by Dave Stratman, Peoria, IL 8/6/05

They met in the heart of the heart of the country: Peoria, Illinois. There were seventeen of them. They were, for the most part, veterans of some of the bitterest, hardest-fought labor struggles of the last decades--the great Caterpillar strikes and lockout, the Accuride strike and lockout--and of less publicized struggles in auto plants. There were veterans too of national battles over public education and over health care. They represented many millions of others just like themselves--working people who, whether union or non-union, employed or unemployed, have been taking it in the teeth for too many years from corporate and government power, and who feel betrayed by those who were supposed to lead and defend them: the International unions of the erstwhile AFL-CIO, the National Education Association, and the politicians of both parties, Democrat and Republican. They came determined to build a new solidarity movement, they said, to fight for the values, the livelihoods, the future of working people.

Larry Solomon, the respected president of UAW Local 751 at the Decatur, IL Caterpillar plant during the long struggles of the 1990s, chaired the meeting. Solomon, a life-long United Auto Workers (UAW) member, said, "The UAW International sabotaged our strike. They didn't want us to win. They were working with the company to manage us. Asked why he was helping lead this new solidarity movement, Solomon replied, "We have to offer people a break from the traditional treachery they have faced from their unions. There is absolutely no hope in the deteriorating union system we are leaving. We want to take as many people with us as we can into a new movement and a new organization where our concern for one another will forever bond us into a solid body that can't be whittled away by the enemies of common sense."

We Have To Do It Ourselves

It was a day of intense discussion, led off by some brief speeches. Susan Ohanian, a nationally-known educator and author who had been scheduled to speak, sent a message of solidarity, expressing regret at an illness that kept her away and support for a new organization. She declared, "I was looking forward to a meeting where working people could forge resistance to the corporate-politico power that drains us dry. The future for teachers looks just about as grim as it does for other working people: There's a relentless push to portray teachers as incapable of doing their jobs, to impose wage-tiers, diminish health insurance and pensions. Teachers' unions portray this attack as 'right wing,' when it is actually driven by corporate imperatives that are supported by the Democrat politicos as well as the Republicans. Our traditional guilds, unions, and professional organizations have betrayed us."

Billy Robinson led the two-month strike and four-year lockout of UAW Local 2036 at the Accuride plant in Henderson, KY. He said, "Several International Union officials sanctioned and mandated that their members cross our picket lines to scab, including IBEW, Millwrights, and Carpenters. My local voted 9 times not to accept the contract Accuride and the UAW were pushing at us. The UAW just kept making us vote till we got it right. They made sure scab wheels [Accuride manufactures wheels for cars and trucks] kept being installed by UAW members in auto plants. They cut off all our strike pay, all our benefits. Our local members said, That's OK, we're going to have to do this thing ourselves if we're going to win. Finally the International dissolved our local and kicked us out of our hall, saying they owned it. So it wasn't our union after all, I guess." Robinson said, "We have to get back to the family values of going to each others' aid. We need to extend who we mean by family to the whole working class. I don't like tossing the word "revolution" around in this day of Homeland Security, but I firmly believe there is going to be a revolt. People aren't going to take these cuts.

Dave Stratman, former Washington director of the National PTA, emphasized that, "We can win, because most people share our values. Most people try to create relationships based on love and trust and mutual support, the opposite of capitalist values of competition and selfishness. This means that most people are already struggling against capitalism, though they may not think of it that way." Stratman went on to say that, "There is a war going on in our society over what values will shape it, what goals it will pursue, and who will control it. On one side are the rich and powerful. They believe in competition and inequality and dictatorial rule. One the other side are most working people, who believe in equality and solidarity and control from below. This is the class war, a war over what it means to be a human being. It is a war we have to win." Stratman said that, "to succeed, a solidarity movement must be revolutionary. It must challenge capitalist values and the capitalist system. Institutions tied to capitalism can never work for working people. This is why the unions have betrayed us. To have true solidarity, we need to reject the logic of capitalist competition. We need to aim for a Solidarity Society based on the values of working people."

Principles for a New Movement

The August 6 meeting was initially scheduled as a planning meeting for a future launch of a new organization. After several hours of discussion, however, participants decided unanimously to found the new organization, Solidarity Now, and outlined its basic principles. Solidarity Now will:

C be controlled by its members;

C build solidarity in the workplace, across industries, across races and genders, across employed and unemployed, across generations, across borders;

C be independent of union officialdom;

C take action to support the values and struggles of working people;

C fight to revolutionize society and create a true democracy based on equality and solidarity.

Larry Solomon was appointed chair by acclamation. Tom Laney, a retired Ford worker from UAW Local 879 (Twin Cities Assembly Plant), was appointed editor of a planned newsletter. Tino Scalici, a young auto worker from Kansas City, offered to design and run a Solidarity Now web site.

Asked what its first activities would be, Larry Solomon emphasized the need to reach out as widely as possible with word of the new movement. "There are a great many people out there desperate to hear that there is a new option for them, a new way to connect with others who want to fight back against the war-makers and the Big Money people. We want to hear from all these people. We want them to get involved. We want their ideas, their energy, their time and their effort." Solomon explained that Solidarity Now does not intend to replace any unions. "We will not try to become anyone's collective bargaining agent. Our goal is not to represent working people but to unite them into a powerful fighting force to change the direction of our country.

Other articles by this author