Honoring Labor Day on Westport Island

Honoring Labor Day on Westport Island


Contact: Jeff Tarbox, jhtarbox@gwi.net

WESTPORT ISLAND, ME, September 4, 2018 – Socializing, lawn games, trivia, and organizing for the coming election were the highlights of the Westport Island Labor Day Picnic, sponsored by the Westport Island Democrats. It was a potluck, so there were three tables of delicious treats. The day was warm and sunny, so those who weren’t playing ladder golf or one of the other games took advantage of the shade provided by the trees and just enjoyed chatting with neighbors.

After most had finished eating, Susie Stedman and Wendy Thompson stumped the group with trivia about U.S. Presidents, current political news, Maine employment and trade unions, and Westport Island History. Most knew that Westport became an independent town, separate from Edgecomb, in 1828, but few knew that 1860 was the peak year for population, with 798 residents per the census, or that there were only 108 residents by the time of the 1930 census. Most were able to guess that a well- known orange-haired gentleman is the oldest man elected President. And asked which President was the first to appoint a woman to his cabinet, most knew the right answer was Franklin Roosevelt, as that woman was Frances Perkins, whose family homestead is in Newcastle, and Roosevelt made her his Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945.

Labor Day is an especially appropriate day to remember Franceis Perkins and the programs she established with FDR’s New Deal. With the Social Security Act Americans gained pensions when they reached retirement age, and unemployment benefits when there was no work. She fought to improve workplace safety and reduce accidents, crafted laws against child labor, and established the first minimum wage and overtime laws, defining a standard 40-hour week for American workers.

The two candidates vying to represent Westport Island in the Maine State Senate and House, Laura Fortman and Holly Stover respectively, both spoke to the work they see as needed to improve the lives of Americans, carrying on the legacy of Frances Perkins.

Stover said that she believes that Maine needs representation that is less divisive, more based on common sense. She has devoted her working life, in Maine state government and working for Lincoln County agencies, to helping Mainers with medical and mental health challenges. Today almost everyone has been affected by the opioid crisis, either directly in their family or through friends and neighbors. Stover is working with the Boothbay Harbor Police Department to assist opiate addicts. She supports community training on administering NARCAN, the anti-overdose medicine, and expanding peer-recovery centers, where people recovering from addiction can support one another as they rebuild their lives.

Laura Fortman is a former Maine Commissioner of Labor, and a former director of the Francies Perkins Center in Damariscotta. As she has traveled around Lincoln County and talked to voters she continues to hear that health care, affordable health care, is most people’s number one concern. Medicaid expansion, which the voters mandated by referendum, will help the most challenged Mainers, but being able to afford needed health care is a worry most of us have. The growth in salaries and wages hasn’t kept up with the cost of living. Few people, even those who consider themselves to be middle class, now have the savings needed to withstand the cost of a serious illness. High co-pays make it hard to use the medical insurance people can afford. The growth in U.S. income and wealth has gone primarily to the wealthy. Fortman cited the stark example of Amazon, where the average worker makes $29,000 a year, and Jeff Bezos, the primary owner worth about $150 billion, makes that in nine seconds.

Fortman cited the song “Solidarity Forever”, a labor anthem written in 1915. The labor movement that built the trade unions and led to our having the Labor Day holiday had to struggle to win the benefits we now take for granted. The song begins with:

When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run, There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun; Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one, But the union makes us strong.”

How to get back the strength that the solidarity of workers gained in the heyday of trade unions? How do we break free from the doom of the “feeble strength of one?” Fortman said it’s not easy in the workplaces of today. “Full employment” hides the frequency of part time work, and often workers are on call, not even sure of their schedules from week to week. Contract work means that sometimes the worker isn’t even sure who is the real employer. If you work at a McDonalds, should you think of your employer as the franchise owner of your store, or is it really the McDonalds chain? The “Gig” economy is based on brief, focused assignments, so the worker goes from gig to gig without building roots or solidarity with other workers.

The afternoon concluded with thanks for the visit from Stover and Fortman, and plans for canvassing and getting out the vote for the Nov. 6 election.


The Lincoln County Democratic Committee (LCDC) promotes the ideals, principles, and philosophy we share as Democrats. The nomination and election of candidates who advocate these ideals and principles ensure an effective, democratic government of and for all the people.

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