When it was first proposed more than 130 years ago, Labor Day was envisioned as a day to celebrate “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”
That is still the thrust of the day for many, as evidenced by the estimated 60,000 participants who paraded through the streets of Pittsburgh in Monday’s Labor Day parade — even if the marchers outnumbered the parade-watchers, who had their choice of curbside viewing along the length of the mile-long route.
The spectators were no less enthusiastic for their small numbers.
“Hey kids, those are the guys who drive the food to the grocery store. Go, Teamsters!” Samuel W. Gibson, 37, a day care worker from Homewood-Brushton, said to his sister’s four children, ages 2 to 9. He tried to exhort them to cheer on the various unions, which they did as they stood at Grant Street and the Boulevard of the Allies.
He brought them Downtown to see his daughter march in the Westinghouse High School marching band, catch some of the candy thrown by the unions, and fulfill a family tradition.
“Look, I’m a Pittsburgher and I love parades. My mom brought me. I brought my daughter, and I’m bringing by sister’s kids,” he said. “We love it down here.”
Labor Day celebrations are even more important during tough economic times such as these, said Rick Bloomingdale, statewide president of the AFL-CIO, after he finished taking part in the parade.
“It’s not a picnic out there. People are trying to hold onto their jobs,” he said.
Although he wished the parade had attracted more spectators, he said: “With so many folks unemployed, maybe they’re busy looking for work.”
Even if they didn’t make it to the parade or never held a union card, many of those who ventured Downtown on a gloriously sunny unofficial last day of summer seemed to realize the significance of the day.
“Well, you have to have a job to have a day off from a job, so that’s a good thing,” Eric Edwards, 31, a radiology doctor from Denver, said as he stood in line for pulled pork at the Old Carolina barbecue stand at the Rib Fest at Heinz Field.
He was visiting with his girlfriend, Dania Rudolph, 27, who came home for her sister’s birthday over the weekend, which made the holiday visit “all about family,” she said, “and an extra day off work.”
Paul Hollifield, 29, a software engineer from Morristown, Tenn., made use of his day off to visit his girlfriend in Indiana, Pa..
He was waiting Downtown for a Greyhound bus to head home Monday and lamenting that, although he got to see his girlfriend, for the first time in memory, he wasn’t home watching the Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon for muscular dystrophy on television.
His mother and sister both have the disease and his maternal grandmother died of it, he said, so the telethon “is important to us. Usually, I’m running around the days before making sure everyone donates. But I needed to come out here this year.”
Karen Santoro, 56, a teacher’s aide from West Mifflin, got to meet someone special in her life on Labor Day.
She and her son, Scott, 32, went to the Heinz History Center and waited in line to meet one of her childhood heroes, Bill Mazeroski, as the 1960 World Series star autographed copies of a new children’s book titled, “Maz, You’re Up,” written by his daughter-in-law, Kelly.
“I have all the old Pirate memorabilia from 1960: the ‘Beat ‘Em Bucs’ poster, some Green Weenies, pennants. We’ve always been big Pirates fans, even though they’re terrible now,” she said. “I just can’t think of a better way to spend the day than meeting him.”
The history center on Monday unveiled the second statue of Mr. Mazeroski this weekend — the first occurred Sunday at PNC Park.
“It’s too great to explain how great it has been. Two statues in two days?” he said, shaking his head and smiling. “It’s been a pretty good Labor Day weekend.”