Local 46 Member, Roger Clarke and Family
By Bill Hohlfeld
Sunday, September 12, 2010
September 11 was crisp and clear this past Saturday, as if even the weather had made a point of cooperating in the commemoration of what was surely one of the saddest days in the lives of all Americans, New Yorkers in particular. Falling as it did, on the Saturday after Labor Day, the day was doubly fraught with meaning for the city’s working class.
Hundreds turned out to hear Archbishop Timothy Dolan say mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Dozens of flags of New York local unions and district councils were proudly displayed in the front of the grand old church while the members they represented filled the pews. The rank and file sat side by side with their business agents and business managers, and the front pews were filled with politicians both union and public, with New York City Comptroller John Liu sharing space with retired AFL CIO president, John Sweeney, New York State AFL CIO president Denis Hughes, and New York City Central Labor Council president, Jack Ahern.
The readings at the mass, while of course Christian, did not lack a fitting nod to organized labor. First, St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians referred to “one body, one loaf,” which served as an obvious reminder that it is in solidarity that we all manage to come to the table to eat. The gospel too, spoke of “good trees bearing good fruit” and the fate of “houses built on bad foundations,” driving home to many that it is only by our just actions that we can produce a truly just society, and only on a strong foundation can the house of labor expect to continue standing.
The Archbishop then took the podium, and while admitting his pride in the fact that so much of the labor done on the cathedral was done by members of his church, he also made a point of acknowledging and welcoming those non-Catholics who joined the ceremony. With great respect, he underscored the fact that the magnificent building in which we all sat had been built by “the salt of America,” and “financed by the pennies of immigrants.” It was workers of the labor unions, irrespective of their faith, he went on to say, that understood that a great transformation must take place. That transformation is the one that takes us “from I and Me to Us and We.”
His Excellency also spoke of Pope John Paul II (who had literally worked in salt mines) and his 1979 trip to Poland. It was there that 18 million people came together to see John Paul, and not coincidentally, Lech Walesa’s solidarity movement was born, which eventually brought human rights and democracy to millions. Dolan went on to claim that God must favor such solidarity, because solidarity is not about selfishness, but about changing the world for the better.
The prayers of petition that followed were equally appropriate. The church resonated with the sound of voices, each one asking his or her God to bless the labor movement, help the unemployed, bless politicians with the wisdom and willingness to improve economic conditions with their legislation, and, of course, grant peace to the survivors and mourners of 9/11.
The exit procession was long and slow, with Archbishop Dolan stopping frequently to shake hands or have his photo taken. Much to his credit, he did so with no regard to the station of the people who stopped him to chat. His smile was winning. His manner was easy, and his gait unhurried. He tried his best to embrace the workers of New York.
Sadly, outside St. Patrick’s, not receiving nearly as much attention as the politicians, clergy or bagpiper’s, there stood another small group. Some held signs; some distributed leaflets citing their grievances. They were from the Catholic School Teacher’s Union and had less than good things to say about how the archdiocese metes out economic justice to them. It was a grim reminder that lest we get too caught up in the emotions of the moment, within the labor movement there is always more work to be done.