I have been impressed by the ideas Marxist Unity Group has been putting forward in DSA debates for several years now. It is a shame that their Tribunes of the People resolution was not debated at the 2021 Convention; DSA would have been stronger going into the Bowman Affair had that debate happened, regardless of outcome (I supported it).
So I was eager to read the Labor Position paper the group put out recently. There are certainly worthwhile ideas in the document, and DSA would do well to work to put our politics more forward in labor organizing. I have noticed a hesitation among many DSA members to talk about socialism in certain circumstances. MUG deserves our gratitude for highlighting that in this position paper.
However, the caucus is wrong to state “Our focus now should be working to strengthen and deepen the rank and file strategy by politicizing our labor work.”
Should DSA experiment with more explicitly politicizing our labor work? Yes. New generations of workers who like Bernie Sanders, read /r/Antiwork articles on their phones, watch Biden contemplate a bailout for Silicon Valley Bank but not their student debt, and feel that the system is rigged against them could be organized in more explicitly socialist ways than worked in the previous few decades. Union busters are using politics, specifically liberal identity politics stripped of their radical origin, to dampen down worker militancy and bust unions: We will need explicitly socialist identity politics to fight back against that. The terrain is open to socialists to wage labor work in a more explicitly political fashion, but we must not gloss over the concrete facts about the current conjuncture.
Explicit socialist politicization cannot and should not be our focus. Union density is at an all time low. Parts of this country like Wisconsin and the Midwest more broadly have seen their labor movements crushed by clever capitalist stratagems. Starbucks organizing has slowed down and the company seems content to take illegal actions that are reversed months or years later after the damage to worker morale is already done. We have seen one successful Amazon union organized, still without a contract, and other attempts end in failure (at least for now). Many DSA chapters do not yet have a labor committee or a plan for how they will get their members out to support the biggest strike in over 25 years that might kick off August 1st. I am aware of only 3 or 4 UPS workers who are also DSA members in my state. Maybe there are more, but they aren’t connected to us in any organized fashion.
The labor movement in this country has been in a disorganized mess of a retreat for over forty years with capitalists stacking up victory after victory and worker morale devastated. It’s a welcome change that the retreat is now slowing and morale is improving, but our side in this fight is still disorganized and weak. What the working class needs right now is comrades who will join them as co-workers in their workplaces to help rebuild the independent institutions of working class power that are so desperately needed.
Our focus should be on the fusion of the socialist and labor movements by serious investment of DSA resources (money and our members’ time) by having our members do the unglamorous and slow labor organizing that needs to happen: Organizing new shops, becoming salts, running for steward in their union, supporting reform slates where it makes sense, writing about labor struggles, and more.
Depoliticization is a major problem today and we will need to overcome it. Part of our labor work should seek to re-politicize working class struggle, but as part of a whole strategy that includes a primary focus on base building.
If instead we show up waving our socialist newspapers, written in a dialect of socialist jargon our coworkers don’t yet understand or don’t yet see the value in, or worse, if we seem like we think we are better than our coworkers or want impose our leadership on them, we’ll be rightfully laughed out of the shop floor with our newspapers unsold like so many failed sectarians of the past.
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