February 2019: Victory in LA and 2020 Heats Up

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Basking in the glow of a major victory in LA for teachers and students, we’re looking ahead this month to the start of the presidential election and labor struggles around the world. Plus, we give you the TL;DR on the formation of two new caucuses in DSA.

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In solidarity,
The Call editorial team

Victory in Los Angeles!

This January, Los Angeles teachers won a weeklong strike that mobilized tens of thousands of educators and supporters and effectively shut down the school system; union leadership framed the strike as “a struggle to save public education” from the cost-cutting billionaire class. Huge swaths of the working class clearly saw things the same way, with very few parents crossing picket lines and tens of thousands of supporters joining teachers at daily rallies throughout the strike. The strike also highlighted the union’s successful working-class program for fighting racism, despite perverse attempts by billionaires and their spokespeople to paint the strike as insensitive to the needs of Latino and black parents.

Los Angeles educators’ new contract features a pay raise for educators as well as school-quality demands like an enforceable cap on class sizes, significantly more nurses, counselors, and librarians, and an end to random searches on students. United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) methodically organized for a confrontation with privatizers and billionaires since 2014, when a rank-and-file reform slate took over the union. Critically, UTLA organized heavily both at job sites and among parents and community members.

2020 Heats Up

Love it or hate it, the 2020 presidential campaign has begun, kicking off a two year campaign to decide the direction of the Democratic Party and who will challenge Donald Trump. The Democrats’ corporate wing seems set to divide its forces between the anti-public schools crusader Cory Booker; Kamala Harris, whose campaign launch was marred by questions about her sadistic record as California’s Attorney General; and Kirsten Gillibrand, darling of Wall Street. Elizabeth Warren also plans to make a bid, though her claim to being more progressive than the rest of the pack has been seriously compromised by her failure to support eliminating private health insurance in favor of Medicare for All and her inability to inspire a larger movement.

Medicare for All will likely play an important role as a litmus test in the election, thanks in part to the efforts of progressive and socialist activists in National Nurses United and DSA’s Medicare for All campaign. DSA’s Medicare for All campaign recognized early that corporate Democrats would try to redefine M4A, and has popularized a simple five point definition of what socialists really want. The transformation of single payer into a litmus test is a huge breakthrough. Democrats at the top of the party are panicking — and top aides to Nancy Pelosi, the party’s de facto leader at the moment, have secretly reassured donors in the health insurance industry that they have nothing to fear.

As we have long argued, Bernie Sanders remains the one and only choice for democratic socialists. Sanders will hopefully launch his campaign any day now, and more and more DSA chapters across the country are preparing. Phoenix, East Bay, Louisville, Hudson Valley, Seattle, and YDSA have all passed resolutions calling on Sanders to run and for DSA to endorse. NYC is considering a similar resolution in early February that would lay the groundwork for making Bernie 2020 work a priority. And DSA’s National Political Committee accepted the recommendations of the DSA 2020 Exploratory Committee for a robust and democratic process for considering a national endorsement once Sanders announces. Assuming Bernie jumps into the race, DSA members should be on the lookout in the next few weeks for a national advisory poll on whether or not we should endorse.

Labor’s Next Steps

January was a big month for labor militancy around the country. Workers in the federal and private sectors ended the partial government shutdown after threatening to seriously disrupt the aviation industry. On January 25, air traffic controllers conducted a sickout and Sara Nelson, president of a major flight attendants union, simultaneously warned of a “suspension of service” from her members due to safety concerns. Before the sickout, Nelson previously raised the possibility of a general strike across the organized labor movement to end the lockout of more than 800,000 federal workers. While federal employees will receive back pay as part of the deal to end the shutdown, the prospect of back pay for federal contractors — many of whom are very low-paid workers — looks much less promising.

Looking ahead, teachers in Denver, Oakland and Virginia are preparing for potential strikes. And West Virginia teachers are preparing for a one-day political strike to protest reactionary legislation that is widely seen as retribution for their successful strike last year.

