Scores of people might have been celebrating Labor Day with barbecue, trips to the beach or relaxing at home, but about 200 sweltered in the heat downtown to remember and march for what the holiday memorializes: worker rights.
And this year’s holiday – the first under President Donald Trump’s administration – should have organized labor spurring to action, union leaders said.
“This is the most anti-union administration I’ve ever seen. In 60 years, I’ve never seen an administration so focused on undermining gains,” said Eliseo Medina, a former SEIU international secretary and treasurer who hails from Delano and delivered the keynote speech Monday.
Medina highlighted a disappearing middle class built on the backs of organized labor, falling wages and rising corporate profits, more frequent attack of unions, pensions and a fading of the American Dream.
“We have a very difficult challenge ahead of us,” Medina said. “We acknowledge we have a real problem, and it’s not just a labor problem – it’s an American problem. If [Trump] succeeds in his agenda, the impact of working people is going to be huge and negative.”
Community leaders pointed to Trump’s hardline stance on immigration as an example of how it could detriment labor locally. Thousands of migrant workers are employed in agricultural fields across the county to supply food to the world.
“This is a majority Latino county that relies overwhelmingly on immigrant labor,” Gonzalo Santos, a professor of sociology at Cal State Bakersfield said, adding that anything that could reduce such labor would harm the community.
The solution, Santos said, is direct collective action, civil disobedience and peaceful protest. It means resisting the directives that aren’t agreed with.
“But collectively,” Santos said. “If we have numbers, we have power.”
At the downtown march, hundreds of SEIU supporters and members gathered with noisemakers, horns and makeshift drums fashioned from orange buckets.
“Get loud,” they shouted at the courthouse Liberty Bell, across the street from the Bank of America building, which was owned by the late Milton Younger, whom many paid homage to Monday.
A champion for “the little guy,” and often referred to as the “godfather” of the local democratic party, Younger was the first attorney in town to offer his services to struggling farmworkers of the 1960s, said Laurie Huerta, daughter of labor rights pioneer Dolores Huerta.
“Back in 1965 when the farmworkers were on strike, Milt Younger was the first attorney to come to us and offer his assistance,” Huerta said. “He’s going to be missed.”
Others praised Younger for his involvement with the labor council and the work he did for the democratic party. He even donated an office space in his building for the democratic party to set up for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said Bernice Bonillas, a local community advocate.
She recalled during the campaign that Younger would stroll in each day to check on political happenings. Bonillas would always make sure he had a cold drink, that his favorite station, MSNBC, was on the television, and that his desk was dusted, she said.
But despite Younger’s dedication to the democratic party, some said Younger cared more about just doing the “right thing,” rather than the right political thing.
“He was good for the democratic party, but at times, he didn’t care if you were a democrat or republican,” said Ron James, a labor leader who spoke at Monday. “He just wanted what was best for the job. He was for the working people.”