By JEFF JOHNSON
(Sept. 2, 2014) — Happy Labor Day.
But for many others Labor Day is also a time to say thank you to working people who create the wealth that powers our economy and builds our communities.
I had the opportunity to drop by three Labor Day picnics Monday in Olympia, Lakewood, and Seattle. Thousands of union members enjoyed good food, music, camaraderie, and political discussions. A each event there was an appreciation for the value of work and workers as well as a sense of civic responsibility — a sense of urgency to improve our political, social, and economic condition.
I wasn’t able to join the Pierce County Central Labor Council contingent at the graveside of Ralph Chaplin this year. This has long been my favorite Labor Day tradition. Usually a couple dozen labor and community members join Patty Rose and Vance Lelli to pay tribute to Ralph Chaplin, share what’s on their minds about the labor movement, and to sing “Solidarity Forever.”
When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun.
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one?
But the union makes us strong.
These words are as meaningful today as they were when they were written in 1916.
But this Labor Day I am thinking about the words from a more recent song by labor educator and troubador, Tom Juravich:
I can feel the spirit building, soft as a whisper but loud as a roar
I can feel something stirring, like I never have before
We’ve been quiet too long my friends,
But the working folks of this country will Rise Again.
The power of working people and the working class is beginning to rise again.
We grew private sector unions by a net 33,000 members last year in Washington State, established $ 15 minimum wages in SeaTac and Seattle, saw a new farm worker union organize workers in Skagit Valley, joined with the UFCW and IBT and community allies to turn back contract threats by the grocery industry, and developed the “Shared Prosperity” legislative agenda to protect and strengthen the standard of living for workers.
We need to do everything we can to continue building this spirit and the movement that puts peoples’ needs first.
But let’s start by recognizing the work that we do. Happy Labor Day.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.