more inconveniently, although the broad Islamic world has mostly not yet endorsed the supremacist aggression, most regimes and movements in that world have not clearly rejected it; and moreover significant main-stream Islamic tradition supports it. Quranic verses – not merely past descriptions but present-tense and future-tense imperatives – call for subjugating, extirpating and destroying unbelievers. And yes, throughout history indeed triumphal mosques were erected on the holy sites of other religions, as witness to would-be irreversible victories over unbelievers.

    So the fears over an Islamic center near Ground Zero arise from cogent concerns. Contra some center proponents, we really are in an Islamic Supremacy War with aggressive supremacists. And indeed, for such supremacists the center could well (if mistakenly) be viewed as a symbol of triumph. The real issue is, what do we do about these concerns?

    Center opponents believe that, first and foremost, we should be guided by our fears, and make sure to deny our enemies’ self-chosen symbols of triumph: so we must not allow an Islamic center near Ground Zero. This sort of thinking in effect lets our enemies dictate our policy, based on their attitudes and our fears.

    The rest of us, however, insist that – no matter what symbols may happen to delight our enemies, and no matter what aid and comfort they may thereby mistakenly derive – we must rather be guided by our classic affirmative values: so we must uphold the right of any lawfully sponsored and planned project near Ground Zero. Contra some center opponents, we deem the 9/11 victims to be honored, not dishonored, by a policy whereby our affirmative values, including the rights of Moslem Americans, trump our fears of militant Islamic supremacism.

  3. Ashley says

    I believe that unions are one of the most important forms of organization that our society has, and that the larger cultural maligning that unions suffer has much more to do with the attempts to weaken their power, as they (importantly) stand in the way of exploitative, abusive and unaccountable profit-making, as the rich continue to get richer and the poor keep getting poorer. At the same time, the cultural authority of unions isn’t always, necessarily put to “good.” Prison guard unions for example, who lobby intensively to build unsustainable and racist criminal justice policies around our country are often despicable, and the reputation of Northeastern unions as part of the “right coast” — as in right-wing — are well founded, as shown in this story and around the ridiculous “controversy” of the Islamic Cultural Center (NOT a mosque) about to be built NEAR Ground Zero (not AT it). The ideological actions and positions of these unions should be taken to task by other unions, and most importantly, called into question as to whether they really represent the needs of working people — which is most certainly NOT to rally against other working people, regardless of their color, their neighborhood, their religion or whatever, but should be about offering us clarity and social organization to strengthen our communities and see through the ideological BS that distracts us from our collective empowerment (every ordinary person getting all worked up around this issue while watching Glen Beck is one less person thinking about why their economic and social futures in this country are shrinking, while Beck makes BANK).

  4. Marshall says

    gwilliam, as far as I know, the corp heads are not union members, they are not working class. The futher down the union ladder you go, the more working class they are, and the reverse is true for union mamagement and corporate management, upper management is upper management everywhere, trains, building, banks, unions and even the military. The bushel usually rots from the top down.

    The poster Linda wants the union constrution workers to do something that to them seems against their better judgement. What does she know of this project? The money trail on this one cries out to the FBI to follow the money. The person in charge of the development is spending money he does not have. Just a short time ago, he was waiting tables and now is buying up buildings, not just this one but others, with other peoples money (OPM) and I would like to know from whom did he get that money?

    And Linda please, do not try and force builders to build something they do not want to build. I am always concerned of the consequences of any project and forced ones a few times more. I can not see anyone but Muslims being allowed in the finished project as if prayers are said there, non Muslims are not usually allowed in the building.
    Laus Deo and viel gluck to all.

  5. gwilliam says

    Lots of union folk voted for Raegan and the two Buschs: so why would they not support the Tea Baggers as well? The American working class has allways shot itself in the foot and saluted whatever the corporations ran up the flagpole

  6. says

    Ms. Milazzo is confusing her own well-thought out position with those of the general public.

    Union decline and their public relations posture on the notorious mosque are hardly connected. Where they are joined, the position of the more conservative construction syndicates would not hurt their image nationwide.

    People are not clamoring for construction on this one.

    I’m a union supporter, too. Best job I ever had was under contract with The Newspaper Guild Local 50. At their best unions empower, educate, politicize, and enrich their members.

    At their worst, they beat up anti-war hippies from Pratt Institute while wrapped in the American flag, as the forebears of those we are now discussing once did.

    This mosque controversy is the kind of thing that can only happen under the Obama administration. If my hat weren’t screwed on right, I’d suspect somebody confected and set the whole thing in motion.

    The president, like Ms. Milazzo, stepped up and said the right things in this instance, and I am glad they, and others, established a record and high bench-mark for discussion on the related issues.

    But there is that part of me that recoils.

    Milazzo is right, Iraq and Afghanistan, and many Arab peoples have been sorely treated by the United States. But, like most Americans, I’m weary of Islam.

    I hear of its tolerance and scripted beauty, but read of holy soldiers pausing to pray after murdering a bunch of unarmed dentists and doctors. The thought of Theo Van Gogh being stabbed in the throat – and killed – on a Dutch street over the content of a film he made haunts me.

