Plan for a Powerful DSA
As DSA has grown from a 5,000 member organization to nearly 100,000, we’ve taken on and won fights unimaginable even a few years ago. We have a lot to be proud of. But we must set our sights much higher if we’re going to win the radical social transformations that our class and our world so urgently need.
To defeat the billionaires and the bi-partisan political establishment, we need a big-tent DSA of hundreds of thousands of organizers, a mass organization of and for the multiracial working-class. A DSA that elects thousands of socialist organizers to office at all levels who are fighting to not only pass labor, racial, and climate justice demands, but to root democratic socialism in working-class communities across the country. A DSA that coordinates tens of thousands of labor activists engaged in their workplaces and unions, capable of expanding and transforming the labor movement into a militant, democratic, and powerful vehicle for rank-and-file power and class struggle.
Bread & Roses envisions a DSA that is strong, democratic, and powerful at every level. We want to see chapters that can move in concert with each other and with a national strategy, as well as take on their own local campaigns. We want to see a national leadership with more time and capacity to take on important strategic questions and long-term political planning. We want to see chapters capable of mapping their contexts and rooting themselves in them through collective struggle.
But chapters often lack organizational support and political direction, even when their leaders and members want to take on ambitious projects and campaigns. The national organization is often divorced from local chapters, both in terms of organizational cohesion and political direction. Our national leadership, an entirely volunteer body, has had to navigate leading a quickly growing organization through turbulent political times just in their spare time. DSA, in many ways, still operates like that 5,000 member group it used to be.
We need a DSA that has the resources, organizational capacity, and democratic structures locally and nationwide to drive forward our political work, to effectively link up and support our local chapters and mass campaigns, and to enable our organization and its leadership to truly reflect this country’s diverse working class.
We are confident that this vision of a powerful DSA can become a reality. The following proposals — written by Bread & Roses members as well as national DSA bodies in which we participate — would help us move in that direction over the coming years.
DSA should build working-class power by prioritizing electoral and labor work
Radical change and democratic socialism can only be won if a working-class movement leads the fight. History and recent experience show that electoral and labor work are the two main vehicles through which socialists can unleash this potential power.
By waging class struggle through electoral and labor work, DSA can root itself in the working class and help win all the transformations urgently needed — from the Green New Deal, to Medicare for All, to defunding the police and immigrant rights — on the way to ending capitalism.
Through campaigns to elect open socialists and use their campaigns and offices to organize the working class — what we call class-struggle elections — we believe we can build the independent political power we need to escalate our struggle. We should build these campaigns not only to win office and fight for urgently needed reforms, but also to build independent working-class organization by making new socialists and polarizing politics along class lines during and between electoral cycles.
DSA chapters should encourage candidates to run and legislate as visible socialists, drawing lines between themselves and the capitalist controlled political establishment of both parties, in an effort to create visibility and consciousness of socialist politics for the sake of building working-class power, rooting DSA in the multiracial working class, and moving towards a mass independent party of and for the working class.
Bread & Roses supports the National Electoral Committee’s resolution “Toward a Mass Working Class Party”—It’s important to turn DSA into a party-like electoral apparatus that can support the kind of work described above in all 50 states. We need to identify and run DSA organizers across the country who can use their offices to root class struggle politics in their community.
- At the chapter level this means developing a robust program to help chapters build Electoral Committees/Working Groups that can begin to develop short, medium and long-term plans in their chapters for DSA electoral campaigns as well as the skills to recruit and develop candidates and staff for campaigns.
- At the national level this means further developing the NEC (National Electoral Committee) fundraising and organizing capacity to support local working groups and a coordinated volunteer program to harness the power of DSA members in chapters who aren’t running electoral campaigns to help make the difference in critical DSA candidate races all over the country.
- National staff is crucial to carrying out this work. Electoral work has been woefully understaffed in DSA. The NEC needs electoral-specific staff to both help build national infrastructure and support chapters develop electoral infrastructure to be able to run socialists at all levels of government across the country.
The workplace is where workers hold the greatest leverage in capitalist society — just by refusing to work we can halt the flow of profits and services that capitalism depends on for its survival.
We believe that the rank-and-file strategy is key to transforming and revitalizing the labor movement. We can do this by identifying, developing, and expanding the layer of workplace leaders who are primed to fight the boss. This strategy is necessary for effectively fighting the boss, for transforming our unions into democratic vehicles for class struggle, for organizing millions of new workers, and for reconnecting socialism to the labor movement after decades of isolation.
