SOLIDARITY is not merely a concept, but a practice that necessitates trust, mutual support, and respect among workers. In an era of escalating inequality, economic instability, and political polarisation, the fight for workers’ rights and social justice is more crucial than ever. The Covid pandemic has laid bare the precariousness of many workers’ lives and highlighted the urgent need for better protection and support for those in low-wage and precarious jobs. The Black Lives Matter movement has also drawn attention to the intersection of race and class in the struggle for social justice and underscored the importance of addressing issues of structural inequality in the labour movement.
At the heart of the labour movement is the concept of solidarity. Solidarity refers to the idea that workers should stand together and support each other in their struggles for better working conditions, wages, and benefits. It is the recognition that workers’ interests are aligned and that they are more powerful when collaborating.
Solidarity has played a crucial role in the history of the labour movement. Through collective action and solidarity, workers achieved many of the gains that we take for granted today, such as the eight-hour workday, minimum wage laws, and workplace safety regulations. These gains were not handed down from above, but were won through hard-fought struggles and sacrifices by workers and their allies.
However, solidarity is not just a historical artifact. It is still vital for workers today, who face new challenges and threats to their rights and dignity. In the current political climate, both regionally and globally, workers face increased attacks from employers, politicians, and various groups seeking to undermine their rights and protections. The Covid pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges, with many essential workers risking their lives and health on the frontlines of the crisis.
Solidarity is the antidote to these challenges. Workers can build power and resist attacks on their rights and dignity through solidarity. Solidarity means standing with workers in other industries, in other countries, and across racial and gender lines. It means recognising that workers’ struggles in one sector are connected to the struggles of workers in others and that only through collective action can workers achieve lasting change.
At the same time, solidarity is not an easy or automatic practice. It requires a commitment to listening, learning, and supporting each other. It requires recognising the power dynamics within the labour movement and a willingness to challenge those dynamics when they perpetuate inequality and exclusion. It involves a recognition of the diversity of experiences and identities within the labour movement and a commitment to building inclusive, intersectional activities that address the needs and concerns of all workers from all walks of life.
In this sense, solidarity is not just a means to an end, but an end in itself. It is a vision of a world in which workers can stand together and support each other in their struggles for social justice and dignity. It is a recognition of the power of collective action to effect change and a commitment to building movements grounded in mutual support and respect.
May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, has been celebrated globally for over a century to honour the struggles and sacrifices of the labour movement. However, the true essence of May Day lies in the collective action of workers standing in solidarity to demand their rights and improve their working conditions. In recent years, the celebration of May Day has lost its significance, reduced to mere symbolic gestures and cultural events. The labour movement has been weakened, and the power dynamic between workers and employers has shifted in favour of the latter. It is time to reclaim May Day and transform it from a day of celebration to a day of action.
The first step towards that vision might be acknowledging the systemic issues that have eroded the labour movement’s power. The rise of neoliberalism and globalisation has created a race to the bottom regarding wages, job security, and working conditions. The gig economy and precarious work have become normalised and workers are left without collective bargaining power or protections.
We must move beyond symbolic gestures and embrace collective action to address these issues. This means supporting workers’ unions and advocating for policy changes that protect and empower workers. It means standing in solidarity with marginalised communities, recognising that our struggles are interconnected. It means engaging in direct action, whether strikes, protests, or boycotts, to demand change from those in power. Therefore, a fundamental shift in our understanding of power and solidarity is mandatory. It means rejecting individualism and embracing collective action. It means recognising that true power lies in the hands of the people, not the elites. It is also about building a more just and equitable society for all. Solidarity must extend beyond the labour movement and encompass issues of race, gender, sexuality, and environmental justice. Workers’ struggles are intertwined with marginalised communities’ struggles, and we must work together to create a better future.
On another note, internationalism plays a crucial role in the labour movement, as workers’ struggles for justice and dignity are often intertwined with global economic systems. In today’s globalised world, multinational corporations have enormous power, and their actions have far-reaching consequences for workers worldwide. As such, labour movements must be internationalist in their outlook, building bridges with other workers’ organisations worldwide and working towards a common goal of social justice and worker empowerment.
One way that internationalism has played a role in the labour movement is through the establishment of international labour organisations. For example, the International Labour Organisation was founded in 1919 as a part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. The ILO has since promoted social justice and improved working conditions worldwide, setting international labour standards and fostering cooperation among workers’ organisations.
Another example of internationalism in the labour movement is the global fight for a living wage. A living wage is the idea that workers should be paid enough to cover their basic needs, such as food, shelter, and healthcare. This is not just a national issue; it is a global one. Workers worldwide are struggling to make ends meet, and the fight for a living wage must be international.
Moreover, internationalism can also take the form of solidarity actions. When workers in one country go on strike or face other forms of repression, workers in other countries can show solidarity by taking similar steps or otherwise supporting them. This type of international solidarity can be a powerful tool in the labour movement, as it shows that workers are not alone in their struggles and have the support of workers worldwide.
However, internationalism in the labour movement has its challenges. Cultural and linguistic differences, for example, can make building bridges between workers’ organisations in different parts of the world difficult. Additionally, multinational corporations often exploit these differences to pit workers against one another, driving down wages and working conditions worldwide.
To overcome these challenges, the labour movement must work to build international solidarity and cooperation. This can be done through education, building relationships with other workers’ organisations, and promoting awareness of workers’ shared struggles and goals worldwide. By doing so, the labour movement can reclaim the spirit of internationalism that has long been a part of May Day celebrations and work towards a more just and equitable world for all workers, regardless of their country of origin.
Historically, labour movements have focused primarily on improving working conditions and wages for workers. However, it is crucial to recognise that labour rights are not independent of broader societal issues. Workers’ struggles are intertwined with other forms of injustice, and progress cannot be made without addressing them. For example, women and people of colour have faced systemic discrimination in the workplace, making it difficult for them to access equal opportunities and fair treatment.
Therefore, to achieve true social justice, addressing the root causes of oppression and working towards a more equitable society for all is essential. This requires a broad-based movement that can mobilise diverse groups of people to fight for change. One way to address the issue is through the concept of ‘intersectionality.’ Kimberlé Crenshaw, a black feminist scholar, coined the term ‘intersectionality’ to describe the idea that various forms of oppression interact and produce distinct experiences of marginalisation. For example, a woman of colour may experience discrimination differently than a white woman or someone of colour who is not a woman. Understanding intersectionality is vital because it allows us to recognise how different forms of oppression are interconnected and to develop more effective strategies for addressing them.
It is essential to recognise that the fight for social justice is ongoing and that progress requires sustained efforts and collaboration. It is also necessary to reflect on the labour movement’s achievements and renew our commitment to building a more just society. By working in solidarity and recognising the intersection of labour rights and social justice, we can create a future where all people are valued and their basic rights are respected.
In a nutshell, solidarity, as a concept, is a powerful tool for the labour movement. It is through the unity of workers that real change can be achieved. The labour movement must embrace the power of solidarity and continue to fight for workers’ rights. However, this fight must not be limited to the workplace alone. The labour movement must also recognise the intersection between labour rights and social justice. This recognition will help create an inclusive and diverse movement, reflecting the needs of all workers, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity or religion.
Rakibul Alam is a lecturer in English at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman University, Kishoreganj.