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Group of 80 North Dakota AFL-CIO members and the band Dropkick Murphys together in a group photo at Fargo labor hall.
NDU News

Songs of Solidarity

On Saturday, Oct. 14, the North Dakota AFL-CIO held a special, first-of-its-kind event at the Labor Hall in Fargo. Union members, including those from North Dakota United, were invited to a meet & greet with the Dropkick Murphys, a Celtic punk band from Massachusetts that headlined a show at the Scheels Arena later that night.
Published: November 30, 2023

From the stage of the Scheels Arena in Fargo, Ken Casey, lead singer of Celtic punk band The Dropkick Murphys, has just thanked the North Dakota AFL-CIO for their hospitality.

A crowd of people standing in packed concert hall that is dark with the Dropkick Murphys band logo projected on large screen behind empty stage.
Photo by Kelly Hagen, NDU Communications Director

His message, amplified in part by a series of backline speakers and amps adorned with signs proclaiming “UNION YES,” Casey reaffirms his band’s long-time support for working men and women. Just as quickly, his band turned up their message by leaping unflinchingly into their rendition of the classic union ode, “Which Side Are You On?” 

Come all of you good workers

Good news to you I’ll tell

Of how that good old union

Has come in here to dwell.

The story of how a group of North Dakota’s good workers and the Murphys came to dwell together, in both union hall and concert hall, on the evening of Oct. 14, 2023, goes back more than a decade before. In November of 2012, the band played their first-ever show in Fargo amidst a 22-month lockout of union workers at nearby American Crystal Sugar. That night, they invited locked-out workers and other union members backstage and displayed supportive signs onstage while they played.

Members of the band Dropkick Murphys stand on stage at Fargo labor hall along with leaders of ND AFL-CIO, talking to crowd of union workers.
Photo by Kelly Hagen, NDU Communications Director

The Dropkick Murphys return

Fast forward to 2023, and the good news that the Dropkick Murphys were returning to Fargo for a date.

“Dan Jackson got a hold of me via a text message and said, Dropkick Murphys is a real big union supporting band and that we should probably try and find some kind of a union thing to do with them,” said Landis Larson, President of ND AFL-CIO. “(At) the quarterly meeting, I had them bring it up there, and that's when Andrew (Bushaw) kind of took over.”

“Dan Jackson, of USW (United Steel Workers) 560, at a monthly Northern Plains United Labor Council meeting, brought up that (the Dropkick Murphys) were coming to town and that they are pro-labor, and maybe we could do something around their concert,” said Andrew Bushaw, field director for ND AFL-CIO. “I mentioned how we had connected with them before on labor issues back during the American Crystal Sugar lockout, and that we could try to reach out and see what happened.”

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Bushaw contacted the band’s management, and at first made plans similar to what the band did during the Crystal Sugar lockout. “So, initially it was supposed to be like a meet and greet with listening to them do a couple songs (and) set up their equipment,” Larson said. “But it ended up being a meet and greet where we actually did a barbecue with brats and hot dogs at the union hall, and we spent almost an hour with the band. It was really good.”

Approximately 80 union workers and their family members gathered at the Fargo Labor Temple a couple hours before the band’s show was scheduled to star Among them were several members of North Dakota United. “I've been listening to the Dropkick Murphys since ‘Do or Die,’ their first record,” said Dan Nygard, a software engineer at North Dakota State University and member of our NDSU chapter. “I was there to cheer them on when they were hitting, getting the song that was on ‘The Departed’ … and everything. And Andy (Bushaw) and I go way back, so he reached out to me directly.”

Nygard said he recognizes the same spirit of “do it yourself” in punk rock and in his union. “With indie rock, punk rock, whatever it was, the big record labels aren’t giving us what we want, so we're just going to do it ourselves,” Nygard said, “and there's a lot of that same spirit, and there's a lot of taking care of each other. …"

 

"I'm lucky enough that I can put food on the table. And then, you want to make sure that's the same story for the guys that are working right next to you in the same building. My friends who are working in facilities, my friends who are working hard, making sure that the buildings are maintained and taking care of them. You want them to be able to do the same and to get the wages they deserve.”

Quote byDalton Erickson , UND United member

"To have a band that I grew up with, Dropkick Murphys, who signed my album, to have a song called ‘Worker’s Song’ on it, talking about labor itself, is very inspiring to see, and I'm glad that they can help raise the morale of everyone involved in the union."
—Dalton Erickson , UND United member

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“We've always been friends of labor."

At around 5 p.m. that night, a van arrived in the parking lot of the labor hall, and all of the members of the Dropkick Murphys came bounding out to raucous applause and celebration.

Dropkick Murphys member kneels in parking lot of Fargo labor hall while signing T-shirt for NDU member Lisa Dullum.
A member of Dropkick Murphys kneels to sign a T-shirt for NDU member Lisa Dullum. Credit: Photo by Kelly Hagen, NDU Communications Director

The band mingled with the crowd, talked to them, posed for countless selfies, and signed T-shirts, album covers, posters, and anything else that they were offered. After all the greetings were done, everybody went into the hall to commiserate and eat together.

