Columns / Discourse / October 2, 2019

Solidarity is America’s new political force

There is a spectre haunting this country, the spectre of a new political force which was killed, buried, revived and slain many times over. It is not just a strike wave, it is not just union power, it is the force of solidarity renewed.

Solidarity is the truest human force there is; it begins first with striving towards each other and ends with striving forward together. It is apparent first as a mindset, a realization within of our common humanity. It is then seen in conversation between neighbors, among communities, and it ends in definitive stances as evidenced by strikes, sit-ins, and the construction of a true community for all.

On Sept. 16th, at exactly 11:59 pm, more than 49,000 workers employed by General Motors put down their tools, clocked out and went on strike.

As I write this article, the strike is in its third week; on Oct. 2nd, GM losses from work stoppage reached $1 billion. Six days before this, Kaiser Permanente agreed to a four-year exponential pay raise for its employees after a coalition of 85,000 workers threatened a strike. Coal miners in Cumberland, Kentucky will enter their eleventh week of blockading a railroad, demanding backpay which was never delivered. These actions come on the heels of major strikes by teachers’ and nurses’ unions all around the country.

If the history of recent American politics is to be understood as a single, cohesive action, it is the complete cementation of the tenets of a new American superstructure: alienation, domination, and exploitation. This crime was committed behind closed doors, delivered in the packages of neoliberal market solutions and a bipartisan consensus that American democracy will now serve global capital.

Its preliminary victim, the power of collective bargaining among labor, was but a precursory course for the degradation of the climate and of democracy itself. Labor, what ought to be the expression of human creativity and passion, has been subjugated into a commodity which trades for the profit of a few and at the cost of the massive rest.

What remains are the political actions we have available as citizens of a democracy. These actions, or the majority of them, are reactive in nature. We respond to the ebb and flow of the superstructure in a predetermined set of behaviors. We call our representatives, we vote in our elections, we answer the phone when a pollster comes knocking to let them know how we “really feel.”

Solidarity, too, is reactive in this sense. It doesn’t come from a vacuum but from an excess of intervention and division by our society’s superstructure. But unlike these other actions, solidarity is spontaneous and not to be told what to do. It is not us acting within the red tape as we’ve been directed to do, but it is us exerting our control, our authority over our labor and our lives.

It is time for a new kind of politics, a kind of politics which does not come in a suit and is not followed by “D” or “R” after its name. We need a human politics and human politics cannot be found within a structure whose main goal is to dehumanize. That politics is to be found and modeled upon solidarity, as observed in the actions of the workers of General Motors, of the sit-ins down in Kentucky, and in the teachers of America, who all stood together to say that enough is enough.

Just as democracy is based upon the consent to be governed, labor is based on the consent to work. That consent can be withdrawn, negotiated and offered back again upon better pretenses. Strikes are one such way to withdraw consent.

Showing mutual support, like the Teamsters who promptly refused to transport GM vehicles, is another. The common element here is our affirmation of each other and our mutual dependency. This can be transposed onto any element which requires we make decisions as a society. It is our newfound path back to prosperity and security, and it is our future. It is how we take back our lives, our country and our humanity.

Matt Milewski

Tags:  activism General Motors labor unions solidarity United States workers' strike

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