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A Labor Day Carol

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Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

If Charles Dickens were to write a Labor Day version of “A Christmas Carol,” he would have found all the prerequisite ghosts marching with the faithful in Pittsburgh's Labor Day Parade last Monday.

Nearly 50,000 unionists and supporters gathered in the Lower Hill and made their way through Downtown, carrying the banners and wearing the colors of their locals, keeping all the old traditions.

Moms and dads marched with the kids, teaching them about community and loyalty and solidarity, introducing them to co-workers so they could finally match faces to the names they heard around the dinner table.

There were politicians and glad-handers and lots of hot coffee before and cold beer after.

The ghost of Labor Day Past, always a welcome visitor, keeps all those old traditions alive.

The ghost of Labor Day Present was also there, marking a break with society's past. Members of the Delta Foundation, representing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community marched at the invitation of the Service Employees International Union Local 16.

As one veteran labor leader said, “Our children and grandchildren don't put up with those old prejudices, and we don't either.”

On its website, Delta praised the union for “fighting for equality and ensuring that all working people can live with dignity.” It is surely a new day.

And Dickens would have found his Scrooge here as he considered the ghost of Labor Day Future, a future in which the robber barons of old are replaced with a slicker breed of big bosses, their avarice hidden just beneath a veneer of supposed charitable intent.

Hundreds of marchers protested against UPMC, a taxpayer-subsidized health care giant that pays its executives millions and coddles them like sultans with private jets and gourmet dining while tearing down a hospital in Braddock that served the poor because it was not profitable.

Support for the efforts of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania to organize service workers at UPMC cut across all the unions that marched on Monday, with many workers carrying signs that set the theme, demanding that “UPMC Stop Bullying Pittsburgh.”

When our beloved nuns ran the hospitals and schools for no salaries at all, folks willingly worked for very little, donating their own labor to the community. The corporate titans that now reign are devoted to themselves and average workers are fighting for a better deal. That will keep the ghost of Labor Day Future busy for a while.

Dickens knew how to conjure up a good ending. In “A Christmas Carol,” miserly Scrooge found redemption and the morality tale ended on notes of hope, love and generosity.

We should be so lucky.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill. E-mail him at:

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