individual stories

Worker solidarity: We have to change the entire world!

A long time friend and comrade of mine, one who’s fought inside his work place and inside his union for many years, sent out the following appeal:

Hi friends,

Wondering if you all can’t assist me with something? I’m looking for a one page simple flyer that explains “Worker Solidarity “.

Something easy to understand but gets the point across in a very strong way! I’ve searched the net but haven’t found anything that would suit my needs. I thought some of you old labor hacks and activist may be able to help me on this?

I’ve found that many workers in my industry have no clue what I’m talking when I bring up “worker solidarity ” in our workplace. Then when I explain to them how workers can stand up to the boss collectively they look at me like I’m speaking a different language. (And we are a union shop!) Many of the workers I work with feel they have to brown nose the boss to keep their job! If we had a good simple clear short and to the point flyer we could use as a tool that would be awesome.

If you don’t know of any such flyer would anyone out there be interested in creating one that could be used in all workplaces? Let me know.

The Berkeley BART tunnel under construction
This is an actual picture of where I was working on my first carpenter job when I had that argument with my foreman.

His appeal reminds me of an experience I had on my very first job as a carpenter apprentice. I had been looking for some little concrete blocks called dobies when my foreman yelled at me: “John, what the fuck are you doing?” he shouted. The blood rushed to my head. “I’ve got the union now,. I don’t need to put up with this bullshit,” I thought. Really – that was my thought! “I’m looking for some fucking dobies,” I shouted back. “What the fuck do you think I’m doing?” We got into this shouting match. I still remember very clearly my journeyman, Bill (his real name), standing there with his jaw hanging open, amazed that this rookie apprentice would yell back at the foreman like that. Bill and I used to ride together, and after work he told me, “John, you can’t do that.” “Why?” I asked. “I was right, wasn’t I?” He agreed that I was, but he still insisted that I couldn’t do that. For a week after, everything I did was wrong and then I got laid off.

I thought about Bill’s response for a long time afterwards and I know what he was thinking. It was long these lines: “John is right, but he’s not going to get any backing. The business agent won’t defend him, so that means he’s going to lose his job over this. Is it really so bad that that’s worth it?”

This was in 1970, and I was about ten years younger than Bill. In other words, I’d been shaped by the revolt of black people and by the Vietnam War protests. I felt we had to change the world and, instinctively, I felt that the work place and the union was the place to start.

I saw Bill on and off over the years and some 20 years later I ran into him in our hiring hall when we were both out of work. At that time I was involved in a socialist group that put out a paper called “Labor Militant”. I asked Bill if he’d like a copy. He didn’t want one because, he said, he’s not a socialist. “Why not?” I asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” was his reply.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Look, I said I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay, but just tell me this: Do you think you have a right to have a job?” I asked. (Remember, we were both in the hiring hall, meaning we were both out of work.)

Bill started laughing. “Oh, no!” he said. “You’re not going to fool me. I told you: I don’t want to talk about it!”

A lot of effort has gone into convincing workers that they don’t have their own separate interests as workers, as a class – the working class. Along with this has gone the effort to convince them that, anyway, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway. Foremost in lending a hand in this effort is our own union leadership. Their role has been key to confusing, dividing and demoralizing the working class. That situation won’t be overcome at the drop of a hat. It’s going to take some massive shocks. Those shocks are coming.

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