The Western Kentucky Worker

Official newsletter of the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO

Prepared by Berry Craig, KEA-NEA and AFT Local 6038

Volume 5, Number 10, October, 2004

Labor floodwall mural dedicated in ceremony

More than a century of local labor history is painted on the Paducah floodwall.
“Union labor built a lot of Paducah , including this floodwall," said Jeff Wiggins, Area Council president and member of Steelworkers Local 9447-5. "It's appropriate that our history is now here for everybody to see."

Unions are the subject of a new mural on the concrete high water barrier that is decorated with scenes of Paducah history. The artwork highlights the city's Labor Day Parade, one of the country's oldest such processions. The floodwall mural depicts a parade from the 1970s. Union members are marching with a banner emblazoned with "SOLIDARITY," the old union byword, and the Area Council emblem.

"The artist worked the faces of several of our old-time union leaders into the painting," Wiggins said. W.C. Young, a national labor and civil rights leader from Paducah , appears just above the letter "T" on the banner.

Carol Young, Young's widow, attended the unveiling of the mural during the Labor Day weekend. B.J. Bond and George Wiggins, whose faces also are painted on the floodwall, were at the festivities, as were family members of other mural subjects, some of whom are deceased.

Bill Londridgan, Kentucky State AFL-CIO president, and several labor-endorsed candidates spoke to the crowd of about 50 people. “We ask that this mural be an inspiration not only to those who came before and did so much to make this a successful labor movement, but also to the younger folks who will come up and take their place,” he said.

Herb Roe, the artist who painted the mural, said he was pro-labor. “My grandfather was in the union and operated a crane on the docks in Ohio where I grew up,” he said.

Robert Coleman, who is seeking another term on the Paducah city commission, reminded the crowd that he has been a union member for 49 years. Young was his cousin.

“Why did we have to have unions?” Coleman asked. “It was because of horrendous conditions people had to work under -- sweatshops seven days a week, no benefits, firing at will, low wages, inhumane conditions.”

State Rep. J.R. Gray, D-Benton, said he joined the Steelworkers in East Chicago , Ind. , 48 years ago. He came home, became a Machinists' union leader and got elected to the state legislature.

Gray is chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee. “I've lost track of how many times I've had the honor of killing right-to-work bills and bills designed to absolutely devastate the prevailing wage law and bills designed to put further limitations on what you can do with union dollars that are paid in the form of dues so you can help elect people to office who will uphold your ideas and goals.”

State Rep. Fred Nesler of Mayfield, another Democrat and longtime lawmaker, thanked local unions for backing him. “Every time I have run for office, the men and women of the labor movement have helped me, and I appreciate that.”

State Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton, called union families “my foundation -- the foundation of the Democrats in western Kentucky . You are with us through thick and thin. God bless you for being such a mainstay of the Democratic party.”

State. Rep. Charles Geveden, D-Wickliffe, also said he was grateful for union support. “Without labor unions a lot of people would be working 12 hours a day, six days a week, for a pittance,” he said.

State Sen. Dan Mongiardo, the Democrat challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, came to the unveiling. Mongiardo, from Hazard, said he had been campaigning “from one end of this state to the other. Working people are hurting and the other guy hasn't got a clue. He has a four percent union [voting] rating and I've got a 100 percent.”

Dennis Null, a Mayfield attorney and Democratic state senate candidate, told the crowd, “no one group worked as hard for me as labor when I ran for Congress in 1996. I am honored and privileged to have your endorsement again, and if I am elected to the state senate it will because of you.”

Wiggins urged everybody to vote for union-endorsed candidates, from Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry down. “Without solidarity on Nov. 2, we might not be here in four more years,” he said.

Wiggins said Paducah 's first Labor Day parade was in 1893. " America 's first Labor Day Parade was just 11 years before."

Several unions, union members and others chipped in $12,500 for the 12-by-20-foot panel. Glenn Dowdy, a former Area Council president, led the mural project, according to Wiggins. "This was Glenn's baby," he said. "Without him, it probably wouldn't have happened."

