The Amsterdam News and Bill Lynch Associates hosted the second “Tying Communities Together: A Celebration of New York’s Labor Movement” Thursday, Sept. 20, at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem.

“There’s a theme that runs between the Amsterdam News, all the unions and Bill Lynch,” said Bill Thompson at the breakfast. “They’re all fighters. They stand up for what’s right. And now more than ever, we need them to stand up and fight. Working men and women are under attack, unions are under attack … and today, we are honoring three people that we’re going to need more than ever.”

The breakfast brought union leaders, community members and politicians together to honor NAACP New York State President Hazel Dukes, 1199 SEIU President George Gresham and DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts.

Among the guests and many speakers honoring these three giants in the labor movement, who have known one another and worked together for decades, there was a sense of family and a need to pass on the stories of this family.

“This is the community that I grew up with,” said Elinor Tatum, publisher and editor in chief of the Amsterdam News, “and to be able to stand here and salute them means so much to me and would mean a lot to my father as well.”

Basil Paterson also took it back to his roots, telling the story of his father who, as one of only three Blacks in the union, went on strike with his local electricians’ union. “Those of you who can’t remember when unions kept Blacks out have a short memory,” said Paterson, “but nowadays, things have changed. We’re not only part of the membership, we’re part of the leadership. … The connection between trade unions and our communities becomes stronger and stronger.”

Gresham explained the need to protect and honor those in the Black labor family and expressed his love for two men. “Bill [Lynch] is one and Basil Paterson is that other. If any of you try to do anything to them, you’re going to have to go through me and 40,000 1199ers,” he said.

Bringing this protective nature back to the larger group, Hector Figueroa, the new president of 32BJ, said Gresham “knows that the mission of the labor movement is to lift everyone, to leave nobody behind, to stop the forces of darkness and to lead us into the light of a movement.”

Many stressed, as Paterson did, that an integral part of the story of the Black community moving the labor movement forward has been bringing the voices and faces of the Black community into the conversation to begin with.

Paterson described his first meeting with Roberts, the “one Black face [at DC 37], the one who identified with the workers most of all.”

“I am glad that we have leadership of the labor movement that represents the membership,” said Gresham. “I’m looking at ‘Mamma Dukes’ … you are an honorable person, tough as hell. I never want to be on the wrong side of Mamma Dukes.”

When Dukes got to the stage, she received a standing ovation and continued the theme of family. “I moved to New York and met Basil Paterson, who really became my father,” she said, giving the story of her life from the beginning, when she was born in Alabama.

“Hazel Dukes, that’s more than family, she is me–we need more Hazel Dukes in this world,” agreed Paterson as he delivered the breakfast’s keynote address.

Dukes continued to explain how her ties to the labor family strengthened when she and Percy Sutton “ran Rockefeller out of Gotham City,” and when she proudly helped David Dinkins beat out Ed Koch to become mayor.

“Then I met these two real gangsters,” said Dukes, calling out Michael Mulgrew and Gresham. “We’re going to change this city because we live in this city, and this is our city … I will fight and it will be heard that I tried to help somebody in this city.”

Anywhere you see union leadership collected in one room, fighting for the progress of their city, you will see politicians as well, and the Amsterdam News’ second annual labor breakfast was no different. Among the distinguished elected officials present were City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Ruben Wills, Comptroller John Liu, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, Assemblymen William Boyland and Karim Camara, Irvington, N.J., Mayor Wayne Smith, Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights Alphonso David and state Sen. Bill Perkins.

“And now for a quick commercial break,” said Tatum, allowing each politician two minutes, and only two minutes, to address the breakfast.

Dinkins, the first Black mayor of New York City, said, “I know I wouldn’t have never become the 106th mayor of this city if it were not for your support, and it started with unions.

“Basil, Lillian and I are the same age, and you young folk may not understand, but us old folk, we stick together.”

Liu spoke about the widening wealth gap, the need to end stop-and-frisk practices of the NYPD and the importance of unions in creating a middle class. Liu said the labor movement and the community working together “is a powerful combination. It’s more powerful than the sum of its parts. … When labor and community get together, it’s something that cannot be stopped.”

Union leaders also took the opportunity to speak to the bevy of politicians who spoke to them during the breakfast.

Gresham called on the politicians to ally with unions and working people. “We don’t want anyone who feels they’re here to represent the 1 percent. This is a great city and we are proud to represent great diversity, but if you don’t want to represent those with little wealth and only represent those with greater wealth, then you will never get the union vote,” said Gresham “If you can’t do that, kiss your a– … I mean, kiss your aspirations of being mayor of this city goodbye.”