The following is a proposal, democratically drafted from concerns of labor activists across the nation, for enhancing the future influence of the Democratic Socialists of America in building working class strength:
Labor must be acknowledged as an intrinsic and crucial part of the identity of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). If DSA is to become an effective agent of a renewed class consciousness that champions the liberation of the working class, it must by definition be a movement of the workers. We should not aim merely to build stronger relationships with laborers; we must plan for DSA to boldly and unapologetically become an inextricable part of the labor movement.
To this end, and because there is no existing national forum for explicitly socialist labor conversation, we call for immediate development and deployment of a Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC). As a critical component to a sustainable long-term rank and file strategy, the DSLC will be a formal structure through which to provide informational resources and support to developing DSA labor groups and socialist industry alliances, current union members, individuals aiming to salt or democratize workplaces, and all DSA members, especially new ones. Directed by labor activists and supported by DSA staff, the DSLC will serve as the central node for DSA labor activists, foster the development of new groups through which new members may be recruited from the labor movement, encourage alt-labor organizing in states stricken by “right to work” legislation, and provide guidance in developing the workers’ consciousness of all DSA and YDS members.
Why should this proposal be a priority for DSA, given that we cannot effectively concentrate our resources around every area of DSA work?
The next two years will be vital for DSA’s long-term ability to grow its membership and to become an effective agent for achieving leftist causes. Maintaining public campaigns to garner media attention will be necessary, but first and foremost we must codify a structure guiding internal organization of the current huge influx of members. Pilot branch mobilizer programs in NYC and Philadelphia demonstrate that members instinctively turn to union models for organizing inspiration because labor organizers, stewards, and union mobilizers recognize that rank and file grassroots organizing is the core of transformation in the workplace or in the community. Therefore, creating an inviting labor-centric model for DSA mobilizing and engaging those already involved in the labor movement symbiotically creates sustainable structures and access to decades of invaluable experience in community-building power which will allow DSA to accomplish more ambitious long-term political goals. Common sense dictates that by recruiting and developing labor activists and by creating the DSLC as a central repository of labor resources, DSA inherently reinforces its organizing capacity, both internally as fuel for growth and deeper engagement, and externally as a means to building political power.
What are the concrete goals of the proposal?
- Creation of the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC), a vital labor-facing and broadly-serving component of the organization to oversee the development of labor groups in DSA chapters across the country. The DSLC will be led by a Steering Committee (SC) of nine DSA members that are recognized activists in the labor movement. A recognized activist in the labor movement is defined as a union member, union staff, a member of an organizing committee for a current campaign, a member of a worker center, or an individual retired from the workforce who has participated in any of these. To demonstrate commitment to workers, activists and rank and file union members should represent the majority of seats on the DSLC. If this is not immediately realistic, achieving this status will remain an aspirational priority to be revisited at every vacancy until then.
- Representation on the SC must meet satisfactory levels of geographic and industrial coverage, as well as include labor activists from chapters without a current labor groups
- The DSLC will also have the following responsibilities:
- Guide and foster birth of new labor groups in chapters
- Develop an ongoing mentorship structure, instituting a personalized “sister groups” strategy to open mutually beneficial communication among labor groups’ OC/SCs
- Collect and document lessons learned from current groups to inform development of new groups; labor education modules will be built collaboratively among or culled from groups for streamlined deployment in new groups
- Keep record of labor groups and organizing committees as well as corresponding lead contacts
- Perform an advisory role to the NPC on matters of labor
- Hold regular meetings open to all DSA members
- Keep minutes for aforementioned monthly meetings that are accessible to DSA members
- Be prepared to assist in coordinating national campaigns with consenting labor groups and activists
- Encourage the revival of YDS-led Campus Labor Institutes, such as those being held at University of Minnesota, to foster early consciousness of labor issues
- Support development of labor groups subcommittees reflecting the goals of the DSLC, including but not limited to:
- Anti-right to work (internal union revitalization)
- Social justice in the workplace
- International labor solidarity
- Worksite organizing clinics for DSA members seeking to democratize the workplace
- Political action
- Progressive caucus development in unions
- Building leftist industry alliances beyond unions
- Worker center/community labor organization support
- DSA member labor education/academies (labor history, politics, and culture and their connections to socialism
How, specifically, would we know if the proposal has succeeded or not?
The ultimate goal of the DSLC is not only to build alliances with workers, but to do so through educating our members of their own identity as workers, linking them to workers’ struggles at local, regional, and national levels, and showing them how to activate their own power in the workplace. There are several demonstrable and quantifiable ways to measure our success:
- Development of a national DSLC library (in multiple languages) addressing topics like how to organize and agitate effectively, including citations of relevant historical context
- Formation of left industry alliances (e.g., healthcare, educators, actors, etc.)
