What is the distance a good deed can travel? What does a warm bowl of soup mean? What does a warm bed mean? A new bike or a kind gesture from a stranger?
All these things are small in and of themselves, but the smallest gesture to someone in need can move all the markers. If you are cold and someone offers you a warm sleeping bag, is there a measure for that? If you are hungry, and someone gives you a warm meal, how far does that go? To anyone who has suffered, who has been in need or has seen their children go hungry, how far does a helping hand go? I would say it reaches all of us — it goes all the way to making the world a better place.
As we go into the holiday season in the long and unimaginable year that has been 2020, I would like to reflect a bit on the small kindnesses we can show one another and, when you add them up, how far we have traveled. This holiday season, I want to reflect on our collective journey. On our union’s long trek across time to make where we live a decent and better place. To reflect on a UAW that steps up when our brothers and sisters are suffering and in need.
We saw it in the early ’30s when people were going hungry as this nation suffered through the agony of the Great Depression. We saw it in the late ’30s and ’40s, when solidarity was the only thing we had to rely on as we stood up to the mega-powerful auto bosses and demanded — through blood, sweat and tears — that they respect our workers and sit at the table to negotiate the first contracts.
We saw it in the ’50s and ’60s as our communities were torn apart by racial inequality and my UAW sisters and brothers stood strong, stood courageous with only the idea of what was right on their side. And we marched before the world.
We saw it through the dynamic ’70s and well into the ’80s when the UAW led the way in following in our fallen leader Walter Reuther’s footsteps, and soldiering on to build and solidify America’s middle class, while building prosperity and mobility and a better way of life for so many.
When our courageous brothers and sisters stood together in 1990 alongside Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years of his life in prison fighting to end apartheid in South Africa. Upon his release, he came almost immediately to Detroit to thank our union members in person for taking a real role in his human rights struggle for justice and telling those assembled at Local 600, “Sisters and brothers, friends and comrades, the man who is speaking is not a stranger here. The man who is speaking is a member of the UAW. I am your flesh and blood.”
And our values held fast as we stood by one another in a changing world with automation and globalization and anti-union politics challenging our gains, making them harder to come by, but not putting a dent in our determination, in our solidarity or in our support for one another and for all of America’s workers.
Brothers and sisters, look at us in the early 2000s, moving forward together to save the auto industry by making enormous sacrifices for the greater good. And here we are again just last year, mounting the biggest auto strike of the past 50 years, with UAW men and women marching side by side across this nation — 49,000-plus — in heat, rain, sleet, and snow to once again tell an auto boss, “NO! We will take no more concessions as you make billions on the backs of the products we build.”
And, in all these instances, we were on the good road. In all these instances, we made the world a little bit better place. We reached out to one another, we took care of one another and we marched in solidarity for every working man and woman in this country. As we have always done. As we will always do. It is in our DNA.
So, here we are in 2020 and going through the teeth of a virus that has not begun to let go, that has taken so many from us, that affects the way we work, live and learn. It has been a year of terrible loss, of tremendous social upheaval and unimaginable grief. But here we are once again closing ranks, pushing on through it, helping one another.
Our UAW family was, as always, among the first to step up when our nation was in need. Our sisters and brothers volunteered to go back into the plants to make the critical life-saving personal protective equipment needed to fight this pandemic. We started food banks and community support projects, served on the front lines of this crisis in health care facilities and public safety, and got to work in our living rooms and kitchens making masks. And once again, we stood together and with the strength of our solidarity, told the companies that the safety of our members comes first as we looked to get our nation back to work last spring.
This holiday, I want to recognize every hardworking woman and man in this country, especially our UAW family and fellow labor union families, and remind us all of how far we have come and what we have achieved. I am proud to say that we are all on this road together and I cannot imagine better traveling companions.
Wishing each and every one of us a safe and happy holiday.
Curry is secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers, an American labor union that represents workers in the United States and Canada.