The prospects for the labor movement in the United States are at an historic high. In 2018 a record number of workers went on strike, more than any one year since the 1980s. Despite the very real fears that the 2018 Janus supreme court decision would end the labor movement, more and more workers from old and new sectors are organizing and joining unions. Key sectors of the new economy are beginning to turn to workers struggle as an avenue to improve their lives, in key companies such as Amazon and Uber and more. And we have even seen the historic gulf between labor and the climate justice movement begin to shrink, with modest but important interventions by union members in the events such as the Climate Strike this year.
While the labor movement is seeing new and exciting growth, DSA members and locals have been highly interested and motivated to join and support labor and workers. Chapters across the country have been bastions of support for workers on strike, with initiatives like Bread For Ed supporting teachers and students during the strike in Los Angeles, and chapters nationwide joining the pickets as tens of thousands of UAW workers struck General Motors. We have even seen DSA members play key roles in spurring radical activity from within labor, such as in the West Virginia teachers strike and the organizing drive at Anchor Brewing Company.
At the 2019 DSA convention over the summer, few topics were as hotly contested as labor. The reason for this hot debate is clear: labor is on the move and our actions as socialists in labor matters. The convention passed three separate resolutions articulating distinct, and in some ways competing, approaches to labor in DSA. Though many of us argued against the convention giving the national another kitchen sink mandate without clear and specific goals, the convention went another way and now the direction for labor in DSA on the national level is left to the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC) to sort out.
The membership will elect a new DSLC to replace the one elected in 2017. We believe the new DSLC must be effective and active. While the individual members of the outgoing DSLC carried out a lot of work, the DSLC itself is still, after two years, little more than an email list with a steering committee. While the convention set high sights for what we as an organization seek to achieve, the DSLC still must be largely built up from scratch. There still exists no definitive list of DSLC members, no complete list of local level labor branches, the DSLC doesn’t even meet on any consistent regular basis. In terms of basic organizing of DSA’s labor work there is a lot that is still to be done.
We are all running for DSLC steering committee because we believe socialists can and should be a vital force in labor. We believe that when labor is at its very best socialists are intimately involved and vice versa. The opportunities for workers and socialists in the present period are enormous.
But we can’t do that if we are rudderless and disorganized. We need a proactive and organized DSLC to lead this work. Helping to organize and energize this necessary but difficult work is why we are running.
As the DSLC Steering Committee we will seek to achieve a few core tasks:
Carry out the directives of the convention and organize the DSLC ⭑ Draft bylaws for the DSLC and hold regular membership meeting and overall increase the participation of DSLC members ⭑ Make the DSLC a popular body that meets and makes decisions, as other national bodies have such as the Eco Socialist Working Group ⭑ Build effective national communication channels for the DSLC beyond just a Google group email list
Build DSA labor formations at the chapter level ⭑ Identify and assist chapters that want to build local labor formations (such as labor branches, labor working groups, etc) and give support and guidance ⭑ Organize visits by DSLC members and national staff to support chapters efforts, especially in regions that historically lack high union density ⭑ Develop and publish a “DSA Labor Organizing Manual” to assist chapters in local organizing ⭑ Develop a Labor Night School curriculum along the Night School model that includes workplace organizing trainings ⭑ Work with the NPC and the national office to hire a national labor staffer as soon as possible to assist this work ⭑
Prepare the ground for new organizing ⭑ Carry out the national Labor Census as directed by the convention ⭑ Anchor the work of the DSLC where DSA members already are, whether they are union members or not ⭑ Create a template survey that local chapters use to map labor in their chapter ⭑ Work with other national formations such as Democratic Socialists for Bernie and Medicare for All to make collecting data on labor affiliations part of building our national database ⭑ Develop a national labor report based on this data, broken down by regions in order to give chapters a sense of where we are as an organization in regards to labor and how to best leverage our power ⭑ Hold regional labor schools across the country for organized and unorganized members with financial assistance for low-wage workers
