Last month at the East Side Freedom Library, I joined a roundtable discussion with historians, artists, trade unionists and community activists on the subject of solidarity. It was a lively, challenging and essential dialogue, and it served as another reminder of how fortunate we are in St. Paul to have a space like the Freedom Library – a union hall for the whole community.
Our conversation that night reflected on struggles from our past in which working people used solidarity to get justice. There have been many examples, as any history buff knows, including the 1934 Teamsters strikes in Minneapolis, which saw union, non-union and unemployed workers standing together on the picket line. Using solidarity, they broke the powerful alliance of employers that had so effectively blocked workers in a range of industries from bargaining for a better life.
We’ve seen solidarity work in a global context, too. When NAFTA unleashed a race to the bottom among manufacturers in the mid-1990s, Autoworkers from St. Paul reached out across the border to workers inside Ford Motor Company’s Mexico assembly plants, building a unique relationship and bearing witness to the poverty wages and poor working conditions there.
But we don’t need to look backward to see the power of solidarity. It’s thriving right here, right now in St. Paul.
Our City Council last month passed an ordinance to guarantee all workers access to earned sick and safe time – the strongest and most progressive of any municipality in the country. It was a victory for working people – in particular, working people of color – but it didn’t happen by accident. Labor unions and small businesses teamed up with worker centers, community groups like Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and religious organizations like ISAIAH. We worked together, in solidarity, to make earned sick time a priority, to make our voices heard and, eventually, to make history.
Solidarity is alive and well on Allina nurses’ picket lines as well. The St. Paul Labor Center serves as a strike hub for nurses at United Hospital, and every day I come into work, I’m inspired by the members of the Minnesota Nurses Association – young and old, from a wide range of backgrounds – who are standing together and refusing to give in as Allina attempts to break their union. And it warms my heart to see so many members of other unions joining these courageous nurses on the picket line and supporting their strike fund financially.
As long as it takes to get the contract they deserve, that’s how long we’ll stand with nurses in their fight. It’s the right thing to do. It’s what nurses would do if it were any of us out on a picket line. It’s what solidarity is all about.
– Bobby Kasper is president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, which unites more than 100 affiliate unions representing 50,000 working people – and publishes The St. Paul Union Advocate.