    I see European streets peppered with veiled women and think Islam is not so much a religion, as a kind of acquisitive culture that promotes itself the way American capital does: through cooptation and violence.

    There has not been much outcry or countermovement to the radical Islamic surge from more “moderate” sectors. Either they don’t exist, or they take quiet pleasure at the holy war their co-religionists impose upon cafe-goers worldwide.

    And so, while stuck with the current phobia, they might be accused of being just as insensitive to the feelings of those different from them.

    They should find another place to build their temple. Not because the right to do otherwise isn’t guaranteed, not because they are legally obligated to, not because the reaction to it has been correct, but because it would be the kind and comprehending gesture.

    But I’m not holding my breath.

    • Zenith15 says

      “The kind and comprehending gesture”? To fold under because of pressure from intolerant and ignorant racists and haters and allow such blatant discrimination and fear mongering to win out would be “kind”? Would you have said the same thing to the back children who integrated the schools in the south in the 50’s and 60’s? That upset people too, you know—would it have been “kinder” for the black children to stay where the racists thought they should stay?

      There is not ONE DARN THING wrong, legally or morally, with this Islamic community center being built. The fact that people continue to refer to it as a mosque, when in fact it is primarily a community center with “space for prayer” rather than an enormous mosque that has been described, illustrates how the facts are skewed to support their views of those opposing it.

      Are there some practices in the Islamic faith that bother me? Yes there are. That’s why I am not Islamic. Are there facts about Christian Fundamentalism that bother me? Yes indeed there are and that’s why I am not a Christian. I find the blatant hate and coercion that comes from the Christian right to be every bit as disturbing and sickening as many Islamic practices that supposedly disturb “good, decent Americans”.

  7. Ryder says

    Linda is off her rocker here.

    What Linda doesn’t understand is what the construction of this mosque is. It is planting a flag on the moon. It is proclaiming won territory. Radical Islamic warriors, as a matter of policy in invasive conflict, dismantle the symbols of the people they conquered (Churches, Synagogs, and in this case, towering centers of trade) and erect mosques as a display of power… A “high water mark” to cast in stone the depth of their latest penetration in the conflict.

    It is a rally point from which to launch deeper aggression.

    Calls for tolerance in the face of aggression, which this mosque represents, is preciselythebehavior that leads to horrific war. The Nazi Party in WWII calculated that European leaders were weak, and though a chain of tests, the Nazi Party discovered that European leaders bent over backward to call for tolerance of German aggression, and to blame themselves for German actions. The result of this cowardice is well known.

    There already is a mosque in NY, but that mosque is not radical and does not preach religious intolerance… In other words, it is not a part of the war against the west… So radicals funded by foreign money are seeking to build temple of intolerance to advance a war agains us that we know for a fact they are willing to fight to the death.

    At least union members have more common sense than many blogging preachers of blind tolerance.

    Unions regularly refuse to work in order to secure more pay and benefits… It’s nice to know that they are willing and able to refuse to work to protect something more important.

    • Zenith15 says

      Poppycock, “Ryder”. First of all, this mosque is NOT “on Ground Zero”–it’s two blocks away, and as the author here said, there are sex shops, liquor stores, and other less than “hallowed” type businesses here. Should they be run out as well? If so, how far? How much of the surrounding are is “hallowed”, and therefore apparently under fundamentalist-christian-only purview? If the mosque were four blocks away, would that be ok? Six? Ten? Where? How far do the “hallowed” ground of religious intolerance reach? And why, pray tell, is a muslim community center “intolerable” and shops peddling porno and booze are not?

      This type of intolerance is built on nothing more than idiotic fear mongering by Glen Beck and his cronies on Fox News. I saw the man last night and could not believe that anyone with a grain of common sense cannot recognize the blatant, false scare tactics he uses to rile people up into towering, murderous rage. He was ranting about Obama having stated that “This is a nation of Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, and non believers”, saying that he had NEVER heard a president of the US say something like that before–as though there were something WRONG or FALSE about such a statement! He told viewers they should be concerned, be worried because Michelle Obama visited a tourist attraction mosque in Spain–one that most every tourist to that part of the country visits for it’s fine architecture–but when SHE visits it, well, it must MEAN something.

      He railed about Obama hosting the Ramadan dinner–that’s pretty scary too, folks. Let’s casually omit, however, that president Bush held the same dinner eight years in a row, as did Clinton before him.

      I have yet to see ANY evidence that this community center is being built TWO BLOCKS AWAY–not “ON”–Ground Zero as a symbol of oppression. Talk of ties to “sharia law” and terrorists I take with a LARGE grain of salt as well, as I have yet to hear Beck going on about president Bush’s close ties with the Taliban and the Bin Laden family.

      It saddens me so much to see so many of my fellow Americans run like lemmings into the sea after their “god”, Glen Beck–a pasty faced, smarmy, pudgy nerd who finally found his route to fame and fortune in defaming others and in frightening a population which prefers to let someone like him do their thinking for them and simply tell them what to believe. Beck advocates violence, spews hate and intolerance and fear, and his audience eats it up.

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