Chicago Labor Day parade returns for 1st time since pandemic to celebrate workers

Hundreds of onlookers lined Ewing Avenue Saturday in the East Side neighborhood to watch Saturday’s parade.

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Paradegoers hold signs reading, “Yes for workers rights!” as they march Saturday in the Chicago Labor Day Parade.

Paradegoers hold signs reading, “Yes for workers rights!” as they march Saturday in the Chicago Labor Day Parade.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Ralph Chaplin’s 1915 union anthem, “Solidarity Forever,” blared from a pair of loudspeakers riding in the back of a black pickup truck Saturday afternoon as the Chicago Labor Day parade returned to the Far South Side for the first time in two years.

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“People think of this just as a holiday, but it’s built out of the blood, sweat and tears of workers in this city,” said Don Villar, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, which helped organize the parade. “Labor Day happens because of what happened just a couple miles from here.”

Villar was referring to the 1894 Pullman Strikes that led to the creation of the holiday, as well as the Memorial Day Massacre — when 10 people were killed and more than 100 injured by Chicago police officers at a steel worker strike in 1937.

Vendors watch Saturday during the Chicago Labor Day Parade parade.

Vendors watch Saturday during the Chicago Labor Day parade.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Because of the city’s deep history of workers fighting for their rights and better pay, Villar said he considers Chicago the “hometown” of the American labor movement.

The spirit of the holiday was embodied Saturday by the parade’s leader, 104-year-old Bea Lumpkin, who was named this year’s grand marshal.

Lumpkin started organizing unions when she was a teenager in New York but eventually moved to Chicago, became a Chicago Public Schools teacher and later a tenured professor at Malcolm X College.

Bea Lumpkin, 104, this year’s grand marshal of the Chicago Labor Day Parade, waves Saturday as she rides south on Ewing Avenue in the East Side neighborhood.

Bea Lumpkin, 104, this year’s grand marshal of the Chicago Labor Day parade, waves Saturday as she rides south on Ewing Avenue in the East Side neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Following the centenarian were laborers from a wide variety of fields — baristas, bricklayers, ironworkers and carpenters all marched along the 1.3-mile route.

Emily Alaimo, a barista and member of Starbucks Workers United, said it was validating to be “with fellow workers” in the parade, adding her job doesn’t fall under “traditionally” unionized occupations.

The coffee chain’s Chicago stores have seen an uptick of unionizations in recent months, with seven of 10 stores voting to unionize.

Starbucks shift supervisor J. Alan marches along Ewing Avenue in the East Side neighborhood on Saturday during the Chicago Labor Day Parade.

Starbucks shift supervisor J. Alan marches along Ewing Avenue in the East Side neighborhood on Saturday during the Chicago Labor Day parade.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Other residents echoed her sentiment as they watched along the route.

“Any job is a job,” said Paulina Salazar, a lifelong resident of the East Side. “What you put into your community is really what matters. To be able to celebrate everyone, no matter where they work, is a beautiful thing to me.”

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