The PRO Act would transform what it means to organize in this country and would open the floodgates for a variety of tactics, strikes, and opportunities that we can only dream of right now. Rights that our grandparents had and rights that built the labor movement into what it is today. CPN member and IUPAT organizer Ryan K. delivered the following remarks on how we have a chance to win those rights back and DSA has a chance to lead that fight.
Thanks so much for the very kind introduction. My name is Ryan Kekeris and I am a member and organizer with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and a member of Baltimore DSA. It’s a tremendous honor for me to speak to all of you on this call and hard for me to put into words how proud and humbled I am that DSA is playing a leading role in the fight for the massive and historic undertaking of labor law reform.
Let me tell you a bit about my story: I’m a proud trade unionist and because I’m a trade unionist, I belong to DSA. I have been a member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades for nearly 10 years now, through the Obama and Trump years, and now to the Biden years. My political upbringings trace back to when I was a boy living as a tenant on a tobacco farm in Southern Virginia, and I would see migrant workers each year come in for a few weeks in early Spring to plant, and then again in the late summer, to harvest.
The work they did was grueling and dangerous, and they moved in and out of our tiny little town each year and no one ever talked about them or acknowledged them as people, only as part of a cycle that had been going on for hundreds of years and would continue on into the future forever. I am a unionist and socialist because I believe we have the power to change that.
I have been working myself since I was 16 years old. In kitchens and warehouses, as a delivery driver, and as a construction worker. I firmly believe that there is no better introduction into socialism than to work – and I think right now there are millions of workers out there who experience what Marx and Lenin wrote about. We don’t have to communicate that to them, because they face it every day. Our task is to show them that DSA is their political home and that we are fighting to liberate their coworkers and communities from these realities.
I began working at a Walmart distribution center when I was 17 years old. My salary was $5.15 per hour. The first thing they had me do during orientation was watch a video around the perils of unionizing.
Within 6 months I considered myself a socialist.
My union began the campaign around the PRO Act because we have been trying to organize workers who each and every day are brutalized by the failures of US labor law. They have virtually no rights, are considered aliens by the very country they are building, and face deportation and cages if they attempt to organize because their employers have an entire government agency, ICE, at their disposal with a simple phone call.
As I am speaking to you now I am thinking of those workers in the fields and in the construction projects and in the warehouses. The goals of this campaign aren’t simply to pass the PRO Act, our goals are to let each and every one of them know that there is a movement that is fighting for them and that needs them among our ranks.
It is also important to say that this isn’t a DSA campaign or a union campaign, this is a workers’ campaign, with the largest and most potent political project for the working class in my lifetime sitting hand in hand with construction unions and communications unions and climate justice organizations who collectively represent millions of workers. This is a campaign of class struggle. That is an incredible achievement and a testament to the organizing, recruitment, and campaigning that DSA has done.
That we are in this position is a victory that, even a few years back, I’m not sure I could have ever dreamed of. Even at the height of the New Deal or at the apex of 20th century socialism did we have such an alliance develop. It is my firm belief that the labor movement today is more in sync with DSA than at any point in our history.
We have an opportunity right in front of us to demonstrate to millions of people that we are a force to be reckoned with – one that has the power to change our country and the world. Our task is to set the pace for this campaign – to push the labor movement forward, to mobilize and organize each and every one of our comrades to be leaders and to be champions for working people. Our task is to work hand in hand with union members, leaders and organizers across movements who see worker power as fundamental to building political power, and the 90% of workers in our country who are outside organized labor to show them that DSA is a deeply serious project and organization and they have a political home with us. Their home is with us because we fight for them when no one else will.
We know the political realities that we are operating in – we just saw how the Senate treated a $15 minimum wage or expanded unemployment. This fight to pass the PRO Act is different. We aren’t going to wage it in the halls of Congress, we are going to wage it in the streets and in the communities that these politicians supposedly represent. This campaign is taking that fight straight to the Democratic Party. We are going to raise hell and organize workers – into DSA, into unions, and into the political arena, because it will surely take a mass movement of workers to get the PRO Act anywhere close to becoming law. My union recognized that after the failures of the Employee Free Choice Act we had to make the fight around labor law a public fight and set the terms of the engagement. DSA is now in a position to help set those terms.
….[T]his isn’t a DSA campaign or a union campaign, this is a workers’ campaign, with the largest and most potent political project for the working class in my lifetime sitting hand in hand with construction unions and communications unions and climate justice organizations who collectively represent millions of workers.
I am speaking to you today because I want to ask you a familiar question: will you fight for someone you don’t know? That is what this campaign is about. The PRO Act would transform what it means to organize in this country and would open the floodgates for a variety of tactics, strikes, and opportunities that we can only dream of right now. Rights that our grandparents had and rights that built the labor movement into what it is today. We have a chance to win those rights back and DSA has a chance to lead that fight.
We know that our task is to change history. This fight ahead of us can break the cycle of nameless and faceless workers trapped forever in a “social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.” Eugene Debs wrote that over 100 years ago, and those migrant workers that I grew up watching every year are still out there. I’m fighting to pass the PRO Act for them.