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The Massachusetts DSA Labor Outlet
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Report Back: Maine DSA 2023 Convention

Mon, 2023-01-30 19:37

By Maine DSA Communications Committee

Originally published in Pine & Roses, a project of the Maine DSA.

On the weekend of January 21-22, Maine DSA held its first of two semi-annual conventions for 2023. Over the course of a chapter convention weekend, members gather both in-person and online for workshops on a range of topics, as well as business meetings where resolutions and amendments are debated and decided. At anytime during those two days, members are invited to fill out online ballots to elect candidates to open leadership positionsThis piece recaps the workshops and business items, it does not address the election results.


Opening Speaker

During our opening plenary, we heard from Communications Co-Chair, Chris C, who spoke about the importance of developing mutual respect and camaraderie between members. We were left with a reminder that fellow socialists are first and foremost comrades. Even when we disagree about this or that strategy we must not view each other as essential political opposition. Instead, that designation should be left for the capitalists currently ruining our planet and communities within. 


Maine DSA hosted seven workshops on Day 1, five of which were in person. These in-person events were hosted at the Quaker Friends Meeting House in Portland. 

At the top of the morning we were joined remotely by the Emergency Tenant Organizing Committee. This group works with chapters across the country helping them set up autonomous tenant unions in every city. This is done largely through a mentorship program where local socialist organizers are guided through all of the challenges associated with launching a tenant union. We then discussed the challenges we face in Maine. How a tight housing market and poor tenant protections have cooled tenant organizing in our area. We talked about how existing social networks are very useful for building the trust needed for taking on landlords. For DSA, defeating the death grip of landlords and supporting bottom-up tenant power is the only path forward.

Meanwhile, at the local in-person workshops, comrades learned essential life-saving care measures most effective at stopping rapid blood loss typically caused by gunshot wounds. We owe a special thanks to Maine SRA for helping put this training session together. One of the attendees and hosts of this training returned later in the day to help with another workshop. After a lunch break, folks then had the choice of attending an Art and Capitalism workshop or a Membership Engagement workshop. 

The Art and Capitalism workshop, hosted by Jon D, provided an in-person space for members to come together to not only make art but also discuss the struggles surrounding art. Important questions addressed in the session included: what makes someone an artist, how has capitalism changed art and its function, and what does art contribute to the socialist movement? 

Meanwhile, Jake G and others discussed how to keep our membership engaged. There was an in-depth review of statistics comparing members in good standing v. constitutional members, and how to better focus on turning the latter into the former. A membership engagement survey sent out late last year provided good insights into ways that we as a chapter can do better to activate members. The floor was then opened to folks to suggest new creative ways to engage with current members, as well as reach out to new potential ones. This workshop was also hosted on Friday night before the convention. Attendees generated wonderfully creative ideas that will surely prove fun, if not effective. So keep on the lookout for some cool new events coming up this year, a game night is in the works as well as a few other atypical in-person events. 

Later on that afternoon, Cam H led attendees in a speculative fiction workshop. Participants were encouraged to think about their utopian worlds, dystopian worlds, and what those changes might look like throughout several periods in the future. Folks then engaged in world-building, character development, and learning the basics of story structures. Attendees left this workshop with a beautiful handmade zine and an outline of a story that they created. 

The last in-person workshop, led by Chris C, was a tent heater build. Maine DSA owes Maine SRA gratitude once again for showing up to help with this activity; they provided extra materials and knowledge that were critical to its success. Attendees were able to come together and collectively begin the process of building tent heaters, an essential tool for folks facing precarious housing situations. A few of the heaters from this workshop have already been distributed and some folks are continuing to build in order to distribute more. 

At the same time, Rep. Grayson Lookner and Prof. Brendan McQuade hosted an online workshop on important legislative efforts happening this year. The focus was on abolition and abortion rights. Bills discussed included: efforts to defund the Maine Information Analysis Center (read our shadow report from last year for background), a bill to ban crisis pregnancy centers (see our website on this), shutting down Long Creek Youth Development Center, and building new social housing. If you’d like to stay in the loop on these and other issues Rep. Lookner is focused on this session, you can fill out this form. Anyone specifically interested in closing down Long Creek Youth Development Center should check out Maine Youth Justice. And lastly, for folks looking to learn more about the public housing crisis, we invite you to read this Beacon article and this Jacobin article, co-authored by Rep. Lookner. 


After a first day filled with wonderful workshops, members reconvened that night to address a slew of business items. We had wonderful debates throughout. We were able to reach decisions on all business items with one exception. Citing time and a clear lack of consensus, our Digital Voting Results Policy was referred to our Steering Committee. Our Abortion Rights Working Group was rechartered and will continue its efforts fighting predatory fake abortion clinics, aka crisis pregnancy centers. We were able to settle on an electoral strategy that centers partnerships with candidates who are openly socialist and committed to working-class struggles. We also passed a coalition policy that will ensure Maine DSA is able to work in the open as socialists within Portland coalitions. And last but not least, with the DSA National Convention around the corner, we passed a resolution that will provide chapter funding to help our delegates attend without financial stress.


Opening Speaker

On Day 2, we heard from Heather Hillenbrand who is a National DSA Labor Membership Co-Chair. We discussed further efforts in organizing labor, where we have footholds already, DSA’s popular report with much of the rank & file of Starbucks Workers United, and how to prepare for further action and organizing in 2023. Heather also invited Maine DSA to send a chapter member to the upcoming Labor Corps Solidarity Call.


Day 2 was a little lighter on the workshops with only four total. This was welcomed, as most of the chapter membership was still recovering from a long and exhausting Day 1. All workshops on Day 2 were held remotely online. 

The first workshop of the day was a study group on Salar Mohandesi’s article in Viewpoint, “Party as Articulator.” This was facilitated by Todd B from our Political Education Committee, and the author of the piece was in attendance to summarize its main points and respond to questions. After an introduction, we moved into break-out rooms where attendees went around discussing their biggest takeaway from the piece. We then reconvened as a broader body to further flesh out its more nuanced points, possible critiques, and questions. This discussion proved quite engaging, going 30 minutes over the allotted time. 

In another Zoom call, we heard from Liz Trice of Maine Cooperative Development Partners to learn about the cooperative social housing model and the cooperative housing developments that MCDP expects to begin building later this year in Portland. Reservations for these are still available. Social housing cooperatives are an approach to creating permanently-affordable housing. Housing following this model is mutually-owned and governed democratically by all residents. During this session, a number of members expressed that they already had reservations to join MCDP’s upcoming Dougherty Court housing cooperative. The session closed out with an extended Q&A. You can find more information about Maine Cooperative Development Partners and their projects at

Maine DSA also hosted a discussion about logistics and labor. This workshop was hosted by Jeanne L and Spencer B. It included an open discussion on the role of Maine DSA in the potential UPS Teamster strike this summer. Attendees agreed that this would be an extremely important moment. This work will be qualitatively different from much of the chapter’s labor solidarity work up to this point due to the scale of the potential strike, the national significance of a bottleneck in logistics, and the radical open-mindedness of masses of workers. Suggested tactics included both material support and conversations asking about the contract, asking what workers care about, and discussing how it connects to the capitalist system in general. Other ideas from members included producing a pamphlet on the history of Teamster actions from a socialist perspective, and that we prepare contingency plans for the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling making workers liable for the lost profits of bosses. It was a lively starter conversation on a topic that will be discussed further both locally and nationally as socialists prepare.

