By Kevin Gundlach, SCFL President
In 1970, the Australian-born Labor leader Harry Bridges stated, “The most important word in the language of the working class is Solidarity.” Forty-two years later, it still rings true now just as it did then. Union solidarity is the key to rebuilding our unions. Community solidarity is also imperative. We, as organized labor, must be a vocal element and visible part of the neighborhoods we live in. It is a time to learn, grow, rebuild, organize, and fight back. With a renewed and vigorous Solidarity movement, we will rid our State of the corruption that has tainted it for far too long, especially within the last year. Wisconsin’s uprising was a spark that brought support from unions and people throughout the world. It not only reinforced a sense of global unity, but also gave us insights into the challenges we face here in our state, and how we can and will overcome them.
In the face of a morally bankrupt governor and the ethically challenged Fitzgerald brothers, we exhibited a form of solidarity of which the world took notice. Even as powerful and cynical individuals attempted to divide us, we stood together on common ground; union worker and non-union worker, student and senior, long-time resident and recent arrival, gay and straight, urbanite and villager, small business owner and family farmer; and the list goes on. We came together as unions, and just as importantly, we came together as a community. We formed alliances, recalled and defeated two state legislators who betrayed working people, and we supported workers in Manitowoc and elsewhere who were facing economic injustices from wealthy, corporate interests. We fought back and proved there is power in the union and power in the people.
The fight-back is just beginning. It’s a struggle that has been around forever. We still face incredibly powerful forces and their political cronies who will continue to outsource our jobs, lower wages and reduce benefits for all workers. No doubt, they will try to lower our standard of living while continuing to impudently blame and attack public employees. Some will even try to charter away our public schools to private interests, thereby taking away the transparency we expect as parents and taxpayers. All this, while hoarding more for themselves, the 1%.
These elected state officials who act as if they rule within ‘Imperial Republican Rome’ are nothing new or special in the course of human events. Like many before them, their thirst for unbridled power coincides with disempowering the workers and disenfranchising the people. They may have unmatched economic and political power, but we have the virtue of justice and numbers. There was another era where a noted ‘Republican’ stated, “All that harms labor is treason to America.” Perhaps some day soon, Abraham Lincoln’s words shall ring true as well, and justice will be meted out to those who have harmed so many working families.
This is why, in the union movement, we try our best to honor the conviction that an injury to one is an injury to all; an injustice to one is an injustice to all. There is a solution. The mechanisms for justice are embedded within ourselves.
There is obviously much work to be done. Electing pro-labor candidates by being active participants in the political sphere. Having substantive conversations about issues and not just the candidates will allow real changes to occur. Spring elections do matter. School Board, County Board and City Council races are more important to working people now than ever before. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to vote for pro-worker candidates running for local, non-partisan offices. I urge you to volunteer your time and get involved.
But, participatory democracy does not end with elections. Recent history has taught us yet again that electing officials is one important piece of the pie, but it’s not the sole solution to all of our problems. While we remain undeterred and engaged within the electoral process, we must do much more regardless of election results: rebuilding what has been torn down, becoming stronger than ever before, and remaining vigilant. In the long run, and as organized labor, we must continue to reach out to all workers and form concrete bonds within our neighborhoods and communities, especially those that have been neglected and ignored. Besides electing pro-worker candidates, we must get more engaged in grassroots lobbying, taking time to communicate with those in elected office, educating them on the issues that affect workers and ultimately hold them all accountable. We must also be educating our friends, neighbors and yes, strangers on the merits of a Union.
There is much to be accomplished, and we have a long, arduous, and exciting, road ahead of us. I know, with your active participation, we will undo the harms, promote justice, and become whole again. I look forward to working with you and urge one and all to get involved: come to the rallies, volunteer for the recalls, hold our elected officials accountable, attend upcoming events, and be ready for community activist and organizing opportunities. With your collective voices and actions, we will be heard.
Thank you for your support and for all of your hard work. In Solidarity, now and forever.