Labor Day without a picnic

By Catherine Conlan
We’ve already lost so much this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, no matter who you are, what your work is or what you do for fun. It’s hard not to think of the “might-have-beens” as summer ends and we have to collectively address the issues of going back to school, going back inside, and dealing with an as-yet uncontrolled pandemic as flu season ramps up.
It was clear before the summer started, though, that the Central Labor Body’s annual Labor Day picnic was likely to be a casualty of the pandemic. Even before we had social distancing guidelines, the idea of a large group gathering just didn’t seem like a great idea (witness the numbers coming out of the Sturgis rally).
And like all the cancellations we’ve weathered over the past few months, no matter the scale or perceived importance, it’s hard. It’s really hard. The Labor Day picnic not only serves as the end of summer for Duluth, Cloquet and the Iron Range, it’s a chance for every member of organized Labor to take a day and celebrate the gains made throughout history.
More pragmatically, Labor Day events also serve as the major kickoff for election season. Every Labor Day event in northern Minnesota is a can’t-miss for any candidate hoping to at least get considered by Labor in their race. Has any politician really taken their campaign seriously if they haven’t sung in front of the crowd on the Labor Day stage in Duluth?
Even though the primary is barely in our rear-view mirror, and even though we won’t have the free beer and the drenched-in-butter roasting ears, it’s time to focus on the election. No matter the race or issue, it’s time to find time for the phone- and text-banking and, later, Get Out The Vote efforts that Labor excels at.
It’s easy to take that strength for granted. Every few years, it seems, we get a quick and dirty reminder of what happens when we don’t organize behind the campaigns that can do us the most good.
This year, campaigning and supporting campaigns is going to be harder than in any election of the modern era. The tactics Labor excels at — direct person-to-person discussions, door-knocking, even workplace conversations — are going to be hampered by social distancing recommendations, whether at work, out in public or even with our friends. As always, we need to be ready and willing to do the work for the candidates Labor endorses, whatever that might look like in these times.
It’s hard to know what Labor Day 2021 might look like. A lot of it, of course, will depend on what Election Day 2020 looks like — and that depends on you getting your ballot counted. While the drastic and disruptive changes in the U.S. Postal Service seem to have been put on hold (for now), it’s never too early to vote early absentee or request a mail-in ballot.
It’s important to understand, as well, that no matter who wins in November, change will not happen overnight, and there’s no going “back” to “normal.” There’s only forward movement, and whether it’s movement toward a better world for everyone or only a few starts with who wins the election.
In the meantime, grill up some corn-on-the-cob on your own, pour yourself a cold Union-made beverage, and sing a round of “Solidarity Forever” with your socially distanced friends and neighbors. Labor Day will endure.

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