DSA and the International Socialist Organization are stepping up to help build solidarity as the strike wave progresses. Please consider donating to Bread for Ed to make sure Oakland children receive nutritious lunches in the event of an educators strike and Tamales for Teachers to help support Denver teachers when they hit the picket line.

Despite rising labor militancy however, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2018 union density continued its long decline. We have a long way to go to rebuild a powerful workers movement in the United States.

DSA in the News

Chicago DSA has endorsed five candidates for Alderman ahead of the late February municipal elections in an effort to launch a Socialist Caucus in the Chicago City Council. The chapter also defeated an attempt to endorse a political consultant for mayor who had dressed her campaign up in radical rhetoric by about a 70-30% vote. Metro Detroit launched a campaign for a just transition and a Green New Deal in response to General Motors’ announcement that it will be closing plants located in the city.

East Bay DSA released a new local publication, Majority, that aims to bring class struggle news to the Bay Area. National DSA is holding a series of regional conferences in order to provide members the opportunity to prepare for the the national convention that will be held in August of this year. These conferences have a shared agenda and allow members to develop skills and debate ideas that will help them to fully participate in the convention. And DSA’s Medicare for All campaign launched a new pressure campaign on House members to support single payer.

The last month has also seen a flurry of internal organizing in DSA. We at The Call participated in the launch of a new caucus for Marxist organizers in DSA — DSA Spring — in Philadelphia. About 200 DSA members from around the country discussed and endorsed a shared strategic perspective and a list of priorities for socialist organizing in 2019. We were also excited to see the launch of a new group calling itself the Socialist Majority Caucus. For those trying to make sense of the constellation of DSA caucuses and how they all relate, in our reading Socialist Majority Caucus seems to be closer than other caucuses to some of the perspectives of DSA North Star — which quickly welcomed its formation — though SMC likely has a wider reach among new members than North Star. We look forward to reading more about their perspectives in the weeks and months to come.

Finally, we at The Call and many in DSA were sad to learn of the passing of Erik Olin Wright, one of the most important Marxist thinkers of the last 50 years.

Socialism Around the World

Political crisis continues in Venezuela, where supporters of President Nicolás Maduro and opposition candidate Juan Guiadó (of the center-right Voluntad Popular party) have taken to the streets. While the U.S. government has pledged support for Guiadó, we as socialists must stand by the Venezuelan people’s right to self-determination and, as DSA has done, absolutely condemn any attempt on the part of the U.S. to intervene. Of course, that does not mean we shouldn’t also recognize that Maduro’s regime has become more corrupt and authoritarian in the last few years — including taking the unacceptable step of banning opposition candidates in elections.

Protests continue in Hungary in response to new labor laws proposed by right-wing president Viktor Orbán that allow employers to demand 400 hours of overtime from their employees, with pay delayed for up to 3 years. Workers are now calling for a national strike, with labor unions signalling their support for the action. In Mexico, a mass strike involving workers at forty-eight maquiladoras is poised to win wage increases for tens of thousands of workers. The strike, which was initially sparked by president Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s decree to increase the minimum wage in Mexico’s border zones, involved walkouts of 25,000 workers (many of whom currently make less than $1 per hour).

The strike hasn’t merely seen a resurgence in Europe and North America, however — New Zealand experienced a massive strike wave this last year as well. Over the course of the year, New Zealanders revived an old militant labor tradition — with thirty thousand nurses striking for the first time in 30 years, and twenty nine thousand teachers striking for the first time in 24 years. The strike wave also involved the private sector, with fast food workers, cinema workers, and bus drivers taking action, largely in response to stagnating wages, as well as austerity measures imposed by their feeble Labour Party.

Finally, a popular uprising seems to be brewing in Sudan. Alexis Tsipras’s supposed left-wing government in Greece is under renewed fire for repressing social movements. And the Yellow Vests protests in France have continued to rack up victories.