In 1988 Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers leader, protested the poisonous effects of pesticides on grape farmers and their children by staging a 36-day fast. In solidarity with Chavez and the boycott of California table grapes, Twin Cities union members and elected officials launched a series of three-day fasts that fall.
Fasters included U.S. Rep. Bruce Vento of St. Paul, as well as state lawmakers Andy Dawkins and Karen Clark and St. Paul City Council Member Bill Wilson.
At a press conference announcing the fasts, participants pointed to a study showing more than 300,000 farm workers were affected by pesticides every year.
Elected officials at the news conference pledged to take political action in addition to fasting. The Minnesota-based Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture said it would seek state legislation to require country-of-origin labeling on imported food to identify countries that allow the use of pesticides that are banned or restricted in the U.S.
Chavez had concluded his fast Aug. 21, after losing 33 pounds and growing too weak to stand. “But his effort launched a renewed commitment to the four-year old grape boycott,” according to The Advocate.
[The Union Advocate’s “This Month in the Archives” feature offers a look back at what the newspaper was reporting from 5 to 100 years ago. Our digital archives are online, searchable and free to anyone. Click here for access.]
100 Years Ago: 6,000 marched on Labor Day
The Union Advocate, in its Sept. 4, 1913 edition, breathlessly described the 1913 Labor Day parade in St. Paul. At least 6,000 “faithful and enthusiastic adherents of the trade union movement” joined the parade that “thrilled and delighted the many thousands of spectators on the sidewalks along the route.”
Participants included Gov. Adolph Eberhart, St. Paul Mayor Herbert Keller and George E. Lennon, president of the St. Paul Base Ball and Amusement club, who “properly represented the sporting element in the community.”
The Advocate painted a lush, vivid picture of solidarity:
“Bright banners in many colors and rich in decorations vied with one another in friendly rivalry for spectacular effects. Tasteful uniforms of numerous designs, intermingling light and shade in harmonious blending and striking in their significance, gave pleasing variety to the dignified procession, and great bands of music at suitable intervals made hearts quiver and pulses quicken throughout the vast multitude that was at hand to see the stern hosts of organized labor out on dress parade.”
75 Years Ago: Retail organizing
In June more than 100 workers at Walmart stores nationwide went on strike to protest the retailer’s unfair labor practices – a courageous step forward at the most notoriously anti-union workplace in the nation.
Union organizing in retail workplaces got its start in St. Paul 75 years ago, when the Retail Clerks Protective Association Local 2 signed its first closed-shop agreement. The pact with U.S. Mail Order Company covered three downtown storefronts.
The company, according to the Sept. 29, 1938 Union Advocate, sold men’s work wear, sportswear and children’s apparel to the “working classes.”
“The new pact provides substantial wage increases, a 42-hour week, vacations and sick leaves on full pay, time and a half for all overtime, 20 percent discount on all items purchased by employees, full seniority rights and recognizes six legal holidays and three religious holidays,” The Advocate reported.
50 Years Ago: McCarthy addressed labor convention
In a speech delivered at the 1963 Minnesota AFL-CIO Convention, Sen. Eugene McCarthy lauded the labor movement’s “enlightened and constructive response to stubborn public problems of concern to all citizens,” and challenged labor “to continue to respond to the new challenges of today and tomorrow.”
McCarthy, who was serving the first of two terms in the U.S. Senate, gained nationwide prominence when he challenged President Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 Democratic primary. McCarthy was a progressive and an opponent of the war in Vietnam.
In his 1963 address to state AFL-CIO delegates, McCarthy urged cooperation between labor and management to solve the issues of the day, from increased automation to public education. McCarthy called it an “accommodation of interests” between labor and management.
“The major problems which face us in the ‘sixties – unused productive capacity, structural unemployment, increasing competition from other counties of the world – are problems which don’t set Labor and management against each other, but which must be met jointly,” McCarthy said.
10 Years Ago: Trumka in St. Paul for Labor Day
Ten years ago, however, Trumka spent the first Monday of September in St. Paul, headlining Labor Day Extravaganza 2003. Trumka’s remarks to the 3,000 people gathered on Harriet Island focused on the need to unseat first-term President George W. Bush, The Union Advocate reported in its Sept. 11 edition.
“This is the day … when we rededicate ourselves to taking back control of our government, taking back control of our workplaces and taking back control of our country,” Trumka said, calling Bush “the most anti-union, anti-worker, anti-family president this nation has ever seen.”
Although the 2004 election was more than a year away, Trumka promised unprecedented efforts in Minnesota and 15 other states to register, educate and mobilize union members and allies.