On Thursday, April 19, around one-hundred and fifty people gathered for the dedication of the “Spirit of Solidarity” monument to organized labor at Ah-Nab-Awan Park in downtown Grand Rapids. The monument–highlighting the legacy of organized labor and the Furniture Strike of 1911–was dedicated on the 96th anniversary of the start of the strike. The dedication, which began with the reading of a statement in solidarity with the strikers issued by the AFL-CIO leader Samuel Grompers in 1911, featured several local politicians, labor leaders, and those involved with the more than fifteen year process of getting the monument completed.
While many of the speakers focused on giving thanks to various foundations and politicians for their support of the project, some speakers did describe both the continued importance of the strike and the ongoing importance of working people in Grand Rapids. Mayor George Heartwell explained that when he was on the City Commission back in 1991 when the idea was first raised, the furniture strike was recognized as an important piece of history in a survey of Westside residents. Mayor Heartwell read an excerpt from Jeffrey Kleiman’s Strike! about how the strike changed the history of Grand Rapids and its economic structure. Heartwell then stated that “the good society that we live in is built on the backs of working men and women.” A representative from the office of governor Jennifer Granholm–who was unable to attend due to ongoing debate over Michigan’s budget–read a statement from the governor stating that “the spirit of the strikers is found in working people today.” Former United Auto Workers (UAW ) president Owen Bieber said that “the strike action helped make Grand Rapids a better place” and that those who participated in the strike deserved the monument.
According to the Labor Heritage Society, an additional $290,000 are still needed to cover the costs of the monument. Donations can be made at laborheritage.com.
For more on the history of organized labor in Grand Rapids, see: