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: When Abortion Was Illegal

March 26, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Directed by Dorothy Fadiman, When Abortion Was Illegal (1992, nominated for an Academy Award, Best Documentary Short Subject) reveals through first-person accounts the experiences of women seeking abortion before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. We are one Supreme Court nominee away from a return in many states to back-alley abortions. Join Amanda Williams, Executive Director of the Lilith Fund, to discuss challenges to reproductive justice and abortion access. (Lilith Fund funds abortions for women in need in the Central and South Texas area.) Learn about how to participate in April Bowl-A-Thons to raise funds for low-income women. View the film here for free before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

March 30, 2017
· 26 rsvps

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.  9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

LGBT Activism: A Brief History with Thoughts about the Future

April 01, 2017
· 50 rsvps

Historian John D'Emilio's presentation will do 3 things: Provide a brief explanation of how sexual and gender identities have emerged; provide an overview of the progression of LGBT activism since its origins in the 1950s, highlighting key moments of change; and, finally, suggest what issues, from a democratic socialist perspective, deserve prioritizing now. John co-authored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was quoted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that ruled state sodomy laws unconstitutional. 1 pm ET; 12 pm CT; 11 am MT; 10 am PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Peg Strobel, peg.strobel@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 29 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. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT. Here's a blog post about PHIT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

April 04, 2017
· 52 rsvps

Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-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 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Joseph Schwartz, schwartzjoem@gmail.com.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Feminist Working Group

April 12, 2017
· 13 rsvps

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the elections.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

April 16, 2017
· 6 rsvps

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.  8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 9 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. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.