by Tom Laney
In 1946, Henry Kraus, the UAW's first editor of UAW Solidarity, wrote The
Many and the Few, an account of the UAW's Flint Sitdown Strike which won
Union recognition from GM.
The book tells the story of how hundreds of extraordinary autoworkers took on
the most powerful corporation in the world over speedup and favoritism and
won an organization that they believed would fight for fairness and equality
in the plants and for a democratic society. They set out to change the world.
The book proves that when ordinary workers extend their friendships to
solidarity and direct action anything can be won. It used to be given by our
Local Union to new hires but this practice was stopped before I started at
Ford in 1972.
The UAW provides us with very different books today. And not just books
either. The new UAW's media arm works jointly with the corporations today in
a strategic attack on the real values of most ordinary autoworkers. They
intend to replace what was once the Union's culture of plant floor Solidarity
with a culture of competitiveness and favoritism. We are constantly subjected
to one-sided, corporate presentations; we receive video tapes, magazines,
weekly and monthly newspapers like "Sharing Our Pride" which all drive home
the new UAW's allegiance, not to Solidarity, but to Solidarity's enemy, dog
eat dog competition.
Despite this new competitive, corporate culture, the values that led
autoworkers to form the UAW - solidarity, democracy, equality and mutual
support - are alive and well in most ordinary autoworkers. If you want to
look for it you can see it working all over our plant every day on every
shift. We have just witnessed it in a very big way in defense of our
contract and the vote to reject an attack on our jobs and contract and the
Solidarity principle of pattern bargaining. It was a vote to stand together
as a Union should.
But in this fight just passed, a couple of our leaders made a mockery of
Solidarity. They say Solidarity is old fashioned. They say we cannot fight
back. They say we can only give the company what it asks. They say our
relationship with other Ford workers should be a competitive one. They are
The values of Solidarity have driven every great social movement in world
history. The American Revolution, the 8 hr. Day Crusade, the Populist
Movement, every Civil and Human Rights movement in our country gained its
inspiration and direction from Solidarity and real Democracy. Solidarity is
timeless because it is the way most people live their lives. Solidarity is
more important than ever.
We now live in the greatest period of social inequity in our country's
history, worse now, the experts say, than even the Robber Baron days. There
are a few people who are rich beyond belief and we have a whole lot of
people who work fulltime for poverty-level wages. We have more poor people
than ever. And then we also have the corporatists' answer to all the poverty
they've created which is the prison economy. They are giving us the lean
society with a permanent underclass.
What was different in the Robber Baron days, was workers formed a real labor
movement that had people joining up at great personal risk to fight the
We are now told we must join them.
What we miss today is a labor movement that has any serious quarrel with the
casino capitalism that is overtaking our country and the world and
threatening democracy everywhere. We have instead, "labor leaders" who party
with the enemy IN the casino! We have uaw people who are assisting Ford's
greed by arranging for Minnesota's taxpayers to fund lean production to the
tune of $600,000! Isn't this stealing from the poor? And, we have top uaw
porkchoppers bidding $million$ of our dues dollars for a Palm Springs resort!
Back at the ranch we have people who joined together and stood up for
Solidarity principles, who talked and argued for the integrity, freedom and
independence of our Union, who refused to play the dog eat dog game, who
chose the best traditions, principles and values of Trade Unionism and
Solidarity. Alot of members and a few reps and officers put democratic
discussion and Solidarity principles to work and proved that the Union still
They depended on each other to overcome the fear of a plant closure threat
brought by people who should know better. They proved the Union lives, and
that the way to wipe out hopelessness, the way to build confidence in each
other, is to simply connect the best Union people all over our plant and
between our plants.
Here are the words to Solidarity Forever, the real UAW's anthem.
by Ralph Chaplin, 1915
When the union's inspiration through the
worker's blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere
beneath the sun,
Yet what force on earth is weaker
than the feeble strength of one,
For the Union makes us strong.
(ch) Solidarity forever, solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever, the Union makes us strong.
It is we who plowed the prairies; built the
cities where they trade;
Dug the mines and built the workshops,
endless miles of railroad laid;
Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders
we have made;
But the Union makes us strong. (ch)
They have taken untold millions that they
never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single
wheel would turn,
We can break their haughty power,
gain our freedom when we learn,
That the Union makes us strong. (ch)
In our hands is placed a power greater than
their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies magnified a
We can bring a birth to a new world from the
ashes of the old,
For the Union makes us strong. (ch)
Maybe we should sing this at every Union meeting, right after the Corporate
Originally published in the May 2001 issue of "The Autoworker," the official paper of UAW Local 879 in St. Paul.