Milwaukee Labor Day Parade — Numbers Down but Spirits Up

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Story and video for The UpTake by Tracey Pollock


Around 2,000 people gathered for the annual Labor Day parade in Milwaukee; a smaller number than recent Labor Day celebrations in a city with a rich history of union membership and participation. Though this year’s celebration was on a reduced scale from previous years, participants showed their dedication to labor by focusing on three issues: Act 10 and union power, immigration reform and increasing pay for low-wage workers.

Usually Labor Fest is held on the national labor holiday at the expansive Summerfest grounds on Lake Michigan, but it was cancelled this year. The organizers’ official statement from the Milwaukee Area Labor Council said the festival was cancelled this year because of staffing issues. However, the devastating financial impact of Act 10 was also likely a factor.

Act 10, passed over two years ago, took away nearly all collective bargaining rights from public sector unions that caused the state Capitol to be occupied for nearly a month, with 180,000 protesters turning out on the largest day. Since Act 10 went into effect, two important parts of the legislation were struck down, including the requirement for annual re-certification elections and the prohibition of voluntary dues deductions. However, unions in Wisconsin have still been impacted greatly by the union-busting law.

This year’s celebration by union members, their families and community members was organized by the coalition group We Are Milwaukee.

Two groups were organized, one marching from 5th and Mineral streets, in front of the Voces de la Frontera office on the south side, and another group coming from the Martin Luther King Statue on Martin Luther King Avenue on the north side.

Marchers converged in downtown Milwaukee at Zeidler Park for free beer and brats as well as a short program. Speakers included: Michael Bolton, United Steel Workers district 2 director (Michigan and Wisconsin region); Christine Neumann-Ortiz of Voces de la Frontera, joined by youth Dreamer activists; Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association; and Deirdre Dunlap, part of the Raise Up Milwaukee campaign which has been leading 24-hour strikes as part of a national effort to increase wages and the right to form a union without intimidation, focused mainly in fast food and retail stores.

Labor in Milwaukee and Wisconsin are still fighting for worker’s rights, with a new face and direction of the movement.

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