Cloquet celebrates strong labor tradition

Just in time, the clouds parted in time for Cloquet to hold the biggest Labor Day celebration in the Northland. And the people came. They came for candy. They came to shake hands with politicians. They came to see what The Jack dancers would do t...


Just in time, the clouds parted in time for Cloquet to hold the biggest Labor Day celebration in the Northland.

And the people came.

They came for candy. They came to shake hands with politicians. They came to see what The Jack dancers would do this year. And they came to simply hang out with their friends and neighbors, and enjoy the vibe that comes with a Labor Day celebration that’s been going on in this union-strong northern Minnesota town for 97 years.

Younger children danced and scampered for candy during the parade, while grownups made use of an array of seating choices, from fold-out chairs provided by Nelson Funeral Home, to lawn chairs and the concrete curb.

Had there been a contest, Mary Juntunen and Darryl Hale likely would have won “most comfortable parade seating” as the two were enjoying the spectacle seated in ergonomic office chairs from Northern Business Products.


“Ergonomic? I just call it ‘comfy,’” said Hale with a chuckle.

Both U.S. Senators from Minnesota - Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken - walked the parade route along with supporters bearing Hillary Clinton signs. U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan was there, as was his challenger, Stewart Mills, both men locked in a race that experts predict will be a close one in November.

Local candidates made their mark too. Incumbent at-large City Councilor Lara Wilkinson had a rock band on her float, while her challenger Adam Bailey danced with The Jack dancers in what’s become an annual tradition for the downtown bar. Mark Roberts and Erik Blesener drove and walked with family and friends, state Rep. Mike Sundin zipped around on a scooter and at least three bands marched (or rolled in a wagon) down Cloquet Avenue.

The parade - believed to be one of the oldest continuously held Labor Day parades in the country and certainly the state - is part of a day that could be summarized as promoting "power for the people," with many different unions and politicians joining military veterans, businesses, athletes, teachers and others in celebration of workers.

Following the parade, folks dispersed to the annual car show behind City Hall, or to get free lunch and a button at the Labor Hall.

Dan Reed, chairman of the Carton County Democratic Farmer Labor Party, was handing out flyers and inviting folks to a Rick Nolan spaghetti fundraiser coming up later this month, and stopped to chat about that state of labor close to home and across the country.

Locally, Reed said he thinks organized labor is still very strong. And he’s optimistic about the future labor across the United States.

“As economic inequality continues, I think the labor activists will grow,” said Reed. “There’s nothing like poor times and people start voting their pocketbooks again. We can have good times like there is now and yet the working man isn’t getting paid his fair share. The wages have lagged. If the working man prospers, the whole neighborhood prospers.”


Although she headed up to a Labor Day picnic in Duluth pretty quickly after the Cloquet parade this year, Klobuchar said last year that she or her dad always make it to Cloquet on Labor Day.

"I think a day where family and friends get together is important, but this is a time to step back and celebrate our workers," she told the Pine Journal last year. "Cloquet has the best Labor Day parade in the state. It shows they understand that what's more important than looking at the people at the top; you've got to look at the workers."

Former United Steelworkers Local 1163 president-turned-chief steward Brady Nelson was helping out in the kitchen at the Labor Hall - as was his daughter, Brandi, and numerous other volunteers.

The union steward said the local Labor Day celebration is a way for organized labor to thank the community for its support.

“This is our way to give back to the community, but it’s with donations from unions and businesses that we’re able to do this,” Nelson said, reiterating that that business and labor aren’t enemies. “We need each other,” he added before diving back into the kitchen to help feed the line of people that snaked down the stairs and around the corner from the Labor Temple.

Outside, Cloquet City Council candidate Mark Roberts was waiting in line with his mother, who made the trip to Cloquet to ride with him in the parade. Roberts is running to regain the Ward 5 seat he held before incumbent Steve Langley was elected four years ago.

“My biggest thing is the landfill expansion,” said Roberts, who is also leading efforts to expand the trail offerings in Cloquet and Scanlon. “I don’t know if they’re still pushing that, but it’s so wrong to have a municipal landfill right in our neighborhoods. Not on my watch.”

A mile or so away, more crowds gathered at Pinehurst Park for bouncies, a rock climbing wall courtesy of the National Guard, and the now familiar folk singer Terrance Smith who organized maypole dancing with spectators as he sang and played his way through a collection of folk songs, each one altered - some a little, others a lot - to fit the occasion.


To the tune of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" he sang:

"Solidarity forever, solidarity forever, solidarity forever, it's the union that makes us strong."

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