As mentioned above, our Day 1 workshops had been hosted at the Portland Friends Meetinghouse. On Day 2 we heard from local Quaker activists. Sophie G, a member of Maine DSA and an activist with The Friends Committee on National Legislation spoke to us about the history of the Child Tax Credit, the impact of the latest lapse of the CTC, and what we can do to help. We also heard anecdotal stories from Julie, a micro-school employee and mom, about the impact and importance of the CTC. During this presentation, we contacted our national representatives with help and instruction from Sophie G. 


Day 2 business was just as busy as Day 1, but we were still able to conclude on schedule. We were able to recharter our Pine & Roses working group, a chapter-backed journalistic project that offers an online publication, providing a New England based working-class viewpoint that is not represented in other major media. We also rechartered our Labor Solidarity working group, and approved a project for that group to utilize relationships with Maine labor in an attempt to gain as much union support as possible for the Pine Tree Power ballot initiative. We then passed an electoral strategy resolution on Day 2 that builds upon what was passed during business on Day 1. Maine DSA also voted to implement a mask policy in an effort to allow folks with compromised immune systems to engage with us and participate in spaces where they are usually prohibited via health risk. To cap off Day 2 business, we held a deep discussion on the chapter’s diversity requirements. In the end we voted to make a few tweaks to them, including some simplification to the language and hopefully reducing any undue pressure on marginalized members.


After business concluded, comrades came together on Sunday night at Portland Zoo. The dense roar of our collective chatter could be heard from the sidewalk as you walked up. Jokes were flying about the newly formed Lighthouse Caucus and the tongue-in-cheek possibility of future caucuses like the Franco-American CaucusThe Fists Caucus, and The Dark Tower Caucus. We collectively thanked and congratulated our outgoing Chapter Co-Chair Rose D for all of her hard work and incredible dedication to the chapter. To cap off the celebration and convention, we came together in song.

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold

Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousandfold

We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old

For the union makes us strong

Solidarity forever

Solidarity forever

Solidarity forever

For the Union Makes Us Strong

Stolen Wages Returned for 3 Hotel Workers, Highlighting Need To Fight Wage Theft

Sun, 2023-01-22 15:39

By Paul Garver

Metrowest Worker Center Recovers Wages for 3 Hotel Workers

Wakefield, MA — On December 20th, workers and supporters demanded managers pay back wages when they made a surprise visit at the Five Points Marriott Hotel in Wakefield. The action got results: three days later, three Brazilian immigrant workers confirmed that they had received their paychecks. It’s estimated $800 million is stolen annually from workers by their employers in Massachusetts.

The delegation was led by the Framingham-based Metrowest Workers Center [CASA in Spanish and Portuguese] and included the Center Director Diego Low, volunteer workers from the Center, one of the unpaid workers, and members of immigrant solidarity organizations that partner with the Workers Center, including two from MetroWest Boston DSA (Democratic Socialists of America).

The delegation delivered a signed letter to the hotel manager asking that the hotel require its cleaning contractor Castro Construction to pay back wages owed to three Brazilian immigrant women working as cleaners at the hotel. Refusing to accept the claim that no managers were available, the delegation milled around the hotel lobby, insisting to speak with a hotel manager with the authority to ensure that the women get paid.

Eventually two hotel managers emerged, read the signed letter, and promised to meet with their cleaning contractor to require that the workers receive their stolen wages.

Three days later, Aparacida C., Janice G., and Dalila C. confirmed that they had received their paychecks.

Castro Construction also owes larger sums of stolen pay to at least eleven immigrant workers it formerly employed at the Five Points Marriott Hotel in Newton. It may be necessary to go through the laborious process set up by the Attorney General’s office to recover their stolen wages.

Although many permanent workers also suffer from wage theft in the form of non-payment of overtime and other abusive practices, it is immigrant workers — especially undocumented construction and service workers — that are especially vulnerable to out-and-out wage theft. Their employers, usually labor brokers and sub-contractors, assume that undocumented workers, fearing deportation, and are therefore unlikely to take legal steps to recover their pay or collect the benefits to which they are entitled.

In his report back to CASA supporters, Diego Low wrote:

The three women owed wages for their work at Four Points Wakefield received their back wages yesterday. The hotel collected the payments from the labor broker and advised CASA Thursday, allowing time to collect and distribute them the funds for their families’ holidays. CASA will be looking at strategies for pursuing strategies for collecting wages for the other dozens of workers owed wages by the broker at other hotels, where we lack the leverage of an ongoing contract.

These strategies might include trying to recover stolen wages at the Five Points Newton Marriott. The global Marriott chain would suffer reputational harm from the shady practices of the labor brokers and contractors that were hired by its hotel managers to cut costs.

CASA could also work with statewide labor unions and other immigrant and community organizations to compel the state legislature to make business owners and lead contractors responsible for preventing their subcontractorssub-contractors and labor brokers from cheating workers to keep their bids low. The key issue for CASA is holding not only lead contractors responsible for abusive practices of sub-contractors, but also the companies for which the workers perform services.

CASA is governed by its board composed of immigrant workers, who make the strategic decisions in response to the perceived needs of their communities.

Fighting Wage Theft in Massachusetts

The AFL-CIO, workers centers and immigrant support groups have identified wage theft as a major problem for workers in Massachusetts. Of the approximately $800 million stolen annually from workers by their employers in Massachusetts, the Attorney General’s office has collected and returned only $12.3 million.

Comprehensive legislation against wage theft has failed at the Massachusetts State House for two consecutive sessions. In 2019 some 100 workers packed into a legislative hearing to join with AFL-CIO staff to provide detailed testimony of their experiences with wage theft. Bill 4681, the 2021-22 Act to Prevent Wage Theft, advocated by the AFL-CIO,the Brazilian Workers Center and numerous labor and community organizations, was refused even an up or down vote by business-friendly house leadership. 

What should DSA do?

Wage theft is a major problem facing workers in Massachusetts, and one of the most blatant forms of the capitalist exploitation of workers. It is particularly vile because it targets the most vulnerable workers, those with the greatest need to get paid on time, and often with fewer resources to fight back. Workers Centers like the Metrowest Workers Center in Framingham do not see their role as substituting for labor unions, but work with unions to build a stronger organizational and political movement of the working class. As a democratic socialist organization, DSA supports workers centers that like the Metrowest Workers Center.

