Celebration of working class is consistently morphing

An Opinion And Photos By Brad Molnar
Thursday, September 6, 2018
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Sen. Jon Tester made a stop at Monday’s Labor Day Picnic at Rose Park in Billings before he headed on to Three Forks to support locked out workers at Imerys Talc America.

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As he has for many years Jim Southworth, of Laurel, and his band provided music for the Labor Day event.

In the late 1880s, modern day unionization was given a boost when the Pullman Palace Car Company lowered wages and raised rents in the company town. The strike was joined by “wildcatters.” Like many union protests at the time the Pullman protest ended in live fire from authorities.

At the time unions were of- ten tied to socialism and societal change brought about by European immigrants wanting to implement their culture in America. The press often referred to the participants as Anarchists.

The Anarchists cowed Breaking up their Chicago haunts “Forced To Seek Hiding Places-The Disorderly Element Thoroughly Frightened-The Strikers

Chicago May 7th. The war is over unless all indications are out of joint. The Anarchist has sought his hole and is burrow- ing as deep as fear and the po- lice will allow him. His bragga- docio is a thing of the past, and when he comes within sight of

a blue coat he no longer looks ferocious and shakes his fist: he has an attack of ague and slinks out of sight like a whipped hound. The police enjoy the sit- uation. They feel that the public is on their side, and handle their clubs with a vim they lacked a week ago. Woe to the anar- chist that forms the nucleus of a crowd.”

The above is the partial story ran May 8th, 1886 in the New York Times. June 28th, 1894 President Cleveland signed the proclamation creating Labor Day as a national holiday.

For many Labor Day is just another three day weekend, an opportunity for a quick family vacation centering on camping, fishing, and barbecue. In Billings hundreds of union families gathered at Rose Park for ham- burgers and hot dogs served by Democrat office holders and candidates. All paths into the picnic area were lined with polit- ical yard signs of Democrat can- didates signs or physical -, pres ence of Republican candidates were not to be found. The perennial presence of Jim Southworth and his band providing bluegrass music thinly drifted above the crowd. Gone also were TV cam- eras to catch the fiery speeches of a few years ago.

Your intrepid and fearless reporter attended, not only because he is a dues paying mem- ber of Local 1686 and therefore entitled to a free hamburger, but also to cover speeches opposing the confirmation of Brett Kava- naugh to the Supreme Court. But alas.

The highest profile speaker was Senator Jon Tester. Tester never mentioned an issue other than the election will be here in seven weeks. He thanked mem- bers for their past support and that he would appreciate more of the same. I put away my blank notebook and followed Tester. When there was a break in the line of people wanting to offer encouragement and ask for selfies I asked Jon to prod his staff to accept an invitation for a debate sponsored by the Laurel Outlook. He replied, “I would like to but Senate Mitch O’Connell is keeping the Senate in session. It is tough for me to campaign in Montana. I’ll see what I can do.” Then we just chatted. When Jon was the Montana Senate Presi- dent I was the Vice Chairman of

the Public Service Commission so we interacted on energy bills. We remain cordial. Jon looked tired.

Congressional candidate

Kathleen Williams was at the

union lockout near Three Forks, so did not attend the Billings celebration. Sen. Tester joined her to support the shut-out workers later that evening. Judicial candidate Colette Davies spoke but her conservative opponent Thomas Pardy was a no show.

Mary McNally (D) Billings drew crowd reaction with, “My

opponent is a sure vote for Right

to Work legislation (right to work without compulsory union membership).” Decades ago the Supreme Court struck down compulsory membership as a

condition of employment but the debate is still a bogey-man for both sides. Tom McGillvary (R), McNally’s opponent responded in a phone interview, “I have never made a statement, or taken a position on RTW. I have never been endorsed by the Right to Work organization. I do not expect right to work legislation this session nor would I vote for it if it were introduced”.

When I asked if Rosendale or Gianforte were present at the picnic everyone laughed.

Like any long struggle both sides of the question on the appropriateness of unionism, and the laws that it spawned, have plenty of warts. But one fact is clear; unionism in America has led to the largest and most vibrant middle class in the history of the world.


Do you go out to any of the Christmas to Remember events on the first Sunday of December in Laurel?

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