A Strategy to Buiild Labor Power
PUBLISHED IN JACOBIN. Aug.26, 2019
If we're going to revive the labor movement, we need a strategy that's rooted in socialist principles but flexible enough to adjust to changing conditions in the US workforce…
DSA is perhaps the only organization on the US left right now that could imagine supporting its members to take on such work in a systematic way. The organization could even, for example, explore purchasing or renting homes near targeted facilities and providing free or subsidized rent for salts. I have very modestly supported DSA salts to buy a car that they share, but we can be much more thorough in our support of people willing to take on this grueling, vital work.
We should also be actively assessing the willingness of existing left-led unions — even ones where the target industry or company is not a perfect fit — in their willingness to support such efforts. That is, we don’t just need to wait until new activists who are targeting unions for takeover have success — there are already unions that have a vibrant, left-wing, democratic culture.
Leftists can build relationships with left-led unions. To the point above, some unions already experience the vibrant and militant internal life that is the goal for many on the Left to achieve when they get jobs on the shop floor of existing bargaining units. We could be building relationships with such unions to assess opportunities for collaboration — on new organizing, working-class legislative goals (like the new rent laws in New York), solidarity in the midst of pitched industrial battles, and much more.
Leftists can support or build workers centers. Workers centers are one of the more creative organizational forms generated in the recent decades of general labor movement decline. At their inception, they did not aim to negotiate collective bargaining agreements like traditional unions, but rather they organized low-wage workers to fight the boss, often using wage-and-hour violations as leverage...
This is especially important with respect to the looming environmental crisis — if we cannot pivot the bulk of the existing labor movement to a coordinated approach to transitioning to a sustainable economy, there will be no labor movement because there will be no humans to populate it.
Leftists can run campaigns and win elections. If it weren’t for Bernie Sanders bringing democratic socialism to the millions through a Democratic Party presidential primary, we would not have the current scale of organized left to even host the discussion we’re having right now about labor strategy. There are stakes to this debate in part because there is an organization with nearly sixty thousand members that could really take a crack at deep and serious involvement in the labor movement. At this level alone, elections matter and should be understood as an essential tactical element of left labor strategy.
Projects like Labor for Bernie suggest further possibilities — leverage high-profile elections to build connections with and among regular workers who have politics to the left of their unions. Such projects are another potential path to identifying and cohering shop floor leaders, even if they don’t fit the typical mold.
Read the entire piece on Jacobin.
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