How We Fight


By Maria Svart

What is a union? Put simply, it’s a collection of workers who decide they have a common interest, an interest that is in conflict with their boss.

More precisely, it is the organization those workers form so that they can negotiate with their boss collectively, instead of individually, over the terms of their employment. They do so by threatening to disrupt their boss’s accumulation of profit, by withholding their labor. But their power goes beyond just one workplace and one employer. Unions are the only enduring institutions in the United States that are dedicated to being run by and for the working class—through pooling of dues money—to advance their class interests in the economy and in the formal political arena. 

Is it any wonder that the capitalist class seeks to destroy them? Or that democratic socialists defend them?

When I was at the People’s Summit in June, I used my time on stage to tell the story of the 1912 Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Some 20,000 textile mill workers struck for better wages, led by immigrant women speaking more than 30 languages. In the words of James Oppenheim’s poem written the year before and linked to the strike, the workers wanted bread, “but we fight for roses, too.”

They didn’t just want to survive, they wanted to thrive. I think of our organizing as democratic socialists in much the same way: we’re demanding not just a fair share of the fruits of our labor, we’re demanding control of our workplaces, our institutions, our families, and our economy.

By telling that story in front of a progressive audience, I could join a radical vision of democratic control of the workplace to a vision of democratic control of society. I could also explain the central role of multi-racial working-class organization to disrupt the capitalist system and win change. It didn’t hurt to connect the Bread and Roses strike with the DSA rose emoji that members use on Twitter, either!

As we go into a period where many unions are struggling to prepare for national “right to work” and other anti-union moves by the federal government, DSA is a unique place for union members and other working people to make sense of the changing economy and engage in collective action to make it more democratic.

Major sectors of the economy are being privatized or automated by the capitalist class, both of which have devastating effects. As socialists, we can analyze these trends and fight back, whether with our coworkers as union members or in solidarity as supporters. Our national Labor Working Group supports the self-organization of union members inside DSA and can serve as a focal point for those efforts.

As always, our strategy has three prongs depending on conditions and context: in this case, offensive struggle to organize more workers; defensive struggle to protect unions and the most exploitable, such as migrant workers; and ideological struggle to challenge the very logic that says the bosses can and should control our lives and labor. We can do better, and that’s why we fight!

Maria Svart is National Director of the Democratic Socialists of America.

This essay from the Fall/Labor Day 2017 issue of Democratic Left.

 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.




New Member Orientation Call

February 25, 2018

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved. 

Sunday February 25th

9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

Click here to RSVP

Webinar on Compliance and Endorsement Process

February 28, 2018

Click here to RSVP

The National Electoral Committee is sponsoring the first of a series of webinars on electoral organizing. This session will focus on compliance issues and chapter endorsement processes.

This call in on Feb 28th at 8pm ET/7pm CT/6pm MT/5pm PT

Click here to RSVP

Talking About Socialism Webinar

March 06, 2018

Click here to RSVP.

Join Steve Max, a founder of the legendary community organizing school, the Midwest Academy, to practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table or canvass. This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources. Questions? Contact Theresa Alt <talt@igc.org607-280-7649.

This training is at 8:00pm Eastern, 7:00pm Central, 6:00pm Mountain, 5:00pm Pacific, 4:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time.

Click here to RSVP.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

March 14, 2018

Click here to RSVP

Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA, and Peg Strobel, Chicago DSA and national Socialist 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. 1.5 hours. 9 pm PM ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing. You need a computer with good internet access to view the PowerPoint slides, but you may participate by audio only.

Click here to RSVP