Elections, not worker solidarity, dominates West Michigan Labor Fest 2012
Yesterday, I attended the annual Labor Day event in Grand Rapids, held at Ah Nab Awen Park in downtown Grand Rapids.
The annual event had moved to this location a few years ago, after decades of hosting the event at John Ball Park on the Westside. I used to attend those Labor Day celebrations, with substantial crowds and lots of local labor unions with food tents set up, providing refreshments to their members and families.
The Westside event also included a parade from downtown Grand Rapids to the park, with people lined up along the route to catch candy being thrown by union members, along with trucks and floats that brought cheers from the crowds.
There was also a detestable element to this annual event, at least detestable to this writer. Joining the parade were local politicians trying to present themselves as advocates for working class people.
When the parade reached John Ball Park, there would be music and some recognition of local labor people, but the bulk of the stage time that wasn’t music consisted of politicians pimping for votes.
The parade and the candy no longer exists, now that the event is held downtown, but one thing that is still highly visible during the West Michigan Labor Fest is the presence of politicians and partisan politics.
There are aspects to Labor Fest that still honors working class people and their families. Some of the local unions provide rides for kids, there was plenty of food and the beer tent is the largest on site. There were craft vendors, a classic car presence and a few of the unions had booths with free stuff.
However, what dominated the events were the presence of politicians and booths for the Democratic Party and their local candidates. I sat through 30 minutes of praise from local labor people about the Democratic candidates and their commitment to organized labor and the “middle class.”
Absent from the event and the praise for Democratic candidates was hard evidence that these candidates or the Democrats have actually done anything for working people. That is partly due to the fact that they have done much and are not offering much in the upcoming election. Here is what Steve Pestka, candidate for the 3rd Congressional seat, has to say about creating jobs:
Getting a good job is crucial to strengthening our families and the middle class. Steve Pestka recognizes that we need to continue building a diverse economy with good-paying jobs in West Michigan. We need leaders in Washington who will embrace policies that support Michigan’s employers and which lead to higher wages, better jobs, and a more educated and stronger workforce.
Seems like a whole lot of nothing to me. Not only does Pestka not provide any clear plan for defending and advocating for the rights of working people, he has no sense of or is not willing to even acknowledge that we have an economic system that benefits the rich at the expense of working people.
On top of the fact that the West Michigan Labor Fest was really a Democratic Party love-in, there was not a word about the current labor organizing campaigns in West MI. Nothing was said about the Grand Rapids Gravel Workers and their ongoing strike against a company that wants to cut their wages by $6 an hour, nor was there mention that the company had hired an out of town company to find scab workers and private security to harass and intimidate striking workers. With no evidence of the Grand Rapids Gravel workers getting their jobs back soon, why wouldn’t the Labor Fest organizers have striking workers there to inform people and recruit people for solidarity actions?
Maybe it is because the local unions have lost their sense of history and what tactics unions used to actually win rights on the job, through wildcat strikes, sit ins, pickets, boycotts, worker solidarity and recruiting new members. Labor rights and worker justice has never really come about through partisan elections, but through direct action and grassroots organizing.
Despite this being a Presidential Election year, the attendance was sparse and them demographic was disproportionately older. If the local labor unions don’t change their tactics and their focus, they might well be a thing of the past.