A Tribute to a Fighter

By Jesús Espinoza
Feb 14 2019 |
U.S. Rep. John Dingell | Photo courtesy of U.S. House of Representatives

For 60 years, U.S. Rep. John Dingell never wavered in his support for workers.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell (July 8, 1926 – Feb. 7, 2019) — the longest-serving member of Congress in history — will reach his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday. A funeral mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, the same historic church that the Kennedys attended when they lived in our nation’s capital, will precede the solemn event.

Like President John F. Kennedy, Rep. Dingell has entered the annals of history not only as a giant of American politics, but as a staunch defender of the rights and dignity of the American worker.

Rep. Dingell’s congressional district in the Detroit area, centered around Dearborn, has been the core of America’s Industrial Heartland for generations. He never turned his back on his roots. His service in the U.S. House of Representatives was undoubtedly defined by his fight against the disastrous offshoring that undermined the livelihoods of countless families in his district.

A friend of Rep. Dingell, who asked to not be named, is familiar with the congressman’s commitment to manufacturing and the workers who sustain the industry:

“John Dingell was a person of great manufacturing concern. That was foremost on his mind because of the economy of Detroit and Michigan, which was manufacturing. He had a very close relationship with the United Steelworkers particularly. He was close with Harry Lester, who was a Steelworker local president. He was always at Steelworker events downriver where they had many Steelworker facilities. At different points throughout his career, the historic River Rouge Plant was in his district. All the dominant manufacturing area was in his district for many, many years. He just would not let anyone move him out from the dominant auto and steel space. He fought for the working man for 60 years.”

Throughout his career, Rep. Dingell often used a potent tool to get his point across as he tirelessly made the voices of workers heard on Capitol Hill: his sharp sense of humor. After the chairman of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors Gregory Mankiw considered redefining “manufacturing” to include service jobs in the food industry in part to obscure America’s loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs due to offshoring at the time, Rep. Dingell unleashed his rhetorical gift:

“[A]t a speech he gave in Michigan this past September, [U.S. Commerce Secretary] Don Evans announced the creation of a new Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing. While I understand that it takes a while to find the right candidate to fill these positions, I am concerned that five months after the announcement no assistant secretary has yet been named.

“I do, however, know of a public official who would be perfect for the job. He has over 30 years of administrative and media experience, has a remarkable record of working with diverse constituencies, and is extraordinarily well qualified to understand this emerging manufacturing sector: the Hon. Mayor McCheese.”

We will remember the congressman not only for his captivating rhetoric, but for his lasting contributions to the endeavor to protect American jobs and ensure workers have the opportunity to thrive. There’s no doubt his legacy will live forever.

The congressman is survived by his wife, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell; four children and many grandchildren.