Walking with Vision for Labor Day

Big_Union_2.jpg
nwuat.org

By Maria Svart

A union is a group of individuals who get together with their co-workers and approach their boss about conditions at work—together. These individuals are practicing freedom of association. Yet in the capitalist mind, they’re engaged in economic extortion. That’s not a completely wrong analogy, because workers who form a strong union are capable of forcing the boss to share the results of their collective labor more equitably than are non-unionized workers. That’s one thing I learned in my years as a union organizer before joining the staff of DSA: it’s all about power.

That’s why democratic socialists love unions: we want to expand working-class power and restrict capitalist-class power. Unions are where people learn to fight back and win. Strong unions can fight for political reforms. Those political reforms can affect the structure of the economy, thus making it more democratic. This makes unions dangerous to the capitalist class. 

Hence, the current attacks on labor. This September, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that challenges the right of a public-sector union to collect dues from everyone covered by its collective bargaining agreements. If the CTA loses, then the 26 states that still permit unions to collect such dues could become “open shop” states, and public-sector unions could hemorrhage funds.

But the truth is, this is just the latest in decades of assaults on the gains of working people. Governor Scott Walker’s successful rampage in pro-union Wisconsin demonstrates that when big money backs the most extreme version of capitalist ideology, we are unprepared. We have to find new ways to fight back.

How do we organize in the age of the “new normal”? In the Labor Day issue of Democratic Left, you’ll read about glimmers of hope in very dark times.

In the last issue, I talked about the need for solidarity, about acknowledging and building on our differences in order to create a powerful and democratic movement. Even as we come together in solidarity, we need to walk with vision. Capitalists have a vision of endless accumulation for themselves. They either do not know or do not care that the end game is destruction of the planet and of “civilization” as we know it.

To me, walking with vision means fixing my democratic socialist ideals in my sights despite the difficult times. I fight every day in immediate battles to protect Social Security, to defend workers who are standing up for their union rights, to gain full civil and voting rights for everyone, to stop racist police violence. This is how to build power. But I do so while also building a community around me that values cooperation and brings strategic, socialist thinking to the front lines. Our end game is not a planet devastated by greed and ceaseless war. Our end game, in the words of James Oppenheim’s famous poem, “is a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

Maria Svart is the national director of DSA.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2015 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.