In November the Rank & File Project (RFP) kick-started three new cohorts of future union organizers and radicals at work. It was the culmination of a year of recruiting participants and mentors and education planning, and is the beginning of what we hope is a new wave of socialist unionists.
With a volunteer committee and two part-time staffers, RFP has been recruiting through campus visits, work with YDSA, and TikTok. We know that young people recognize the urgency to act now or face the consequences of failing to end capitalism. Our pitch: let’s fight the bosses at their points of weakness, where we are potentially strong.
We’ve recruited 50 young people in three metro areas to join the project: that is, to get union jobs in targeted industries, to coordinate with each other and with existing workplace leaders, and to help build powerful democratic unions that can fight the bosses, on and off the shop floor. Our next goal is to take RFP national.
Where They’ll Work
On November 11 we held our first session of the Rank & File School, with our cohorts in Los Angeles, East Bay/San Francisco, and New York/New Jersey each meeting in-person simultaneously, and also with each other via Zoom. In NYC/NJ, we have recruited thirty five young people to get jobs in healthcare, logistics, building trades, and education. In LA, we recruited seven people to get jobs in education and entertainment. In the East Bay/SF area, we recruited eight people to get jobs in education.
Many of these recruits are DSA members, but many are not yet. About a third of our cohort are active socialists who were already on their way to the shop floor or newly arrived there. Another third are people we’ve met in our organizing over the years, and a third are brand-new friends. RFP is already helping the folks who were previously committed to the strategy. In one big union local, the socialists weren’t yet meeting together and planning together — but now that RFP has brought them five new recruits, they are all meeting monthly as a group.
Our careful recruitment process involved an application and an interview, to select for candidates who are either about to enter the workforce or have just recently entered the workforce, and who are serious about fighting capitalism through workplace organizing. For young people considering an industry for the first time, we made sure they talked with someone already working there. We made sure those who already had jobs were committed to working with the new cohort members.
At the in-person Rank & File School sessions, we went through three modules: why capitalism is at the root of what’s wrong with the world, a Marxist perspective on the necessity of building powerful unions and working class parties, and why we take a rank-and-file strategy to building class-struggle unions. Over the course of the next six months, recruits will study shop floor strategy, the history of reform caucuses, how unions are structured, and how to politicize our union work.
In addition to these political education sessions, cohorts will meet as industry groups, each with a coordinator, to discuss their industry and the specific challenges their unions are facing, in order to cohere strategies for building their unions.
The cross-industry cohorts in the three cities are for peer-to-peer support and learning. Getting a union job and staying active in your union isn’t easy. By building a cohort that meets in person, we hope to build a support network that can sustain long-term socialist activists. This cohort structure is also meant to work on political strategy. While different activists may have different immediate tasks within their unions, we all share the long-term political goals of building a vibrant labor movement that can fight for socialism.
One of our participants shared their thoughts after our first two political education sessions:
“I am new to organizing and constantly feel like I don’t know enough, so to have a space to go to each month where I can learn from experienced organizers is an absolute gift. RFP allows me space to learn deliberately, organize my thoughts, and clarify long-festering questions, in the presence of some extremely smart and compassionate people.
“Though we’ve only done a few modules so far, my perspective on what a union could be has completely shifted, and I’m beginning to think more creatively about my own rank-and-file organizing. I’m so grateful that RFP exists!”
We are also building 1:1 mentorships. Mentors include socialists active in their unions and some retired veterans. Strategizing with experienced folks is an essential part of the RFP plan.
Through political education and mentorship of galvanized young people, we are seeking to add to the next layer of workplace militants: socialists who can connect the threads of their union and workplace to the fabric of the working class, and weave a new socialist movement rooted in powerful, coordinated unions. We ask: how can socialists convert the upsurge in labor militancy we’ve seen this year into a long-lasting shift in the balance of power, from the ruling class to the working class?
We see two interconnected solutions. First, we must build unions that are led democratically by their members to actually fight the boss. Second, we must make institutional linkages between unions and the socialist movement that can form the bedrock of a working class party.
DSA has been the socialist organization undertaking the difficult task of building independent political organization. We are excited to collaborate further with DSA Labor, as well as with YDSA, where we have already done extensive presentations to recruit cohort participants. When DSA and YDSA activists organize out in the world, we hope people consider RFP as one exciting landing pad for people who want to build a strong socialist movement. One of our goals is to get good at recruiting where young people haven’t yet found their way to the organized Left, particularly in communities of color. This could help us reshape the demographic composition of the socialist movement.
So what’s next for RFP? We are aiming to go national! Currently, our main task is supporting the cohorts in LA, East Bay/SF, and NYC/NJ. We want to build new cohorts and Rank & File Schools across the country. We plan to have a guide on how to build a local cohort and we need national structures in place to support the local recruitment process.
But to do all that, we need your help. We will need more staff to build this network nationally. If you want to see a cohort and a Rank & File School in your city, make your donation here! We would love to hear from you and to keep you informed of our progress, so please fill out the form at the bottom of our website.
The task of building working class power is daunting. Building powerful, coordinated, class-struggle unions capable of organizing their current members as well as the unorganized is a crucial building block of socialist strategy. The Rank & File Project is here to make one contribution, in strategic sectors of the labor movement.
As one of our participants said, “My work life has taken quite a winding and chaotic path… so it’s no small thing to me that I now have the opportunity to build community and do the necessary political work with people who share my core perspective. I am so thrilled to be involved and I look forward to sharing in the struggle with everyone in the years to come.”