Specific actions to help the most vulnerable workers, in particular ones without documents, are necessary, but insufficient. DSA should actively support the passage of comprehensive legislation as advocated by labor unions and immigrant rights organizations that would hold all employers and primary contractors responsible for paying wages stolen from workers by the labor brokers and sub-contractors. Ousting business-friendly legislators with a stranglehold over the legislative process like Speaker Mariano from office is needed to enact and enforce legislation against wage theft. Workers deserve much higher wages and more control and ownership of their workplaces. The least the capitalists can do is pay workers what they already said they would pay.

Paul Garver is a member of the Boston DSA.

Love and Solidarity Will Beat Far Right Attacks on Queer Spaces

Fri, 2023-01-13 14:06

After a pitched scuffle to defend a drag queen story hour last month in Fall River left comrades injured but victorious, the Boston DSA is planning to show up in force in Fall River tomorrow to protect queer spaces from far-right attacks. This piece was originally published in the Boston Political Education Working Group’s blog as “Step right up, come one come all, to defend Fall River.”

By Anonymous Comrade

The first thing I want to say about our December 10 defense of the Fall River Pride Committee’s drag story time is that we succeeded.

I wanted to start out that way because between all the various mediocre news stories and online commentaries, you might not realize it. But we succeeded. When neo-Nazi group NSC tried to rush the door, it was our team of volunteers from an ad hoc coalition of local organizations including Boston DSA, that kept them out. We, the team that I coordinated, did keep them out, and we were able to keep attendees safe. And through friendliness and creativity – singing, bells, colorful masks – our volunteers at the side door were able to provide an atmosphere of fun and normalcy for the children as they entered the event, even with NSC outside the front door and Proud Boys across the street. Volunteers were able to escort families to their cars as they left. We did all this not by being some kind of elite strike force, but by showing up, working together well, using our varied skills (tactical situational awareness, first aid, cheery child-friendly charisma, and more), and by keeping our cool.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for me, and I suspect there are other people on the team who feel similarly. It’s frightening to be rushed by neo-Nazis who have a lot more muscle mass than you and who outnumber you (because they arrived quite early, only some of our team was there at the time of the rush). I was hit multiple times in the solar plexus, slammed against the doors. I would rather not have been injured, and would rather none of my comrades had been injured either. I heard a whole lot of slurs that morning. I’ve been frustrated at attempts to credit the police for keeping people safe when the cops were not present during the rush on the doors, and who later claimed to not be able to tell the difference between us, in our varied clothing, and neo-Nazis in group merch and quasi-uniform dress). But none of that changes the first sentence in this essay. We succeeded in defending drag story time.

This Saturday, January 14, is the next drag story time in Fall River, and this time it will be a little different – with a community support rally outside to provide fun and safety for all, to celebrate queerness and perseverance and courage. If it isn’t obvious, I’m writing this not simply to share my own experiences or perspective, but to encourage you to attend in support.

I have never been, to use a good friend’s phrase, a “woofing tough.” I have disabilities that impact my ability to build strength or coordinate my own movements. I have chronic pain issues. I avoid militant rhetoric and aesthetic in this kind of work because I don’t believe in raising stakes for nothing, and I don’t believe in making implied promises that I can’t back up. Every time fascists yell in my general direction about how they’d win in a fight, I shrug internally, because I’ve never thought otherwise. And yet over the last few years I’ve worked more action frontlines than I care to recall. A lot of people have been beside me on those lines who didn’t think of themselves before as the kind of people who could do this work. No matter how much groups like NSC want it to be so, we antifascists aren’t their mirror image and we don’t operate on the same terms with only the politics changed. If I have stood for anything in my time organizing against the far right, it is that this work does not belong only to the strong and the powerful.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I want good people to participate in supporting our communities and opposing the intimidation and the organizing of the far right. I don’t want people to think they can’t or shouldn’t do it, or that their contributions aren’t real, because in some way they aren’t the “right” type of person.

So come one, come all, to Fall River this Saturday – whether you’re an old hand or this would be your first action, whether you’re a ninja or regularly trip over your own feet. Dress for the weather (wearing comfortable shoes, wearing hats and masks, minimizing the amount of cotton against your body). Keep your cool, act collectively, and follow the lead of organizers (because this all has a goal and it’s not individualized catharsis). Be aware of what’s happening around you, make sure you have safe ways to enter and exit, and enjoy the performances! Numbers will make us all safer, make it more possible for people who are afraid or uncomfortable or unsure to participate. The numbers we turn out could mean the difference in whether a family feels safe enough to attend the drag story time.

Together we can preserve this queer space, and send a much-needed message to any queer kids (or adults) who may be watching: tomorrow need not be as bleak as neo-Nazis and bro-fascists want them to believe.


Mon, 2022-11-14 15:44

By Eli Gerzon

Haverhill and Malden public school educators both went on strike on Monday, October 17 — the first time in decades that multiple educators’ unions have coordinated strikes in Massachusetts. Educators struck for one day in Malden and for four days in Haverhill, and union members in both districts secured new contracts and major wins.

Reflecting on the strike, Tim Briggs, president of the Haverhill Education Association, recalled that there was “more joy and tears than ever before in a four-day period!”

Educators’ unions in several other towns in the Commonwealth are now facing major contract struggles and have been inspired and helped by these two successful strikes. If they follow the example of the Haverhill and Malden strikes — by uniting educators and education support professionals, building community and student support, testing strike-readiness through carefully planned preparatory actions, coordinating strikes with other districts, and engaging members in militant direct actions to keep pressure on management — they are sure to win fair contracts which improve conditions for students and workers alike.

Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven walks the Haverhill picket line. Former MTA president Merrie Najimy speaks at Haverhill rally. Senator Ed Markey shows support for Malden educators. MTA president Max Page and NEA president Rebecca Pringle sit in on a Malden bargaining session.

Underfunded and Disrespected

For decades, educators in Haverhill, Malden, and other Massachusetts gateway cities have been underfunded. Gateway cities are working-class urban areas with high immigrant populations. Educators in these cities have been underpaid on top of confronting significant issues such as class sizes, caseloads, staff retention, and safety. Haverhill educators are paid about $10,000 less than the average public school educator in the state. In 7 of the last 20 years, they did not receive raises. 

Safety has been another major issue for educators in both Haverhill and Malden. Some young students can be violent with adults and cause real harm even at the age of six or seven. High school students sometimes get into physical fights, and it’s up to the educators to intervene. Sometimes that leads to teachers getting hurt. 

Educators spoke about wanting the school administration to hire more educators so that class sizes will be smaller, more manageable, and safer. 

Teachers at Constantino Middle School in Haverhill told Working Mass that there are rats moving around the school during the day, doors don’t lock, ceiling tiles fall off, rooms flood, and the heat doesn’t work in some rooms — to the point that kids have to wear winter coats in the classroom. 

