The Tenets of Workplace Solidarity
Our collective experiences over the past several years have made us more conscious to the conditions of our multiple realities than in many of our lifetimes. Whereas general critiques of capitalism, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and ableism were often relegated to conversations among historically excluded communities across identity and class, our virtual spaces provided for a greater level of access to the lived experiences of our siblings around the world. What has proliferated in recent years has been the ability to find camaraderie in the fight. We have been given access to peer into the struggles and desires of various communities and identity categories more than ever before. And with that has come a desire to find common ground in dismantling the greater systems that oppress us all.
However, the road to finding common struggle and thus liberation has become corrupted by the exact same forces from which it seeks liberation. Tactics around showing up for one another in our shared spaces have been co-opted and watered down by corporate trainings to focus on individual experiences, not the collective shared resistance to power that we need in this moment. And we’re becoming much more conscious of this. We are now having conversations about “performative measures” and a “lack of accountability” in our organizations. Many of our siblings have decided to leave toxic environments instead of expending the emotional labor needed to make workplaces more conducive to expressing their authentic selves.
It was this revelation that brought about the need for the Tenents of Solidarity. Our society needs a better framework to collectively resist exploitation, coercive expressions of power, and oppressive social norms in our workplaces (and of course, all shared spaces). And we need true solidarity to achieve it.
In this document, solidarity is defined as a deep connection and commitment to one another, one that requires us to take risks in order to stand together. This understanding of solidarity is antithetical to forced unity. It’s predicated on the knowledge that each of us have unique lived experiences and needs, and we collectively decide to become advocates for those needs. And to do this, each of our represented communities must come together as equals in the expression of those needs.
The following Tenets of Solidarity are a few examples of what we at Critical Equity Consulting believe are missing from the discourse. This is a living document that will evolve and adapt with the needs of the collective:
Anti-racism is Global.
Forms of Eurocentrism and white supremacy are readily felt in countries all over the globe. And while it would be ahistorical to claim that it was only Europeans who colonized territories, it is accurate to claim that no other region has had this broad a reach in influencing affairs and imprinting its own values across the globe. As western Europe colonized the planet, it instilled value systems that have endured to present day, and is felt in the global adherence to the system of capital that is the natural and modern evolution of colonialism. In the U.S., our Black, Brown, and Indigenous siblings have been most affected by colonial/capitalist white supremacy, whereas in other regions, systemic marginalization is rooted in unique power disparities in religion, ethnicity, gender identity, etc. We, in the U.S., should also be cognizant of those disparities and traumas within diaspora communities. It is incomplete to view a diaspora as a monolithic entity, and we must recognize the unique histories of peoples of differing backgrounds within diasporas. This understanding is paramount if we are to address the scourge of global capitalist white supremacy because we know that systems of oppression adapt to survive. The production of knowledge that props up systems of oppression is taking root all over the globe. We will be constantly locked in battle with supremacist thinking unless we work to interrupt and dismantle it in all forms.
Sovereignty Before Solidarity.
Lately, a lot of the discourse around solidarity has ended up centering voices from communities that have traditionally fared much better under white supremacist capitalism than others. As a result, the unique needs of historically excluded communities are being relegated to what has been referred to among the privileged as “political divisions” that, in their view, divide solidarity movements. Proponents of this tactic believe that their particular community’s needs are universal and will equally benefit the common good. This framing is usually rooted in the belief that racism and other -isms are mere byproducts of class relations and addressing collective material well-being will easily end cultural hegemony and identitarian supremacy. We must recognize that social class isn’t the sole determinant of harm, but if class is intersected with identity, we see hierarchical structures emerge among those in similar class positions as well. This sole emphasis on class relations is often referred to as class reductionism. Whether or not it is a result of poor analysis or a more nefarious selfishness, this brand of instrumental collectivism, or forced unity for the greater benefit of one particular community or identity, is not true solidarity, but a perverted reflection of it. Societally, instrumental collectivism usually results in welfare chauvinism whereby social programs do exist and are popular, but end up benefiting the target privileged community over others. Of course, workplaces are no stranger to this process since, for example as we know, the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action programs tend to be white women. Solidarity movements cannot be driven by the beneficiaries of white supremacist capitalism. Instead, all communities must have an equal representation of their unique needs. It is for this reason that all communities should be provided with the sovereign power to effectively represent themselves prior to engaging in arrangements of collective action and solidarity.
