March 01, 2006

Solidarity forever.

That's not just some stale old labor slogan when you're a young woman growing up in a small Wyoming town, and your father's union goes out on a strike that turns out to be four years long. Over at the Daily Kos empire, a diarist using the name writerscramp tells the story of those four years, and more.

I think sometimes, especially in the first couple of years after the strike ended, my parents and the rest of the striking miners and their families probably looked back on the strike and wondered what they'd been fighting for, considering how it all turned out. What had they accomplished, really? All that sacrifice and heartache...for what?

For the future, is the answer. Watching my parents' struggle, this fight that seemed so impossible, we learned first-hand just what it really means to stand up for what you believe in. The words are easy to say and talk, as they say, is cheap. But when it comes down to it, to gambling your future, your family's future, on a principle and a trust in the people who share your beliefs, the actual act of standing up, fist held high, is one of the most courageous things you can ever do.

They had no guarantee that the rest of the people in the union wouldn't chicken out at the last minute, when push came to shove. Some of them did. There was no certainty they'd win. It wasn't money or benefits or anything else that made people like my stepdad vote to strike that September night in 1987. And principle, though laudable, doesn't pay the bills.

But he voted anyway.

I knew at the time that this experience was shaping me and my beliefs. Looking back, I realize just how deeply they shaped me. My parents, always Democrats, always politically active, believed in the responsibility of citizenship, that the price of freedom means participation and vigilance and standing up for what you believe in, no matter who else stands with you. When the unions in Poland and Czechoslovakia and other countries behind the Iron Curtain stood up to their government oppressors, and when that South African woman told us about her union's fight against apartheid, my parents stressed to us, over and over, just how much of a role the labor movement played in upholding democracy. "It wasn't the companies who fought for democracy in this country," they'd say, "it was people like us -- farmers, miners, factory workers. And you see it is this way in these other countries, too."

I've always been an activist at heart, either because of the way I was raised or the way my DNA lined up or a combination of both. But in the years since the strike, my natural tendency to tilt at windmills has been tempered by the understanding of what it means: you fight every day, not because of what you hope to achieve, but because it's the right thing to do. You'll never be guaranteed a win, no matter how righteous your cause; fighting the good fight doesn't mean you get a happy ending. But you fight for what's right anyway, because it's what's right. And if you're very, very lucky, others will stand to fight alongside you. This is how great changes happen.

The whole story is here. Make sure to read the comments — they're extensive and really interesting.


Posted by Magpie at March 1, 2006 02:13 AM | Labor | Technorati links |