Bring the might of the labor movement to fight for a Green New Deal ⭑ Cooperate and coordinate with the national DSA Green New Deal campaign to help bring a labor lens to this key issue as was decided by the convention ⭑ Help develop agitational materials for why labor needs to be at the forefront of the fight for a GND ⭑ Encourage and assist union members to bring resolutions to their unions and Central/State AFL-CIO Labor Councils endorsing a Green New Deal with a just transition ⭑ Support and grow the Climate Strike movement within labor however practical ⭑
Build the left pole within labor through Bernie and beyond ⭑ Build “Labor 4 Bernie” nationally and in locals ⭑ Provide support for members who want to become union stewards or run for leadership positions within their unions through mentorship and training ⭑ Proactively encourage members who are eligible to become delegates to AFL-CIO Labor Councils in their areas ⭑ Prepare to actively engage with the 2021 AFL-CIO national election and offer focused and coordinated support in that election ⭑ Establish an exploratory committee for a possible permanent open mass formation of union activists after the 2020 presidential elections such as a “National Shop Stewards Network” ⭑
Alec Desbordes, ATLANTA
My name is Alec Desbordes, I am born from an American mother and a French father in the rural Jura mountains of eastern France, overlooking Switzerland. I moved to the United States to attend the Industrial and Labor Relations School at Cornell University in upstate New York. There, I studied the fundamentals of labor law, history and economic theory. I worked as a cook in a campus cafeteria where full-time workers were unionized with UAW local 2300 but part-time workers like myself were excluded from membership. We did the same work, on the same assembly line, for a fraction of the pay and no benefits. I experienced first hand the injustices and division caused by a tiered workforce.
I moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where I started organizing as a server in a French Quarter restaurant. The workforce was angered by the lack of employee meals, leaving us hungry during long and exhausting shifts. Our campaign escalated to a full confrontation with management involving a majority petition, a march on the boss, a public action during a busy shift and the successful settlement of an Unfair Labor Practice, all without formal union support. I got fired, but the company was nonetheless forced to change its meal policy in all of its restaurants in a significant victory for hundreds of workers. I became an apprentice glazier and a member of the Painter’s Union (IUPAT). I organized apprentices and journeymen to actively participate in contract negotiation for our master agreement. Members gained considerable wage increases in our contract despite initial pessimism from the leadership. I became an organizer with the union in Atlanta, Georgia where I organized workers to be active union members, fought wage theft and misclassification cases, and overcame attempts by the federal government to deregulate our apprenticeship programs.
In New Orleans I served as co-chair of the DSA labor committee. During my tenure we planned and executed outward facing labor events such as a labor movie screening with director Anne Lewis and a comprehensive labor organizer training led by committee members. We solidified the labor organizing skills of our own worker-members by implementing workplace reports and a collective study of Secrets of A Successful Organizer to develop a strong culture where each of our members could be leaders in their own workplaces, despite unionization status. A member reclaimed wages that were stolen by her restaurant while another organized his co-workers in his warehouse to win significant raises. Under my leadership, the labor committee assisted taxi drivers organizing in response to the rise of unregulated competition. Meanwhile I supported a DSA member working in a water treatment plant in Thibodeaux, Louisiana to organize his workplace when management was ignoring dangerous chemical levels in the water distribution system. These many efforts and victories have been raising expectations for workers throughout Southeastern Louisiana.
Daniel Dominguez, LOS ANGELES
In the far northeast corner of Los Angeles,where the suburbs meet the Mojave desert, you can find a growing working-class latino population where I grew up. My father grew up in the San Fernando Valley and entered the workforce after he left the Navy, where he still holds his union job at the United States Postal Service, a job that allowed him to provide for a family of four. My mother was only able to attain a middle-school education in her hometown in Mexico and since immigrating to the US has always labored in the informal sector as a housekeeper where she has no benefits, no sick time, no vacation, and is never guaranteed a job the next day. Evaluating these two distinct conditions of employment under capitalism speaks to the task at hand: that we must organize workers across industries, across levels of employment, and in every state.
