Solidarity Day 1981: 250,000 March on Washington

We are willing to bet that a larger proportion of Labor Notes readers marched on Solidarity
Day than of any other publication in America. But for those of you who couldn’t go, here’s an
idea of what it was like.

On the way into town Friday evening, you saw hard hats with local union numbers displayed
on the back shelves of cars. Everywhere you looked there were blue caps, union Tshirts
and jackets. In a country which prides itself on lacking class distinctions, for once the
pride was in being workers and opposing the rich.

The tone of the march was not so much militant as excited, even joyous….The comment
over and over was, “Can you believe this?” Nobody was disappointed…

Several people who carried Labor Notes’ “Honor Patco’s Picket Lines” signs told us that
well-wishers, mistaking them for air traffic controllers, kept coming up to shake their hands.

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The PATCO contingent was noticeable for the involvement of wives and children…
The march was in sharp contrast with the AFL-CIO’s traditional lobbying presence in
Washington. Whether George Meany turned over in his grave we can’t say.

But the march certainly carried a message to the halls of Congress and the White House.
We don’t think Reagan really believes, as he claims, that Simon and Garfunkel have more clout
than the labor movement.

But the more important message might have been the one the labor movement sent to
itself. We may have been asleep, it said, but we can wake up.

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #366, September 2009. Don't miss an issue, subscribe today.