Janus v. AFSCME, which allows non-members to benefit from the gains made by public-sector unions in their workplaces, is now fact. Well-funded right wingers have lost no time in launching campaigns to convince members of public-sector unions to stop paying dues and leave their unions. But what does this decision have to do with DSA? Our members are overwhelmingly young, non-union, and working in the private sector, which is less unionized than the public sector. Why should they care?
For one thing, hollowing out public-sector unions is a way to hollow out public-sector services. As labor rights are weakened, public agencies can be run more like companies, with “lean management” and constant staffing shortages, high turnover, outsourcing, chronic short-term thinking, and a drive to profit from the public. Sanitation workers, teachers, nurses, social workers, and postal workers will all find their ability to serve the public undermined.
The ruling class doesn’t care if we have to return to the subsistence levels we experienced during the dawn of industrial capitalism, before unions wrenched working-class gains from the state.
Capitalism constantly fragments the working class. When our mail doesn’t arrive, the streets are littered with trash, and our kids are struggling in school, it’s easy to blame the postal worker, the sanitation worker, or the teacher. And if we don’t do that, it’s still hard to see what their working conditions have to do with our well-being.
But socialists know that by standing with public-sector unions, we’re not just fighting for the labor rights of the 7.2 million public employees in unions. We’re fighting for a better standard of living for the whole working class.
Janus shows us that solidarity is never the obvious or automatic choice. Instead, it’s an active process. We have to look consciously for the areas where our interests align with others; the ways that capital’s power is undermining all our chances at a dignified, healthy, and fulfilling life. From there, we can build unity and a movement for mutual emancipation.