January 2019: New Congress and Fighting Teachers

New year, new Congress. What does it mean for socialists? We’ve got some ideas, though our real excitement is reserved for the coming teacher strikes in California and the ongoing demonstrations against authoritarianism and neoliberalism in Hungary, India, France, and beyond. Read on to find out more. And as always, we hope you’ll let us know what you think — and keep us updated on events in your DSA chapter — by emailing us at editor [at] socialistcall [dot] com and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. And please subscribe if you haven’t already so you never miss a bulletin.

In solidarity,
The Call editorial team

The 116th Congress

A new, Democrat-dominated House was sworn into office on January 3rd. Whatever else it may or may not achieve, progressives and socialists across the country should breath a sigh of relief that Republicans no longer have unchecked power in the federal government to support Donald Trump’s agenda.

Democrats ran in 2018 mostly on a “stop Trump” platform rather than a positive and unified platform of demands. As a result, the party is more ideologically muddled than it has been in recent memory, though its delegation as a whole may have taken a half-step to the Left with an expanded and more assertive Progressive Caucus. (Not that one should one make the mistake of assuming that the Progressive Caucus is a unified group of left-wing Democrats — Hakeem Jeffries for example is clearly within the Clinton-Obama wing of the party and a House leader but is nominally a member.) However, the party’s Right and Center are also organizing behind their own caucus: the New Democrat Coalition. The New Democrats now nominally have about the same share of members as the Progressive Caucus, but their antipathy to Medicare for All, progressive taxation, and other bold programs is shared by the House Democratic leadership. The separation of the party into ideologically more distinct caucuses is a welcome development, and hopefully will be strengthened if Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others build a new more unified caucus or even launch a democratic socialist one.

For better or worse, now that they have agenda-setting powers House Democrats will help shape national political debates in the next year. In the short term, the most important question is what will happen with the government shutdown over funding for the border wall. More than 800,000 federal workers are either not working or working without pay. Unfortunately, unions representing federal workers have not organized to fight back.

On a slightly longer timeline, Democrats also plan to make election reform — potentially including public financing of elections, ending gerrymandering, and automatic voter registration — a priority. While their plans certainly won’t go far enough to tackle the political crisis facing the United States today, nor will they pass the Republican-held Senate, they’re a welcome sign that Democrats are being forced to start to address the problem of our deeply broken democracy. Democrats will also make investigating every aspect of Trump and his administration a top priority — an ongoing effort that will surely make headlines in the months to come. And lastly, expect a large helping of craven attempts at bipartisanship, like the new bill supported by Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to attack growing support for Palestine.

The start of a new legislative session would be far less interesting for socialists were it not for the entrance of two DSA members: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York City and Rashida Tlaib from Detroit. In her first two days as a congresswoman, AOC challenged Pelosi and the Democratic leadership by voting against rules for the House that would include enforcing an austerity provision known as PAYGO. Though AOC lost that vote, by popularizing the issue she inspired progressives to push a new bill to repeal PAYGO. She has also played a critical role in elevating a Green New Deal as a top priority for the Left, and taking the fight to corporate Democrats who secretly have the support of the fossil fuel industry, like Democrat Frank Pallone who chairs the House committee on the environment and liberal darling Beto O’Rourke.

Ready for Striking Teachers

All eyes should be on California as United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) set a strike deadline for January 10th in its negotiations with the school district (DSA now has a strike support fundraiser that readers should consider donating to). Fifty thousand members and supporters marched in downtown LA on December 15th to show solidarity with the educators. And teachers in Oakland may follow the lead of their colleagues to the south in the next two months.

With the exception of strikes in Washington state, the wave of teacher militancy in 2018 largely targeted Republican governments. The likely strikes in California are an important next step for the nascent teachers movement not only because of the sheer size of the districts (Los Angeles Unified School District has about as many students as all of Oklahoma), but because the Los Angeles, Oakland, and California governments are all controlled by Democrats. In Los Angeles in particular, the strike has the potential to expose Democratic politicians as being complicit in the dismantling of good public schools to nearly the same extent as the Republicans.

However, given the national teachers unions’ ties to the centrist wing of the Democratic Party, it is up to socialists to help make these connections clear. We can’t rely on the Democrats to resist austerity or to advance the kind of programs that would truly benefit working people. As we build support for the teachers strike, it is critical that we as socialists work to convince teacher activists and all supporters of labor and social movements of the need for independent working-class politics.

