We Were at Historic 1981 Solidarity Day March

August 30, 2019

The decade of the 1980s was a difficult period for 1199, as the Local grappled with complex questions of affiliations and its relation to the 1199 national union. Yet through it all, 1199 never lost sight of the centrality of solidarity.

Thus, when the AFL-CIO called for a march and rally in response to President Ronald Reagan’s firing of some 12,000 striking members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), 1199ers were among the hundreds of thousands who attended.

The crowd, estimated at between 250,000 and 400,000, was significant also because the marchers did not fly to Washington. Instead they boarded thousands of chartered buses and trains. To ensure that arriving marchers could reach the protest sites, The AFL-CIO brought out the DC Metro for the day.

Although the action is not well known today, it was the largest organized by labor in decades. In addition to solidarity with the PATCO strikers, the other theme of the day was Jobs and Justice.

Labor was joined by its allies, principally from the civil rights, women’s and peace movements. A number of program luminaries were good friends of 1199, such as Coretta Scott King, Ossie Davis and Pete Seeger.

1199ers waved yellow flags emblazoned with the word, “Solidarity.” They marched behind banners demanding “Health Care for All!”

Not long after the march Pres. Reagan, in an address to the nation expressed support for the Solidarity movement led by workers in Poland, but that solidarity never extended to the PATCO workers.