Educators in both school districts expressed frustration about the school committees using delay tactics during contract negotiations for several months this year.

Deb Gesualdo, president of the Malden Education Association, has been on the union’s negotiating team since 2004 and described the delay tactics as, “The worst I’ve ever seen.”

Preparing to Fight Back

In Malden and Haverhill hundreds of rank-and-file union members attended the bargaining sessions as silent members — many of them for the first time. Workers were frustrated with how the school committees in both cities conducted themselves in these negotiations. After months of delays at the bargaining table, educators in Haverhill and Malden started to escalate their tactics.

In the fall both Malden and Haverhill organized rotating work-to-rule actions. And they organized days where educators would wear union swag: shirts, pins, and so on that would send a message of solidarity. Every morning in Haverhill, one out of their 14 schools held a rally before school started. They handed out flyers and spoke to community members. 

Cliff Ashbrook is a Programming and Web Development vocational teacher at Haverhill High School. In the union, his role is Contract Action Team (CAT) co-chair. CATs set up communication networks so rank-and-file union members are informed about contract negotiations and can coordinate actions. In the case of Haverhill, that means coordinating 1,000 educators.

Ashbrook said those rallies were also “to show strength and solidarity. It was really good practice: we needed actions where we could work as a team.” Many unions use these types of rallies as test runs for when workers actually go on strike. 

Another simple form of solidarity and escalation, pins, led to some dramatic results. In September, teachers and other educators started wearing pins to school reading “FAIR CONTRACT NOW #NoMoreBusinessAsUsual.” In smaller letters at the top, the pins read “EDUCATORS ARE THE HEART OF HAVERHILL” with HEA highlighted to represent the union’s initials. Educators also wore the Spanish version of the pins: “CONTRATO JUSTO AHORA.”

High school students like Ricardo Galloway noticed teachers wearing these pins. Students started asking around and learned more about the plight of Haverhill educators. They learned that Haverhill teachers have been underpaid for decades. Galloway was not impressed with the school committee’s offer of 1.5%, 1.5%, and 2% raises each year. “When we see inflation at 8%, we’re talking about a wage reduction rather than a wage increase right now. And so just based off that, it’s unacceptable.”

Galloway noticed some of the issues personally in his education: in the span of four years he had 8 different art teachers. He said this lack of continuity hurt his education. “The teachers, they want the students to have the best teachers, the best education possible. How can you expect that when you can’t pay our teachers competitive wages?”

Galloway said that ultimately, “This isn’t just about getting the teachers a fair contract. It’s about making education in Haverhill better overall? We want good teachers, long-term teachers who care about the schools.”

Inspired, Galloway and other students helped organize a student walkout at Haverhill High School in support of teachers on September 20.  

Haverhill students show support for striking educators.

“We had 220 kids walk out. That’s 10% of the student population,” said Galloway. 

Multiple students and teachers who spoke with Working Mass believe that student participation in the walkout would have been even higher if not for an email from school administrators before the walkout threatening to suspend those who participated and bench student-athletes. Security guards and school administrators blocked doors and told students they couldn’t walk out.

Another high school student, Russell Leung, said, “I was scared because I’ve never really been in trouble. Walking out and facing the repercussions was scary… But you know, I just had to do what was right.”

In the end, school administrators gave all 220 students detention. But none of them were suspended from school, as the emails had threatened.

Ready to Strike

After several months of delays by both school committees, on Friday, October 14, both unions in Haverhill and Malden independently voted to authorize a strike. They then coordinated staggered rallies on Saturday to turn up the pressure and prepare for the strike: 1 p.m. in Haverhill and 4 p.m. in Malden.

Local teachers, teachers from other districts, students, state Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, and members of City Life/Vida Urbana all spoke at both rallies. A large truck from Teamsters Local 25 was there in solidarity at both rallies. They circled around the block in Haverhill and Malden blasting pop music, eliciting cheers, and forcing people speaking at the rally to pause as the truck passed. The current international president of the Teamsters, Sean O’Brien, started his career at Teamsters Local 25.

Lauren Sanguedolce, treasurer of the Haverhill Education Association, spoke powerfully about the experience that has been typical for many educators in Haverhill. Her speech got so many cheers, jeers, and laughs that it’s worth quoting at length: 

“We work for much less than the state average, struggling to pay our bills, but continue to hope that maybe the next contract will be better. We endure large class sizes because too many positions aren’t filled. We struggle with higher caseloads that take hours away from our family. We juggle classrooms without special education support because they’re used as substitutes. We work in old buildings that have no AC but have plenty of mice.”

“Members grumble and gripe because of a disappointing lackluster ride on the mayor’s contract train. [Jim Fiorentini]’s train doesn’t bellow a happy, ‘CHOO CHOO!’ It’s more like a pathetic cry of ‘CHEAP CHEAP!’ and ‘LIES LIES!’” she said to laughs from the crowd.

Sanguedolce also spoke about the things educators had to do in order to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic: teaching students on Zoom, teaching parents to use Zoom, following up, keeping track of everything on spreadsheets, and so on. 

“That was so difficult. We persevered. We did it all. And for what? To hear the power on the other side of the negotiation table say, ‘No. No. No.’” Sanguedolce paused while people booed before continuing, “… and to lie about what’s really going on at the bargaining table in press releases and so on.”

Sanguedolce concluded by saying, “We are the heart of Haverhill and we are the strongest we’ve ever, ever been.”

Despite the union strength on display, many educators were understandably hesitant to speak on the record. One educator who wanted to remain anonymous was holding a sign reading, “15 HOURS UNPAID” referring to the unpaid overtime work she does in a typical week.

Merrie Najimy, former president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, started her speech in Haverhill by saying, “I’m going to say something that I wasn’t able to say when I was president of the MTA: I support you going on strike!”

The Strike

Both unions tried to negotiate late into the night on Sunday but finally chose to go on strike late on Sunday, October 16. Hundreds of teachers and community members showed their support on Sunday for the bargaining committee. Max Page, MTA president, and Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, were also in Malden for several hours to support the workers, making clear that the significance of this struggle extends far beyond Massachusetts. 

Many educators were nervous about taking this step. As former MTA president Merrie Najimy told Working Mass at the Haverhill rally on Saturday, “We have seen throughout history, that when laws are immoral or unjust, you just have to break them.” As president of the MTA she was not allowed to directly discuss strikes with her members. But under Najimy’s leadership, the MTA did provide trainings for teachers to learn to organize and prepare for strikes — while avoiding saying the word “strike.”

Gesualdo said, “I’m one of the few people who had been to any picket line. I told people they’d be smiling at the picket. They didn’t believe me. But they did! So many smiles.”

After one day on strike, Malden educators reached an agreement. After negotiating until 11 p.m. on Sunday, what changed on Monday?

