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Why Not Both? – The Real Fight About Labor Strategy in DSA, and Why I’m Supporting Both the CPN and B&R Labor Resolutions

By Russell Weiss-Irwin, Socialist Majority Caucus candidate for DSA NPC, Boston DSA

At this year’s DSA Convention, we have crucial decisions to make and many important topics are on the table, but our approach to labor is one of the most important.

When we think about the labor movement and the socialist movement, it’s kind of a chicken and egg situation: socialists have built unions and led strikes for 150 years, and still do, as the DSAers involved in the Oakland and West Virginia teachers strikes show us. On the other hand, great socialist thinkers and fighters often come to socialism through labor struggles. It makes sense: in a strike, the normal arrangement of work, with the boss on top and everyone else taking orders, is flipped around, and the workers collectively have the power and are calling the shots. When you see that, you start to think about what you could do if you did that in the world more broadly, and before you know it, you’re a socialist. Workplace struggles also teach people the skills you need to organize and fight in other areas: a lot of successful DSA chapters and campaigns have someone involved who learned how first learned how to organize and fight from fighting their boss. Strategic socialists make successful labor action happen, and successful labor action makes more strategic socialists.

So our labor strategy matters a lot. We can’t, in the long term, win deep victories at the ballot box and in the community without the organized working class base that exists in unions and other worker organizations. Right now, some people are setting up the debate about our labor strategy as a contest between two major perspectives: the Rank and File Strategy (championed most visibly by the Bread & Roses Caucus in their “Resolution #32: Labor Strategy and the DSLC”) versus a broader approach (proposed by the Collective Power Network in their “Resolution #3: Towards a Clear Multifaceted Strategy for Labor”). There’s been a vigorous debate in the past few months about the Rank and File Strategy with DSAers publishing articles in Jacobin, The Call, and The Organizer back and forth. This has been very valuable, and is pushing socialists in the labor movement to think critically about our strategy as the socialist movement becomes much bigger, and the labor movement is at a crisis point.

But this debate isn’t actually the central one about labor going into our convention. The more relevant question that will be decided next week is whether strategic workplace organizing is at the center of our strategy to win socialism, or just one of the many things DSAers may do as we work for a better world. No one is explicitly arguing or writing documents that say workplace organizing or the labor movement don’t have an important role winning socialism, but many DSAers don’t understand that the work we do in labor fits into our strategy differently than other work, because it is necessary for everything else.

If we want to elect socialists to office on a massive scale and have them be accountable to the working class, we need to work inside unions to push them away from the losing election strategy they’ve used for decades of backing incumbents and establishment Democrats. If we want to win a Green New Deal, we need to work inside the unions both in “green” industries and the “dirty” industries to fight for a just transition for every worker and every community. If we want to abolish prisons, we need to organize with incarcerated workers and with workers outside to support prison strikes. It is only by organizing in workplaces and unions, where workers are gathered together and where they have power, that we can build the power base that we can use to actually win on these issues and all the others. All the work we do matters, but the labor movement is the one place where socialist workers can build long-term, structural, democratic power.

But if you’ve never experienced the transformative rush of collectively disobeying your boss– which the vast majority of US workers (and DSAers) haven’t!– it’s hard to know the power of it. When the labor movement around us looks weak, or irrelevant, or nonexistant (and it often does!), it’s hard to see how important it is to winning socialism. But it is and has always been the irreplaceable core of every socialist movement.

If you, like me, believe that labor must be at the center of our socialist strategy now, then you should do what I’m doing, and support both the Collective Power Network’s Resolution #3 and Bread & Roses’ Resolution #32, and vote for NPC candidates that clearly place the labor movement at the heart of their vision and strategy for DSA.

But don’t Resolution #3 and Resolution #32 conflict? Some people seem to think so, but they really don’t. (Bread & Roses comrades have consistently argued this as well.) But don’t take my word for it! Take a look below. I’ve taken all the “Resolved” clauses of both resolutions and re-arranged them by topic to show the parallels and the differences.

The main thrust of both resolutions is that DSA needs a real strategy for the labor movement and the resources to back that up. Both resolutions include a full-time staff person dedicated to labor work; support for every single chapter, OC, and branch to do strategic and effective labor work; and a lot more training both for DSAers already active in the labor movement and for those outside it who want to support. Under those broad umbrellas, each resolution includes some great tools for those things that the other doesn’t mention, but there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t also fit into the overall vision. The biggest philosophical differences are CPN’s focus on the chapter labor group and B&R’s emphasis on people getting jobs in strategic sectors, but even these are differences of emphasis.

These resolutions are compatible– and they’re both correct. We do need a real strategy for labor, and we need to back it up with resources. DSA has limited resources, but our labor work is essential, and supports all the other work we do, by building our networks in working class and poor communities and communities of color, by strengthening our organizing skills and strategic thinking, and by building our alliances and coalitions for electoral and campaign work. The real choice we face is whether we give our labor strategy the attention it deserves, or if labor becomes simply one among many issues DSA members can choose to work on. Please vote (and tell your comrades to vote!) for both Resolution #3 and Resolution #32 and NPC candidates that support them and let’s build a DSA that can build the labor movement, and a labor movement that can end capitalism.

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