Neither driving rain nor boiling heat could keep working families home on Labor Day 2002. Across the country, thousands marched, demanding, an end to the corporate corruption and greed that is destroying the economy, jobs, healthcare and pensions. Perhaps Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) struck the dominant chord in his Labor Day message:
“As we take time to celebrate our accomplishments, we must renew our commitment to fight for global economic and social justice. The Bush Administration allows economic policy to be dictated by multinational corporations who have little or no regard for workers’ rights, the environment and social justice.”
He continued, “We are bombarded with the rhetoric of politicians who proclaim support for working families while denying them adequate health care. These same politicians will sacrifice our jobs and retirements and privatize Social Security to feed the frenzy of corporate greed commissioned by the bagmen of Wall Street.”
“People from all walks of life are tired of seeing the demise of their livelihoods and communities. Workers everywhere are getting fed up with unaccountable corporations and overseas interests disrupting and dismantling the life they worked so hard to build.”
Gerard’s message was echoed around the country as labor activists noted a new mood of activism and militancy. An important central theme everywhere was the 2002 elections. In greater numbers than usual, progressive candidates turned out to hammer on many of the themes touched on by Gerard.
Another central theme was solidarity with the West Coast longshore workers of the ILWU, who are facing a lockout and the possibility of federal troops on the docks.
Several thousand trade unionists and their families jammed the Grand Ballroom on the Navy Pier to celebrate workingclass heroes and hear a call to battle for worker’s rights. “The President wants to use ‘homeland security’ as a cover to deny 170,000 federal workers the dignity and protection of union representation,” said AFL-CIO president John Sweeney. “That’s no way to treat the workers of America … that’s no way to treat our heroes!”
Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon made a special appeal to “rightfully recognize our own union members for the true heroes that they are everyday.”
Gannon made special mention of the 7,500 members of HERE Local 1 who were negotiating a new contract, teachers, construction workers, the brave women of Carousel Laundry who won a ten month strike, and “all workers fighting corporate greed.”
St. Paul, Minnesota
The St. Paul Labor Day celebration brought thousands out to a picnic on Harriet Island to hear the ‘Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour,’ organized by popular rabble rouser Jim Hightower. It was a festive occasion aimed at uniting labor, community, environmental and peace activists.
Cornel West blasted the Bush administration’s drive for a war against Iraq. Barbara Ehrenreich worked in St Paul/Minneapolis at Wal-Mart researching her book, Nickel and Dimed: Or (Not) Getting By in America. She blasted corporate greed and pointed out that most people in America work very hard and still can’t make it.
Pro-working families’ Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) also addressed the crowd. Wellstone faces a tough re-election campaign against GOP candidate Norm Coleman, hand-picked by the Bush Administration, and Green Party candidate Ed McGaa.
Over 5,000 workers and more than 40 unions marched in the 15th annual Labor Day Parade. The day began with a rally in Center City with its featured speaker, Mayor Street. Street lauded working people in “these difficult times.”
The International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) carried a large banner reading, “Unity On The Waterfront,” expressing solidarity with the ILWU members on the west coast in their current contract negotiations. New to the parade were the Airline Pilots Association and the Flight Attendants Union, who could be facing many layoffs because of US Airways’ filing for bankruptcy. Graduate assistants at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania also marched and want their unions recognized by their universities and the right to collective bargaining.
Three peace groups marched with signs calling for “No War On Iraq.” As they marched up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, families gathered along the way to cheer the marchers on.
A parade of several thousand union members flooded downtown streets on Sept. 2 to celebrate and to remind Detroiters that “we are the union.”
After the parade, participants joined other thousands at the Sixth Annual LaborFest, a gathering of unions, political organizations, community organizations, and the friends and families of labor union members. Entertainment was provided by the Motor City Rhythm and Blues Pioneers, the Latin Counts, and the UNITE chorus.
The central theme was the defeat of the Bush ultra-right in the 2002 elections. The event featured Bruce Raynor, president of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE) and Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Gray Davis, running for re-election as Governor of California, reflecting on the real significance of Labor Day, said, “These families that we salute today build our roads, build our bridges, our tunnels, they sew our clothes, and comfort the elderly, treat the sick and teach our children.”
Rosita Johnson, Joel Wendland, Juan Lopez, and John Bachtell contributed to this story.