“What changed is they [the school committee] saw how many people were out on the lines,” Gesualdo said. She added, “There were so many people — parents and caregivers joining their kids’ teachers and their kids’ ESPs, their kids’ assistant principals — on the picket lines, dropping off coffee and water and doughnuts and pizzas. And it was just beautiful.”

Gesualdo said she was especially proud that, for the first time, the Malden Education Association negotiated as one unit: teachers, administration, and ESPs. In the past teachers and administrative staff negotiated first. Sometimes there wasn’t even enough time for ESPs to negotiate a contract. The main differentiation between ESPs and other educators is their lack of an education degree and state licenses. Further, as Gesualdo said, ESPs have the highest percentage of people of color.

Negotiating all together was an inspiring case of cross-class and cross-racial solidarity. And it paid off: the minimum salary for an ESP has been $22,000. This new contract has a minimum salary of $30,000. That’s an $8,000 raise for these dedicated and essential educators. It’s less than the $35,000 minimum that the union was asking for and far less than the living wage of about $50,000 for Greater Boston. But it is a huge improvement that will bring economic relief and more dignity to the work of educators in Malden. 

Gesualdo said they also got six weeks of paid parental leave. People who already had children or never planned to have children fought for this benefit in solidarity with their fellow workers.

It took a few more days for contract negotiations to conclude in Haverhill on Thursday. They were asking for salary percentage increases, or cost of living adjustments (COLA), over the next three years of 10%, 6%, and 6%. The school committee was offering 1.5%, 1.5%, and 2%. They got an increase of approximately 4%-4%-4%.

In separate interviews, HEA president Tim Briggs, vice president Liz Briggs, and organizer Cliff Ashbrook all teared up when talking about the outpouring of support from local community members, as well as fellow educators and others from around MA.

Everyone that Working Mass spoke with talked about this strike and this contract as a stepping stone to build on during the next contract negotiation period. Everyone expressed the belief that workers have built new power and connections that will last well beyond the strike.

Uniting Educators and ESPs

In both Haverhill and Malden, one major focus of the union struggle has been supporting educators who are often underpaid and underappreciated at schools. That includes special education, English language learning, health services, transportation, and more. In the past, some of these educators have been called “teaching assistants.” But educators now prefer the term “educational support professional” or ESP to make clear that these educators are professionals and deserve the same respect as other educators.

When speaking about the underfunding of teachers, MEA president Deb Gesualdo, who is a member of DSA, said, “It’s no coincidence that education is a women-dominated profession.” She added, “Education is a racial justice issue.” Deb pointed out that ESPs are the lowest-paid educators and have the highest percentage of people of color in their ranks.

Gesualdo said the thing she is most proud of was the solidarity between different educators, including ESPs.

“For the first time ever, we bargained with all three of our units at the table together. We came to an agreement together, and we ratified the contract together. We didn’t take three separate votes.”

In the past teachers and admin would go first. Sometimes “by the time the ESPs negotiated, they could go a year without a contract,” explained Gesualdo.

Educators in Malden started working together across bargaining units when they fought for COVID safety at the start of the pandemic in 2020. They kept that solidarity going forward.

At the rally on Saturday, October 15, Working Mass spoke with Rebecca Griffith, a special education teacher at Malden High School.

“I teach students who require 24-hour care in my case, and so my classroom cannot run; my students cannot be safe without our ESPs. And they often require extensive training and extensive knowledge in order to do their jobs and they deserve to be able to subsist on one job.”

Griffith continued: “The outpouring of support has been incredible. It’s honestly making us all very emotional that people are behind us on this and really seem to believe in what we believe, which is that all of our students, no matter where they come from, no matter what their needs are, deserve a world-class education.”

Striking Illegal for Public Sector Workers

State Representative Erika Uyterhoeven, a DSA member and DSA endorsed candidate in Somerville, spoke at the rally in Haverhill and Malden on Saturday and was at the picket line in Haverhill on Monday morning and throughout the week. We asked her what it means to see two different school districts going on strike at the same time.

“It speaks to me of a turning point that we are in desperate need of as a society,” she said.

Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven speaks at Haverhill rally.

Rep. Uyterhoeven spoke about how much austerity has hurt the people of Massachusetts and the role the State House has played in underfunding public schools in the Commonwealth. “I think that we do need to have our hand forced in the legislature and in all elected offices to turn this tide. Because what we have done is austerity, cutting taxes, cutting wages, more hours, and over and over again. People have had enough. And we need to change that.”

In Massachusetts, it is illegal for public sector employees, including public school teachers, to go on strike. Educators have gone on strike, of course, and collective bargaining agreements signed after strikes often specify that fines be waived or the strike petition be withdrawn. But the fear of the unlawful act does scare many educators away from even considering the option of a strike.

Rep. Uyterhoeven, along with state representative and fellow DSA member Mike Connolly, has introduced a Massachusetts House bill, H1946, that would “repeal the prohibition on striking by public employees and public employee organizations.”

The agreement reached by Malden was that the strike petition be withdrawn: they didn’t have to pay any fines and were guaranteed they wouldn’t have to deal with any retaliation. In Haverhill, they did have to pay some fines for going on strike. 

After the Strike

Ties between workers formed during the strike have persisted. Ashbrook said Haverhill educators are still using the same communication network: “We’re still communicating. One of our English teachers, her husband passed away after the strike. And we were able to utilize that communication to raise some funds and help out. So some pretty beautiful things came of this.”

Soon after the strike ended in Haverhill, educators in nearby Lawrence built and demonstrated their power, getting big contract wins without going on strike. Suzanne Suliveras, president of the Lawrence Federation of Paraprofessionals, which is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said the Malden and Haverhill strikes “had a huge impact” and were an “inspiration.” As in Malden and Haverhill, for the first time, they turned out silent members in the bargaining sessions: 150 silent members. That helped them get wins: “A majority of paras (ESPs) got a 50% increase. Someone who’s been in the system for 26 years and just went from $20/hour to $30/hour. Another from $16/hour to $21/hour. Some didn’t get raises for 7 years.”

Right now many education unions, including Haverhill and Malden educators, are organizing to mobilize workers in support of the Melrose Education Association and their rally for a fair contract on Monday, November 14, at 8 p.m. at Melrose City Hall.

Nov. 14 @ 7PM|Melrose City Hall@MEAMelroseMA members are fighting for fair contracts that include:
Enough planning time to meet students’ needs
Improved working/learning conditions
A living wage for ESPs
Fair pay for teachers @massteacher #1u

— Malden Edu. Assoc. (@MaldenEduAssoc) November 14, 2022

Educators and Socialism

Working Mass asked MEA president Gesualdo and HEA president Briggs about how many of their members are also members of the Democratic Socialists of America and how their members feel about socialism. They each independently gave almost the same answer. Some of their members might be afraid of the term “socialism,” but socialism lines up with their beliefs.

