Last week, I didn’t write a column, because I was working to help draft a statement from DSA’s National Political Committee about our productive meeting the previous weekend. In it, we say:
“As our top external priority, DSA will embark on a national campaign to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act). This transformative legislation gives power to unions to organize workers and overturns many anti-labor rulings handed down by the Supreme Court. Most importantly, it roots out racist and unjust labor practices, like right-to-work laws, and guarantees that immigrant workers have the same rights afforded to their fellow workers. We are joining a coalition led by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), a majority POC union, who has been leading the push. We look forward to supporting DSA chapters in every state as we fight side by side with workers everywhere from now until May Day (Biden’s 100th day in office) to force the president and federal elected officials to make this legislation a reality.”
It’s worth taking the space of today’s column to talk a bit more about where this is coming from, and why it’s a priority, so that it doesn’t appear to be some fantasy policy demand divorced from organizing on the ground.
The PRO – Protecting the Right to Organize – Act is, at its core, a piece of labor law reform that creates amendments to the National Labor Relations Act, which established the basic framework for peace between labor and capital in the modern era and has been consistently undermined until we now have historic lows in union density and anti-union campaigns are so vicious that even some capitalists are regretting how far things have gone . It’s become popularized, in large part, because IUPAT – the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades – have been relentlessly campaigning on it and creating a pole for what concerted labor policy can look like in a new, post-Trump era.
Many people in the labor movement have been reluctant to take up another “First 100 Days” fight, after Obama’s failure to pass EFCA (the Employee Free Choice Act, which focused on the mechanics of union elections) – as go-to strategist Jane McAlevey said in a recent stream on Jacobin, ‘it feels like people have PTSD about the EFCA fight’. But, the gamble of the Painters (and an increasingly large set of labor unions, including the AFL-CIO and many of its affiliates and Central Labor Councils, and now DSA too) is that we’ve built enough power in the years since Obama’s first term to create a different terrain and a path to real victory.
The push to prioritize the PRO Act is coming from two places in DSA. One, which I’m more intimately involved in, is the national campaign for a Green New Deal. As our campaign has continued to build on the principles we put forward articulating an ecosocialist vision for what a Green New Deal can look like, it has become more and more clear that we’ll never be able to win the most transformative parts of our vision like public ownership of a decarbonized grid, a jobs guarantee that is able to build serious labor power, and an internationalist focus on drawing down the military-industrial complex without a strong and fighting labor movement that can withhold its labor just like it did in the 30’s to pass some of the most important New Deal reforms. And, right now, with union density still at historic lows, and a pandemic still ripping its way through the organized working class, the best way to lay the groundwork for a strong and fighting labor movement that can also build capacity for our long term nationally-oriented campaign goals is to run a pressure campaign for the PRO Act!
The other place this work is coming from in DSA nationally (for now) is the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission. Hopefully that’s obvious why.
On February 4, 2021, The House of Representatives reintroduced the PRO Act (much to the chagrin of big business allies like the Chamber of Commerce). Now, our job is to make sure it passes the House, moves through the Senate, and lands on Joe Biden’s desk as quickly as possible. We have an opportunity here that must not be squandered, and will result in tangible benefits no matter what happens between now and May Day. Especially because the Democrats made it very clear that they won’t fight for anything that we don’t force them to. It’s past time to end racist Jim Crow right-to-work laws, and it’s clear with the passage of Prop 22 in CA that capital is looking for new ways to exploit labor in the era of gig workers. The fight for the PRO act will build DSA chapters and create a golden opportunity to invest in building the power of organized labor, which is an opportunity we must seize. No matter what your House Rep or Senator has already done, or not done, yet for the PRO act you should plug in to the fight today!