Executive Director Reports

Solidarity calls on us to stand together

With unity comes progress

Roberta Lynch

Roberta Lynch

Solidarity is the foundation on which the American labor movement is built. In fact, every labor movement around the globe rests on this same base. In the recognition of our shared struggles and our shared hopes lies the truest potential for our shared progress.

Solidarity is a firm insistence on our connection to each other—our defiant rejection of the repeated attempts to divide us. It has been the hallmark of countless victories, large and small, for AFSCME members across Illinois. Driving out Bruce Rauner and regaining the wages he stole from us; beating back attempts to privatize services like water treatment and trash collection in cities and towns; halting planned layoffs; securing long overdue raises for frontline caregivers in nonprofit agencies; blocking steep cuts to state university budgets. It’s a list that could go on for pages.

Solidarity calls on us not just to stand together when our own interests are directly at stake, but to reach out to help our fellow union members when they are besieged, even if we are not. Over the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic radically reshaped our home and work lives, we have been reminded anew that this social connectedness is what unionism is all about.

Solidarity is members of Local 29 at Shapiro Developmental Center in Kankakee traveling to the Ludeman Developmental Center in Park Forest last spring. Employees at Shapiro had spent months battling more than a hundred cases of COVID before achieving a measure of containment. They could have taken a well-deserved rest. Instead, they had a special banner made with the message “AFSCME Local 29 Shapiro Supports All Ludeman Heroes” and carried it onto the grounds of the Ludeman Center to show their support for the AFSCME members there who faced an even more severe COVID outbreak that had taken the lives of a number of the facility’s residents and employees.

Solidarity is Local 172 at Mabley Center in Dixon and Local 817 at Dixon Correctional Center bringing food and words of encouragement to the health care workers at CGH Medical Center in Sterling who are on the front lines fighting the coronavirus pandemic even as their employer is viciously fighting their ongoing effort to form a union with AFSCME.
Solidarity is the leaders of Locals 448, 2515, 692 and 1058 coming out to show support for the members of Local 3315 at the Rockford Public Library who are battling callous and irresponsible library management to prevent layoffs and secure basic COVID-19 protective measures.

Solidarity is Local 2767 at McFarland Mental Health Center joining the picket line when Local 3982 at the Springfield Housing Authority was in a tough contract fight.

And solidarity is what drove Locals 988, 2025 and 2615 to help pack meetings of the Rock Island County Board in support of Local 2371’s crusade to halt the privatization of the Hope Creek Care Center.

Solidarity can be as simple as one member volunteering to work overtime so an exhausted co-worker can get some desperately needed rest, or as major as a local union voting to prioritize raises for lower-wage workers in contract negotiations.

Our solidarity has seldom been more critical than it is at this moment when we are beset not just by an unprecedented pandemic that’s stricken so many of our members, but by a concerted effort by outside forces to sow conflict and division in our ranks. Groups like the Illinois Policy Institute, its numerous offshoots and their billionaire backers like Bruce Rauner and Ken Griffin continue to have an obsessive focus on trying to destroy public employee unions.

They thought they had taken us down when the anti-union majority on the U.S. Supreme Court acted to ban union fair share fees in the case of Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. Although former state employee (now IPI talking head) Mark Janus was the nominal plaintiff in the case, Governor Rauner claimed it as his own, boasting that the ruling would lead members to drop out of their unions.

In reality, union members have withstood an unrelenting campaign of lies and distortions by the Rauner cabal. Ignoring the barrage of slick mailers and social media saturation, they have instead reaffirmed their membership, with tens of thousands signing pledges to remain AFSCME Strong. And local union members across the state have taken up the task of educating new employees about the importance of union representation, mutual support and signing up as a union member.

Simply put, we refuse to revoke our solidarity.

Now the IPI is using the defeat of the Fair Tax constitutional amendment as a pretext to renew its campaign against public employee pensions—this time, almost certainly, with more money from its wealthy backers. When that assault comes, we must be fully armed to fight back—standing together as one in defense of the retirement security we have worked so long and so hard to achieve.

In a recently-published excerpt from his new book, Pope Francis pointed out: “The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is ... solidarity.”

This we know from all of our own efforts through the years: The stronger we forge the bonds of solidarity, the more we reach out across whatever lines seem to divide us, the greater the odds that we can prevail in all the challenges before us.