The American union movement has marched forward to music for as long as working people have come together to improve the lives of themselves and their families.
You learn the anthems after a rally or two, and most famous of all, “Solidary Forever.” You know the chorus:
For the union makes us strong
The original version is more than 100 years old, but the lessons it teaches are still worth hearing, especially during the third year of this pandemic and one of the darkest times in all our careers as educators.
Writer and activist Ralph Chaplin started writing “Solidarity Forever” in 1912 while covering a miner’s strike in West Virginia that lasted 13 months and left more than dozen people dead on both sides.
I can imagine how much pressure the miners felt. How hard it must have been to stay together when the big money bosses were using all their influence, including violence, to tear the union apart.
Educators are feeling a less extreme form of that pressure today. I hear it in meetings. I see it in the social media posts. It’s a small erosion of our shared faith in unionism and in each other.
I’ve heard, “Their concerns are not our concerns” from one union about another. I’ve read versions of “the union cares more about that part of the state than this part of the state.”
The truth is that the officers of Education Minnesota have heard directly from educators in 135 locals—urban, suburban and rural—since the school year began. Rarely have we heard about an issue that didn’t touch nearly every member.
That’s why making progress on our shared goals for educators and students requires educators to keep supporting each other. No local is powerful enough to succeed alone.
About 200 of Education Minnesota’s locals have fewer than 50 members. About 120 locals have 51-100 members, four locals have between 1,000-2,000 members and only five locals have more than 2,000 members.
Do you think a governor listens to a Greater Minnesota educators’ concerns more closely when that educator is standing next to 86,000 other educators? I do.
On the other side, no politician can dismiss an issue as a “metro problem” when there are tens of thousands of educators from Greater Minnesota sending petitions and saying it’s their issue, too.
Despite all the stress we’re feeling, educators still have more reasons to keep together than drift apart. It’s an idea that was written into “Solidarity Forever” a few years ago by the folksinger Steve Suffet. His new verses:
They say our day is over; they say our time is through,
They say you need no union if your collar isn’t blue,
Well that is just another lie the boss is telling you,
For the Union makes us strong!
They divide us by our color; they divide us by our tongue,
They divide us men and women; they divide us old and young,
But they’ll tremble at our voices, when they hear these verses sung,
For the Union makes us strong!
The verses remind us that when we join together in union, we’re not just committing to improve our own lives. We’re making a bond to each other. We’re embracing the fight for something bigger than ourselves. And that something will keep us strong.