Community comes together to celebrate, and help, workersA day to celebrate, and help, workers
Nine-year-old Walter Bennett isn't shy, which made him a perfect candidate for selling Labor Day buttons from a spot at the top of the Cloquet Labor Temple stairs Monday afternoon. Bennett was also in charge of collection donations for the Jarden/Diamond Brand employees who lost their jobs recently when the mill closed its doors.
He indicated a plastic ice cream bucket filled with cash.
"All this money goes to them so they can find a new job," Bennett informed the people standing in line.
Carlton County Central Labor Body President Tamara Jones said people donated $1,000 for the former Diamond Brands employees this weekend, money collected at the Old-Timer's Banquet, along the parade route, the picnic at the Labor Temple, through button sales and at the Labor Day carnival in Pinehurst Park.
Jones and Julie Blaha, secretary-treasurer of Minnesota AFL-CIO, walked the parade route, each carrying a Diamond Match box the size of a small cereal box to hold donations. More than 80 employees lost their jobs when the match mill closed in late July/early August.
"It's community and workers taking care of each other," Jones said. "It's great to see."
On a weekend that marked the 98th year for the Cloquet Labor Day celebrations, organizers were adamant that it's still just as important to celebrate workers as it was in 1920. It's also important to remember those who've gone before.
"Weekends, the eight-hour work day, overtime ... we take these things for granted, but we forget that people died for those rights," said Jones. "It's important that we honor workers' contributions to our nation."
District 11 State Senator Tony Lourey echoed her sentiments as he held the door at the Labor Temple, as a crowd of people waiting to eat hot dogs and other picnic fare wound up the stairs and into the street outside.
"Labor delivered us so many of the rights that we all enjoy, we need to take time to reflect on what it means," Lourey said. "I think people are going to start remembering."
Still, Lourey acknowledged that recent decades have been tough on organized labor. Those with more money have made gains, while workers' wages have stagnated in many places. For the first time, younger generations are not out-earning their parents. The gap between the haves and the have-nots keeps getting wider.
"Upward mobility — driven by hard work — is not the experience any longer," Lourey said. "There are instances of it, and those are heralded greatly, but that's not our story. That's not the statistics any longer and it used to be. Hard work would get you ahead in the United States of America. That's the premise on which our country was founded."
But Monday was as much about fun as it was about labor.
Like they always do, the crowds turned out in large numbers for the annual festivities. They lined Cloquet Avenue to watch the parade or they marched in it. Little ones collected candy and numerous stickers from the side of the road, frolicked and delighted in snowballs made from the ice shavings from the rink at Northwoods Credit Union Arena. Older generations chatted with friends and family, neighbors and former coworkers. Veterans did their part too, including the Honor Guard, B Company Marines from the Korean War and Veterans for Peace, among others.
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan walked the parade route, as did Pete Stauber, a Republican candidate for the same Eighth District Congressional seat. Several candidates for next year's governor's race criss-crossed the street, shaking hands with young and old. The Cloquet Community Band provided music, so did the West Duluth Drum and Bugle Corps. Crowds of kids walked for Indian Education, Cloquet Hockey and County Seat Theater.
Labor Day began with three different races (a 5.5K, an 11K and a 20K) held at Pine Valley (see sports for results). Other events included the Cloquet Labor Day Car Show downtown by City Hall, the picnic at the Labor Temple and a Labor Day carnival at Pinehurst Park. The Old-Timer's Banquet was held at noon Sunday at the Armory.
Jones said they had a record turnout at the banquet Sunday, with 260 people in attendance.
Lourey calculated this was "at least" his 11th time in a row attending the Cloquet Labor Day celebration, because that's how many years he's been a senator. However, he also attended numerous times over the 16 years that his mother, Becky Lourey, was in the Legislature, first as a state representative (1990-96) and then as a senator from 1996 to 2006. She stepped down to run for governor, but didn't win.
"I wanted a state where everyone loved each other as much as each of my 12 children," she said. "I also wanted to travel the state and get rid of this rural-urban divide and get rid of the people who feel left out."
Becky Lourey was also the Grand Marshal of this year's parade.
"She's done so much for the community and the state," Jones said of the former legislator-turned-businesswoman. "It was time to honor her."
Like her son, Lourey is optimistic that people are going to step up and get more involved in politics and their communities.
"I see just an incredible number of people who are rallying around and saying 'Oh, I hated politics because they weren't getting along, but now I realize I better start paying attention, I'd better start getting involved because this isn't good,'" she said. "Sometimes it's the darkest before the dawn."
On that note, she also expressed her best wishes for the former Diamond Brand employees.
"I serve on the Workforce Investment Board in Central Minnesota," she said. "Employers are searching for people like the Diamond Brand employees. They have work skills. They're all smart and they can be trained."
Then, like the parade itself, politics and labor ran together in her thoughts.
"When all the trade things were happening, all of us here in Cloquet marched, saying 'Fair Trade, not Free Trade,'" she said. "Recognizing trade that recognizes well being, safety, healthcare for all people wherever they work, in whatever country they work. That's what fair trade is.
"Moving forward with that, let's see where we can do."