PORTLAND — About 200 union members and supporters gathered Monday morning for the annual Labor’s Day Breakfast, with many stressing that such shows of unity by organized labor are more important now than ever.

“I know that some people will tell you that business and labor can work together, in both their interests,” Chris Teret, president of the Southern Maine Labor Council, told the gathering. “But the interests of business are about profits, and they are clearly in opposition to the interests of working people.”

Teret, and others at the breakfast, criticized Gov. Paul LePage for his efforts to undermine – in their opinion – the rights of working people, and said that all working people need to stand together.

“LePage has chosen to fight on the side of profits. I choose to fight on the side of the working class,” Teret said.

Monday’s annual breakfast event in Portland was held at the Maine Irish Heritage Center on Gray Street, and was attended by members of various unions from across the region, plus state representatives and other local officials. Several candidates in Portland’s congested mayoral race attended as well.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, had been scheduled to speak at the event, but canceled Sunday because of scheduling problems, organizers said.

The breakfast, though it included reports and awards, was very much a time for union members to come together and socialize. The event was organized by the Southern Maine Labor Council and culminated with a march up State Street to Longfellow Square.

During the march, people carried banners with the names and numbers of their various unions, as well as signs that read: “We are one; Respect our rights.” As they marched, they chanted, “The workers united, will never be defeated.”

“The bottom line for me is the solidarity of being in a crowd of workers who believe the same things as I do,” said Kevin Ready, 35, a parking control officer for the city of Portland. “I think it’s very important now, when we find ourselves in a defensive position. It’s ludicrous for (politicians) to blame working people for so many of government’s problems.”

Peter Kellman, a longtime labor organizer in Maine, lamented that so much attention on workers and union members these days was negative, with people trying to blame unions for a variety of governmental problems. Kellman said he thinks it is important for people to remember that there would be no products and services without workers, so as a vital part of the economy, workers deserve certain protections.

“Capital is what the workers create, and I think that’s lost on a lot of people today,” Kellman said. “They think that business is all about the stock market, that the stock market creates wealth. But if you don’t have labor, you don’t have wealth.”

Kellman said Maine union members have been holding Labor Day events like the breakfast in Portland for about 100 years. As a national holiday, Labor Day goes back to 1894. Charlie Scontras, a University of Maine labor historian who was at the breakfast, noted that Maine enacted a law celebrating Labor Day even earlier than that, in 1891.

As part of the event, the labor council’s Working Class Hero Award was presented to the family of Jim Carson, a longtime Maine Teamsters official who died last December at age 59. Carson was praised for the long hours he spent trying to help members, and for his long service to the union.

The first half of the two-hour event featured labor-themed songs by a band called “9 to 9,” which includes local author and musician Phil Hoose among its members.

“We call ourselves 9 to 9 because nobody works 9 to 5 anymore,” Hoose said.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: [email protected]