This is the second installment in a series from the Chicago DSA Labor Branch entitled “Strike Support Perspectives.” Each piece represents a different view of how DSA should engage with ongoing strikes. In this piece, author Steve Weishampel argues that strike support should be offered without any accompanying leadership or strings attached.
When discussing our strike and solidarity efforts, the central question we’re talking about here, I think, is not whether DSA should offer an opinion on ending strikes or approving Tentative Agreements. It’s whether we support strikes or try to lead them. And beneath that, it’s whether we respect workers and see them as the unit of political and social transformation.
I think DSA has a responsibility to help build worker power and worker autonomy, which takes many forms — strike support, yes, but also new labor organizing like the EWOC, training, political education, and more. In some of those arenas, we can and should be leaders and organizers. But when workers call a strike at their workplace, I think it’s inappropriate for DSA to try to provide any leadership or take any action to decrease workers’ power and autonomy. Workers must own, lead, and organize their strike; our role should be to back them. Weighing in on whether the TA terms are good or whether the strike should continue undermines worker power and worker autonomy.
Even for workers in unions, calling a strike is often the beginning of workers seeing themselves as more than employees, but it doesn’t mean that they fully grasp that they have power. Some still want to be told where to go and what to do. I’ve seen this in talking to workers about starting a union — they definitely want to join one instead of forming one, and they want an expert to swoop in and provide answers. They aren’t yet ready to see themselves as agents in their working lives. As socialists, we must see this as a bad thing, not a useful thing. It’s a chance for political education, not simply telling the worker what to do. It’s not an opportunity to provide answers for them. If a worker on strike, maybe for the first time, wants to know how to vote on a TA, they have to provide that answer themselves, or we aren’t cultivating worker power, just worker obedience.
We need to be realistic and grounded when we talk about voting on TAs and ending strikes. Workers are foregoing their pay — and more and more often, their health insurance — to strike. If we encourage them to vote no on a TA and extend a strike, we need to be ready to have answers for some basic material questions and needs that the workers have. I don’t think DSA is ready to provide for the families of striking workers, so it puts us in a position of telling workers to suffer financially for our political goals.
I believe in our political goals, but I think it’s an error to treat workers’ strike votes as simply vehicles for trying to reach them. For the duration of the strike, we should educate and agitate among striking workers, hold political education events, and bring striking workers into the socialist movement. But taking a position specifically on the strike vote is, I think, skipping steps in organizing the working class. It’s comparable to waiting four years, then telling voters to embrace socialism on election day. Will workers have a deeply developed political vision and understand their strike in the context of class struggle? Will they commit to their strike long-term and make demands that directly attack the power of capital? Probably not. They’ll probably prioritize their pay, health benefits, time off and working conditions. This also needs to be OK with us, by the way.
While we support workers on the line, we can talk to them and build their class consciousness, so that when they vote they are informed agents, not our pawns. But directing them on how to vote without doing that political education is poor organizing.