Briggs: “But when you sat down, and you recognize what was involved with being a Democratic Socialist, they’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s me.’”

Gesualdo: “People don’t understand what the DSA is, and they have this negative connotation with socialism. [But] when I talk to them, that’s what their beliefs are. And they just don’t quite see that.”

Gesualdo said she used to be a member of DSA but her membership had lapsed. She renewed her DSA membership after our interview. Cliff Ashbrook in Haverhill said he joined DSA for the first time after our interview. Ashbrook said: “Yeah, it just makes sense for what I believe in. Wish I had heard of the organization sooner.”

Advice to Other Workers

When asked about advice for others, Cliff Ashbrook in Haverhill highlighted four important points: building community support, strengthening communication networks between school buildings to overcome isolation, developing a command structure with reps in each building and even each grade in order to connect rank-and-file members with local leadership, and taking back power at the shop-floor level by the use of “work-to-rule” tactics.

Ashbrook’s final advice: “Don’t be afraid. In most cases, your colleagues have similar concerns to you.”

Rebecca Griffith in Malden shared her advice to other educators: “Solidarity — you have to do this together. The union is not union leadership, the union is all of us. And our power is in our labor and our ability to stand together and say what we will and will not accept as our working conditions. As many have said, our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.”

Gesualdo in Malden: “Anyone anywhere, if they know that there’s a picket line and they can support workers, whatever type of job they have, go out and support workers who are striking or taking any type of job action. Because good contracts support workers in any sector, in all communities… It sets the standard for all workers and lifts up the whole community.”

Tim Briggs, the week after the strike, reflected that his fellow educators in Haverhill “didn’t know how strong they were…”

When they stood by each other,” Briggs said, “they found out that in fact, what they were doing was an act of love. I’ve never heard that word used as much as I did last week. It was amazing.” 

Students and teachers alike used that word often in speeches and interviews. That love has been exploited in the past. Educators accepted mistreatment and low salaries because they didn’t want to disrupt their students’ education. But in Haverhill and Malden, that love safeguarded students’ education, bringing people together to stand up and make things better for educators, students, and workers in their communities and beyond.

Eli Gerzon is an editor of Working Mass and a member of Boston DSA.

Photos by Eli Gerzon, Cory Bisbee, Cliff Ashbrook, and Jonathan Ng.

Opinion: 100 Years On, the TUEL Is a Strong Framework for DSA’s Labor Work

Tue, 2022-10-18 15:41

By Henry De Groot

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the official position of Working Mass.

DSA Emerges as a Force in Labor

As the Democratic Socialists of America has grown into the country’s largest socialist organization in recent memory, its work in the labor movement has taken tremendous steps forward.

Thousands of union members, staffers, and other labor activists have joined our ranks as individuals, and many comrades have taken jobs in strategic industries. Our labor branches (also called working groups, committees, etc) around the country have engaged at all levels of labor struggle, from new organizing drives to strikes and strike solidarity to reform caucuses and internal elections.

This growth represents DSA’s arrival as a real force in the labor movement. As AFA-CWA president Sara Nelson told Working Mass when interviewed on the 874 Comm Ave Starbucks picket line, “DSA is everywhere — every single picket line that I go to — every single fight, they’re taking up the cause, talking about labor rights, making it central to the mission.”

"DSA is everywhere, every single picket line that I go to, every single fight they're taking up the cause, talking about labor rights, making it central to the mission." – @FlyingWithSara on the @BostonSBWU 874 Picket Line

— Working Mass (@DSAWorkingMass) August 22, 2022

But what role should DSA play in the labor movement? And what lessons can we draw from history to sharpen our strategy and multiply our impact?

While no organizational model should be directly reproduced, in my opinion, the Trade Union Educational League (TUEL) provides one of the best frameworks for guiding our socialist labor efforts today.

The Founding of the TUEL

Technically, the TUEL was founded in 1920, but TUEL activists themselves date its founding to 1922, the year that it launched its publication The Labor Herald and began its work in earnest, which was 100 years ago this year.

The TUEL was launched by former IWW organizer William Z. Foster and a handful of radical labor activists in November 1920. But soon after its founding, Foster headed to Soviet Russia to attend the founding of the Red International of Labor Unions (RILU). Impressed by the proceedings, he joined the Communist Party on his return and worked to gain its endorsement of the TUEL.

Armed with the well-developed labor strategy of the Bolsheviks and the political backing of the growing Communist Party, Foster began planning for The Labor Herald, and to transform the TUEL from “little more than a few scattered groups throughout the country” into the beginnings of a well-organized movement. In February 1922, directions for forming local TUEL sections were circulated, and the first issue of The Labor Herald was launched in March.

The front and back cover of the first issue of The Labor Herald.

The major orientation of the TUEL was the rejection of the IWW’s independent unionism in favor of embracing campaigns “boring from within” the established AFL unions to promote militancy and radicalism. In an attempt to protect TUEL activists from expulsion for dual unionism, the act of setting up separate and competing unions, the TUEL organized not as a union but as an educational body. It prohibited national and local unions from affiliating and maintained no true membership dues but rather only subscriptions to The Labor Herald and donations (See: TUEL Constitution). The TUEL organized by location and section, developing both local educational groups and correspondence within industries, and was open to all radicals, not only Communist Party members.

The TUEL held its founding conference in August 1922. Delegates were proportioned to the local TUEL bodies by their number of local subscribers, with members active in the locals entitled to vote. Delegates from 14 recognized industries each elected a secretary to oversee the development of the TUEL’s work in their industry. Together with one secretary-treasurer elected by the entire conference, these 15 individuals formed the national leadership of the TUEL.

Amalgamation and Industrial Unionism

While the TUEL aimed to educate militants, it always tied its work to concrete campaigns for the re-direction of the labor movement toward militancy. Beginning in 1922, the TUEL embarked on a well-organized program for amalgamation and industrial unionism. Amalgamation and industrial unionism are two parts of the same process. Amalgamation involves the uniting of existing unions within the same industry. Industrial unionism is an overall logic of how trade unions should be organized to maximize worker power — by industry instead of craft — which includes amalgamation but also the reassignment of some workers between existing unions.

In the 1920s, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the wider labor movement consisted of a strange mix of unions, many of which organized similar workforces in the same industry. The TUEL called for amalgamation, and the second issue of The Labor Herald launched the TUEL’s campaign for amalgamation of the 16 existing railroad unions into one national railroad union.

The TUEL organized its campaign by winning rank-and-file support for its strategy. A proposal for amalgamation went out to 12,000 railroad locals, with 4,000 locals endorsing the proposal. The TUEL and its activists in the railway unions then called a national conference of railway workers to facilitate the effort, which was held in December 1922 with 425 delegates from across the United States and Canada (See: “Amalgamation Movement in America” Feb 6, 1923).

