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Labor Day — 2010, Louisville, Colorado/Los Angeles Port

September 6, 2010

Note: a report on the Labor Day Demonstration from my old friend Paul Krehbiel – along with pictures, follows my intemperate remarks on the Louisville activities…rjp

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Denver used to celebrate Labor Day.

The different unions from all over the Denver Metro Area, and some from further afield would march in downtown Denver – a reminder to many who would like to forget of who built the state and ultimately, who produces the wealth of Colorado and the nation.  It was also a reminder, now long forgotten by many, of the state’s militant labor history – the story of which remains to be written.

Colorado trade unionists marching, Labor Day, Louisville CO, Sept 6, 2010

It includes the struggles of the miners in the coal mining district just north of Trinidad, including what is today the ghost town of Ludlow, the Coors Boycott of the mid 1980s which for one shining moment scared the shit of that rightwing brewer and his family, enough so that to counter the boycott’s influence, Coors became, kicking and screaming, an affirmative action employer of sorts.

Addressing a Denver seminar held by the Minority Business Development Center, William Coors, grandson of the beer company’s founder gave Minority business leaders some of his more philosophical thoughts on the status of Blacks in America. To quote his words of dubious wisdom:

“Your ancestors were dragged here in chains against their will. I urge those of you who feel that way to go back to where your ancestors came from and you will find out that probably the greatest favor that anyone ever did you was to drag your ancestors over here and I mean it.”

And then the Black Community of Colorado and beyond, joined by the Chicanos and the labor movement in general, gave Mr. Coors a piece of their mind and Coors beer flowed through the streets of many streets and liquor store owners throughout the Southwest literally emptied kegs and bottles of the stuff, starting a spontaneous national boycott. The Denver labor movement was in the center of it all.

  • An informal boycott of Coors was announced by the NAACP during a March 2, 1984  meeting in Los Angeles.
  • At the time, the AFL-CIO had been boycotting the company for seven years over a labor dispute.
  • At least 500 liquor stores in Southern California joined the NAACP boycott, which was suspended five days later when they reached an agreement with the company.
  • In September, the Adolph Coors Company signed an agreement with Operation PUSH and the NAACP to invest $325 million into black communities over five years, to deposit millions of operating capital in black-owned banks, and to spend $8.8 million on advertising in black-owned media.
  • In October, the company negotiated a similar agreement with American GI Forum and La Raza for $300 million. This was which was the first ever such arrangement between La Raza and any corporation.

So it went.

There is much history in between Ludlow and the Coors Boycott as well.

Alas, Labor Day in Denver is no more.

It has, like so many other events, lost its soul, and been replaced with an international pig-out called `Taste of Denver’ where Denverites can eat Thai, Italian, Mexican, Polish or Jewish food,  and make believe that the act of eating a tamale, a meatball or pastrami sandwich is an act of international solidarity. Another chance for Denverites to buy something and live with the illusion that in the act of consuming, they are somehow serving the common good. Or maybe, people don’t even think that…they just want to stuff their faces. Ugh.

But Labor Day lives on in Louisville, Colorado 25 miles or so northwest of Denver. I knew that. A number of

Colorado WINS Banner - the state employees union. The vehicle behind is a 1939 renovated snowplow, manufactured in Littleton, CO and renovated in Greeley.

friends in the Colorado’s Green Party have told me about past marches. It was high time to see for myself. The fact that my wife’s `sort of’ union – Colorado WINS – `the sort of union’ for Colorado state employees was in the march and that Nancy wanted to participate – sealed the deal.

Louisville is an apt place for a Labor Day parade. More or less today a sleepy suburb of Boulder, many people who work in Boulder who can’t afford its high cost of living, live in Louisville as well as near by Lafayette and Longmont. Like Ludlow, it has its own somewhat hidden labor history. There was coal mining here and in Lafayette, a part of what was called `The Northern Colorado Coal Fields’ in the early 1900s.

Louis Tikas, the United Miner Workers’ Greek union organizer who died in Ludlow with 13 women and children, machine gunned and burnt to death by the Colorado State Militia, worked the Northern Fields around Louisville and Lafayette before he went to help organize the mines 150 miles south of Denver. In the 1920s there were armed confrontations between the miners and mine owners in  the northern fields as well. The mines of the Louisville, Lafayette area are long closed, but there are still people and the children of people who participated in those harsh struggles for labor rights. Not everyone has forgotten.

And the Labor Day march continues in Louisville, although the labor contingent itself was a rather small component of the demonstration itself which included the `Daughters of the American Revolution’ from several

Preparing for class struggles in the future - Martial artists at the Louisville Labor Day Parade

parts of Colorado, both the Democratic and Republican Parties from Boulder County,  a karate club preparing for the next round of class struggle by giving demonstration karate chops on a flatbed truck, two high school marching bands, the idiot Ronald McDonald clown symbol of what makes America the great nation it is today: the most efficiently prepared shit food in the world, a couple of jerks dressed in revolutionary garb – flag and blunderbuster in hand, virtually every branch of the Cadillac Club of the Colorado Front Range, cute little girls dressed in red, white and blue giving out – for free mind you – hand sized American flags, a bunch of politicians working the crowd shaking hands and giving out candy, some Mexican cowboys twirling their lassos and advertising a Mexican chain restaurant, and towards the end of the march – not at the very end, but pretty close, a labor contingent. Other than Dave Anderson and Stan Gronek very few, if anyone from the Boulder Left.

