National Labor Commission Perspectives on 2024 and Beyond

DSA should stick to the long-term project of building a fighting labor movement and eventually a political party representing its interests.

Heading into this November, many on the left are feeling despondent at a choice between a neoliberal Democrat and a right wing extremist Republican. These were not compelling choices four years ago and are somehow even less compelling today. Biden continues to aid and abet a genocide now in its seventh month and has proven incapable of protecting the right to abortion despite its broad support. Trump, no better on those issues,  is also facing four separate criminal indictments, including one that is currently being tried and another that he is desperately hoping the reactionary Supreme Court will delay until after the election. 

It is in this climate that the National Political Committee of DSA instructed members to take part in political discussions surrounding the upcoming election. The National Labor Commission hosted such a discussion on April 10th during one of our quarterly membership meetings. The views expressed at the meeting reflect the big tent nature of DSA, but there were several themes that emerged repeatedly. The top line takeaway is that we must keep building our movement outside of the 4-year election cycle. We are lucky to be an organization that does not have all of its eggs in the basket of electoral politics and, thanks to the hard work of countless volunteers over the past 8 years, we have begun to build a bench of socialist cadre electeds.

Below are a selection of the points brought forward by our members:

Perspective 1- Hold the Line on Palestine

“My union played a big role in the Biden-Harris election. We knocked millions of doors and endorsed Biden day one. Our informal group pushing for a ceasefire have oriented toward a petition that highlights the role we played in the last election and says many of us won’t canvas for him this time. We want our union to call for a permanent ceasefire, an end to military aid, an end to the occupation. We are saying that Biden will lose if he doesn’t change course. We got over 300 signatures and delivered it to the international president.” – John

“All of these decisions need to be weighed against Biden loyalism amongst union leaders but that loyalism does not exist with younger voters. No votes for genocide is not ultraleftism but a strategy of patience. We want a strong and ever growing labor movement. Biden is going to go down in history as a war criminal and even a soft endorsement of Biden will create distrust down the line for us.” – Aliyah

Perspective 2- Keep Our Focus on Building the Labor Movement

“I am mostly really glad that unions are supporting Biden because I want Biden to win. Even though I don’t think DSA should do the same. I want to point to one unintended consequence though. UAW just spent a lot of resources to try to organize the non-union plants in the south. If they had taken out all the people that have been working on organizing and invested in a media heavy “get out the vote” campaign, what would that do to the organizing drive in the south? I think it would be a big mistake. Hopefully if unions don’t have something else great going on they will do this but they shouldn’t derail something exciting they are doing to do GOTV.” – Jane

“I want to mention a favorite quote from the last Labor Notes. The question was posed “don’t you think we need a labor party?” The response was, “When Labor is strong, it doesn’t matter who is in office, they come begging to us.” Whatever fight is important to you—climate change, social issues, reproductive justice, all of those fights—we won’t win them unless labor is our focus. Without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn. I know that nothing gets done without the people who mop the floors and build the buildings and deliver the boxes and run the software. To win in any of our other fights we need to build our unions and DSA is a great vehicle for doing that. Whoever wins our response should be to build democracy in our locals and our internationals. Elections are a great opportunity to tell our coworkers “they decided the endorsement without us, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a say in that?” – Ben

“The main way we as labor socialists can affect our unions and the election is to get more people in unions. If there is a massive organizing effort going on led by a vision of a May 2028 deadline of common contract expirations, that’s the most important thing since the Flint strike. We should fight any attempts to take any resources from that and put them in elections. I think focusing on lower level elections, congress and state legislatures and driving turn out makes sense. I hope the people against the explicit endorsement of Biden aren’t outright anti electoral. I used to be that way but I don’t believe that anymore. In places where it matters, which is unfortunately only 10 states, we need to participate in what our unions do to drive turnout against Trump. He’s got it together better than he did in 2016. We also need to address the undemocratic processes of endorsements in unions” – Joe

Perspective 3- Use the Election As a Political Education Moment

“I’m in an AFSCME local with 10,000 members. The majority of our members are supporting Biden. I agree that DSA shouldn’t be supporting Biden and that unions in their own interest ought to be. But I think DSA should offer a political analysis that expands our fellow union members’ consciousness. At the first rank and file meeting of a group I started we had 50-50 attendance of the traditional union membership of Black men and women over 40 and DSA milieu which are under 40. When Gaza came up some said we should defer to Biden but we later came to an understanding that the genocide was awful and should be stopped and our pension shouldn’t be invested in Israeli companies. We also came to the conclusion that a boycott could be comparable to past boycotts like the British textile mills boycott of American slave cotton. That historical comparison spoke to our members’ instinctive politics and brought them closer to what DSA’s vision is. We won’t get Shawn Fain nominated at the DNC but have a responsibility to put forward a distinct vision of politics with moral clarity that can engage and inspire the younger cohort and hopefully present a vision of what radical labor politics can achieve.” – Honda

“There are a group of folks who see Trump as the enemy but don’t see Biden as the solution. My shop won our election in January in a conservative state. My coworkers are disaffected. They don’t like Biden but aren’t riding for Trump. They’ve seen what organized labor can do for people. They are seeing what’s happening in Gaza, people who would usually ride or die for Israel are saying ‘this is f’d up.’ We don’t have the capacity to provide another option, but where is DSA at when it comes to meeting these workers. The Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee is wonderful but do our local working groups have the ability to mobilize and supply support? We need to get to a point where we can reach this burgeoning middle layer that needs a solution.” – Zeth

