The next year is an incredible opportunity to grow Chicago DSA, build working-class socialist power, and engage in direct, agitational class struggle – if we take advantage of it. The past year has been devastating and demoralizing, between coordinated attacks on abortion rights and an increase in white supremacist terrorism targeting trans people and people of color. All working people, especially the most marginalized among us, have borne the brunt of right-wing anti-democratic violence.
The working class has one weapon against these forces: organization. We must be organized in order to build the power we need. We want to fight against these attacks and actually create a socialist society that values people over profit. To do this we need to build a lot of power, and the next twelve months have many openings for Chicago DSA to organize and build power, but we must fully commit to those openings. We are in a unique year where elections, labor struggles, and mass campaigns can reinforce and build on each other. It is up to us, and us alone, to meet this extraordinary moment – no one is coming to save us.
In 2023, both the national Teamsters contract at UPS and the Chicago Public Schools union contracts will expire and go into contract negotiations. This could lead to strikes for both powerful unions. The lead up to any potential strikes will see hundreds of thousands of working-class people engaging in democratic fights against capital. The impact this will have on our political economy is enormous. When UPS Teamsters went on strike in 1997, the United States lost 6% of its GDP per day, and in the years since, “just in time” production and other reliance on logistics workers has only increased. A national UPS strike is class struggle in the purest sense: workers fighting for their class by using their position in the economy to punish capital. When new Teamster leadership ran in the most recent union election, they ran on a platform of striking at UPS and winning big demands for their members.
If UPS represents a direct chokehold on capital, the Chicago Teachers Union is a more indirect, but no less important, threat. When Chicago teachers went on strike in 2012 and 2019, the entire city shut down, because workers of all stripes could not find childcare, and the city gave in to the teacher’s demands due to the economic pressure and associated political crisis. Striking teachers were able to directly reach working-class families across the city in every neighborhood to talk about the points of conflict between CTU and the city and why this strike was important to all Chicagoans. The lesson of the past 25 years is that these strikes are powerful, and we as socialists need to be prepared to stand side by side with our union siblings. CDSA should be preparing for strike support: that means turning members out regularly to pickets, but also includes meal services, community canvasses to speak with neighbors about the potential strikes and why they are important to inoculate against public backlash and grow solidarity, and showing up however the workers need us to give them the support they need to take on the boss and win big. Strike support is an important avenue to bring the labor movement and the socialist movement together with a common project. If we truly have the goal of building a labor party, we need to be on the ground when workers flex their power against capital.
We believe in the power of labor and elections to wage class struggle, and the upcoming Workers Rights Amendment (WRA) is a unique opportunity to tie them both together. The WRA is codifying collective bargaining rights into the Illinois State Constitution: a ballot measure to legally enshrine the rights that socialists and workers have been fighting to win for decades. As a ballot measure, WRA is an example of direct democracy. We can use this direct democracy to protect ourselves from undemocratic institutions like the Senate and Supreme Court; we have seen with Roe v. Wade how important it is to codify rights before unelected ghouls on the federal level can take them away. We need to take the WRA seriously as an opportunity to bring in more coalition partners and to demonstrate our collective commitment to labor rights. We must learn from the lessons of Fair Tax and not presume some other entity has it under control, or that we don’t need to get involved until the last minute. We should be tying the WRA into other chapter work – for instance, canvassing for WRA should coincide with signature-gathering for our aldermanic candidates, and by combining the two campaigns, we are inextricably tying our candidates to labor power.
In 2023, we have the chance to solidify and grow our socialist caucus by defending our incumbents in office and fighting to elect more, which would put Chicago at an unprecedented percentage of socialist leadership in city council. As we continue to fight for citywide changes like defunding the police and fighting against student-based budgeting, the more socialist votes on the council, the better. Additionally, aldermanic prerogative means that every socialist is able to push for affordable housing and other needed reforms within their own wards, as well as using their “bully pulpit” for their community.
In the words of Mike Parker, “Fighting politically is a sufficient threat to bosses that they will do everything they can to prevent people from doing it.” Landlords, developers, and business owners are accustomed to a level of protection and benevolence from the city council that the average Chicagoan could never expect. We are seeing this play out in real time as the mayor tries to fast-track the casino proposal despite opposition from residents surrounding every proposed location. Pressure from the National Restaurant Association led to the city relaxing and lifting indoor dining restrictions even as COVID-19 cases rose, and now hodge-podge voluntary restrictions from private firms have been further undermined as city and state officials go along with loosened federal guidelines for public transit and other core necessities. In 2019, we saw how hard the capitalist elite fought to keep our alderpeople from being elected or re-elected, and we can expect the same or worse in the coming months, even as the pandemic continues and other crises also worsen. Our task is to build organization, and build power, patiently and systematically to win what we need, despite the horrors around us. We must offer workers an alternative to those horrors.
When we endorse and run socialist candidates, it’s not just a commitment towards getting them elected. It’s a strategy to continue to engage Chicagoans in all domains of struggle. DSA has historically seen the biggest spurts of growth centered around elections – even when we don’t have our own candidate, potential members become galvanized by the hope for a future better than the political reality we have now. Organizing for a political future helps people realize their common interests. Union organizers and environmental activists can work together to elect candidates with a vision that encompasses all of this and more. Workers share a common struggle, and bosses benefit the most when workers cannot share in the struggle together.
Of course, there is no way to predict everything that will happen in the next year, and we will need to be nimble enough to respond to political moments as they arise. Especially in times of crisis, it is worthwhile to flex our collective power through marches and other direct action, and to serve our communities through direct aid. At times we can plan ahead – for instance, both direct action and mutual aid will be crucial for strike support – but we should also maintain the flexibility to take these actions for unforeseen political moments as well.
We may not make it of our own choosing, but we have the power to make history. With UPS contracts expiring once every five years and aldermanic elections once every four years, it will be another 20 years before these particular openings line up for us again. The Chicago socialist movement has a responsibility to take these opportunities seriously and fight like hell with the entire working class. We have a world to win, so let’s win it.