A turning point in building AFSCME in Minnesota was the 1981 strike, when 14,000 state workers walked out. “It surprised a whole lot of people,” Mike Constant says.
“It may sound funny to say, but we had the best damn time on that strike. It was unbelievable. We were showing the state and everybody else that you’re not going to walk over us anymore. We’re going to fight you, as long as it takes.”
The strike built genuine solidarity, he says. “In a lot of areas, those of us in DOT didn’t know what they did in the state hospitals, or in the Ag Department, or vice versa. We started getting together on these picket lines. We got to know each other.
It happened statewide. We came out of that strike so unified, it was just wonderful.
“We were there because we were going to stand up for ourselves and, by God, we did. And 22 days later, the state says, ‘OK, we give up.’ And we got a helluva a good contract out of it. And we got the respect of the state, some of the public, and other unions – ‘Hey, these folks are for real. They’re real unionists.’
“We gained respect from our members, from our fellow employees. We started picking up members. It took that to bring us together as a group, as a union. We showed them what we could do when we had to do it, and why we were doing it. It was the best thing we could have done.”