Building Working-Class Power

By Maria Svart

Much ink has been spilled this year about the racism of working-class whites who support Donald Trump. But make no mistake: this narrative is part of the class war. Poor and working-class whites are no more racist than higher income whites. Scapegoating them gives cover to efforts funded by wealthy whites on both sides of the aisle to distract from the economic rampage conducted by the 1% against the 99% of all races.

At the same time that there is a right-wing backlash against the civil rights, feminist and LGBTQ rights movements of recent decades, there is a capitalist move to co-opt them. Consider the claim that a vote for Hillary Clinton was the only feminist choice in the primary. Look at the corporate adoption of “diversity trainings” to fix interpersonal relationships without addressing deep-seated structural power imbalances or the promotion of “black or brown faces to high places” without accountability to a poor and working-class base.

Trump and the forces he is unleashing are a threat to democracy and to the left. White supremacy is woven into the fabric of the United States, and I know from my own union experience that racial and gender divisions among workers are real. But the fight against racism and reaction will be lost without the poor and working-class whites that moderates mock.

The only thing that consistently brings people together despite differences is concrete action in solidarity with each other. Whites whose communities have been devastated by “free trade” and people with brown skin who face the constant threat of death by police or vigilantes as well as economic attacks have every reason to unite, but carefully. Solidarity builds familiarity, and it builds trust, but it takes time.

Without class consciousness and class power, how can we disrupt and take back our economy? Socialists believe that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” To stand strong against the capitalist class in the economic war, we need also to stand side by side in social and cultural power struggles against racism, sexism, and other isms. Islamophobia, violence against women, racist police violence, trans-phobia and homophobia are in fact working-class issues. Many of us poor, precarious working-class, and momentarily-comfortable-but-still-selling-our-labor folks are women, Muslim, black, brown, or some other color than “white.” We are LGBTQ, immigrants, and friends or relatives of some or all of the above.

Solidarity is not a “me for you” thing, but a “we for us” thing. A divided working class is a defeated working class.

It is for this reason that we in DSA see our primary task as strengthening the grassroots left by participating in and building local multi-racial coalitions that are consciously anti-racist and anti-capitalist. Through this work, we hope to help expand the number of whites committed to and engaging in action for racial justice, help develop solidarity among different communities of color routinely pitted against each other, and help strengthen the institutions rooted in communities of color that specifically empower the working class and poor in those communities.

Look around you. Capitalists guarantee that we have many opportunities to build this solidarity. As I write in mid-May, almost 40,000 Verizon workers are out on strike. This strike is not just about these workers, but about all of us who have not yet had job stability taken from us. If Verizon is allowed to continue to destroy union jobs, we all suffer.

There are Verizon Wireless stores all across the country, and many DSA local chapters have already organized weekly pickets to stop customers from entering stores. Contact the DSA national office if you want to organize a picket.

Maria3.jpg Maria Svart is the national director of the Democratic Socialists of America.

This article originally appeared in the summer 2016 (early June) issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
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If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
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Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
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Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
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Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
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Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
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Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
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Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.