The United States isn’t a manufacturing economy anymore, but self-organized and determined workers are still our best agents of change. Whether the “means of production” is healthcare, education, service, transportation, or any other industry, workers are the people with the power to stop capitalist exploitation. It’s time for us to chart a new path to organize labor in the 21st century.
Supporting Labor Organizing at the Chapter Level
We don’t have the luxury of focusing only where we think labor is “strong.” The only way to build the power we need is to organize the unorganized- creating new union shops in deindustrialized areas, the “gig economy,” and in Right to Work states. CPN’s Labor Strategy Resolution refocuses the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC) on establishing and supporting local labor formations in all chapters, to serve as centers for worker organizing, training and network-building.
A More Focused DSLC
CPN’s Labor Strategy Resolution directs the NPC to hire at least one dedicated Labor Organizer tasked with establishing these chapter-level labor formations, while directing the DSLC to focus on organizing strategic and high-leverage sectors, working within existing unions where possible, but also taking an organizing lead in unorganized sectors.
Making Workplace Organizer Training a Priority
CPN’s Labor Strategy Resolution directs the DSLC to develop programming for local labor formations to educate about the labor movement, hold workplace organizer trainings, and to proactively include workers from marginalized backgrounds and job classifications.
What is DSA’s current labor strategy?
Today’s labor work is passively organized under a national body, the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission. The commission is run by a volunteer board from across the country without dedicated staff assistance. This entails that administrative work overwhelms the committee’s ability to create organizing projects. The membership of the commission has been largely relegated to an email list with little cross-chapter collaboration. Most labor work has not moved beyond moral support and online shout-outs.
How is DSA’s existing labor work insufficient?
There are a number of structural problems that Collective Power Network identifies within our current labor work, but most importantly are these two issues:
- The Democratic Socialist Labor Commission is under-resourced.
- The DSLC’s current mandate and mission are overly broad and lacks a plan to build towards its ambitious aims.
As a result, chapters are largely left to their own imaginations as to how their labor work might relate to others. There is not enough training material or reliable means to distribute materials to build a base of labor organizers from the DSA membership.
How would the resolution change it?
Our proposal provides the commission with dedicated staff assistance, freeing the steering committee to coordinate among projects. It also establishes a clear organizing mandate by defining membership on the basis of DSA members forming labor branches and committees. This networked model places emphasis on organizing work that is responsive to the varied material conditions that organizers in different parts of the country must respond to. It encourages members to embark on strategic projects to strengthen the labor movement; be it through rank and file agitation or organizing the unorganized.
The critical change is that in identifying labor organizing as a motor of our socialist project and centering labor solidarity work at the chapter-level with a staffed national body, our proposals allow DSA labor activists to more strategically and with greater ease coordinate across city, region, and country and build labor branches in places they do not yet exist.
How will this resolution make a difference?
The difference will be felt in smaller chapters, rural chapters, and southern chapters. We will feel the difference when we prioritize workers from marginalized backgrounds and job classifications, which in turn will be felt nationally as we see new leaders emerge and shape the organization. Having a dedicated labor organizer, who along with the rest of the DSLC, will help start new labor formations, provide organizing trainings, political education, and the tools to be able to do all this with the goal of local labor branches becoming a center of gravity of the labor movement.
Towards a Clear Multifaceted Strategy for Labor
Whereas, the inertia of neoliberal economics presses workers deeper into poverty and insecurity, while it simultaneously demands the disempowerment, demobilization, and disenfranchisement of workers as a political class; and
Whereas, over the last sixty years, the organizations that workers forged through struggle as vehicles for their demands have been systematically attacked through deliberate campaigns of legislative and judicial obstruction, public intimidation, and often violence; and
Whereas, labor is not a finite single-issue campaign but an ongoing foundational component of our political project, one which does not merely seek to improve the economic conditions of workers, but does so in pursuit of working-class political power and in the name of working-class agency; and
Whereas, across the US, right-to-work laws and decades of deindustrialization have gutted traditional labor strongholds, as millions of workers have flooded into growing sectors such as service and logistics, and as historic and current racial and gender disparities across sectors have left many workers without representation; and
Whereas, our aim must not only be to defend and strengthen the already-existing labor movement but to capture new territory by leading efforts to organize workers in key unorganized sectors; and
Whereas, our goal should be to build an organization with the credibility and strength to one day call hundreds of thousands of workers out to strike when necessary, the path to building such an organization will require a clear strategy, with flexibility based on the diversity of regional labor conditions, along with a serious commitment from our members and their national bodies; therefore be it
Resolved, that the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC) shall focus its activity on supporting the development of chapter-level labor formations made up of workers regardless of the unionization status of their workplace; and shall restructure itself to be comprised of members of recognized chapter-level labor formations; and be it
Resolved, the National Political Committee (NPC) shall hire at least one (1) staff labor organizer dedicated solely to supporting the DSLC and local chapter-level labor formations; and be it
Resolved, that the DSLC shall develop programming for regional workplace organizing schools alongside partnering with our youth section to revive DSA’s Campus Labor Institutes; and that these educational initiatives shall be conceived along the following lines:
- to educate DSA members and the general public about the labor movement,
- to hold workplace organizer trainings for workers in organized and unorganized workplaces and industries,
- to proactively include workers from traditionally marginalized backgrounds and job classifications, and
- to subsidize, to the extent possible, the costs of access and participation for low-wage workers; and be it
Resolved, that the overall strategy of the DSLC shall be informed by strategic assessments of local conditions, and shall therefore be focused on developing local DSA labor networks that can pursue the following goals:
- organizing within unions where they exist, especially when doing so provides opportunities to leverage demands against the state for the common good of the working class in general,
- organizing within strategic industries, particularly where the potential economic impact on capital is greatest, and
- leading efforts to organize workers in key unorganized sectors.