The Washington Socialist <> April 2019
Bernie, Labor, and DSA
How can we expand Metro DC DSA’s connections with the labor movement? While some chapters have members that sit on their local Central Labor Council, we have unfortunately let too much of our labor work fall on many members that already do full time work as labor staffers.
We should work to create labor-focused event series dedicated to talking with union members about Bernie Sanders and democratic socialism. These Labor for Bernie events provide us an opportunity to engage union members where they’re at and also explain the importance of agitating within their union. A sample event could be 30 mins of “Why Bernie” followed by 30 mins on the “History of Socialists in Labor Struggles” followed by an elevator pitch for DSA and group discussion. We could then ask for a show of hands on how many workers were interested in agitating their local to endorse. We could then do targeted follow-ups with each worker and work with them to build small campaigns pushing their local towards a Bernie endorsement.
With some inexpensive digital ad pushes, flyering, publications in labor newsletters, and outreach to some union locals these could be some of the most diverse events we’ve ever put together. All filled with working people looking to make a difference! How many thousands of people did DSA miss out on during the 2016 and 2017 membership surge because our recruiting strategies relied primarily on passively absorbing disaffected young people on social media or through personal networks?
It doesn’t necessarily matter whether we win these union local endorsement votes or whether they’re even allowed to endorse Bernie at the local level, what matters is that we’re engaging with workers in the labor movement and naming their enemy as capitalism. (In 1988 some union locals violated the rules of their international to endorse Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition). It will also highlight the importance of member democracy in some unions, where we can work with them to use the endorsement vote as a push for member control. A simple event series like this would constitute a more concrete outreach to the labor movement than our chapter has ever undertaken. It would also go a long way to fixing our chapter’s (bad even by DSA standards) demographic composition of male, downwardly-mobile, white, college educated professional workers.
There are many different ways that these events could be run, but what matters is that socialists would be taking a leading role in the work that we know can only be effectively done through an anti-capitalist framework. We could then build networks between local labor unions that endorse Bernie and keep these networks alive for our future electoral and non-electoral work.
We can repeat a similar model of these events with more precarious non-unionized workers throughout our jurisdiction. Imagine that we hold additional events focused on Bernie, labor organizing, and the Fight for 15. We could do targeted flyering right outside DC’s hundreds of fast casual chains and target retail workers as well. We could then tailor the events towards a pitch on why it’s important to organize in your workplace and the importance of supporting democratic socialist politics. We could then do follow-ups and targeted recruitments and potentially help these workers in their future campaigns. But we should also not be shy and hide our intentions as an organization. We want workers as members and should not be afraid to invite them to join. But our relationships with them can not end as soon as they hand over $20 dollars only to receive a card in the mail six months later.