Young people across the country, Texans included, are increasingly despairing with their political options. YDSA is working to change that by showing people what can be possible.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2023 Print Issue, which can be found here.
The beginning of the 2022-2023 Academic year saw explosive growth for YDSA at Texas State (TXST). Young people across the United States, Texas included, are eager for democratic socialist change and are willing to organize for it. Whether demonstrating for reproductive justice after the Dobbs decision, supporting socialist municipal government candidates, striking alongside Starbucks workers, or campaigning for a $15 minimum wage for our undergraduate student workers, TXST YDSA has been on the front lines of the socialist movement.
However, for many young Texans, apathy and resignation reign. On a fundamental level, we all know undergraduate student workers shouldn’t receive poverty wages that keep them housing and food insecure, but in a land of rampant reaction, this is the norm.
After TXST YDSA’s successful reproductive justice day of action, our chapter adopted a labor campaign to demand a minimum wage raise for undergraduate student workers at TXST to $15. Currently, some student workers make as little as the $7.25 federal minimum wage, with the majority making below $11-$12 per hour. As socialists, we know this is a result of capital’s vampiric need to extract surplus value through the exploitation of wage labor.
In a society dependent on the market, this bald abuse makes something very clear: when we speak of “poverty wages” it is not simply a polemical remark, but a fact of inadequate wages. Student workers can only satisfy their needs to the extent that they sell their labor capacity as a commodity whose valorization guarantees their existence just as much as it impoverishes them. When they’re paid less than half of what is necessary for an acceptable living, this cannot be described as anything other than poverty.
The revaluation of what Texans accept is what socialists bring to the table: an optics and a praxis that exposes grotesque injustice for what it is. An understanding that economic exploitation and the fight against it are not relics of the 19th or 20th century, but something the working class continues to face daily. We socialists are here to dismantle the injustices the working class faces and give form to the struggle against these conditions.
Over the past academic year, our chapter has revitalized class struggle on campus. Initially, our canvassing of student workers was met with awkwardness and confusion. Organized labor isn’t something immediately on most Texans’ minds. Student workers at TXST are employees of the state of Texas, but union presence for these workers is currently nearly fully absent. Furthermore, besides DSA, there’s no other socialist organization in our area. These conditions meant that our campaign had to start from zero. Furthermore, the labor laws of our “right-to-work” state presented a great challenge. This academic year, our campaign took the form of popular demands as opposed to more direct organizing in large part because of this. The previously dominant – and still present – opinion that student work is transient and unimportant is a hard-to-crack preconception, especially when the university system continues to treat student workers this way. But, after consistent flyering, tabling, and organizing around a petition aimed at the university president and Board of Regents, we have begun to foster a culture that takes the working conditions of student workers seriously.
At the end of the academic year, our campaign culminated in a May Day rally. Despite the long-term lack of labor activity, or perhaps because of it, student workers and classmates were enthusiastic about demanding a living wage for the workers who help run TXST. By the end, we were able to finish our petition with nearly 1,650 signatures to present. Of course, the university did not simply acquiesce to our demands. The University President and Board of Regents may have shown that they are not willing to give up their endless parasitic pursuit of financial accumulation to provide their student workers a secure living, but this does not mean that the struggle to support our fellow students will end. We must understand the academic labor struggle to be national, whether student organizing takes place in a state with strong unions or a right-to-work state. Our situations are different and distinct tactics must necessarily follow from that fact, but the difficulty of organizing inside a reactionary state cannot prevent us from organizing for a more just future.