It is no coincidence that what finally broke the Soviet Union was a Catholic trade union — a group of shipyard workers, led by an electrician and motivated by a faith that their oppressors deemed an opiate.

Christianity and its sweeping social vision enlivened the workers in Gdansk and their entire nation and, a decade later, a totalitarian superpower claiming to speak on behalf of all workers around the world had vanished. The forbidden revolution of workers bound together in solidarity around a shared vision of dignity, work, and the common good did what tanks and armed divisions had failed to do: it ended communism and gained freedom for millions.

When we celebrate the triumph of Solidarnosc over Stalin’s heirs, we should never forget that the movement that toppled the Soviets started because a woman was unjustly fired. It was a workers’ movement before it was a political movement.

The Cold War is receding into history, but conservatives rightly hold fast to its vital lessons. One of those lessons is that the conservative mind and the conservative heart should take a keen interest in a thriving labor movement.

Trade unions — associations of workers who organize together for the purpose of achieving justice in the workplace — are not, and should not be considered, the exclusive domain of the political left. Rather, the principles of a vital labor movement have more in common with the principles of the healthiest tenets of conservatism today. The institutional representatives of the conservative movement ought to take organized labor seriously.

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Brian Dijkema
Brian Dijkema is the vice president of external affairs with Cardus and an editor of Comment.
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