Longtime labor activist Mark Froemke introduced the band by telling the story of how they had solidly lent their support more than a decade ago during the lockout, and how his fellow union members told Froemke afterwards, “Mark, I didn’t know you were this damn cool!”

Lead singer and original member of the Murphys, Ken Casey, spoke from the stage about how much it meant to the band to have opportunities like these to meet their sisters and brothers in the labor movement from across the country. “We've always been friends of labor,” Casey said. “That's what been kind of the backbone of the band. So, wherever we can lend our voice on behalf of labor, we always will. …"

People are excited about organizing, and there's strength in numbers. 

Ken Casey, Lead singer and original member of the Murphys

"People are excited about organizing, and there's strength in numbers. Our voice is growing, and we're happy to continue to be on a microphone anywhere on the stage, to be that voice. … We'll continue to speak up on your behalf, and we are really grateful for the support back. So, thank you very much.”

After taking a group picture, which Casey said he planned to send to a friend in Massachusetts who had recently been elected president of their state’s AFL-CIO, the band members mingled some more. We spoke to Casey and a couple of members of ND United about the importance of that night and their thoughts on all of the historic wins happening in organized labor currently.

Dropkick Murphys singer Ken Casey high-fives child in parking lot of Fargo labor hall.
Photo by Kelly Hagen, NDU Communications Director

Celebrating union siblinghood

Dalton Erickson

I find it this is so inspiring because it's such a moment in labor history right now,” said Dalton Erickson, events and marketing coordinator for the University of North Dakota School of Law and member of our UND United local.

Two men, Ken Casey of the band Dropkick Murphys and Dalton Erickson, standing together. Casey is pointing at Erickson, and Erickson is holding signed copy of Dropkick Murphys' first album.
Dalton Erickson and Ken Casey pose for a picture. Credit: Photo by Kelly Hagen, NDU Communications Director

“And to have a band that I grew up with, Dropkick Murphys, who signed my album, to have a song called ‘Worker’s Song’ on its end, talking about labor itself, is very inspiring to see, and I'm glad that they can help raise the morale of everyone involved in the union. … There's always this aspect of art that is somewhat political or (it) brings people together. I know it gets me through the day. A lot of punk music I listen to is stuff that it's both cathartic and helps me get through the day and also delivers such a powerful message of change.”

Laura Christensen

Laura Christensen, an English teacher at Fargo South High School and active member of both the Fargo Education Association and Northern Plains United Labor Council, agreed wholeheartedly with Dalton’s sentiment. “I'm so excited about this, and it's so great to have an actual, real band show up and ... be brothers and sisters with us,” Christensen said.

“This siblinghood that we all have, and that we can share it through music, we can be together and celebrate and be happy together,” Christensen said. “That's just huge. And for it to be musical is something that you can revisit every single time you hear the songs again, you can remember that feeling of (how) we're all a team and we're all together.”

Quote byLaura Christensen , Fargo Education Association member

“This siblinghood that we all have, and that we can share it through music, we can be together and celebrate and be happy together, that's just huge.”
—Laura Christensen , Fargo Education Association member

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Ken Casey

Casey said that he and the band are more than happy to give of their time to lift the spirits of their fans and fellow supporters of the working class.

“As someone who was in a labor union, when I was starting the band, and just (having been) raised in union families, it's always been what the band was about,” said Ken Casey, lead singer and original member of the Dropkick Murphys.

Quote byKen Casey , Dropkick Murphys lead singer

"Our voice is growing, and we're happy to continue to be on a microphone anywhere on the stage, to be that voice. … We'll continue to speak up on your behalf, and we are really grateful for the support back."
—Ken Casey , Dropkick Murphys lead singer

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Dropkick Murphys singer Ken Casey standing in foreground on stage at Fargo labor temple, speaking to crowd. Behind Casey are Mark Froemke and ND AFL-CIO President Landis Larson.

“We've always been behind causes. But like a lot of things in life, you don't tend to come together until there's a crisis, right? Like, you know, if someone’s sick and there’s a fundraiser, or in the case of labor, if there's a strike or a lockout, … we're going to get together. But it's only been in the last few years that people started to take the time of saying, let’s have these gatherings, so people can meet and … we can just talk. It's been very organic … and it's kind of just picked up steam.”

Dropkick Murphys singer Ken Casey standing in foreground on stage at Fargo labor temple, speaking to crowd. Behind Casey are Mark Froemke and ND AFL-CIO President Landis Larson.
Photo by Kelly Hagen, NDU Communications Director

A bratwurst & goodbye

After an hour of fellowship, the Dropkick Murphys needed to leave for their concert. Casey, himself, had spent so much time talking to his fans and new friends, he’d missed the opportunity to eat. So, he quickly grabbed a bratwurst from the grill, to go, and boarded the van to Scheels Arena.

On behalf of everyone in attendance at Union Night in Fargo, President Larson spoke glowingly about how much time, energy, and commitment the Dropkick Murphys gave to our fellow ND AFL-CIO members. “It was really energizing to hear that going on,” Larson said. “People had so many good comments about being able to be at that show and the solidarity of all the union members being together down on the floor was pretty moving.”

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