Statement of the elected Steering Committee of the North Star Caucus 12/14/2022
When George Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, protest against that adventure inspired a legion of pro-war defenders who came to be known as keyboard commandos. These typists had little personally at stake. They were not mobbing local Army recruitment centers, begging to be sent to fight. Today on the Left and in DSA we have our own wave of people who would urge others to take great personal risk and foment a national rail strike. And the thing that our cosplay adventurers cannot grasp is that the workers themselves, while dissatisfied with the contract that had been negotiated, prefer to enjoy their upcoming holidays and year-end bonuses to hitting the bricks.
Take ex-DSA member Andy Sernatinger of the Tempest faction. (Please!) He and others would have DSA attack progressive Members of Congress, including actual DSA members, for “strike-breaking.” Now several DSA chapters are voting to expel electeds for voting as the rail unions and rank and file requested, cheered on by the comrades at Fox News. This criticism is grounded in vanguardist fantasy.
There was no strike. There were no picket lines. There was no “scabbing.” The rail unions had failed to prepare for any such strike. A vote to reject a contract is not a vote to strike. The vote against the contract was 55 to 45 percent. Anyone with experience in labor knows these are not the preconditions for a successful strike. The fact is that progressive votes in Congress to accept the agreement were following the wishes of the unions on the spot, as well as the rank and file Railway Workers United organization. Sernatinger and friends have no answer to this.
In his column, Sernatinger cites the justification of Squad members who followed the split bill strategy (voting separately on the negotiated contract and the addition of sick days) – namely, it was supported by the unions – but fails to note that the sick days bill had a realistic chance of enactment in the Senate.
It is the height of irresponsibility, not to say delusion, to criticize supportive Members of Congress for acting at the behest of the unions with a direct stake in the conflict. Pseudo-Marxist whining about the inherent conservative nature of unions does not cut it. Unions cannot be more militant than their own members. DSA is obliged to support workers’ decisions to fight, but any such decisions must, for the sake of their own legitimacy and practicality, originate among the workers themselves.
We ought to criticize the leadership of the Democratic Party, especially President Biden, for not providing greater support, especially after November elections that ended better for Democrats than anyone had a right to expect. Still, it was foolish for DSA’s National Political Committee to demand that the White House compel the rail bosses provide a better contract. The bosses could easily have said no. Then in the absence of further action, the White House would just look foolish and weak. We are not going to get socialism by calling for the government and the unions to go to war against the capitalist class.
The reality was that neither the workers nor the Democratic party leadership had any stomach for a national rail strike with potentially far-reaching implications for the unstable U.S. economy. At present they are just not made that way. DSA members in rail and DSA as a whole can work both ends of this, but for the time being the matter is settled.
In the working class, leadership is earned in struggle. It is not self-anointed by would-be vanguards. Neither DSA, nor anyone else on the left, are in any position to dictate to workers that the time is now to rise up and strike. To imagine otherwise reflects profound political confusion and ill-behooves the leaders of any socialist organization.
North Star caucus members
antiracismdsa (blog of Duane Campbell)
Hatuey's Ashes (blog of José G. Pérez)
Authory and Substack of Max Sawicky
Online University of the Left
In These Times
The American Prospect
Black Agenda Report
Dollars and Sense
Working Families Party
Poor People's Campaign
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
Progressive Democrats of America
Democracy for America
Black Lives Matter
Movement for Black Lives
The Women's March
Jewish Voice for Peace
National Abortion Rights Action League
National Organization for Women
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights