Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Rain Waits for the Labor Day Parade to Get Its Message Across Town


The Labor Day Parade was back a few days past Labor Day and with a storm threatening to rain on it.

Despite warnings of a downpour, tens of thousands of stagehands, nurses, electricians, truck drivers, carpenters, retail clerks and other union stalwarts marched up Fifth Avenue on Saturday morning in soupy air that often made the march feel more like a steam bath in motion.

The parade had several missions: honoring wounded veterans, showing that organized labor can still flex its muscles, and rallying union members to vote for pro-labor candidates this fall.

The loudest cheers went to the two dozen wounded veterans who led the parade and to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was just behind them marching alongside Gov. David A. Paterson, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and various labor leaders.

Last year, union leaders decided not to hold a parade, instead staging a rally at ground zero to call for more government assistance to workers injured in the cleanup in Manhattan after the 9/11 attack.

Parade organizers broke with the tradition of naming a politician or union leader as grand marshal. Instead that distinction went to the Wounded Warriors Project, a group of soldiers wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Leroy Scott, a former Army staff sergeant who lost his right leg in Iraq, was at the front of the parade, driven in a police vehicle.

“This is awesome,” said Mr. Scott, of Browns Mills, N.J., profoundly moved by all the spectators and cheers. “The people in New York have been so hospitable and supportive.”

Gary La Barbera, the president of the New York City Central Labor Council, which organized the parade, said it was important for the labor movement, indeed the nation, to help wounded veterans find jobs and reintegrate into society.

“The motto of the Wounded Warriors Project is, ‘The greatest casualty is being forgotten,’ ” Mr. La Barbera said at a breakfast at the Roosevelt Hotel as he presented the group a $125,000 check from the city’s unions. “This year, New York City working families remember and will never forget. A nation should be judged on how it treats its veterans, and we’ve always been there — the labor movement.”

Organizers seemed intent on finishing before the wind picked up and the rain descended. Ed Ott, the labor council’s executive director, said one of his goals was “to have everyone walk fast.” And that they did — the first marchers going from 44th Street to the reviewing stand 25 blocks north in just 30 minutes. The crowds were robust before thinning above 59th Street.

At the breakfast, Mr. Bloomberg joked that top city officials had “talked to God and got the rain delayed until this afternoon.” He repeatedly praised the city’s 300,000 municipal workers as “the best work force that anybody has ever put together.”

There were signs reading “Buy Union, Buy American” and “Labor Weathers the Storm.” Some workers chanted, “We are the union, the mighty, mighty union,” while an asbestos worker blew a three-foot-long shofar. The ironworkers’ union had a truck that carried a 15-foot-long model of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Mrs. Clinton was the star attraction at the preparade breakfast. “It’s going to be like walking in a sauna,” she said, “but we will be demonstrating our commitment as all of us go down the avenue, making it clear that New York understands the importance that the American labor movement has played in building the American middle class.”

She next turned to the fall campaign. “We have a big job ahead of us,” she said. “No one has more of a stake than the American middle class and the American labor movement that we elect a Democratic president of our country. This is a fight for our future and is a fight we must win.”

With New York State expected to back Senator Barack Obama, the labor leaders talked of sending members to campaign in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Stuart Appelbaum, the parade’s chairman and president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said, “For us, this year, this election is important as the election of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.” He said that a Democratic White House could lead to a law that would make it easier to unionize workers, helping to reverse labor’s long decline.

One marcher, Adriana Falcon, a member of the metallic lathers’ union for three years, was pushing her 4-month-old daughter, Lillyanna, in a stroller, as her son, Jessiah, 7, pushed his scooter.

“This parade is excellent,” Ms. Falcon said. “I’m here to support our troops and our union.”

When she heard of openings for lathers’ jobs, placing rebar for reinforced concrete, she spent six days in line to apply, sleeping in a tent during the wait.

“The union is good for me and my children,” she said. “And the benefits are great.”

1 comment:

  1. I marched in the parade, it was a great day to see old friends and make some new friends.

    The lathers always take care of the building trades at the end of the parade.

    I didn't see any politcal animals around. At next year parade, it will be a zoo with term limits.

    Ask them, what have you done for enforcement of labor laws. Simple question, I know the answer. Nothing. So keep asking the good questions to the people with thier hands out.


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