May Day in Philly

Philadephians, for the second year in a row, celebrated International Labor Day at Elmwood Park in the city’s southwest section. The site has historical significance in part because of its history in the heart of what was once a major industrial area for the Delaware Valley. It will soon be the home of a memorial monument to the labor movement.

On this rainy day, a crowd of over 100 heard Philadelphia AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding urge workers to remember their history and to act in the present. Urging action on the Employee Free Choice Act, he said, “There are only two votes on EFCA, ‘yes’ or ‘no’. We won’t be heard unless we get some laws passed. The employers see this economy as an opportunity to take back from labor. We have to sit on (new Democratic senator) Specter’s doorstep until he gets the message. And that goes for any Democrat who is dancing around this issue.”

Thomas Paine Cronin, head of the Comey Institute of Industrial Relations at St.Joseph’s University and former President of AFSCME District Council 47, compared the present period to the 1930s and said that a similar effort from labor and its allies is needed now. Emphasizing the challenges, he noted the continued existence of the Patriot Act, the increased troop levels in Afghanistan and the recent layoff of thousands of workers at the profitable Caterpillar company. He told the crowd that “the message of May Day 2009 is that we have an agenda. It has to be about health care, not pouring more money down the rat hole of military spending.”

Musicians and rappers added a rich cultural component to the program. Rapper The Truth urged students and adults to study “the real history of our nation; Socialists and Communists fought discrimination.”