By Catherine Conlan
This edition of the Labor World feels particularly newsy. Workers Memorial Day is one of two big annual Labor holidays, and the AFL-CIO releases its grim but important death on the job injury around this time as well. But throw in Rep. Lislegard’s refinery safety bill headed for Gov. Walz’s desk, another successful Construct Tomorrow event and employees at a local craft distillery organizing, and it’s clear the Northland has been busy in the past couple weeks.
As I was putting the paper together, I was struck by how the stories embodied the statement Joe Hill telegrammed to Big Bill Haywood: “Don't waste any time mourning. Organize!” The shortened version — don’t mourn, organize — is now a classic in the Labor movement in the face of tough odds or temporary defeats, but it quickly becomes clear that in the face of grief, it’s not realistic.
We all react differently to grief, of course. Some of us are comfortable with it, some of us avoid it or deny its existence, and some of us fear it. But no matter how grief has come into our lives, it demands acknowledgment sooner or later. It’s part of being human.
And so we can set aside Joe Hill’s exhortation for a bit and instead deliberately take the on Workers Memorial Day to remember, honor and mourn those who have been killed or had their lives disrupted because of the work they do. This year, the Duluth Central Labor Body remembered Brad Wojtysiak, who was killed in an accident at work in September. His parents, brother and sister-in-law, and a niece honored the ceremony with their presence. We honor and remember Brad.
Just a few days before, there was a flurry of organizing news. Workers at Vikre Distillery in Canal Park signed enough cards to gain recognition if the owners had chosen to do so, but it looks like an NLRB election is just around the corner, in any case. This comes after weeks discussions and debates among each other and deciding to stand up for themselves and their community.
The recent wave of organizing in breweries and distilleries has been a remarkable one. Most importantly, organizing campaigns give companies both the opportunity and the challenge to put their money where their mouths that speak progressive phrases are. The craft brewing and distilling industries are populated with company owners who like to positions themselves as hip, fun members of the community — and in many cases, they are! But when your community says it wants to bargain collectively, listening is a sign of caring.
And regarding the refinery safety bill — legislators were reminded again and again about what happens when companies cut corners on employee training. This month marks five years since the explosion at the Husky Energy Refinery in Superior. The blast injured dozens of people and forced large evacuations. As noted in the article on the front page, federal investigators reported earlier this year that lack of worker training was one of the causes.
I will never forget the care and concern in the halls of the Labor Temple in the hours after the explosion. I saw so much so much strength in the community in that day. And some of that strength was channeled into the after the work of political organizing that resulted in the bill that will make that work safer.
Take time to mourn. Take time to organize. The movement is big enough to do it all.