George Orwell’s science-fiction classic “1984” is set in a futuristic state where freedom no longer exists and rulers live by the motto: “He who controls the past, controls the future.”

The job of the central character in the book is to change old newspaper records to make them comport with what the rulers want people to believe. They understand the power of the printed word and want to ensure that it squares with their agenda.

But there’s more than one way for those in power to skew history: Just remove all references to things that might influence people in a way that’s contrary to your political ideology. Like changing the name of a legislative committee and the names of government rooms. Or more to the point, like tearing down a historic mural. Get my drift?

Gov. Paul LePage says the mural he ordered removed from the Department of Labor highlighting significant events in labor history is too one-sided. Fair enough. But I wonder why he didn’t just install a more fair and balanced exhibit instead of trying to erase history.

He might have hung some nicely framed pictures of Wal-Mart’s CEO at work, or maybe a collage of Marden storefronts. Or how about some pamphlets from Anthem highlighting its rock-bottom rates and willingness always to err on the side of customers? That might even things up a tad.

Or would it? Jeez, not once in my 79 years, do I remember hearing about any Forbes CEO striking for better pay or benefits. Au contraire. With each passing year, their salaries get more bloated and their golden parachutes more golden.

Meanwhile, the gap between the richest and poorest Americans continues to widen.

What I do remember with a clarity born of bittersweet times, is my mill-worker father working double shifts for low pay and few benefits to support our family. He was proud of his near-perfect attendance record and prouder still that he never accepted a cent of help from the city or anyone else during those dark Depression days.

Labor unions were just starting to flex their muscles then; and he and his coworkers understood clearly the meaning of the phrase “strength in unity.” They never missed a union meeting.

When he finally got a raise and a week’s vacation, our family headed out in a borrowed Ford packed to the max, and for one week stayed in a rented camp on a Maine lake and got a whiff of what heaven must be like.

Labor unions, however, fought for more than just better pay. They worked to pass child labor laws when teachers complained that kids who worked long hours in factories and sweat shops were falling asleep in school.

They got Congress to require that companies institute workplace safety measures so that tragedies such as the horrendous New York City Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, in which 146 women died, would never happen again.

How many of you know that there once was a “poor farm” in Waterville? The North Street structure evoked more than a touch of fear in the hearts of kids walking to the swimming pool in the summertime.

Passing that gray, unpainted, dilapidated structure, they spoke in whispers about the people who went there to die — old and poor and alone.

Labor unions fought and won the battle for Social Security, Medicare and workers’ compensation; today, thanks to our union forbears, places like the “poor farm” are gone forever from the American landscape.

After the World War II, better pay and worker benefits, combined with the GI Bill and FHA housing loans, helped multitudes of working class folks finally hitch a ride on the great American middle-class train.

Is the mural one-sided? You bet. On the side of average working Joes and Janes. So the governor can take down murals, dilute the power of the labor committee, change the names of meeting rooms and initiative “group-think.”

But LePage shouldn’t believe for a nanosecond that he can erase from the minds and hearts of Depression-era children and grandchildren what it was like before the solidarity of labor unions gave heart and hope to millions of Americans.

Marilyn Canavan served as director of the State Ethics Commission for 15 years and as a state representative for eight years. She and her husband Robert have five children and six grandchildren.

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