Union members join in solidarity with Detroit Will Breathe activists

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Union members joined with Detroit Will Breathe activists in Corktown on Saturday for a march and a resource fair calling for greater social and economic justice in the city.

The event, "Equality First, Solidarity Works," kicked off at Dean Savage Memorial Park, on the southeast corner of Trumbull and Porter Saturday morning. Protesters with activist group Detroit Will Breathe joined with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 58 for a march around Corktown neighborhoods.

Union members and Detroit Will Breathe activists march in Detroit on Aug. 29, 2020.

Ian and Zach McIlhargey, brothers and members of IBEW Local 58, said they realized they had a large labor presence during the Detroit marches and it was only fitting to form a coalition.

"We are both two white males who are coming from 30 minutes north to work in the city and this is a resource fair to make the unions accessible and represented by the local community," said Ian McIlhargey, from Clinton Township.

"The labor movement is a human rights movement and we are one-in-the-same. We wanted to do something equally actionable."

People participate in the Labor Solidarity March in Detroit on Aug. 29, 2020.

It's essential for more members to join because "ideals have not changed since the March on Washington," Ian McIlhargey said.

"Within unions, an injury to one is an injury to all. We want that to be extended to all of our brothers and sisters to be safe in the streets and want them to be safe in solidarity," he said.

"Rank and file organizers got together after Black Lives Matter marches to discuss bringing our unions into the movement," says Abraham Chakur, a building tradesman involved with the coalition. "We feel that unions are in a position to offer opportunities to city residents and should reflect Detroit's diversity."

Allen Dennard, left, Jae Bass, and Brendan Scorpio, all of Detroit, chant during the Labor Solidarity March in Detroit on Aug. 29, 2020.

"This is co-liberation," Detroit Will Breathe organizer Tristan Taylor told The Detroit News. "Understanding that our struggles are interconnected and that we're interdependent on each other especially, during the pandemic."

It's the same fight. People should be safe on the streets and at work, Taylor said. 

"We wanted a space we could have solidarity while providing education on social issues and making the connection between the two," Taylor said. "Folks within union labor understand the necessity of building a movement around civil rights and challenging inequality. They wanted to make sure they put their money where their mouth was and that's amazing."

The march of 80 people was lead by bikers, a drumline, and a car with a yellow sign reading "Defund the police." The group held signs and chanted "We march for our brothers and our sisters. This is for Detroit, this is for each other."

Afterward, the marchers gathered at the park for a resource fair with networking opportunities and to listen to a panel discussing the relationship between civil rights, women's rights, human rights and the labor movement.

A panel discussion is held by members of organized labor and community activists  after the march in Detroit on Aug. 29, 2020.

Ironworkers, Industrial Workers of the World and Service Employees International Union said the resource fair was intended to "enlighten the community on the ongoing fight for work and social equality," organizers said.

The resource fair offered information on how to apply for local union apprenticeships, access to the Skilled Trades Enrollment Assistance Program, and becoming more involved with local activism. The panel discussion featured speakers from the coalition: STEAP, SEIU (Fight For 15), A. Philip Randolph Institute, IBEW and Detroit Will Breathe.

Detroit Will Breathe has been marching for more than 80 days throughout the city with various groups calling for an end to police brutality. During a protest on Woodward Avenue on Aug. 22, drivers leading the protests had vehicles confiscated by the Detroit Police Department during a slew of arrests. Taylor said the police have refused to return the three vehicles seized and are accruing fees at $700 each day.


Twitter: @SarahRahal_