The Labor Issue
Fall 2018

The Unions Make Us Strong

By Maria Svart, DSA National Director

Welcome to all our new DSA members! If you joined after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in the New York Democratic congressional primary, it’s your first look at Democratic Left, and I think it nicely complements our summer issue (which you can find online), which was about electoral power. In August 2017, at our national convention, delegates voted to make building strong unions one of our three national priorities. As democratic socialists, we seek not just a better political system but to democratize our economy as well, which requires building a different kind of power. Labor Day is the perfect time to remind ourselves that workers and our unions must be central to that fight.

We need also to revive the socialist emphasis on the capitalist class. A recent survey found that more than 70% of people blame politicians, not corporations, for our declining standard of living. That’s dangerous, because it hides who is really to blame—the ones who own the politicians. As we go to press, word has come of the overwhelming rejection of anti-union Proposition A in Missouri, which gives me great hope!

The tepid responses of many unions to the recent anti-union Supreme Court decision of Janus v. AFSCME have highlighted the crisis in the labor movement. Guest editors Meagan Day, Don McIntosh, and Stephen Magro have brought together a variety of voices to debate how working people can build power and the role of socialists in the struggle. You can find more articles on the new Democratic Left website.

Bill Fletcher explains why workers have a unique power in the capitalist system, and thus why socialists focus on the working class, and why the working class needs socialist organization. Becky Simonsen points to constant collective action—and identifying and organizing the workplace leaders who alone can make it successful—as the way to build power, while Kim Moody identifies choke points in the flow of the capitalist economy that workers can exploit. Jane Slaughter argues that socialists must take over their unions to turn them toward conscious class struggle. Ella Mahony and JP Kaderbek describe DSA’s commitment to solidarity, Alexander Kolokotronis looks at a more directly democratic workplace model in worker cooperatives, and Puya Gerami gives a basic overview of why unions matter. Joe Burns argues that the strike remains the most powerful tool that unions have, and that they should use it. Don McIntosh highlights some exciting labor solidarity work in our chapters.

Labor’s anthem, “Solidarity Forever,” is more than a hundred years old. Its truth is as relevant today as when it was written: “We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn/That the union makes us strong.”

Ed. Note: News came as we went to press that DSA member Rashida Tlaib won the August 7 Democratic primary for the 13th congressional district in Michigan. She will run unopposed in the general election.