We're Stronger Together

Sarah Jane Rhee/ loveandstrugglephotos.com

Growing up, I knew unions were good. Family members could see that the union had improved their wages and working conditions. I learned that “no one looks out for the little guys, so we need to stick together.” But I didn’t fully grasp the critical role of labor unions until I became a democratic socialist. Now, with experience as a union organizer, a socialist, and a historian, I see even more clearly that the labor movement is the only organized force capable of counterbalancing the power of capital in our economy—and in formal politics. But unions can’t do it alone.

Unions struggle because at their best they challenge capitalism, and capital doesn’t like being challenged. It doesn’t like uppity working-class people who want higher wages or who demand respect in the workplace or who want to make decisions about the work they do. It definitely doesn’t like working people who pressure the state to enact policies that put people before profits.

The steadily declining proportion of workers who are in unions and the increasing attacks on unions—in workplaces, in popular discourse, and in Congress, state capitols, and the Supreme Court—is a crisis for us all. If we are to have a fully democratic society and economy, both the labor movement and the socialist movement must learn from each other and work together.

A broad movement against corporate power will succeed when large majorities of union members can articulate why working people are struggling and how they can change those conditions, and when they put themselves on the line to fight for the entire working class. 

Socialists must also think big. We, too, often neglect to organize the unorganized. The greatest contribution we can make to the labor movement is our active participation, as open socialists, in pro-union activism. That’s why DSA local chapters support union recognition and contract fights as well as broader campaigns to lift up the entire working class. That’s why we’re working on get-out-the vote campaigns so that the Scott Walkers, Rick Snyders, John Kasiches and Rick Scotts of the world will not be able to gut collective bargaining and destroy the gains for which so many died over the last century.

When rightwingers claim that unions are a “special interest,” DSAers organize community forums to undermine that lie. We turn out for picket lines. At the same time, we bring a socialist critique that, while recognizing the crucial role of labor, also recognizes its connection to other social movements. In this issue of Democratic Left, we explore that interconnectedness, from the impact on the whole country of the struggles of Southern workers to the rejuvenation of coalitions of people of faith, civil rights activists, and feminists to the renewal of international solidarity as unions work across borders. It’s true that the union makes us strong. And for that to happen, we in DSA must help make the unions strong.

MariaSvartAID.png Maria Svart is national director of the Democratic Socialists of America.

This article originally appeared in the summer 2014 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.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 45 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 14 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 9 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 4 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 8 rsvps

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.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 4 rsvps

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.