Yesterday I was listening to a stunning podcast from Working Class History. It was about the Italian anti-fascist partisans who fought both Nazis and the fascists who had taken over their country. A few things jumped out. One, that the rise of fascism in Italy began with crushing strikes and unions. Businessmen were only too happy to partner with an increasingly violent and despotic regime if it meant more profit. Two, during the war resistance took a crucial turn when labor went on strike in Turin. This began the open opposition to fascism in the country. Three, every resistance fighter was supported by local people near where they hid and fought. Estimates are that between 10-15 non-fighters were needed to support every partisan. They helped supply food, money, and weapons. Mothers and brothers and priests and children risked their lives to help beat Mussolini, Hitler, and fascism. That is solidarity.
Normally, in daily discussion across the United States, solidarity is used more freely, and sometimes cheaply. People, myself included, will end a social media post in support of striking workers with an additional “solidarity!” And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. But like so many words the true meaning can be diluted as it gets used more often and thrown around more casually. So let’s first be clear, solidarity is powerful, radical, and potentially transformative. It’s not just voicing support, although is part of it. It’s much more. As Harry Bridges said: The most important word in the language of the working class is “solidarity.”
So what does it mean? Solidarity first means knowing that your fight is my fight. It means an injury to one is an injury to all. And it means a victory for part of the working class is a victory for the whole working class. When you win, when you get a raise or build power in your union, it helps me. It raises the bar for wages, it builds power for all of us, it’s something for all of us to celebrate. And, most important of all, solidarity is a verb. Expressing that I stand with you is important. A mindset of solidarity matters. But coming to your picket line is a whole different thing. A lifestyle of solidarity, continuous and consistent actions of solidarity, that’s what can be transformative. That’s where building real power can take place.
We’re fortunate to be witnessing and participating in beautiful examples of solidarity every day now. Hollywood actors and writers going to Teamsters’ practice pickets. Teamsters saying they won’t haul cars for the big automakers during this UAW strike. UAW making their strike about the whole working class and showing support for a wide range of other struggles. This is the practice of solidarity.
Leading up to this major auto strike, Mexican and Brazilian autoworkers expressed their solidarity across borders. And these were inspiring messages, but the workers in Mexico were also saying that if Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis try to force them speed up production to make up for lost revenue in the U.S., they would do everything in their power to slow production to keep the economic impact of the UAW strike as significant as possible. That is solidarity in action, across borders. And it’s a beautiful thing.
This solidarity from south of the border was heard and felt by UAW members as they went on strike here in a beautiful way. And Labor Notes captured it perfectly. This is what they heard on the picket line in Wentzville, Missouri:
“The threat of moving factory jobs to Mexico came up, but so did solidarity with Mexican workers. When a GMC Terrain SUV drove by the morning picket, one worker noted that it’s built in Mexico. Jennifer Ryan, with eight years at the plant, jumped in to say, “Did you see that video the Mexican workers made supporting us? They’ve got a new union and it’s awesome.” The other worker, who had pointed out the Terrain, agreed with gusto. Ryan said, “They sometimes make just $40 a week down there, working like we do. That’s gotta change too.”
This is the ripple effect of solidarity. When we take action to support others, we learn that we are not alone. Corporations might now stretch over borders, but the working class stretches across borders too, and building long-distance bonds of solidarity is yet another way we can build power and resist endless capitalist greed.
Unfortunately, we’ve also seen what the exact opposite of bold and moving solidarity looks like this week. Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher have chosen to cross the Hollywood picket lines, with Drew following up with a massively egotistical video and Bill being extra vile in that he’s a WGA union member. And yet, even these acts of betrayal drew our attention to hope — in the form of their opposites. While millionaire Barrymore doesn’t want to pay writers, Quinta Brunson and the other producers of her hit show Abbott Elementary have created a strike fund to pay the 152 crew members. And while Bill Maher is actively scabbing, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, and other late-night hosts have started a podcast called “Strike Force Five” to support striking workers. So while celebrities, or anyone, crossing picket lines always disappoints, far more A-listers are holding the line, standing in solidarity, and taking real action to support folks on strike.
From Hollywood to Detroit, workers are showing us what’s possible. And across the country, tons of people are flocking to demonstrate their solidarity with everyone on strike. Thousands are signing strike support pledges, bringing coffee to picket lines, and donating to strike funds. People are joining striking workers together in struggle, not leaving them isolated to fight the bosses alone. And anything is possible with this kind of mass solidarity. On the micro level, workers building power can win important victories at our jobs. The great book “Rank and File” by Alice and Staughton Lynd has a story of someone new to a factory with a strong union. The workers gets fired a few days into the new jobs. He goes to leave the plant, defeated, when the union steward says, “No, come with me.” They went to talk to the foreman and the guy had his job back before he could even blink. Unions and solidarity between workers can get us to a place where we’re telling the bosses how things are gonna go, not the other way around.
On a bigger scale, solidarity can change the world. If enough workers are organized, and in solidarity, all of our struggles come a little closer to resembling one big struggle. As Big Bill Haywood said, “If the workers are organized, all they have to do is to put their hands in their pockets and they have got the capitalist class whipped.” What he meant is that all we would have to do is withhold our labor, together, and the bosses wouldn’t be able to make a cent. They would have to cave to any and all of our demands. That’s what organization and solidarity can get us if we build sufficient power together. It can get us to a place where the working class can transform society.
None of this is easy. It takes sacrifice. Sometimes not crossing that picket line, or boycotting that company, or meaningfully helping one another takes a toll. But we have to see the long-term vision. We have to see that we can accomplish so much more, infinitely more, together than we can alone. In fact, the only way we’ll ever win against those who currently have more money, power, and organization is by getting together and sacrificing for one another. What you give up to help a fellow person, a fellow worker, will ultimately come back to you tenfold when we win these fights. If autoworkers win big, for example, they’ll raise the standards for all of us. The wins Teamsters got at UPS raised the bar for all of us. When actors and writers win in Hollywood, it’ll be a win for all of us. The pay and the benefits we’ll all start to expect and demand is just half of it, these fights and victories all show us how to organize, how to struggle, how to live out solidarity and make it real, so that we can move steadily closer to the sort of society we need. So talk to a coworker, and take a step towards unionizing. Or get involved in improving and democratizing your union. Or hit a picket line with some snacks and some friends. Let’s practice solidarity, together, and change the world.
Now for those links! There’s a whole lot we can do to actively practice solidarity right now.
There are a lot of ways to support the UAW on this historic strike. Link here.
Everything you need from the UAW itself linked here.
Right here you can support the WGA writers’ strike.
And over here you can support the SAG-AFTRA actors’ strike.
More Perfect Union also sends out ways to support workers, unions, and strikes. You can sing up for those updates here.
Labor Notes is my favorite place for strike updates. Especially with the UAW strike definitely check them out here.
Lastly, I meant to plug The Real News in my last piece. They’re wonderful, know what solidarity is all about, and have some great coverage of this auto strike. You can find them here.
That’s enough out of me; we have a world to win, so see you on the picket lines!
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