An 1199 Labor Day Street Fair

August 30, 2019

In 1979, in part to mark the twentieth anniversary of 1199’s hospital organizing victories, the Union’s Bread and Roses program held an all-day Labor Day Street Fair.

The fair was held on 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues. Initiated by Bread and Roses, headed by Moe Foner, the event included the cooperation of the New York City Central Labor Council (CLC), the 42nd Street Redevelopment Corporation and Manhattan Plaza – the 42nd Street housing development for performing artists.

For two weeks, the fair was advertised with banners, posters, buttons and public service announcements. The fair was unlike any recent labor event. Some 75,000 New Yorkers enjoyed food, labor films, live music of many varieties, jugglers, comedians, dancers, a magician and the Bread and Puppet Theater Circus.

Participating unions demonstrated their workers’ skills. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union made women’s garments. Members of the Bakery Workers Union decorated cakes. The Transport Workers Union members displayed and guided workers through an antique double-decker bus and an authentic subway car.

The day also included a group of women of color who were campaigning to join building trades unions. These women built the frame of house on the street while they pressed their case to the fair goers.

1199 members offered blood pressure tests and nutrition counseling. Members also took turns working the many booths. The next year, the CLC resumed the city’s Labor Day parade and the fair was moved to Sunday. Since then, few labor events have matched the historic 1979 fair.