Labor’s Next Steps

Strikes are in the news again in industries beyond education too. At the end of December, 4,000 clinicians went on strike against Kaiser in California for five days. The National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) has since returned to the bargaining table, but an indefinite strike seems likely. Workers in a New York City Amazon warehouse announced that they are in the process of organizing a union. And Marriott workers settled favorable contracts around the country following a national strike.

In other labor news, Philadelphia passed one of the strongest fair work week laws in the nation with significant support from the city’s organized labor movement and Philadelphia DSA. Eight hundred thousand federal government workers remain either locked out or forced to work without pay; the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has sued the federal government on behalf of workers forced to show up to work without pay. Among the lowest-paid workers in the federal government, increasing numbers of TSA airport screeners are calling out from work, despite being legally required to work without pay. Finally, DSA member and Virginia state legislator Lee Carter introduced a bill to legalize public sector strikes in the state.

DSA in the News

DSA expanded its staff and chapters last month, adding a new field organizer and an operations director as well as chapters in Charleston SC, Charlottesville VA, and Northeast Tennessee. As DSA settles into our “new normal” as a mass membership organization, it will be increasingly important for us to expand the organizational capacity of our national staff, so these new hires are a welcome sign. Jack Suria Linares from Los Angeles was also added to the National Political Committee to replace R.L. Stephens, who resigned in the Fall.

In the lead-up to municipal elections in 2019, DSA announced national endorsements for aldermanic candidates Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, Byron Sigcho Lopez, and Ugo Okere in Chicago and Megan Ellyia in St. Louis. Chicago DSA recently held a major canvass with more than 100 members to support its candidates and to fight for rent control and public housing. DSAer and mass incarceration-opponent Franklin Bynum took his seat on the Harris County Criminal Court in Texas. We at The Call announced our plans to launch a new caucus, and pushed back on a deeply flawed article in The New Republic that attacked several DSA chapters. The New York Post was forced to recognize the growing power of NYC-DSA, just as the chapters activists escalated their campaign against the new Amazon Headquarters. Young Democratic Socialists of America announced their upcoming winter conference: “Class Struggle In Session”. And in central Illinois, DSA’s Bloomington-Normal organizing committee had a showdown with local members of the Chamber of Commerce over Medicare for All.

Finally, DSAers in Detroit are making waves. In the wake of GM’s plant closure announcement, Detroit DSA brought out 250 people to hear Congressperson-elect Rashida Tlaib, whom the chapter had campaigned for, and to watch the 1983 documentary Poletown Lives!. One of the plants to be shuttered soon was built in the 1980s on the ruins of the Poletown neighborhood, which was bulldozed when the city seized it by eminent domain to gift to GM.

Socialism Around the World

Popular anger is mounting in Hungary after Viktor Orbán’s government passed a new bill widely dubbed the ‘slave law’ this last month. The bill allows employers to demand that their employees work 400 hours of overtime per year without being compensated for up to three years. While it’s still unclear how sustained the opposition to this bill will be, the protests are an immensely positive sign that Hungarian workers are fed up with the right-wing policies of Orbán’s government.

In France, Emmanuel Macron’s government has signaled that it will follow through on its promise to crack down on the now 6-week old yellow vest protests, arresting Éric Drouet, a 33-year-old truck driver who was one of the initial leaders of the protests. Both right-wing politician Marine Le Pen as well as the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon condemned the arrest — indicative of the way that both the right and left in France are vying to win popular support in opposition to the widespread dissatisfaction with Macron’s government, whose approval rating has now fallen to around 25 percent.

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new fascist president was sworn into office, and immediately launched an attack on indigenous rights — DSA activists must prepare for international solidarity actions to defend Brazilian democracy. Unionists in India are preparing for a major strike — possibly involved upwards of 150 million workers — on January 8th and 9th. Comrades in South Africa are struggling to find a new direction after a series of setbacks in the last six years. And finally, government repression continues in Nicaragua, where armed forces raided the office of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), along with seven other offices of NGOs and think tanks. The raids were carried out without a warrant by paramilitary as well as government soldiers.