Thousands ‘take back Labor Day’ at Harriet Island festival


Many of the thousands of young people gathered at Harriet Island Monday probably never heard of folk musician Woody Guthrie or labor organizer Joe Hill, but they cheered when musicians Steve Earle and Tom Morello evoked the memories of these labor icons at the “Take Back Labor Day” Festival.

Thousands also joined in singing “This Land Is Your Land,” the worker’s anthem penned by Guthrie, when led by Morello, also known as “The Nightwatchman” and a member of the group, Rage Against the Machine.

The Take Back Labor Day Festival, organized by the Service Employees International Union, featured hip hop, rap and rock artists including Atmosphere, Mos Def and The Pharcyde, with a dose of politics thrown in.

British rocker Billy Bragg told the crowd that people around the world are waiting for the United States “to lead again” and he urged Americans to vote for change in November.

“I have faith in you,” he told the crowd, many of whom came to the festival after participating in an anti-war march.

In addition to the music, SEIU staffed booths with information on the labor movement and the Employee Free Choice Act, federal legislation that would make it easier for workers to exercise their right to join unions.

The Labor Day festival was held to coincide with the Republican National Convention in downtown St. Paul, SEIU President Andy Stern said in an interview. SEIU also sponsored a rally and concert to highlight the need for affordable, universal health care during the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

“We wanted to inject into the discussion in America – what’s happened to the American worker?” Stern said. “People are falling behind, not getting ahead.”

Whoever is elected in November, SEIU plans to work hard to advance its priorities, which Stern described as “Health care first, health care first and health care first.”