Given that there are multiple avenues for the architects and beneficiaries of systems of oppression to maintain their power, there are far fewer options to challenge that power. From personal power to the power of historical privilege, the odds are typically stacked against individuals from historically excluded groups. However, the greatest mechanism to check this entrenched power is in the collective, it’s in solidarity. Collective power, in our opinion, is actually the greatest form of power so long as the masses are conscious of it. Power is formalized and codified by our current capitalist system and the means to accumulate power is to accumulate wealth, which often affords one the ability to purchase the means to enact their will (e.g., lobbying for tax cuts). If we want true liberation, we must distribute wealth accumulation across entire organizations and across society, rather than maintaining hierarchical power structures that accumulate wealth to the top. This is true for both organizational leaders and political leaders. If sovereignty is an essential precursor to solidarity, then the democratization of power and wealth is an essential precursor for effective, equitable decision-making and action to the benefit of all. In our workplaces, one cannot spend 8 hours a day in an authoritarian structure and simply be able to operate in a democratic environment in and out of work. Our workplaces are indoctrinating us into operating in an authoritarian hierarchy that is at the mercy of the biases and whims of those who wield ultimate power. In order to live in a true societal democracy, we must first learn to work in a democracy. Effective solidarity movements should ultimately be concerned with dismantling entrenched power structures and democratically sharing that power.
As of late, there has been a lot of talk around how comfort prevents real action. Comfort for the privileged is often expressed in performative and communicative displays of faux solidarity, yet ends where any sort of risk to wealth, station, or personal safety is challenged. Because of this, those who are most vulnerable to systemic oppression assume the most risk and take on the most harm when confronting these systems. In our workplaces, that often looks like an individual (often person of color) assuming the burden of criticizing workplace toxicity, while their colleagues express support behind the scenes. Yet when the time comes for leadership to respond, it is this individual who is reprimanded or terminated from their role. Support in private is not solidarity, neither is showing up after damage has been inflicted. If we take on the role of the person who seeks to console those who are harmed, we do not take on the role of an agent of systemic change, which is a necessary component of solidarity and collective action. This role, while possibly helpful for the individual harmed in the moment, will not end future harm. It is simply not enough to show up for our colleagues in a communicative sense. We must be physically present. True solidarity requires us to distribute risk, responsibility, and the pain of the outcome in order to disrupt future harm. It requires all of us to give a piece of ourselves, risk our own well-being, and hold ourselves accountable to the collective good. Fortunately, given the nature of collective power, when the collective assumes this risk and when we display true solidarity, those in power have a diminished ability to enact harm and that is when real change happens.
Inoculate the Mind.
The Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci referred to “mixed consciousness” as the process by which propaganda from power elites infiltrate and obfuscate the necessary philosophical foundations that maintain movements, thus weakening them. In our workplaces, this often looks like distributing union-busting literature or attempting to water down equity demands with calls for a form of “inclusion” that ultimately benefits the status quo. We must always be vigilant in recognizing what seemingly new perspectives are designed to do. Are they inherently liberationist and emancipatory, or do they bend the language of social justice in order to maintain oppressive societal structures? The latter process has been used by those in positions of power since resistance to civilizational power first emerged. To inoculate against these attempts to break our solidarity, we should discipline our minds to interrogate what outcome this new information is designed to achieve.
Those with power will not cease to find mechanisms to divide solidarity by arbitrarily creating fissures among communities. But the solidarity established with the previous tenets in mind is not fleeting because it is not culturally dominated by a particular identity group. The principle of sovereignty ensures the integrity of the communities for which it represents, and provides just enough distance between them for attacks to flow through as if a gate has been opened. Sovereignty-based solidarity can repair and close the gate when such divide and conquer techniques are deployed on the movement. The solidarity discussed in these tenets should be supplemental to existing knowledge of how to build collective power in the workplace. It centers the understanding that each community has unique needs that must be heard and validated, while being driven by the idea that distributive modelling to share risk, responsibility, accountability, and ultimately reward is in the best interest of all.
Critical Equity Consulting, LLC, was developed with the goal of centering equity and justice in DEI. We are a boutique, Virginia-based consultancy that uses a systems-oriented approach to probe critically into daily operations in order to bring about revolutionary progress to your organization. Visit us at www.criticalequity.com!