In solidarity: how the nurses at St. Vincent's
By Deb Rigiero, RN
Associate Director of Organizing
In solidarity. I have used these words often, particularly
when signing off on letters and fliers.
In the spring of 2000, the nurses at St. Vincent's Hospital,
Worcester, experienced the true meaning of "Solidarity."
On our strike line, along with the St. Vincent nurses, there
were nurses from all over, as well as firefighters, police,
carpenters, steelworkers, elevator workers, bus drivers, postal
workers, food workers, community groups, political leaders
and many others. We have a big book listing all those who
came on the line, donated to our cause and supported us during
our strike. You don't realize how much it means until you're
on the receiving end of this solidarity. Broad-based support
also makes management aware that a strike is perceived as
a public issue, and delivers the message that the union has
support from other unions, the community and political leaders.
This is the reason you picket, leaflet or strike. A strike
or picket would not work if it was done in a vacuum with no
inside nor outside support.
You do not have to go out on strike to experience the solidarity
I mention above. However, it is important to have contacts
in the area with other unions, a labor council, community
groups and local politicians. These resources are usually
already being accessed by members of your bargaining unit.
You may have a member who is on a neighborhood community group,
works for a political campaign, knows a reporter or who attends
labor functions with a family member or friend. You may meet
local legislators, community activists, and other union activists
at school functions, sport functions or other gatherings.
That's how I got started. I would go to political functions,
labor actions and labor council meetings with my husband.
I actually met other nurses who were there with their spouses.
The people I met at these meetings were interested in what
was happening in their communities and to their constituents.
At St. Vincent's we were lucky. Many contacts were in place
before our first job action. Before we organized, Rep. Jim
McGovern, our congressman, knew we were going to have a vote
for a union. Prior to our first candlelight vigil, the mayor,
the labor council, the senior action committee all knew we
were having issues at the table. Before we voted to go on
strike, the labor and political communities were aware of
the issues. All these people were there with us the night
before our strike. All these people have been with us since.
The nurses at St. Vincent's and Brockton all took the first
courageous step of voting to go on strike. It took courage
to take a stand against an issue and withdraw nursing care
for such a belief. It took courage to put the safety of patients
first over the security of a weekly paycheck. It took courage
to stand together with their co-workers out on the streets
of Worcester in the rain, sleet, and snow and on the streets
of Brockton in the oppressive heat. As Hillary Clinton says,
"It takes a village." That village, our community,
supported us every step of the way, helping to make our strikes
the successes they ultimately were.
I'm sure if you talk to any nurse who has had to picket, leaflet
or strike they would tell you that having co-workers, other
unions, the community and political leaders walking beside
them is important not only for a show of strength but also
for the emotional support of knowing that you are not alone.
Life is busy and we often don't pay attention to all the peripheral
issues that may not have a direct impact on our day-to-day
lives. I would read about pickets and strikes; I would also
do my own personal boycotts (grapes, strawberries, Coors beer,
etc.) to feel that I was at least participating in my own
small way. After being on strike, I realize that every worker's
struggle is our struggle and our struggle is every worker's
struggle. City workers picketing so the city will not raise
their insurance rates can directly impact our ability to negotiate
our insurance rates. The St. Vincent's nurses and Brockton
nurses strikes led to language in other nursing contracts
that prohibit or limit mandatory overtime.
Since our strike, many nurses at St. Vincent's have participated
in other union strikes and pickets. I remember going to a
picket at Raytheon and hearing the shouts of "the nurses
are here!" as we crossed the street to the picket line.
In California, we stood at an Albertson's strike line for
30 minutes. We walked away feeling even those 30 minutes made
a difference. Standing on the strike line with the Worcester
Saint Gobain workers or bus drivers helped me appreciate the
courage and sacrifices these workers are making. You feel
you are part of a brotherhood or sisterhood that is taking
a stand against the unjust and unfair treatment of workers.
You've all taken the first step in becoming an active member.
You've organized and are a union. You have a real voice in
the work place. The next step is to maintain and nourish the
contacts that you have within your community. The Region 2
members are part of the Central Massachusetts Labor Council.
We send delegates to the council meetings. They hear our issues
and we hear their issues. We have mutually supported each
other through job actions, letters, phone calls, and other
When you are at a political function, let legislators know
what is happening in their community with their constituents.
Support and work for the candidates who support our issues.
It is more important to talk to your legislator than to have
someone from the MNA talk to them. They want to hear from
their constituents. Hold signs at the polls, make phone calls,
or donate to a candidate's campaign. Be there for them and
they'll be there for you. Let your community activists know
what is happening in their community. Participate in neighborhood
groups, school groups, town meetings, etc. It doesn't have
to take a lot of your time. It may be one phone call to your
legislator, 20 minutes on a picket line, a letter to the editor
or a meeting a month. Every little bit helps. It is better
for your bargaining unit to have a lot of people spending
a little time, than a few people spending a lot of time working
toward a common goal.
At this I leave you with two thoughts. The first is don't
drive by a picket line without stopping, even if it is just
for five minutes. Five minutes out of your busy day is priceless
to the workers on the line. The second is a quote from Martin
Luther King, Jr.: "All life is interrelated. All men
are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in
a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly,
affects all indirectly."