I wish I could say that the labor contingent represented the mighty force that is Colorado labor but such was not the case. There were a few members of the United Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a small delegation from Colorado WINS,  a Boulder bus driver and former ASCME organizer from the University of Colorado. But nothing I saw was anywhere near as impressive as the 1939 renovated snowplow that Colorado WINS was

hauling around, showing that even if labor didn’t have the numbers it remains a force to be reckoned with (I

Boycott Coors Truck in 1984 Denver Labor Day Parade

wish). I decided to march with the labor delegation so that at least they would have one active supporter (me).

The worst part of the day was easily, the fact that I fit into a double extra large Colorado WINS t-shirt and didn’t dare try the triple extra large for fear it might fit as well. Wearing the t-shirt added considerably to my popularity and prestige as all the political candidates stopped to shake my hand, Democrats and Republicans alike to assure me that they were `strong supporters’ of the American Labor Movement.

Forgive my cynicism,…I was glad there was a labor delegation, small as it was – a reminder of what Labor Day is about. And as I walked along with the Colorado WINS delegation, I was touched by the people watching on the streets, who cheered and gave us the thumbs up or a knowing nod, that they knew what Labor Day was about, and in a state which about as viciously anti-labor as any in the nation, with a Republican Party as right wing and a Democratic Party as whimpy as the whimpiest of them… that there are still people in Louisville Colorado who have not forgotten what Labor Day is all about, and who seemed to understand, that the labor struggles of a hundred years ago just might be child’s play compared to the battles ahead and that we all might as well have a good time today to brace ourselves for tomorrow’s struggles to save the soul of America.

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Note: A friend from Los Angeles, Paul Krehbiel, sent me an article he wrote on the Labor Day celebrations there. Quite a different mood and turn out than here in Colorado. I include it below along with some pictures Paul also sent…and an old one I dug up.

Labor Day march on LA waterfront demands jobs, healthcare

By Paul Krehbiel

In the shadows of huge cranes towering over the 43 mile waterfront Los Angeles Port, 3,000 union members

Paul Krehbiel, February 1981 - Denver

and their families marched on Labor Day at the largest commercial port in the country under the slogan:  “Human Needs Not Corporate Greed.”   This was the 31st annual Labor Day Parade here, initiated and led every year by a coalition of progressive unions and union activists in this area.  The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) is among the strongest and most influential, and has played a leadership role from the beginning.

That labor coalition has now grown to 50 unions and they presented their demands on banners, signs, posters, T-shirts and in speeches: support universal single-payer health care (pass California SB 810), protect and create jobs, pass the Employee Free Choice Act and organized the unorganized, defend Social Security, support workers’ rights and dignity, create green jobs and protect the environment, support international labor solidarity, support strikes and other union protests, support immigrant and women’s rights, fight against sweatshops and child labor, remember and honor union martyrs – especially those killed here in the 1934 general strike,

get out of Iraq and Afghanistan (the ILWU dockworkers pulled a one-day strike at this port and others May 1, 2008 to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), and put people before profits. The speakers’ stage was adorned with posters of Mother Jones, the legendary union organizer; Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers union and a catalyst of the Chicano freedom movement; and Martin Luther King, who united the struggle for civil rights with the labor and peace movements.

What was striking about this huge labor demonstration was that progressive local labor organizers – who are largely rank-and-file workers who are also work-site and community leaders, are a welcomed and integral

Seafarers Union International, Labor Day, Los Angeles Docks, CA September 6, 2010

part of this heavily multi-racial and unionized working-class community of over 100,000 people.  Many are the sons and daughters, and grandchildren of labor organizers who lived and

worked here during the great union organizing drives of 1930’s and ‘40s.  Whole families marched together this year, as they do every year – parents, children, and grand parents.  Marching bands or drill teams from three area high schools marched, along with the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2967.  Residents came out onto the streets, and waved and cheered.  The labor movement in this small corner of the country is alive and well, and has deep roots in one of the most important economic regions of our nation.

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Related Articles: SODEXO Workers at the University of Denver try to organize

La

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2010 4:47 pm

    This in an email from a friend in L.A. involved in the labor movement there:

    “Sorry your labor day experience was such a let down, but did you at least get a good meal out of it? We had a great labor day march (and good food) in the LA Harbor, under the shadows of the giant cranes on the docks (organized by the ILWU and a colaition fo about 50 other unions) and under the slogan: “Human Needs Not Corporate Greed.” About 3,000 people attended and carried signs for universal health care-single-payer, jobs, honor labor’s martyrs, support strikers and upcoming union protest actions, respect, dignity, workers power, immigration rights, cross-border labor solidarity, and had picture/posters of Mother Jones, Ceaser Chavez, MLK and others on the stage. ”

    No, we didn’t get a meal out of it although there was a barbecue that we could have attended.

    RJP

  2. October 8, 2010 1:34 am

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