The railroad campaign for amalgamation was the spearhead for a wider push to promote the general strategy of industrialization of the unions. The same tactic of passing resolutions was used, and the first resolution calling for the AFL to embrace the industrial model over the craft model of organizing was adopted by the Chicago Federation of Labor. By February 1923, the Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Nebraska, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin state federations, the Railway Clerks, Railway Trackmen, Butchers, Firefighters, Typographical, Men’s Clothing Workers, and Food Workers national unions, and several thousand local unions and central trade councils had all adopted proposals for the restructuring of the unions along industrial lines.

Conservative trade union officials, long protected by the craft union model, were alarmed by the campaigns for amalgamation and industrial unionism. Many officials opposed the efforts; some succeeded in organizing resistance, while others were swept out of office by supporters of the TUEL’s industrial vision.

While many unions did undergo amalgamation, a serious step toward industrial unionism, the larger campaign for industrial unionism failed to move the AFL away from the craft union model. However, a foundation was laid for the birth of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which broke from the AFL in the 1930s and took up the banner of industrial unionism.

Overall, these campaigns showed the impressive organization of the TUEL and that it already had the ability to engage massive swathes of the labor movement by the end of 1922. By bringing proposals to strengthen the labor movement to the rank and file and overseeing these campaigns with a centralized national leadership team and militants organizing in concert throughout the country, the TUEL was able to engage workers far beyond the typical reach of the Communist Party.

Building Support for a Labor Party

The TUEL also engaged union members to promote a break between the labor movement and the Democratic and Republican parties. Earlier radicals in the IWW had rightly condemned Democrat and Republican politicians as servants of the bosses, but Foster and his co-thinkers made clear that the IWW had gone too far by swearing off electoral politics entirely.

A document published in the December 1922 issue of The Labor Herald outlined the TUEL’s position on the need for an independent workers’ movement. In the article, the TUEL’s national leadership calls for the formation of a united front labor party, founded on the basis of the interests of the working class and embracing all existing working-class parties. Within this party, they proposed, political formations would be able to retain their own identity while participating in common action.

While the document calls for the inclusion of the exploited small farmers, it makes clear that the labor movement must be the dominant force in the party and that to be successful the unions must affiliate. The TUEL’s leadership also envisioned a party that included both a “maximalist” (revolutionary) call for a workers’ government with “minimalist” (reformist) demands around immediate issues such as regulations on wages and working conditions.

As with amalgamation, the TUEL located the main obstacle for the establishment of a labor party in the corruption and conservatism of the union officialdom, making it clear that such a party would be built only by organizing masses of union members in struggle with their union leaders.

The Bolshevik Ideology of the TUEL

While the TUEL was undoubtedly anchored in the concrete issues of the labor movement, some historians have attempted to distort it by focusing only on the practical concerns of amalgamation, industrial unionism, and the building of a labor party.

Although the TUEL was not focused on spreading abstract socialist ideas, it did embrace a larger political ideology hardly in line with a model of simple mobilization of workers on everyday issues. The TUEL leadership put forward Lenin’s model of class struggle in simple terms, and educated workers on the history and current developments of the international Communist movement and especially events in Soviet Russia.

The essence of this Bolshevik model, the key role of the militant minority, was spelled out in one of the TUEL’s founding documents, The Principles and Program of the Trade Union Educational League, published as the first article in the first issue of The Labor Herald.

One of the latest and greatest achievements of working class thinking, due chiefly to the experiences in Russia, is a clear understanding of the fundamental proposition that the fate of all labor organization in every country depends primarily upon the activities of a minute minority of clear-sighted, enthusiastic militants scattered throughout the great organized masses of sluggish workers. These live spirits are the natural head of the working class, the driving force of the labor movement. They are the only ones who really understand what the labor struggle means and who have practical plans for its prosecution. Touched by the divine fire of proletarian revolt, they are the ones who furnish inspiration and guidance to the groping masses. They do the bulk of the thinking, working, and fighting of the labor struggle. They run the dangers of death and the capitalist jails. Not only are they the burden bearers of the labor movement, but also its brains and heart and soul. In every country where these vital militants function effectively among the organized masses the labor movement flourishes and prospers. But wherever, for any reason, the militants fail to so function, just as inevitably the whole labor organization withers and stagnates. The activities of the militants are the “key” to the labor movement, the source of all its real life and progress.

It needs to be stated that by militant minority, the TUEL leadership meant especially, albeit not exclusively, the communists within the labor movement.

In general, The Labor Herald did not try to convert its readers to Marxism by direct appeal. However, it did educate them on Marxist theory in language that would be readily received by practical workers. For example, the article “Wages, What Are They?” outlined the Marxist conception of wages in plain English and concluded with the vision of a society free from wage labor (Vol 1 No 6, Aug 1922). It also drew lessons from socialist labor history, as in the article “The Workers Internationals” (Vol 2 No 7, Sep 1923), and provided coverage of international labor developments, drawing clear socialist positions without using theoretical jargon.

Frequently, The Labor Herald held up the Bolshevik party, the October Revolution, and the Soviet government as a model for radicals in the U.S. labor movement. Of note are the TUEL’s publications of Foster’s pamphlet The Russian Revolution, Losovsky’s Lenin and the Trade Union Movement, and the section of the TUEL’s principles quoted above. Articles like “Discipline vs Freedom in Russia,” published in the very first issue of The Labor Herald, and “Fascisti and Bolsheviki” (Vol 1 No 11, Jan 1923) defended the tough methods of the dictatorship of the proletariat in no uncertain terms. And The Labor Herald called unequivocally for affiliation to the Communist-led RILU (“Which International” Vol 1 No 2, Apr 1922) and published reports on its congresses (“After the Second Congress” Vol 1 No 12, Feb 1923).

The ideology of the TUEL was three-tiered. On a broad scale, it defended revolutionary socialism in general, while framing its expositions in concrete terms and examples and avoiding abstract theory. On the level of concrete action, it called for the unions to take up militant strategy and tactics, such as amalgamation. But perhaps most importantly, and tying these first two factors together, it raised the keystone role of the conscious minority, calling for militants and radicals in the labor movement to unite within a centralized organization to facilitate their work among the broader union membership; as the TUEL explained without apology, this third factor was Lenin’s vanguard model as applied to the labor movement.

In “The Rank and File Strategy,” which has popularized the legacy of the TUEL among a new generation of socialist labor activists, Kim Moody writes that the TUEL “stood, above all, for industrial unionism and a labor party.” Moody briefly acknowledges the internal organizing of the TUEL before focusing almost exclusively on exploring its external campaigns.

Of course, the TUEL did stand for industrial unionism and a labor party. But as quoted above, for Foster “the activities of the militants are the ‘key’ to the labor movement, the source of all its real life and progress.” Moody entirely passes over the TUEL’s focus on organizing the organizers, which at least for the TUEL’s leadership was the most fundamental issue.

