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.

Showing 2 reactions

commented 2014-09-06 19:02:22 -0400 · Flag
Thank you for the article, Maria. I agree that Labor needs a more comprehensive approach in our struggle with the moneyed classes. We have been painted as thugs, thieves who take workers’ money without earning it, and as a danger to the working class. Ironic, isn’t it? Capital has attributed its own sins to Labor and many workers are buying it. People have been bullied and bribed into thinking that unions are less than useless; they are evil. I read an article about farm workers in California de-certifying the UFW because the company is paying them a higher-than-standard wage already. Would the company be doing that if the union weren’t there? How long will that rate of pay remain, now that the UFW is gone? If unions disappear, the gains Labor has achieved for ALL workers will erode until we are returned to the day of the company store. Already, workers are being labelled as unmotivated because they take time off that’s mandated by company policy instead of staying in the office. Granted, these are not union workers in this example, but it demonstrates what happens in the absence of union agreements. The Movement needs to live and thrive, and I applaud the DSA’s desire to join hands with those of us who rely upon our unions for safe conditions, living wages, and the dignity that is intrinsic in honest labor. Thank you again, Maria, for your article.
followed this page 2014-09-06 18:34:37 -0400

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

November 03, 2016 · 8 rsvps
Introduction to Socialist Feminism

Join DSA activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 8-9pm ET, 7-8pm CT, 6-7pm MT, 5-6pm PT.


Feminist Working Group

November 15, 2016 · 5 rsvps
Feminist Working Group Call

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's issues. We will discuss election results and their implications for DSA's work (30 minutes). Business will include reports on screenings of She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, preparation for April Abortion Access Bowl-A-Thon fundraising, and leadership development (up to 1 hour). 9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.