article
August 31, 2017

Labor Day: What will you be marching for?

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications

Labor Day parades and marches are far more than bugles and drumbeats: They are shout-outs for action. On this Labor Day, Sept.4, unions are calling on elected officials and candidates running for office to publicly come out in support of the freedom for working people to come together and join strong unions.

“While we enjoy our time off this weekend, it’s not enough to celebrate and thank organized labor for the eight-hour-day, overtime pay, safe working conditions and other benefits.  We must also recommit to fight for the freedom of working people to join together in a strong labor movement,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta.

The National Education Association, in partnership with public-sector unions AFT, AFSCME and SEIU, is emphasizing the national economics and rights of the working class in a Labor Day message that resulted from heavy research, including focus groups and surveys.

“ As unionists, we are proud to raise our voices to win improvements that benefit all New Yorkers, such as better wages, affordable health care, and great public schools and colleges,” said Pallotta. “Educators and many other working people in New York State have built strong unions that give them a voice on the job and the strength in numbers to come together and negotiate fair pay, good benefits and dignified retirements.”

Ongoing action on issues important to working families can be taken at mac.nysut.org, NYSUT’s Member Action Center, and by joining other union actions across the state as issues arise.

Unions play a vital role because historically they have been, and continue to be, a path to the middle class, said the NYSUT president, especially for women and communities of color.  “Our collective work lifts up families, supports students and makes our communities better places to live for everyone.”

Pallotta, who will be marching in the New York City Labor Parade sponsored by the AFL-CIO and New York’s Central Labor Council on Sept. 9, pointed out the serious threats being faced by the working class from big corporations, politicians and wealthy interests who use their power against working people. 

“They want to silence teachers and paraprofessionals; nurses and doctors; professors and researchers who want to join together to advocate for better schools, colleges and hospitals.  The latest example comes in Janus v. AFSCME, a case in which wealthy ideologues are petitioning the Supreme Court to strike at the freedom of people to come together and do this collective work on behalf of families and communities,” he said.

Powerful corporate interests striving to erase rights of the working class and profit even further from their work support the Janus case. To learn more, go here.

Labor Day activities and lessons for the classroom can be found at American Federation of Teachers’ free Share My Lesson site, and include lessons on labor vocabulary, labor history and a discussion about Teddy Roosevelt and the coalminers dispute in 1902. There’s even a tutorial on making Labor Day banners.

Coming together in a union allows workers to lift up families, allows for health and safety improvements at the worksite, and provides services that communities need to be safe and to grow. The evidence of that can be seen in everyday life, and it is celebrated during Labor Day parades and picnics. Since 1894, when Congress declared Labor Day a national holiday, workers have been given time to be with their families and to promote the rights of labor on this day.

Fighting back also means getting out the message to vote NO on the proposed Constitutional Convention in New York, which would put many rights at the risk. A constitutional convention could mean the state of New York has no obligation to educate its young people; the state could be relieved of its pension obligations to retirees; and rights to collective bargaining or even to join a union could be eliminated. A convention could lead to an environmental disaster if the Adirondacks lose their "Forever Wild" designation. The governor could even dictate the state's annual budget  — with no requirement for input or approval from the Legislature.

From YouTube to units of learning, an abundance of educational resources about Labor Day are available from the NEA here, including exploration of child labor and union-themed songs.

A few samplings of other New York Labor Day parades: