At the 2017 DSA Convention, dozens of labor activist delegates presented a resolution calling “for DSA to boldly and unapologetically become an inextricable part of the labor movement.” With no speakers against, the resolution passed, creating the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission, also known as the DSLC.
Why DSA must become inextricably intertwined with the labor movement and how we plan to accomplish that task are two vital questions for our organization.
At the core of DSA’s mission is a vision of an economy that serves the whole of humanity. To realize this vision will require a radical reordering of our society. Throughout history, we have seen that the greatest social transformation comes through the struggle of the organized working class against the ruling class. At its best, this radical transformation is what the labor movement fights for.
But the labor movement cannot be relied on to automatically advance a broad socialist agenda. It’s typical (and understandable) for workers and their unions to focus on their own particular issues (wages, benefits, conditions for work) over demands that benefit the entire class. Workers often perceive their immediate boss, or even the competitor of their boss, as their only opponent.
However, there are moments in that history where the labor movement broadened its horizons, bargaining and even striking for class-wide demands, such as a minimum wage, the shortening of the work day of all workers, and the provision of universal healthcare. In each of these struggles, there has been a common factor that drove the articulation of these class-wide demands: an organized Left integrated throughout the labor movement.
DSA is a long way away from having a presence in the labor movement that can win gains comparable to those of the workers’ movement of the early 20th century. But that doesn’t mean we can’t begin to have an impact. In recent years, militant minorities made up of a handful of socialists have helped lead rank-and-file reform movements in their unions, combat racism, fight for universal programs, and this past year spark a wave of strikes that called for demands far beyond a wage increase.
Socialists have contributed to all this with little coordination and a handful of members, and we can accomplish far more as we grow. The DSLC exists to facilitate this growth.
Through the Education Subcommittee, the DSLC will provide materials to help new labor activists and chapters understand the history of the labor movement and how to organize. We will map and analyze our membership nationwide in order to better understand where we have existing concentrations of members in the labor movement and to better communicate with and develop our labor activists.
The Communications Subcommittee will help create and moderate channels for DSA labor activists to stay in contact and collaborate across the organization. Our Leadership Development subcommittee exists to help start and grow labor branches in DSA chapters across the country, to help members deepen their engagement in the labor movement, and to build a bench of labor activists that can lead in their chapters and in the labor movement in their region.
Finally, our Organizing the Unorganized Subcommittee will help give DSA activists the skills needed to expand the labor movement where they are. We look forward to beginning the process of re-embedding socialists in the labor movement and uniting class-conscious socialists and working-class institutions for the battles ahead.