After serving on the DSLC Steering Committee, Annabel Vera explains why the next DSLC needs a clear understanding of DSA’s unique role within labor and is prepared to build the labor movement alongside our own organization.
When running for office in DSA it’s a fall-back for candidates to campaign solely on their biographies, or on generic promises to “do the work.” But “doing the work” doesn’t answer the crucial questions “by what method?” and “toward what end?”
Realistically the DSLC SC can’t tackle even a fraction of the mandates passed at the 2019 convention by themselves. The SC will need to choose one of the following methods to address their mandate: to passively issue directives to labor branches from above; to deprioritize certain convention mandates due to incapacity; or to create a means to delegate tasks.
This quickly becomes a question of the role of the Steering Committee in the DSLC. Under present circumstances the SC relies on the first two methods because no internal structure has been developed to use the third method. The SC assumes extensive executive power, and their subjective positions become the strategy of the DSLC writ large.
For an organization such as DSA the option to delegate tasks and to deputize new leaders throughout the DSLC is probably very attractive at face value. But to do this the DSLC SC would finally have to build out an internal structure for the DSLC to become functional and professionalized.
Of the many candidates running for DSLC SC, only some identify the internal structure of the DSLC as a source of its ineffectiveness. In my experience, the lack of internal democracy and functional transparency has been a tremendous barrier to generating wide participation and investment in the project. Unless and until the DSLC is democratized, the positions of the DSLC SC members become the DSLC’s strategy writ large. It’s important that DSLC members pay attention to candidate positions on the internal structure of the DSLC and decide what kind of decision-making style is appropriate for DSA’s labor work.
I believe the most vocal supporters of internal reforms are the TWP slate, who campaign on democratizing the DLSC by drafting bylaws and turning the commission into an actual popular body with decision-making power. Candidates who do not incorporate a critique of the DLSC’s internal functions in their campaign may simply be unaware of the current functioning of the DLSC, but failing that, silence on the subject of internal reform can likely be considered a tacit endorsement of the status quo.
Pending transformation of the DSLC’s methods for doing work, the question “work to what end” remains critical. Some candidates, in varying terms, explicitly or subtextually express their aim to reform large international unions as a “necessary precondition” of organizing the working class toward revolution. In localities where direct impacts on large international unions are not possible for DSAers, education and auxiliary support of union efforts suffices.
Other candidates place greater importance on a multi-faceted approach to workplace organizing in order to improve existing structures and/or building new structures of proletarian democracy to win political and material gains. Depending on the ultimate internal structure of the DSLC, these strategic aims could be of utmost importance to the future of DSA’s labor work and should be given appropriate weight when considering DSLC candidates.
As for judging the merit of candidates’ strategic positions, I believe the main consideration should be DSA’s unique place in it. Other left-labor institutions exist such as Labor Notes and Teamsters for a Democratic Union that provide trainings, educational opportunities, and speaking engagements. If DSA understands itself to be a big-tent collective of working class people organizing toward their unique political aims inside and outside established institutions, how then should this be manifested on our labor front?
I endorse the Toward Workers Power slate for its commitment to democratizing the DLSC and it’s vision to help DSAers build out proletarian democratic structures across the country. This strategy will not only help arouse working class politics throughout the US, but will make those politics actionable. This strategy will also help build DSA as an institution unto itself and not merely a fan club for existing workers centers. The TWP slate believes in the potential of all DSA members to engage in workplace struggle for real material gains, and I urge DSLC members to vote for them on February 6th.
Annabel Vera is a member of the outgoing DSLC Steering Committee, chair of the DSA Sacramento Labor Committee, and a rank-and-file member of SEIU 1000.