Laborfest, held every Labor Day, is the most visible presence of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council AFL-CIO.
From the beginning, which dates back in various forms to 1965, the family friendly festival has welcomed all of Milwaukee to join in the all-day celebration. The event kicks off with a parade through downtown Milwaukee at 11 a.m., followed by the free festival from noon to 5 p.m. on the Summerfest grounds (Maier Festival Park).
Downtown's Zeidler Union Square Park (between 3rd and 4th Sts. on Michigan Ave.) is the center of the staging area for the parade. It is also a workers' park with monuments, historical reminders and a central gazebo. All are maintained by the labor council.
Here, workers marching in the parade, elected officials, spectators and affiliate start gathering at 8 a.m. Large trucks, plows, backdiggers and other work vehicles carefully gather all morning — slowly filling up the blocks on all sides of the park.
Laborfest is a family celebration. Several of the unions arrange flatbed trucks, busses or trolley-like vehicles to carry children and retirees along the parade route. The parade often features color guards and musicians, who play show tunes from atop a flatbed truck.
Dignitaries often attend the noon festival as do ordinary citizens and families, both union and not. Traditional Summerfest vendors participate. There are bands playing dance music, a supervised children's area with clowns and magic shows, pro wrestling exhibitions, adult bingo, union industry displays and more. Laborfest has also provided some celebrity watching in recent years. Aside from candidates being buttonholed (and sometimes actually speaking their minds), union presidents and even US presidents (such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) have flown in to attend.
Hidden from view are the many months of preparation and detail that go into planning both the parade and the festival. Union members are the unsung volunteers - serving as committee leaders, route organizers, banner hangers, chair folders, parade marshals and raffle and food ticket distributors.
For more information about Laborfest, contact the council office at (414) 771-7070, or via email at email@example.com.