Why Solidarity Matters


A few weeks ago, our brothers and sisters at UFCW Local 88 approved a new contract with Schnucks after lengthy negotiations and a few emotional contract meetings. When it looked like a strike might possibly take place, I told you that my position was unshakeable: good workers don’t cross picket lines, and Local 655 will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers and sisters if a sanctioned strike occurs.

Strikes are enormously disruptive for everyone, but that’s precisely the point. A strike without solidarity will never be effective, and that’s why it was important that Local 655 make our support of Local 88 abundantly clear. Unions are not about the individual; they are about our collective desire for a better life.

While I am the president of Local 655, this job isn’t about me, it’s about you – my partners. Good union leaders don’t wrap themselves in personal glory or put their own needs ahead of the greater good. Good union leaders remember that they are first and foremost here to advocate for the men and women who pay their salary. That’s why we stand with workers on strike — even when that strike is challenging or disruptive.

Fortunately, Local 88 was able to approve a new contract and avoid a strike. Now, our sister local is in negotiations with Dierbergs to secure a new contract. While we obviously hope for speedy negotiations and a good union contract and history tells us that will likely be the outcome, at the end we must emphasize once again that we will stand with Local 88. We don’t stand with them because it’s easy — which it isn’t. We do it because they have stood with us, and because unions cannot thrive if we don’t put our own personal needs aside and focus on the larger good.

Unions like ours are diverse, with a broad range of people from every possible background. As different and diverse as we are, our mutual goals are not that different to one another. Workers want the same thing: good wages, good benefits, respect on the job, the ability to raise and spend time with their families, and at the end of our careers to be able to retire with dignity and a quality life. These are core desires that we all share, and core goals we all must continue to strive for.

What good is a union if it can’t secure good wages and benefits? What good is a union if they can’t take that final step and withhold labor in a strike? What good is a union without support from their brothers and sisters in Labor? Workers succeed when they present a united front and speak with one voice.

“Divide and conquer” is an old cliché that’s been used in just about every way imaginable, and Labor is no different. Big businesses succeed when they have a divided workforce and keep them from forming unions and bargaining collectively for better compensation and conditions. Politicians succeed when they pit neighbors against neighbors or communities against communities.  When workers are targeting one another, pointing fingers at their coworkers rather than the management class that keeps them all down, we have lost.

They will continue to try to divide us, believe me. They’ll put a plate of 10 cookies on the table, eat nine of them, and then tell you that the worker sitting next to you is trying to take your cookie. If you find yourself suddenly furious at your fellow worker or neighbor remember your employer or the politician has succeeded because we as workers are divided.

Labor unions can’t afford to think small in these times. If we find ourselves bogged down in short-term thinking we will lose the big picture. We need good contracts, of course, but we also can’t think one contract at a time. Each bargaining cycle is about securing the best contract for our partners, but it is also about laying the groundwork for an even better contract the next time around.

This is why we fight hard without burning bridges. This is why we squeeze every penny out of companies without mortgaging the future. This can present its own challenges. Rank-and-file union workers sometimes want the entire plate of cookies right here and now, without understanding the risks that can pose to the future.

We cannot secure good contracts today only to accept bad ones in the future. We cannot think about the only the next year of our lives. This means we must think seriously about solidarity and partnerships with our brothers and sisters in Organized Labor.

How do we push back against this divide-and-conquer strategy? How do we think long-term about our survival as a group?

The longer we consider these questions, the more “outside the box” our ideas may become, but we should consider them all the same. The UFCW here in St. Louis and across the country has many challenges before us, and we can’t shrink from them. We can’t always try the same tactics that worked in the past, and leaders must put aside their egos and consider what is best for all hard-working people.

I am glad our brothers and sisters in Local 88 were able to avoid a strike and secure a contract, and I am hopeful they will see a similar result in their current negotiations with Dierbergs. I am proud to stand with them as they seek the better life they’ve earned and deserve, and I’m hopeful that we in Organized Labor will continue to consider what is truly the best thing for all of us.

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