Thousands At St Paul Labor Day Picnic
by Al Prochaska

This year’s annual AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic in St Paul drew 12,000 people, according to a St Paul Police Dept estimate.

How they knew this was not disclosed. When 10,000 people marched to the State Capitol to protest the Iraq war in October 2002, the police said 2,000 marched. It would seem to be a lot easier to gauge how many people are marching past a fixed point than the total number milling about on a picnic ground.

Still, it was clearly a big crowd, and significantly larger than previous Labor Day gatherings.

The reason for this, presumably, was the appearance of Democratic Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards, accompanied by AFL-CIO president John Sweeney. Warm-up speakers for his appearance included Garrison Keilor of the St Paul-based radio show Prairie Home Companion, and Jim Hightower, the Texas humorist and peripatetic huckster for the Democratic party.

What they all had to say was pretty mild, with very few references to the ongoing war in Iraq and nothing at all suggesting that we should get out of there altogether and bring the troops home how, (or any other time, for that matter) a prospect that probably a great majority of those present were already in favor of.

Edwards, from North Carolina, a smooth and articulate speaker who sounds a lot like Bill Clinton, spoke without notes. He mentioned that his mother was a retired postal worker and that his only brother carried a card in the electricians union. He said he knew what a hard time many working people were having and several times invoked the theme that “Help Is On The Way.” He said that after Kerry and Edwards took office, card check neutrality would be the law of the land. Greedy corporations that go offshore with American jobs wouldn’t get tax breaks anymore, but that patriotic corporations that kept American jobs here, would. He didn’t mention any patriotic corporations by name; perhaps their identities will be revealed in Kerry’s inaugural remarks.

Edwards said that under Kerry-Edwards Americans would not be blocked by the Federal government from getting prescriptions drugs from Canada. He didn’t comment on the anomaly that these drugs are first manufactured in the United States and then exported to Canada, where, as everybody knows, they are available for re-importation at lower prices than in the country of origin.

He said that on the first day in office, Kerry-Edwards would reverse the Bush administration’s current interpretation of the recent amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1940 and that “Americans would get their overtime back.” He didn’t say anything about restoring the original goal of the law, which was limitation of labor to forty hours per week.

There were many social activist groups who had paid a nominal fee to get a table under one the many tents set up on the picnic grounds, and under the liberal policies of the St Paul labor body even the Communist party of Minnesota was permitted to have a table, although there was no visible presence of the Nader campaign anywhere.

In 1903 at this same site 30,000 workers and their families attended a daylong Labor Day festival and heard Archbishop John Ireland introduced by the newly elected African American president the St Paul Trades and Labor Assembly, Charles James, a leader of the Boot and Shoe Workers Union.

The Archbishop reminders his listeners that “Capital is stored labor, the fruit and result of labor.”

The Archbishop suggested that the destruction of the labor guilds in the middle ages had opened the door to the “Hateful individualism commended by Adam Smith and the Lancastrian School of Economy,” reducing the laborer “to a mere clod or a piece of machinery.”

As far as could be determined, no comment, pro or con concerning the Lancastrian School of Economy was heard on the picnic grounds today.