For a National Labor Strategy

Charlie Muller argues in favor of R2 “National Labor Strategy” to develop lifelong socialist organizers who are engaged in class struggle unionism and rank-and-file organizing.

Workers make up the vast majority of society and are the source of profit. Workers of all backgrounds are brought together in the workplace and exploited by the bosses who own the means of production. The working class is the only group that “has a structural place within the society that can bring the power centers to their knees.” At the point of production, workers have the capacity and shared interest to win demands and transfer power to the working class. Unions are where workers are located and best positioned to move in motion against the boss. Shop-floor organizing trains workers to wage class struggle and build democratic working-class organizations. A central role of YDSA is to prepare the next generation of socialist organizers, and the shop floor is the primary site of struggle for socialist militants. YDSA should prepare young socialists to organize their workplaces and build fighting class-struggle unions. 

Resolution R2, “National Labor Strategy,” affirms that labor organizing should be a priority strategy for YDSA to develop and train lifelong socialists and recruit them to rank-and-file organizing.

YDSA must develop a mass strategy for the nascent student worker union movement

Student worker organizing provides a training ground for young socialists to learn how to organize their workplaces. In the past year alone, three new undergraduate student worker unions won legal recognition or expanded their unit at private sector universities. Workers at Kenyon College went on strike for four weeks to protest unfair labor practices and won a pathway to their election. Dining workers at Dartmouth College unanimously won their union vote and are organizing for BDS as they bargain their first contract. Grinnell College’s dining worker union won its expansion campaign and is mobilizing to protect access to reproductive healthcare. RAs at Wesleyan University won their union by voluntary recognition after deep organizing and uniting their community. YDSA members led in many of these organizing campaigns and the National Labor Committee (NLC) focused on building relationships with these student worker unions and between the respective unions as a national movement.

The challenges that today’s labor movement faces are reflections of capitalism’s changing conditions: workers are precarious, part-time, underpaid, and hyper-mobile. Labor unions today have failed to organize these workers because they cannot recognize the conditions of this emerging workforce. Organized labor is predominantly committed to business unionism, in which unions seek to establish harmony with management, avoid confrontation, and stifle rank-and-file self activity. The other prevailing tendency is labor liberalism, which offers the illusion of militancy through highly controlled actions designed to create publicity. Labor liberalism and business unionism both fail to break from collaboration with capital and view progressive activists or expert union negotiators as the agent of change. But there is another approach.  Class struggle unionism, which promotes conflict with employers, seeks to fight for the interest of the entire working class and challenges the very right of the boss to extract value from the work we do. A class struggle approach requires workers to lead their unions and ultimately, the struggle against the boss.

Student work is transitional by its nature, which means student worker unions must learn how to maintain their militancy and active participation. Student workers will have to learn how to build leadership and institutional knowledge in a high turnover workplace. Student worker unions can transform the lives and material conditions of the working class on campus by fighting the boss. This experience of struggle can open them up to new ideas. 

A national student worker movement that is led by young socialists should be one rooted in militant struggle and advancing socialist politics. Participating in a new organizing campaign or multiple contract fights in the life of a student worker would train them in how to build militant and democratic unions. A coalition of student worker unions could coordinate their bargaining proposals to set industry standards and time their contracts to expire in tandem. Student worker unions can become apparatuses capable of fighting for demands to transfer power from the university to students and workers. Socialists should organize in their unions to support the formation of a new national independent student worker union. 

YDSA members should be leaders in campus labor organizing and should make important interventions in their workplaces in order to inspire the next generation of the labor movement. This resolution commits YDSA to organize a network of student worker organizers, unions, and organizing committees. Socialists can position themselves on the shop floor by taking up jobs at their school. This allows socialists to develop relationships with their coworkers and identify the core group of worker leaders ready to fight to improve their jobs and lives: the militant minority. Our role as socialists organizing in our workplaces should be to form connections between our YDSA chapters and the organized working class on our campus.

Fighting the boss on the campus and beyond

This moment of campus labor struggle shows us the immense potential to organize student workers. It is not enough to wage these fights isolated on the campus–must prepare a new layer of worker leaders to revitalize the labor movement.

YDSA can play a role in the larger project of rebuilding the labor movement by recruiting young socialists to work in strategic industries where the working class is already organized. This resolution recommits YDSA to the rank-and file-strategy and encourages industrialization in strategic industries of the economy to reform our unions into democratic, militant organizations. Industrialization is when socialists take up jobs in already unionized workplaces with the goal of reforming their unions and increasing militancy on the shop floor, often committing to a career in this industry.

The victories of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) and Starbucks workers across the country organizing with their coworkers in the face of vicious union-busting have infused the labor movement with much needed enthusiasm about the transformative potential of worker-to-worker organizing on an industrial and national scale. Despite this, union density remains historically low. Without a labor movement organizing millions of new workers to build power, we cannot build a socialist movement capable of threatening capital and contesting state power. Today’s socialist movement is largely separated from the working class and is weakened because of this disconnect. To win socialism, we must rebuild the labor movement and merge the organized working class with the socialist left. 

Rank-and-file labor organizing also recognizes the strategic necessity of organizing at Amazon and making interventions in the labor upsurge led by workers in unorganized industries. This directs our task to recruit socialists to salt at Amazon. Salts are workers who intentionally take jobs at a non-union workplace with the specific goal of organizing it. Student worker organizing is one vehicle to prepare young socialists for rank-and-file organizing after graduation and build class power on the campus. The political education called for in this resolution will help provide the resources for socialists to move the organic worker leaders to new political perspectives, grounded in concrete tasks and commitments. Industrialization is a serious, often long term commitment that requires active political development and mentorship. 

YDSA needs to build the infrastructure and capacity to support this work. We must be intentional about our recruitment to the NLC next year. This will ensure that YDSA can develop worker organization and militancy on the campus and beyond to merge the workers movement with the socialist left. This year, the NLC coordinated and facilitated the Labor Cohort, which supported labor solidarity campaigns and new workplace organizing drives led by rank-and-file student workers. This work was successful and should continue with the NLC’s direction in the future. Cohorts and industry sections should create space for participants to share their own experiences and draw connections to learn the new skills they need to build worker power. The NLC will collaborate with the NPEC to develop labor political education materials.

Vote yes on R2 to support YDSA advancing the class struggle on campus and growing the strength of our members as workplace organizers.