Labor supporters honor holiday in Detroit

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — It’s a Labor Day tradition in the city most responsible for the holiday — union members, politicians and those who support them marched together Monday in Detroit to honor organized labor’s contributions.

Former President Bill Clinton is participating in the long march

It’s a tradition Congressman Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, has taken part in as long as he can remember, a streak unbroken decades later.

Greeting the members of several local labor unions as he walked north on Trumbull, Levin said the day is not only a celebration of the labor movement, but its contribution to building the American middle class.

Labor is “on the rebound,” Levin says, with the 2016 election looming. Labor Day is also the unofficial start of the presidential general election season. That’s part of the reason why former President Bill Clinton is participating in the long march. His wife, Hillary Clinton, is the Democratic nominee for president in the November election.

Asked about Detroit, Bill Clinton said, “I love it.”

“If we don’t stick together, we’ll get stuck,” Levin said on a day that stresses solidarity.

Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer joined Levin, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in welcoming Clinton to Detroit and walking the parade route.

Union members and many other Americans may get Labor Day off, but many spent the start of the day marching and rallying.

Scott Mooney, 61, and Rick Hofsess, 63, both of Brighton, might be neighbors, but that doesn’t bridge their politics.

The two men ran into each other at the parade in which Mooney walks and to which Hofsess makes an annual trip to watch. Both agree having political leaders Americans can trust is important.

Hofsess, a Trump supporter who wore a National Rifle Association hat, said he’s “never heard a truthful word come out of (Hillary’s) mouth.”

Mooney, a retiree from UAW Local 900 who wore a white shirt representing UAW Local 600, said of Trump: “I can’t believe him; every other day he seems to change his story.” Mooney said he was a Bernie supporter in the presidential primaries but now believes it’s important that Clinton be elected president.

Ironworkers Local 25 march on Michigan Ave. during the Labor Day parade.

“If we don’t support (her), where are we going to go,” he asked.

As Levin continued north, a man and a woman approached him: “We need you to oppose the TPP,” the man said, referring to the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement unions have opposed vocally.

Jane Slaughter, 67, referred to the trade agreement as the North American Free Trade Agreement “on steroids” and handed out fliers about a Sept. 13 event at the Detroit Public Library during which Ian Robinson, a University of Michigan professor, is expected to lay out its dangers.

If Slaughter gets to meet President Clinton, who signed NAFTA, she says she’ll tell him “thanks a lot” and would detail the damage she believes the agreement contributed to, including the decline in industrial jobs, as factories move to Mexico, where the workforce is cheaper than in America.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t have Slaughter’s vote — “she claims to oppose the TPP but I don’t believe her; she’s supported things like this all her life” — but Donald Trump, who has opposed free trade, doesn’t have a chance at getting her vote, either.

“Nothing Donald Trump says could allure me,” Slaughter, a retiree who was active in Labor For Bernie, said. “He’s just trying to build a base. Even if I agreed with him on trade, that leaves everything else.”

If Mooney had the chance to talk to Clinton about NAFTA’s effects, he’d tell him that “it has not been a good thing for our working class.”

“There was a time when you could work and have a little money left in the bank,” Mooney continued. “Now everything goes directly to bills,” something he attributes to jobs going overseas.

“I wish we could change it back” to the days before NAFTA, Mooney said. He compared that trade agreement to right-to-work legislation in Michigan, which allows workers in union shops to opt out of paying for membership but still be covered by their unions.

“All these jobs it was supposed to create, where are they? It’s rigged.” Mooney said.

For Daniel Troutt, 37, support for Trump does not come from reluctance, but hope. He walked the parade in solidarity with his union, not because he wants to see the Democratic candidate elected president.

“If he could (have success) for himself, making millions and billions as a businessman, why not have him run the biggest business of all, our country?” said Troutt, a member of Roofers Local 149.

Staff Writer Leonard N. Fleming contributed.