Perspective 4- Focus on What Comes After

“I think the most interesting question is how we should be responding to the election. I think DSA taking a position on the election is a secondary question and the primary question is what will happen directly afterward. In 2016 DSA wasn’t as coherent as it is today. A primary part of our discussion should be what happens on election day. If Trump is elected we need to mobilize our membership. Same thing with Biden if there is an attempt to overturn the election. In Portland in 2016 a random grouping came up to lead the resistance—they don’t exist anymore.  DSA is primed to be in that position and raise our banner the highest and bring disaffected workers terrified of a Trump presidency into our ranks.” – Jesse

“We should be thinking about right after and how we as DSA are poised with an international perspective and ability to leverage and activate chapters who are embedded in the local politics of their regions. We can have an agile response if we prepare. There will be fearful people and they will be persuadable people. We need to be showing that DSA is a space for folks to come. Whether Trump wins or loses workers will be upset. Things aren’t going to be good with the radical right either way.” – Cynthia

“I want to talk about the importance of the period after the election. What happens between November and January will be chaotic. We have to be out in the streets with ten times the numbers as we have had in the past. We need to think about what our message will be. We should defend the Squad because if we can’t defend our comrades who have defended Palestinian rights that would be bad. We used to have the slogan “endorse your enemies, work for your friends. It’s not important who we endorse, it’s important what we do. Wherever we have allies we need to start working with them because we have to be ready. And we have to be resilient enough to survive another Trump presidency.” – Paul

Perspective 5- Stop Trump 

“I think we need to start as Marxists with an analysis of the situation. I came into DSA just after 2016 where we had high hopes the left could make a huge advance and that was frustrated. We don’t have the same opportunity this time. If Biden wins we have a stalemate and if Trump wins it’s worse. Trump is worse on the issues Biden is bad on, he’s a threat to the labor movement to LGBTQ people to the climate. I think that’s the analysis motivating the left wing of the labor movement in endorsing Biden and I don’t think DSA has anything to gain from endorsing Biden. But we should be clear, if we try to posture some independent analysis that departs from that it will put our members in the labor movement in a marginal position arguing against the position that Trump needs to be defeated. We can just say “we are socialists and only endorse socialists” but we can also recognize that Trump needs to be stopped. – Sam

“Now that we’re transitioning into the general election, not backing Biden is ultra leftism. We need to stop Fascism and Trump is fascism. The status quo is better than fascism. In terms of labor, what Trump is going to do is destroy the NLRB. From Amazon to Starbucks to the Teamsters it was facilitated a lot by the NLRB and Trump will destroy that. It’s not an ideal position but that’s the reality we’re faced with.” – Lewis

Perspective 6- Think Local

“There are two things we’re discussing. What should our unions be doing and what should DSA be doing? We know Biden and Trump don’t represent the exact same thing and Trump would be more hostile to labor organizing. Maybe if I were Shawn Fain I’d delay endorsement and hold out for more, I understand why labor is lining up behind Biden. I agree with focusing on the day after but I think the efficacy of anything we do after the election will rely on what we do in the lead up. We should point to Trump as the grave threat he is but be clear that even if Joe Biden lucks out and wins he does not represent a threat to the forces that power Trump. And even if he wins, there could be another Trump around the corner. We need to build socialist politics. If I’m knocking doors for Rashida I’ll say, if you really want to defeat fascism organize a union or reform your union. It’s not about what we say about Biden but how we bring people into the organization.” – Ian

“In recent months there have been a lot of anti-worker legislation pieces going through our state house. This legislation activated our local labor base with weekly protests and more activity than I had seen in years from union members. DSA was showing up weekly and talking to union members and it was really meaningful to them to see DSA standing up against right-wing legislation. We did that without aligning with the Democrats. We also ran a socialist for office and he showed up to those rallies. We have recruited to our chapter by positioning ourselves as against the far right and to the left of the Democrats. This is how we should position ourselves. Engage with union members who are afraid of a Trump administration and bring them into what we’re trying to do.” – Kelsea

Points of unity

While some of the specifics differ, there are many points that were reiterated again and again. One major point of agreement was that the election cannot distract us from our long-term project of building a fighting American labor movement and eventually a political party that represents its interests. This means working to keep our unions investing in organizing and educating our fellow union members about what democracy can mean in their workplaces and their unions. Another point of unity was taking a location specific approach to engaging in electoral politics. We must protect the socialists that we have gotten into office and who have used their positions to fight for an end to the genocide in Gaza. In some cases this turnout could have an effect of preventing another Trump administration, but we should be clear eyed about just how much of an effect we will have on the presidential election.

Our group did not come to a consensus on public messaging around Biden but seemed to be united in its belief that a second Trump administration would be devastating to our work. The NLRB under Jennifer Abruzzo has been a huge help in supporting the resurgence of the labor movement and a MAGA administration would be far more hostile. There was also consensus that DSA should feel no need to endorse Biden but should recognize the reasoning for why many of our unions would align behind him.

Finally, there was a lot of discussion about positioning ourselves to be able to mobilize for whatever occurs in November and use it to build our movement. There will be a lot of fear in the air as we approach the election and it is up to us to build up messaging that can speak to people’s fear and structures to bring them into sustained struggle. Whether that struggle is against a Biden administration unwilling to take bold action to improve our conditions or a Trump administration bent on the destruction of our movement, we must be organized to seize the moment. It is our hope that as DSA’s strategy for the coming months emerges, the tool of our presence in unions across the country will be a major part of it.

Image: UAW picket line at the GM Willow Run Distribution Center, Tuesday, September 26, 2023, in Belleville, Michigan. (Photo by Adam Schultz)