- Strike solidarity turnout on picket lines
- Increasing numbers of members participating in progressive caucuses inside unions
- Growing union membership density in DSA chapters
- Increased number of DSA labor groups
How would successfully implementing this proposal put DSA in a stronger position, shift the balance of political and/or economic power from political and economic elites and toward the working class (and why)?
DSA is well-poised to unleash a huge contingent of young activists into labor, organizing either through their unions, despite them, or by democratizing their workplaces. In the past this has been the key to workers developing class consciousness and subsequently realizing their political power: history tells us that left-leaning unions and labor organizations win the strongest contracts and more effectively level the playing field between workers and their bosses. Organizing to democratize the workplace is one of the the preeminent means by which to subvert capitalism and rebuild workers’ dignity.
How, specifically, would successfully implementing this proposal help to grow DSA and increase our organizing capacity?
Unions in this country have over a century of experience in organizing rank and file membership to achieve political ends. The influx of new members into DSA has brought together tens of thousands of organizers and activists, staff and rank-and-file alike, across the United States, many already trained and eager to dedicate themselves to the work of building an explicitly socialist movement unlike anything this country has seen for decades. Using the DSLC to recruit and develop even more union members and labor activists in DSA will facilitate our access to this bank of knowledge and experience to streamline our organization’s growth. To date, for example, existing chapters have gained labor groups while cities founding new chapters have benefited directly from the influx of organizing experience. The successful recent nationwide rapid mobilization to support striking AT&T workers is just a preview of the impact DSA could have if it cultivates and pursues these instincts for labor organizing. There simply can be no socialism without working class consciousness.
How would this proposal engage DSAers across geography/levels of engagement and experience in DSA?
As demonstrated by the rapid mobilization for solidarity with the nationwide AT&T strike which DSA coordinated in a matter of days, labor provides many simple, dynamic, energizing, and community-focused ways in which chapters can organically work together across city and state lines to support workers in their struggle for labor justice. The DSLC will expand our community labor consciousness while developing a rapid-response capacity for strike solidarity which is able to coordinate actions across different chapters. It also encourages labor activists of all ages and experiences to impart their knowledge as mentors to others in the movement.
How would successfully implementing this proposal help us to build a more working-class DSA base? How would it put us in a stronger position to prioritize the struggles of people of color, and women and transgender people in our communities and in our organization?
Contrary to popular belief, the labor movement isn’t solely comprised of white cis men. In many cities like Los Angeles, the movement for workers’ rights is inextricably interwoven with the fight for immigrants’ rights. Communities of color have self-organized with workers’ centers and other community labor organizations; many unions have made racial and gender justice key parts of their agendas. DSA joining the labor movement would put us at the crux of these fights, not only validating our commitment to these causes through material action but also offering us exposure and opportunity to recruit a more diverse membership.
Do the resources needed to implement this proposal in the next two years match the resources we actually have or could reasonably get?
Absolutely. Much of this proposal can be accomplished with the contributed labor of the activists and organizers we recruit. Far from draining resources, these ties will in many ways actually expand the very resources local chapters need. Having access to union halls, for example, can provide inexpensive venues in which to hold chapter meetings, and building alliances with workers’ centers could foster community connections between our membership and those represented by other groups.
Additionally, Dan DiMaggio of Labor Notes has expressed interest in finding avenues for collaboration between DSA members and Labor Notes, including developing more training materials and useful articles as well as the possibility of helping to make some older Labor Notes content more accessible online.
Would this campaign require us to hire additional staff and if so, for how long, and part-time or full-time?
Much of the work around this project would be done by DSA labor groups members. After formation of the DSLC, which will require temporary support from national or the NPC to elect, the DSLC will cultivate a collection of educational materials and maintain a website for same, sponsor regular meetings, reach out to all chapters to determine their ability to sustain a labor working group, maintain a central labor roster including branches and their SC/OCs, and begin to assign sister groups. Temporary assistance (full time for two weeks or part time for a month) may be required from a dedicated labor activist to find and organize requisite educational materials; DSA Labor website maintenance costs should be covered by DSA, and technological assistance from national or the NPC will be key in the initial election of the DSLC.
What direct expenses would be required for this campaign (for example, office space, printed materials, etc.)?
Other than the cost of temporarily retaining a DSA labor activist to organize educational materials and of maintaining an online educational archive, direct expenses for this work most likely can be managed on a local level. Should any materials assembled for the DSLC acquire sufficient interest to warrant mass production, staff guidance would be useful in finding appropriate means of and for publication and distribution.