A Public Service Message and 35th Anniversary Greeting from Otto Mullinax and L.N.D. Wells, Jr. SOLIDARITY By Lane Kirkland Keynote address of AFL-C10 President Lane Kirkland at the 1989 AFL-CIO Convention in Washington, D.C., November 13, 1989. As you can tell from the emblems adorning this hall and the badges you wear, the central theme of this convention is the oldest and the most modern bedrock principle of trade unionism solidarity. Today more than ever, the solidarity of labor is the instrument of history and the lever that moves the world. No gathering of trade unionists can have a higher mission than to dedicate itself to the further promotion and enrichment of that principle. Solidarity has been defined in many ways and in many struggles over the years, and its meaning continues to evolve and to grow. It found expression by pioneers in early forms of worker organization in the old slogan: “An injury to one is the concern of all.” Its roots were firmly planted with the creation of this federation 108 years ago; refreshed, after the split, by the merger in 1955, and enhanced by the continued gathering under its roof, of all genuine trade unions in America. I cannot improve upon the simple and blunt definition of my predecessor, George Meany, who used to say that the key role of the trade union was to see that the big guys didn’t kick the little guys around. The proposition that we are all here to help each other has, over the course of this century, given us the tools to humanize our economic system, expand liberty, democratize privilege, and give voice to the most basic aspiration of working men and women for dignity and justice on the job, in their communities and throughout society. Solidarity has been our shield against the most primitive and the most sophisticated assaults by the agents of avarice and exploitation. It guided our actions long before the enactment of labor laws, and it has fortified us during their present perversidn. Solidarity has helped us to weather the harsh climate of the 1980s, unimpaired in vigor, and tougher in spirit and resolve for the experience. It has prepared us to enter the last decade of the 20th Century and to move with our banners high into the 21st. If we continue to build and reinforce our internal solidarity, no defeat on any front is permanent, no frustration leaves us short of breath. We will prepare ourselves for the next surge forward, into the next breach in the walls of unjust power and privilege. We are doing exactly that. Ten years ago, when you first gave me the high honor of serving as President of this federation, I promised to do my best to bring all trade unions under the banner of the AFL-CIO, where they rightfully belong. With the help of my colleagues in the leadership of this body, I kept my promise. As I read the names of the unions which have joined us since that time, I ask the delegates from those affiliates to stand to receive your applause and remain standing until the entire roll is called: The United Automobile, Aerospace and Agriculture Implement Workers of America; The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America; The International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union; The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers; The Writers Guild of America, East; The United Mine Workers of America. Brothers and sisters, once again, welcome to your natural home. Today, we can proudly say that this movement is more united in solidarity and is more broadly representative of the whole family of labor than it has been for at least half a century. And, for all our failings and flaws and unmet goals, the plain fact is that the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations is and will remain the largest and most active body of free and democratic trade unionists in the world. The reunification of the American labor movement has coincided with greater solidarity at every level of this federation. Despite the barriers and assaults mounted by the forces, fronts and hired hands of reaction in recent years, our perseverance has brought significant gains for our movement and for the people we care most about. We have improved our cooperation and teamwork in the critical task of organizing the unorganized. In the legislative arena, we did not flinch at vetoes and threats of vetoes, but persisted until we prevailed in our efforts to enact laws assuring working people and their communities advance notice of plant closings and linking preferential trade benefits to a nation’s respect for the rights of its own workers. We did not accept defeat, but returned again and again to the effort to get a raise for those who struggle to survive on the minimum wage, until a compromise measure, acceptable for the time being, was enacted. We accept our responsibility to man the front lines in the campaign to achieve decent health care and housing for all Americans and to rally support for measures to meet the needs of working families for child care and parental leave. We stand with our historic allies in the civil rights movement to resist the efforts of the Reagan courts to turn back the clock on justice. No matter what or where the front, we remain engaged. We will not take no for a final answer and we will not go away quietly from the scene of any struggle to advance the human condition. In political terms, solidarity requires that we take our stand together at the side of candidates who have proven that they are on our side. Through a democratic process that flows upwards from our members, we have developed a higher degree of solidarity in the pursuit of our responsibility to give those who are responsive to the concerns of working people, not a guarantee of victory, but a better fighting chance to win. New approaches grounded in solidarity have enhanced our capacity to bring reinforcements to the 44 DECEMBER 29, 1989
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