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Despite major setbacks, 'The Dream Continues' at Detroit Labor Day parade

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

 Machinists, teachers, police were among the many unionized workers to hit the streets of downtown Detroit Monday morning.

The city’s annual Labor Day parade draws thousands of union members from across southeast Michigan each year.

It’s typically a time for union workers to flex some muscle. But this year’s parade was as much about re-grouping after a year of setbacks.

In the blink of an eye, right-to-work became the law of the land in Michigan last December. With Detroit’s bankruptcy, public sector unions here are increasingly sidelined, and retirees will face pension cuts if emergency manager Kevyn Orr has his way in court.

The national picture isn’t much better. Many workers continue to flounder in a tight job market, and the middle class misses out on most new economic growth.

Marchers at this year’s Detroit Labor Day parade were well aware of that reality. But many sounded a hopeful note, anyway.

“We have taken some blows. But I think we are resilient enough, because we are the labor movement, and so we are used to the fight,” said Christopher Ulmer, President of the American Postal Workers in Detroit.

The theme of this year’s march was also upbeat: “The Dream Continues: Jobs, Justice, and Peace.” It honored Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., on the 50th anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech, and highlighted thehistorical links between the labor and civil rights movements.

Detroit’s Labor Day parade also draws politicians, almost always Democrats. This year, they included former Michigan Congressman and candidate for Governor Mark Schauer.

Schauer said organized labor built the middle class in Michigan—but insisted Governor Snyder’s policies are undermining both.

“Wages are falling, the middle class is shrinking, poverty is rising,” Schauer said. “Snyder’s policies aren’t working. It’s time for a change.”

Needless to say, Snyder disagrees. “Today we stand together stronger than we have in a decade. More Michigan residents are working and earning more, businesses and farms are producing and exporting more, and our state’s population and economy continue to grow,” the Governor said in a statement observing Labor Day.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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