We support efforts to organize the unorganized and to win labor law reforms that would make it easier for workers to organize. But rather than providing a means of sidestepping the existing labor unions, these struggles reinforce the need to transform them. Any campaign to organize the unorganized at the necessary scale or pass meaningful labor legislation must involve existing unions, the only organizations with the resources and capacity to handle organizing of this scale. As the primary vehicles available for organizing large numbers of workers, existing unions need to be transformed into organizations capable of leading this charge.
Bread & Roses supports the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission’s resolution “Building Worker Power to Win Democratic Socialism: A Labor Strategy for DSA in 2021-2023” as a comprehensive labor resolution that has a perspective of the importance of rank and file power and union democracy throughout. We believe DSA needs to make labor a top priority and that the organization should work to:
- Support bottom up efforts to transform the labor movement, including official DSA support for efforts like UAWD, etc.
- “Connect Our Comrades” through labor industry networks.
- Continue organizing in unorganized sectors through efforts like EWOC.
- Fight for transformative labor legislation––continuing to fight for, and build on the success of, our PRO Act campaign and encouraging chapters to run state-level campaigns for public sector bargaining rights and the right to strike, safe staffing legislation, etc.
- Placing a particular focus on organizing among Black and Brown workers.
- Turning DSA into a “Powerhouse of Solidarity” by standing in solidarity with all workers in struggle.
- Encourage DSA members to become rank-and-file union members.
Making this a robust national program means we need effective labor branches in chapters across the country. In our experience chapters are eager to engage in this kind of work, but often lack the experience to map their local terrain and make connections with unions and ongoing labor struggles. Empowering chapters to do this kind of work will require the DSLC to:
- Develop a robust program to train chapters to map out their local labor movement enabling them to construct calendars of expiring union contracts so they can proactively put together solidarity campaigns.
- Coordinate important national labor disputes and proactively plan for nationwide solidarity campaigns.
As with our electoral work, the DSLC must be supported by additional organizing staff dedicated to making these programs happen.
DSA must be a truly democratic organization with political and accountable leadership and enough resources to carry out our most ambitious goals
DSA requires the resources and structures it needs to win. To build the powerful big-tent DSA that we know is possible and necessary to take on the capitalist class and to organize hundreds of thousands of workers as socialists.
Because we are still operating as a 5,000 member group, the DSA is underfunded and understaffed at all levels relative to its actual membership size. As a result, it is often hard to drive forward our political campaigns and leadership responsibility often is reduced to administrative triage. DSA needs greater organizational capacity and more accountable political leadership at all levels in order to make our organizing as effective as possible.
This is distinct from the way top-down and staff-driven nonprofits operate. In those organizations, pressures to secure grant funding and “get a seat at the table” in professional political circles cause leaders to prioritize maintaining the status quo to the detriment of socialist debate and rank-and-file leadership. DSA can combat this by promoting a culture of political deliberation, increasing the accountability of our leaders, and creating material conditions for our elected leaders to really lead.
We can’t win socialism with 100% volunteer labor––we need to use our collective resources to enable some members to organize for socialism full time. Without this, leadership in DSA will continue to be relatively inaccessible to working-class activists who don’t have the same amount of free time and money as others to lead our political work.
DSA needs to:
Elect our National Director—DSA’s National Director is an important political leadership position, and it should be treated as such. The National Director is in charge of the day-to-day functioning of the organization and has direct control over DSA’s multi-million budget, dozens of staff, and media presence. That’s why Bread & Roses is supporting a change to the DSA Constitution at this year’s Convention to Elect Our National Director at Convention every two years.
Winning an election for the Director position from the delegated convention every two years will give the National Director the mandate they need to effectively help lead our organization. Encouraging campaigns for the position will motivate candidates to put forward a compelling vision for our organization.
Ensuring that the National Director has a vote on the NPC will help allow them to lead politically along with other elected leaders, encourage them to participate actively in important debates over the organization’s policies and practices, and increase transparency of their leadership of national organization.
Provide Stipends to NPC Steering Committee Members—The National Political Committee is the highest decision-making body of the organization, and it’s Steering Committee, an elected body of 5 out of the 16 NPC members, takes on the lion’s share of work and day to day decision making.
NPC members work hard to steer our organization, but they’re still largely isolated from chapters and leaders on the ground. Furthermore, since NPC members are unpaid, they effectively work two full time jobs. We must build an organization that ensures working class people are able to lead our movement, rather than relying on a layer of leaders who already have the time and resources to donate. That’s why Bread & Roses is supporting a Resolution to Provide Stipends of at least $2000 per month to NPC SC Members.