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Harry's Gang: We deserve a Labor Day here

One of the best experiences I had running for office last year was traveling throughout Carlton County, meeting people in their homes and discussing politics. It’s true that a few people were annoyed by a stranger knocking on their door, unannounced, canvassing for votes, but a surprising number of people in our community were welcoming and accepting, even when they didn’t share my political leanings.

But even more enlightening was seeing how well we live, overall, in Carlton County. No doubt we are solidly working class. There’s a small number of the well off and some poverty, but from my observations, most of us live in decent housing, decent transportation, and live on decent roads leading to good schools and community amenities. It’s the American dream.

And the reason for our success? We live in a community that values labor. By far, a number of people I talked to last campaign season benefitted from the strong wages and benefits offered by Carlton County’s major employers, and the spin-off from that economic effect has on our area. Between Sappi, USG, the trades, government, and the Band, we have a pretty healthy standard of living in Carlton County.

I’ve been to other rural areas that don’t place such a high importance on the people who work in the factories and mines. Places like rural Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virgina jump out to me. They are places I’ve visited and returned to, getting to know some people and their communities. I’ve noticed that there’s a real disconnect between social groups there, too. For example, only certain people are allowed to join the country club in one community I frequent. There’s a membership committee that arbitrarily decides who can get in and who can’t, and the purpose seems to be to keep the lower-wage workers from mingling with the big shots. Here, just about anyone can join the Cloquet Country Club, as long as you’re able to pay the dues and follow the rules on the golf course.

That attitude has a direct link from the relatively recent influx of immigrants to this area, I believe. It wasn’t too long ago that the only inhabitants of the area were Native Americans; but just a few generations ago or so, we started to fill up with immigrants from Scandinavian, Baltic, and other countries, bringing people eager to make a better life for their families.

Over time, the workers united, and demanded better living conditions, safer work environments, and higher pay. Eventually, through the power of teamwork, workers’ lives got better and better. The standard of living got better and better, too, and our ancestors built roads, churches, infrastructure, and communities across our county.

When there’s a strong labor force, better education isn’t far behind. Most parents, I believe, want their own children to live (at least) a slightly better life than they do; it’s natural. Early settlers in our area were no exception, and they did something about it, building and funding public schools to educate their children. It didn’t hurt the local business climate, either, as more and more of the children were able to stay in town and raise their own families here.

These are the thoughts I have as Labor Day approaches, and we parade through downtown Cloquet showing off all that our unions have done for the good of our community. I’ll be in the front vehicle, an honor I never imagined I would earn. I’ve always been supportive of union activity, for a variety of reasons. But my views became cemented after my campaign last year. Seeing firsthand the effect of strong labor and the effect that workers banding together has had in Carlton County has convinced me that we must continue to support and appreciate all that labor has done for us. For me, I’ll be cheering their work from the front row.

Pete Radosevich is the publisher of the Pine Knot News community newspaper and an attorney in Esko who hosts the cable access talk show Harry’s Gang on CAT-7. His opinions are his own. Contact him at Pete.Radosevich @PineKnotNews.com.