Sep 6, 2009

Friends of working men and women help dedicate museum and celebrate Labor Day

MONROE -- The dedication of the new neon sign at the Monroe County Labor History Museum Saturday proved once against that Monroe is truly a labor town.

The dedication of the sign at the only labor museum in the state was the highlight of the Laborfest in downtown Monroe as people celebrated Labor Day and the decent life unions brought about and its creation of the middle class. The day brought back memories of past Labor Day celebrations when Monroe was home to numerous paper mills and people gathered at the historic Phillip Murray Building that houses the museum - named in honor Philip Murray, the first president of the United Steelworkers of America - to honor the contributions labor made to making this country great.

“The last time we had an event here was in 1964,” said Stanley Lewinski, President of the Monroe/Lenawee County AFL-CIO Central Labor Council that was also celebrating its 50th anniversary. “It’s been a long time since we had a celebration like this in Monroe.”

Dignitaries and friends of labor like Lt. Gov. John Cherry, U.S. Rep .John Dingell and Michigan Democratic Chair Mark Brewer showed up to honor the hard work and contribution of labor and to recognize the effort it took to renovate a rundown building almost 100 years old into a showcase for educating the next generation about the huge contribution labor has made to improving their lives. Labor has been under attack recently, and as the number of people in unions falls, so does the standard of living, wages and benefits.

“During the past eight years, labor unions and the American worker has been under attack,” Lewinski said. “These are difficult times for labor and workers, but that will pass.”

The event has special meaning for Dingell. His father- who served the same district as his son for 22 years - was fired from a job in 1914 for union activities, and in later years, his father and Phillip Murray were friends. The senior Congressman John Dingell helped enact the Wagner Act, also known as the National Labor Relations Act, in 1935 that allowed labor unions to engage in collective bargaining for the first time.

“That was labor’s Magna Carta that allowed workers to bargain for fair wages and conditions for the first time,” he said.” If it were not for Labor, we would not have the things that make life worth living.”

Cherry was the keynote speaker, and he said education is the key to economic growth. Cherry chaired the Commission on Higher Education & Economic in 2004, and he said education and the assault on labor is a contributing factor to wage stagnation and an increasing cost of living. Cherry evoked the memory and words of former UAW President Walter Reuther who spoke about the economic benefits of a good education when Reuther dedicated the building in 1953.

“One third of all people reside in households that earn less than their parents did,” Cherry said. “This is nothing less than a tragedy, and Walter Reuther saw it coming.”

Cherry called out Senate Republicans who eliminate the Michigan Promise Scholarship that would have enabled thousands of Michigan students to afford college.

“The Senate voted to eliminate it and slam the door on those who want to better themselves and improve the economy and stay in Michigan,” he said.

(Photo courtesy of Graham Davis)

No comments: