Ellison talks labor, politics

The Democratic congressman spent Labor Day with Teamsters and senior citizens.

Alyssa Kroeten

On a warm Labor Day, a mixture of middle-aged workers, parents and politically active senior citizens gathered to picnic with Congressman Keith Ellison, who says advocacy for the working class and labor movement are a part of his core beliefs.

Hosted by Keith Ellison for U.S. Congress, the Labor Day picnic at Boom Island Park in Minneapolis focused on support of laborers, with the Teamsters Local 120 16-wheeled truck parked near the picnic shelter, which had “Support U of M Workers” signs taped along its walls.

The congressman’s backing of laborers and his push to increase minimum wage reflect what he anticipates is a coming change for the working class.

“I believe we are at the point in the American labor movement where we are very ready for a very strong and persistent upsurge,” the Minnesota democrat said.

The impending American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union strike at the University took center stage at the picnic.

While he is supportive of University workers, unionized workers and University officials need to continue negotiations, Ellison said.

“Labor and management need to stay at the table to avert a strike, or if there has to be (a strike), to make it as short as possible,” he said. “We need a labor-management partnership working together, and that means mutual respect.”

Concerns about the strike’s possible negative impact on University operations increase the pressure for the issue to be resolved quickly, Ellison said. “We can’t afford a long strike. That means management is going to have to be open and reasonable.”

German studies junior Ashley Mansk said Minnesota’s politicians could help ease the tension between labor and management by acting as a sort of moderator.

“(Politicians) should be there to make sure things are fair,” she said.

The strength of the labor movement and support of what it stands for is something our country needs to embrace, Ellison said.

“A strong working-class movement means a strong middle-class society,” he said.

Ellison also spoke about the political aspects of large-scale disasters. He cited the “politics of selfishness” as the cause of political disasters after national disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

“We’ve seen the politics of ‘you’re on your own,’ ” he said. “Those politics Ö resulted in our bridge collapse.”

Some at the picnic said they believe the holiday’s original purpose has diminished.

Faith Kidder, a 52-year-old pediatric nurse practitioner at a Spanish-speaking medical facility, said the meaning of Labor Day is confusing.

“Labor Day is not for laborers, it is for the elite,” she said.

Phyllis Stenerson said the labor movement’s vision is more distant.

“Organized labor came about to get a fair share for workers,” she said. “Workers have to get (that) back.”

Ellison said he believes it only takes character and the collective voices of society to achieve a strong working class.

“If you demand it, people will flock to it,” he said. “(We will) be projecting a vision that includes everybody, where everybody counts and everybody matters.”