Dowdy said the fund drive began in 2001, after the council approved the project. "You can't tell where you're going if you don't know your own history," he said.

The council's history began in 1892 when it was chartered as the Paducah Central Labor Union. The CLU became the Central Labor Council, then the Area Council. The CLU started as an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor, founded by Samuel Gompers in 1886. The CLU charter hangs in the council hall. The document bears large signatures of Gompers and Peter J. McGuire.

McGuire and Matthew Maguire, who were also labor pioneers, are credited with organizing the country's inaugural Labor Day Parade in New York City in 1882. "We like to think McGuire and Maguire are the great-grandfathers of our Labor Day parade," Wiggins said.

The CLU hosted the first Paducah Labor Day parades. For reasons not clear, the processions stopped after World War II. Dowdy and others organized the Western Kentucky Labor Day Committee, an all-volunteer group, and resurrected the parades in 1975.

Wiggins is vice president of the committee, which sponsors a three-day Labor Day weekend festival. Besides the parade, the program includes barbecue, free entertainment, a flea market and political speaking at Paducah 's Carson Park . Dowdy also was Labor Day Committee president for many years. During part of his tenure, the Paducah parade was the official Kentucky State AFL-CIO Labor Day celebration.

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Willey says thanks to all who helped with Labor Day program

The 2004 Labor Day Parade might have been longest ever. “We had a total of 78 units -- bands, floats and just about everything else,” said Frances Willey. “It was the largest parade in the 10 years I've been involved in this.”

Willey is president of the Western Kentucky Labor Day Committee, the volunteer group that puts on the city's annual end-of-summer holiday festivities. Besides the parade on Broadway, the three-day program features food, entertainment, a flea market and political speaking at Carson Park .

“I want to thank everybody who helped,” Willey said. “Without them, there couldn't be a Labor Day program.”

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Union members voting GOP, chickens voting for the colonel



It is a modest house in a modest neighborhood in Mayfield, where I live.

In the driveway is a vintage Ford Taurus with a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker. A Bush-Cheney sign sprouts in the yard, next to another sign for a Republican running for the state legislature.
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are not men of modest means. They do not dwell in humble abodes or drive old cars. The local candidate for the General Assembly lives in a big house in a posh part of town. His car isn't a clunker either. Even so, the guy with the Republican signs is ready to vote for candidates whose policies are calculated to make the rich richer and keep guys like him living in little houses. “A union member voting Republican is like a chicken voting for Col. Sanders,” read a sign in a Paducah union hall before a presidential election a few years ago. The same could be said for my fellow citizen.

I suspect the guy has been suckered on the social issues. Driving to school the other day, I heard a re-elect Sen. Jim Bunning commercial on the car radio. Bunning is against gay marriage and abortion, especially "partial birth.” The Republican wants to keep "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. I can see why the GOP would rather talk social issues than economic issues. Just after the ad ended, I passed our big Continental-General Tire plant, which is all but closing. Bush will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to finish a term with job losses. Hoover was president when the Depression hit.

Good paying union jobs helped build America 's large middle class. Bush, on the other hand, seems to think a job is a job, whether you work union at a factory or a construction site or flip Big Macs non-union for minimum wage. Or he just doesn't care. Bush earned his money the old-fashioned way: He inherited it. Bush sees no problem with greedy U.S. industrialists moving union plants and shipping production to cheap labor countries while U.S. workers hit the unemployment line. The GOP thinks outsourcing can be good for the economy. Maybe so when hogs fly and kids stop shooting hoops in Kentucky .

Barring gay marriages, stopping abortions and making sure "under God" is still in the Pledge won't create a single job or save a single job. It won't earn anybody a raise, better benefits or safer working conditions. Meanwhile, behind closed doors, Bush and the GOP bigwigs are laughing themselves silly at guys who lives far from Easy Street but are ready to vote Republican on Nov. 2.

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