Solidarity Day: 1981-82
More than 250,000 people gathered for a march on Washington September 19, 1981 sponsored by the AFL-CIO in opposition to President Ronald Reagan’s economic policies.

The labor movement had been fighting defensive battles for over a decade with a strike wave that rivaled those of the 1930s and 1945-46. In many instances, the efforts to battle big business were spurred by the rank and file union members and resisted by top union officials.

George Meany, the longtime conservative head of the AFL-CIO retired in 1979 and was succeeded by Lane Kirkland. Many mid and lower level union leaders held hope that the AFL-CIO would become a more progressive force and Kirkland responded to this pressure by agreeing to sponsor a Solidarity Day march on Washington.

Leading up to the march, 12,000 air traffic controllers staged a strike around safety demands and two days later, President Ronald Reagan fired all that didn’t return to work immediately.

The firing of the air traffic controllers spurred a reaction among unions across the country and led to an outpouring on the National Mall that rivaled the largest antiwar and civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s.

However, despite the upsurge, the labor movement adopted no real change in strategy or tactics as it continued to decline in numbers, power and influence.
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