"Only direct action—or the threat of it—will move the boss." Sara Nelson, the flight attendants union president whose strike threat ended Trump's government shutdown, on building a fighting labor movement.
On May 10, 2019, Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson gave a speech to the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America’s annual Eugene Debs–Lucy Gonzalez Parsons–A. Philip Randolph Dinner. Jacobin reproduced the speech here in full, lightly edited for online publication.
That spirit is what led flight attendants to declare we wouldn’t work flights that facilitated the Trump Administration’s evil policy of immigrant family separations. And it’s that spirit that led us to take a firm stand during the government shutdown, when millions of people were out of work, others were forced to work without pay, all of us were increasingly unsafe, and our entire economy was on the line. With access to 360 million voters in our workplace, we intend to continue to use the spirit of our union for good.
And let me tell you I’m proud to be with you, the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America. You have won some great victories here in this city this year. You have helped elect some incredible leaders.
Still, some ignorant political hack or media purveyor of hate is likely talking trash right now about democratic socialists. And here’s what I have to say. Helen Keller was a democratic socialist. And so was Albert Einstein. And so was George Orwell. And Bayard Rustin. And the Reuther family.
When Nazi troops came to the Warsaw Ghetto to kill the last Jews left, the men and women on the rooftops who met them with gasoline bombs were democratic socialists, and democratic socialists stood up against dictatorship throughout the twentieth century, they filled Stalin’s camps and Siberian graves.
The minimum wage, national health care, worker safety rules, Social Security — before the Great Society and before the New Deal, this was the democratic-socialist agenda.
And of course our democratic-socialist working heroes, Eugene Victor Debs, A. Philip Randolph, and Lucy Gonzalez Parsons. The police called Lucy Parsons “more dangerous than a thousand rioters” because of her skills as an orator, organizer, and rabble-rouser.
Her cry that only direct action — or the threat of it — will move the boss is a lesson we can all do well to remember. Read more.
The opinions expressed here are those of members and allies of DSA North Star Caucus meant to educate, inspire discussion and encourage comradely debate.