I joined the Los Angeles chapter of DSA just as United Teachers Los Angeles was preparing to strike in the country’s second-largest school system. It was inspiring to witness the results of months of dedication to support the union by engaging in community outreach and escalating actions. The teachers were not the only workers engaging in militant action. At the time the mental health practitioners of Kaiser in Southern California organized by the National Union of Healthcare Workers and the workers at several large hotels organized by UNITE HERE Local 11 were going through their own turbulent contract negotiations. Walking the picket lines, providing support, and building relationships with the workers during this time influenced how I understood the link between a resurgent Left and Labor. Since joining DSA and because of my experiences I have become a labor organizer with the National Union of Healthcare Workers where I work on external organizing across Southern California. I see myself as one more person attempting to bridge the gaps between the Left and Labor
As the largest socialist organization in the country, the DSLC has not only the potential but a responsibility to develop a strategy for labor that affirms our position as workers with the power to change our conditions. Like so many things that strategy will have to come through struggle at both the level of our national organization and in our local labor formations.
Michael Esealuka, NEW ORLEANS
I’m a restaurant worker and organizer in New Orleans, Louisiana. I became a socialist through my experience organizing a union with my coworkers, for almost a year, at a popular wine bar. We got to 75% strong but ended up losing the fight — we were green organizers with no institutional support facing off against a high-paid anti-union consulting firm. I went on to work as a staff organizer for a small independent union, United Labor Unions, which represents low wage workers in Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana. During this time, I was also an organizer in the Hospitality Workers Committee (now Alliance), a rank and file membership organization that focuses on issues affecting workers in the tourism industry. We lead marches through the French Quarter to shut down restaurants where bosses had been accused of sexual harassment and ran a public transit campaign that was able to pressure the city to add late-night routes from the French Quarter to a working class Black and Vietnamese suburb that many of New Orleans’ hospitality workers have been displaced to.
Most recently, I worked at a restaurant where my coworkers and I organized shop floor actions around safety concerns — staging a 100% walkout when the boss forced us to continue cooking on the gas hotline in a hot, dark kitchen during a power outage, doing sickouts during periods of street flooding when we were still expected to come to work, getting our manager removed and winning my job back after I was fired for stopping management from calling the police on two black regulars.
I’ve served as the co-chair of New Orleans DSA for a year and a half, and am very active in our labor work. Our labor committee functions as a training ground for workers to learn how to organize. We’ve done strike support for UAW members in Mississippi, organized with union teachers to activate workers in their local, helped a member win back stolen wages, and advised a member who organized to win an across-the-board pay raise and improvements in safety at his job.
Most of my organizing has been as a low wage worker in a traditionally unorganized industry in Louisiana, where less than 5% of private sector workers have unions. As working class socialists, we’ve got to prioritize rebuilding a vibrant labor movement across the country — we can’t win in just one city. Organized labor is our greatest weapon in the fight against capitalism, so DSA’s strategy has to involve both recruiting union members to our program and helping our folks engage in militant organizing in their locals, as well as supporting unorganized workers in shop-floor action and unionization campaigns. Particularly in places where unions are weak like the Deep South, DSA labor formations have real potential to operate as centers of militant worker activity and strengthen their local labor movement, but our chapters need support to get there. If elected to the DSLC I would lean on my experience as a rank-and-file organizer and the leader of a strong DSA chapter to help DSA labor formations across the country (especially in small towns & cities) build our capacity to fight back and win.
Mindy Isser, PHILLY
I’m a labor organizer born and raised in Philadelphia, although I have also spent time organizing workers in the right to work south. While having followed and supported worker struggles for many years prior, I got my start in the labor movement as an organizer on the Fight for 15 in 2013. During the two years I worked on the campaign, I took hundreds of low wage workers out on strike; engaged workers in boss fights around health and safety, sexual harassment, wage theft, and other issues on the job; built a city-wide organizing committee; and developed political and organizational leadership from among the rank and file. I then went on to help organize the first faculty union at a private university in the south at Duke in 2016. Following this historic victory, I organized grad workers at Duke whose election was indeterminate, but who have since built a strong minority union on campus and who are active in the broader labor movement in Durham and across the state. I then worked to organize home care workers in Philadelphia, before landing in my current role as a digital strategist and organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, where I help find and engage domestic workers online, and move them to take in person action. Outside of my paid work, I am active in Philly DSA’s Labor Branch and Labor for Bernie, along with Dignity, a new worker solidarity center run by Philly Socialists, and I organized the vast majority of community support for the UAW strike at a GM plant outside of Philly.
