Solidarity Saves Lives

There’s safety in numbers. It’s one of the oldest lessons of humanity. And it’s one we see reinforced time and again.

I recently listened to Chris Hayes’ podcast about the life expectancy crisis in the United States. According to researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton, the life expectancy for white people without college degrees has declined since the 1980s. This is driven mostly by “deaths of despair,” e.g., suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol poisoning. Case and Deaton noted several factors. Our for-profit healthcare system is a major one because even among the insured, millions of Americans can’t afford preventative care. But the latter half of the conversation focused primarily on the decay of our social fabric. People today are lonelier than ever. When Case and Deaton discussed explanations, they mentioned that fewer Americans attend houses of worship and also the decrease in union membership.

I think it’s important for us to imagine and cultivate new secular communal spaces that can replace religious institutions. But I was especially struck by the idea that a strong labor movement could literally save lives. Unions can win better working conditions that will protect bodies from harm. They can win better pay and benefits, leading to material health benefits. But they also can save lives through social benefits. Unions allow us to connect with other workers at our workplaces and beyond. Additionally, by winning benefits like paid time off, they create space in our lives for leisure which is essential for mental health and also in order to have time to make friends.

Photo by Manny Becerra on Unsplash

This summer is being coined by some as #hotstrikesummer. We are witnessing the WGA and SAG-AFTRA go head-to-head with their corporate bosses. UPS Teamsters just used the threat of a strike to win a huge raise for part-time drivers. In both these instances, some have tried to draw attention to the top earners in these unions as a way to discredit their unionism. But this only shows how deeply conditioned we are in the United States to dismiss solidarity. We’re drilled with the idea that each of us must work as hard as possible to get rich. It’s hard for some of us to imagine that millionaire actors might strike so that background actors can afford their rent.

Similarly, critics (and even so-called neutral media outlets) highlight the disruptiveness of strikes. But which is more disruptive to the well-being of our society, workers withholding their labor so they can pay their rent or corporate bosses withholding profits so they can afford another vacation home?

Solidarity is an antidote to so many challenges we’re facing now. We need it to fight back against the attacks on democracy and our human rights. We need it to survive the cascading effects of climate change.

But practicing solidarity can be hard. I think that’s maybe because I often think about solidarity in ethical or spiritual terms. I think about how it feels to show up for others and have them show up for me. Those feelings matter. This perspective may also be shaped by the fact that, generally, my material needs are being met. Maybe solidarity would be easier to practice if we focused on this simple idea: Solidarity saves lives. It cuts through all the theory and abstractions. And it calls to our basic human nature to look out for each other. To paraphrase Chris Hayes’ point toward the end of his conversation, “What is the point of any of this if we’re not trying to save lives?”

To have content like this delivered right to your email, subscribe to my substack, Hope for the Best.


Popular Posts