By ADAM RITSCHER
DULUTH, Minn.-It was a quiet, gray afternoon in downtown Duluth on May 24, until 100 vibrant and vocal members and supporters of Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Local 99 showed up on the scene. They were there to march and rally in support of Radison Hotel workers who are in contract negotiations with management.
Starting at City Hall, the unionists, armed with bullhorns, noisemakers and plenty of spirit, marched through downtown on their way to a rally in front of the Radison. When passing in front of the Holiday Inn, however, which is also organized by Local 99, an off duty police officer, Officer Erickson, charged out of the hotel and began attacking unionists and trying to grab the bullhorn of Alan, the union activist leading the chants. Erickson, who smelled of alcohol, was immediately surrounded by workers who began yelling, “Shame on you!”
A block later, with Erickson still lashing out at marchers, police cars pulled up at a crosswalk blocking the march. A cop jumped out and seized Alan while being egged on by Erickson. Angry chanting workers surrounded the police car to protest this blatant injustice. At one point Alan yelled out that the police officer trying to force him into the cop car had whispered to him that he “was going to beat the crap out of him.”
When the police car pulled away, and people were dispatched to the police station to ensure Alan’s safety, the marchers proceeded to the Radisson. Different union activists addressed the assembled rally, which was monitored by several police cars parked in the middle of the street in front of the hotel.
Representatives of HERE Local 17 of the Twin Cities and Local 21 from Rochester, Minn., spoke to give their support and talk about the struggles they were fighting in their areas. An elderly representative of the Senior Federation spoke, expressing his hope that a better world could be built.
During the rally, a delegation from Duluth’s Religion & Labor Network went inside to deliver a letter to management expressing community outrage at the conditions that hotel workers were forced to work under.
The highlight of the rally was when Alan, the apprehended union activist, was released from jail and returned to the rally to address the workers. He captured the sentiment of everyone present when he exclaimed that we cannot be distracted from our fight for dignity and a decent standard of living.
After the rally, witnesses to Officer Erickson’s unprovoked attack gathered to give their statements. Members of Socialist Action distributed a leaflet calling for solidarity with the Charleston Five longshore workers. After our bout with Duluth police, there was more than a little sympathy for these victims of boss and police attacks!