As socialists, I believe our primary terrain of struggle is the workplace. Community-based, campus-based, and other organizing obviously plays a critical role in advancing a socialist program, but both our analysis of the capitalist system and history shows that organizing workers at the point of production is the greatest method to elevate class consciousness, directly confront capital, and build vibrant popular movements. The decline of an organized and militant labor movement led by socialists is a major reason why we have seen a wholesale attack on conditions for the working class in the U.S. over the past several decades. I believe that DSA is in a unique position to reverse this decline and have greater influence on the labor movement, but we need a plan and a strategy to do so.
The role of the DSLC is to be a well-organized, well-run body that can help each chapter implement the priorities that were passed at the convention. If elected, our slate will help build and grow labor branches, produce and publish a DSA labor organizing manual, and develop night school curriculum for new organizing schools. We will also help build a national network of union members, organize to play a role in the 2021 AFL-CIO election, and hire a DSA Labor staff organizer whose work would focus on helping chapters establish labor formations where they do not currently exist.
Dennis Prater, NORTHEAST TENNESSEE
My name is Dennis Prater (he/him). I became an active socialist in opposition to the Iraq War, and in 2017 I joined DSA and became a founding member of Northeast Tennessee DSA. I work as an adjunct instructor, which means teaching part-time for low wages, no benefits, and no job security. In 2012, I became a member of United Campus Workers, Tennessee’s public higher education union for faculty and staff, part of the Communications Workers of America: UCW-CWA Local 3865. I am currently in my first term on the union’s Policy and Campaigns Committee, which serves our statewide local. We have around 2,200 members in Tennessee., and new locals are spreading into other Southeastern Conference schools. Since we do not have payroll dues deduction, we are all too familiar with some of the realities faced by public-sector unions in the post-Janus landscape. Although we are currently prohibited from having a contract by Tennessee state law, UCW has won victories, including blocking Governor Bill Haslam’s scheme to privatize public facilities jobs. Right now in my workplace, I am part of a campaign to raise pay for adjuncts through which, by mobilizing public sentiment, we recently won small raises for some categories of adjuncts – raises that an editorial in our local paper, taking up the union’s position, called “a good start.” As a next phase of the campaign, I have been conducting interviews with adjuncts as part of a report to decision-makers which we intend to submit in support of our state-level legislation to raise adjunct pay.
I would like to bring the DSLC-SC my perspective as part of the labor movement in a small city with a relatively low union density. While my area does have a Central Labor Council, and there is more union membership here than many might imagine, I can appreciate the differences between my region and the situation of the labor movement as I experienced it during my years in the Boston area. Northeast Tennessee DSA is a small chapter, and while we do not yet have a separately functioning labor formation – a thing I would like to see us develop in the future – for the past several months we have had a “whole worker organizing” segment of our general meeting, which can include work issues or working-class issues such as housing or child care. In the relatively brief time we have been using it, this segment has helped one of our members, a grocery story worker, to band together with his co-workers and get a sexually harassing boss to back off. I believe that a variety of approaches corresponding to the various conditions across the U.S. is the best approach toward rebuilding a fighting labor movement.
Dario Sulzman, CINCINNATI-NORTHERN KENTUCKY
I am a writer and teacher, who joined DSA shortly after finishing my PhD in English & Creative Writing in March of 2018, and quickly became immersed in chapter activities and committees. Over the last five months, labor has emerged as our chapter’s central focus. We have become involved in two active labor campaigns, one at a local healthcare facility (which is still not public) and the other at Clermont County Public Library. Both unionization campaigns resulted in lead workers on those campaigns becoming DSA members, and I have played a central organizing role in these campaigns. This past August, workers in the healthcare facility got into a fight with management over off days being taken away, and there was a period of almost two weeks when I spoke nightly with organizers from that facility, strategizing and planning for how we anticipated management might try to divide and intimidate the workers. At the Clermont County Library unionization effort, in response to their request that we attend Clermont County Library Board Meetings in support of the union (and because of how afraid a number of workers were to sign cards due to retaliation), I organized a mobilization of almost 50 people (both in our chapter and beyond), to pack the October board meeting. We made union support buttons for attendees to wear and gave speeches at the board meeting to show the workers that we had their backs. This resulted in 5 more CCPL workers signing cards, and for the organizing committee to invite myself and three other DSA members to host an organizing-strategy session with their co-workers. Over ten CCPL workers attended the session this past week, which has already resulted in one more card being signed and one of the workers at that meeting becoming a DSA member.
