How We Fight

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By Maria Svart

What is a union? Put simply, it’s a collection of workers who decide they have a common interest, an interest that is in conflict with their boss.

More precisely, it is the organization those workers form so that they can negotiate with their boss collectively, instead of individually, over the terms of their employment. They do so by threatening to disrupt their boss’s accumulation of profit, by withholding their labor. But their power goes beyond just one workplace and one employer. Unions are the only enduring institutions in the United States that are dedicated to being run by and for the working class—through pooling of dues money—to advance their class interests in the economy and in the formal political arena. 

Is it any wonder that the capitalist class seeks to destroy them? Or that democratic socialists defend them?

When I was at the People’s Summit in June, I used my time on stage to tell the story of the 1912 Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Some 20,000 textile mill workers struck for better wages, led by immigrant women speaking more than 30 languages. In the words of James Oppenheim’s poem written the year before and linked to the strike, the workers wanted bread, “but we fight for roses, too.”

They didn’t just want to survive, they wanted to thrive. I think of our organizing as democratic socialists in much the same way: we’re demanding not just a fair share of the fruits of our labor, we’re demanding control of our workplaces, our institutions, our families, and our economy.

By telling that story in front of a progressive audience, I could join a radical vision of democratic control of the workplace to a vision of democratic control of society. I could also explain the central role of multi-racial working-class organization to disrupt the capitalist system and win change. It didn’t hurt to connect the Bread and Roses strike with the DSA rose emoji that members use on Twitter, either!

As we go into a period where many unions are struggling to prepare for national “right to work” and other anti-union moves by the federal government, DSA is a unique place for union members and other working people to make sense of the changing economy and engage in collective action to make it more democratic.

Major sectors of the economy are being privatized or automated by the capitalist class, both of which have devastating effects. As socialists, we can analyze these trends and fight back, whether with our coworkers as union members or in solidarity as supporters. Our national Labor Working Group supports the self-organization of union members inside DSA and can serve as a focal point for those efforts.

As always, our strategy has three prongs depending on conditions and context: in this case, offensive struggle to organize more workers; defensive struggle to protect unions and the most exploitable, such as migrant workers; and ideological struggle to challenge the very logic that says the bosses can and should control our lives and labor. We can do better, and that’s why we fight!

Maria Svart is National Director of the Democratic Socialists of America.

This essay from the Fall/Labor Day 2017 issue of Democratic Left.

 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.

 

 

 

July 2018 NPC Live Stream

July 21, 2018

July 21-22 is the fourth meeting of the current National Political Committee, taking place in New York, NY. DSA members can watch a livestream of the meeting, which will be put online in real time.

The Saturday session will be livestreamed beginning at 9AM ET/8AM CT/7AM MT/6AM PT and ending at 6PM ET/5PM CT/4 PM MT/3PM PT. The Sunday session will be livestreamed beginning at 9AM ET/8AM CT/7AM MT/6AM PT and ending at 2PM ET/1PM ET/12PM MT/11AM PT.

This stream will be limited to DSA members. To check that every person interested in watching is up-to-date with their dues, we ask that you RSVP for access to the livestream.

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New Member Call, July 22

July 22, 2018

July 22, 2018

9pm ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT

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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.

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Talking About Socialism: Create Your Own Rap

July 25, 2018

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9pm ET/8pm CT/7pm MT/6pm PST

This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA’s webinar or from other sources. Prepare for conversations about socialism that happen when you table or canvass. Join Steve Max, a founder of the legendary community organizing school, the Midwest Academy, to practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism. 

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New Member Call, August 12

August 12, 2018

August 12, 2018

7:30pm ET/6:30 CT/5:30 MT/4:30 PT

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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.

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