DSA has grown a great deal in recent years, but much of our membership has come from people joining DSA due to their desire for a community which shares their political worldview. Such recruitment will always be important to DSA, but I firmly believe that the way we ignite an organized working class movement, with the power to force major concessions from capital, is by creating an organization where our members join DSA through their experience of DSA providing them with the support, skills, and resources, to organize for better material conditions in their lives. This past month, I founded our chapter’s first Labor Branch, with the goal of consolidating our disparate organizing campaigns (through worker roundtables), providing recurring organizing trainings for our membership, and building stronger relationships with organized labor formations in our area. I currently work for a national union as a salt at a large fulfillment center in Northern Kentucky.
Emmanuel Segura, NEW ORLEANS
My name is Emmanuel (he/him). I was born and raised in a trailer in south Louisiana by way of Costa Rica. I come from an immigrant working class background, my father a butcher, my mother a housekeeper. I lived and went to university in New Orleans, starting 2009, while working in the service industry. As a young socialist at the time I didn’t know what to do with my politics. I was developing a materialist framework from my awesome professors but wasn’t plugged into anything. I then was involved with a unionization effort at a hotel I was working at in New Orleans, from the beginning to the end. I’ve helped lead delegations to change work hours, push for breaks, turn out for actions and rallies. My coworkers and I led a two year fight to win the union and another two years to bring home the contract victory. After the hotel fight I’ve organized on the Mississippi gulf coast, and in Dallas, TX. This past year I’ve been organizing inflight catering workers in a contract fight with a team that includes organizers and rank and file leaders. We’ve done massive turnout in the hundreds, lead a strike vote, organized the largest civil disobedience action in Fort Worth, and continue to make positive changes in the shop.
The key skill I’ve learned is how to develop leadership among the rank and file. If we are not actively making plans to organize people on to our side then our ideals mean nothing. If we are not actively developing our capacity to grow power then we’ll be stuck. Organizing is slow excruciating work, but it is not difficult and we have to trust and believe that masses of workers can do it.
The union has become a real home for me. Politically and also fundamentally. I had always wanted to engage in the struggle but never knew how or what that even meant. All I knew how to do was flip tables, carry trays, saute catfish, sling pizza, and read books and write about them for school. The union taught me to organize, and to learn how to organize also means facing personal walls in order to grow as a person (still gotta long way to go). Through relationship building and a good plan we can win anything as long as we commit to struggle together, and as long as we face our challenges and push each other through them! I’ve been a rank and file worker since 2006-2018 and half way through last year I became a staff organizer where I felt I can develop my organizing more intensely.
How To Vote
The 2020 DSLC Steering Committee will be elected by the members of the DSLC. According to the rules drafted by the outgoing DSLC Steering Committee, you are eligible to join the DSLC if you are a DSA member in good standing and fit one of the following requirements:
You are a member of a local labor branch.
You meet the individual criteria for membership.
To qualify for the individual membership you must meet one of the following criteria.
- Are a rank-and-file member (active or retired) of a union or worker center
- Are employed as staff for a union, worker center or legal advocacy firm that represents workers
- Are part of a coordinated organizing drive seeking to unionize employees under a discrete employer, either as a worker or a member of a solidarity organizing committee
- Are an academic, journalist, or writer with a focus in labor studies and/or political economy
In order to apply for membership you must fill out this form. Even if you believe you are already on the DSLC list, you must re-apply to guarantee your vote. There are currently two lists that the DSLC has used to define membership but it is unclear if these lists correspond to one another. Regardless of whether you are on one of these lists, according to an email sent by the DSLC Steering Committee on December 7th, “The outgoing DSLC Steering Committee was tasked with formalizing DSLC membership, and that is what is happening now. In order to vote on the new DSLC Steering Committee, you must fill out the form.”
Even if you are not sure you intend to vote for Steering Committee we strongly encourage you to register for the DSLC anyway! After the election, the real work will begin and the incoming Steering Committee will have only the DSLC to draw from in terms of active members. Being a member of the DSLC confirms you will be in the loop about any national labor work going on in DSA!
Please stay tuned here! We will be posting updates about the election as we receive them.