In my opinion, it may be useful to consider Foster’s thesis as a sort of ‘hyper-consciousness’ or ‘meta-consciousness.’ It is not enough for us to be aware of the role of workers and their unions in the fight for socialism, that is, to have socialist consciousness. Rather, we must also be aware of what role must be played by those who have achieved socialist consciousness, and how they may best organize to infuse socialist consciousness through the class struggle, that is, a consciousness of the development of socialist consciousness.

The Demise of the TUEL

A history of the TUEL would not be complete without at least a brief note on its demise. As they succeeded in building mass resistance, TUEL and Communist Party members faced increasing resistance from and eventually widespread expulsions by the AFL unions as early as 1924. 

Kim Moody also faults the Communist Party’s influence — or in his words “domination” — of the TUEL for its decline.

The greatest weakness of the TUEL was that it was controlled top-down by the CP. It never really developed a democratic structure of its own, nor an independent rank and file leadership to combat the growing sectarianism and erratic behavior of the CP. The TUEL’s lack of independence was signaled among other things by its affiliation with the Moscow-controlled Red International of Labor Unions. More importantly, virtually all the leaders of the various TUEL bodies were CP members. Both of these realities left TUEL without a self-organized base and unnecessarily open to red baiting.

But this criticism misses the mark. The issue was not that the Communist Party played a leading role in building the TUEL — quite the opposite, as it was the energetic work of the Communists that rapidly built the TUEL into a fighting force. The real issue was the shift in policy of the Communist leadership that resulted from Stalin’s consolidation of power and his misguided embrace of dual unionism in 1928. Following this line, the TUEL transformed itself into the Trade Union Unity League in 1929, embracing the dual unionism it had originally rejected.

There is no such thing as “independence” in the class struggle. Workers either embrace the ideas of the socialist movement, remain totally mired in the ideas of the ruling class which dominate in capitalist societies or most frequently float somewhere in between. Calling to replace socialist leadership of the labor movement with the leadership of an “independent” rank and file is tantamount to abandoning the fight for socialism altogether. What was needed was not “non-socialist” leadership, but rather “non-Stalinist” leadership.

The Meaning of the TUEL’s Legacy for Today’s Work

We cannot and should not copy the model of the TUEL as a formula. All considerations must be made in light of our current context and circumstances, though this affirmation must be the beginning and not the end of the conversation. So what are the lessons of the TUEL, and how does a consideration of our current circumstances inform drawing from the TUEL as a model?

Above all, the lesson we should take from the successes of the TUEL is the key role of the militant minority. And it is not enough to recognize the importance of a militant minority, we must set out to build and organize it. As we continue to engage in strike solidarity, support new organizing, and push back against conservative and bureaucratic leadership, we must maintain a focus on strengthening our own forces. There is always a danger of remaining a debating society without getting our hands dirty in the class struggle, but there is also a parallel and serious danger of being so engaged in trade union work that we lose ourselves as socialists.

Practically, this means prioritizing our internal work, including by strengthening existing labor branches and seeding new ones. The recent hiring of a DSA labor organizer is a great step in this direction.


The overall structure of the DSA’s labor work is rather haphazard; it has developed more sporadically than according to a specific plan. That being said, we are making tremendous progress, and many comrades are beginning to consider structural questions.

The TUEL’s tremendous success in 1922 was facilitated by the strong relationship between four internal bodies — its national leadership, its national publication, its industrial organizations, and its local organizations — all melded into one comprehensive whole.

In contrast, the national leadership of the DSA’s labor work is not tied organically to our local labor bodies or to DSA’s national and local industry groups. As it stands, DSA’s labor membership directly elects our national labor leadership, and neither local bodies nor industrial organizations elect delegates.

This is not to say that the national leadership has been doing a poor job; in fact, the opposite is true. National leadership has helped to lead fantastic campaigns. But hard work cannot replace the value of structural integration between the local, industrial, and national leadership.

Additionally, we have no national DSA labor conference, but only informal quarterly meetings. A national conference should be called with local labor branches sending delegates, and the national leadership should be elected on this basis, although probably not on the same formula as the TUEL’s industrial secretaries. A conference allows for a greater degree of discussion leading up to elections, clear proposals to be articulated, the opportunity to sharpen a national strategy, and better integration between national, industrial, and local. The bi-annual Labor Notes conferences have shown the tremendous power of bringing radical militants together, but ours must go beyond Labor Notes as a conference that is explicitly socialist and focused on developing both our internal and external work.

Of course, for the organization as a whole, the DSA already has a national convention — our supreme decision-making body — which weighs in on labor and all other issues. A DSA labor conference would not replace or supersede the existing DSA-wide structure; rather, the labor conference would be able to go into greater detail on specific tasks within the labor movement and place well-developed labor proposals before DSA’s national conventions.

Politics and Membership

Perhaps the largest difference between the Communist Party-TUEL relationship and DSA’s work today is the structure of political membership and participation. The Communist Party had strict membership requirements and a narrower political ideology, while DSA has loose membership requirements and a more inclusive web of political ideologies.

The TUEL could not have succeeded in engaging workers if every worker needed to join the Communist Party to participate; a degree of independence provided space to engage wider layers. There are far lower barriers to radical militants joining DSA, and therefore it is not clear that we should create a separate non-DSA sister entity like the TUEL. Certainly, most of our campaigns and work, such as DSA’s industry groups, should be and already are open to a broader layer of militants. But there are a large number of youth and workers open to socialism and willing to join — or at least work in cooperation — with DSA bodies, so no new organization is necessary.


The Labor Herald was one of the main organizing tools of the TUEL. The publication was key for reaching wider sections of workers, educating comrades on labor developments, and promoting the strategy of the collective leadership.

I have been proud to contribute to Working Mass, our Massachusetts DSA labor publication, and am grateful for the support that many comrades and workers have expressed for our work. But practically speaking, it would be far easier, more sustainable, and further reaching to put out one quality national labor publication than several local labor publications. I do see a value to local DSA labor publications, but they should be sub-blogs of a national publication.

Such a publication must balance the twin tasks of remaining grounded in the issues facing today’s class struggle, and the task of fighting for a socialist labor movement. This means avoiding the twin dangers of being a socialist journal totally removed from, and therefore uninteresting to, workers, and the parallel danger of focusing exclusively on worker issues at the expense of a truly socialist position. At Working Mass we have tried to walk this balance.


We are already engaged in a multitude of campaigns in the labor movement, especially new organizing, pushing for renewed labor militancy, reform caucus work, and pushing unions toward a break with the corporate Democrats. Strengthening our structures will do a great deal to systematize and maximize these efforts.

In general, our work will develop from cheerleading workers’ struggle to pushing unions toward concrete reforms, militant campaigns, and anti-corporate politics, to backing reform leadership and finally to running DSA members themselves in leadership elections.

In the last period, it was the field of labor politics in which the largest layer of union workers engaged with radical ideas and fought for left-wing positions within their unions. In practically every local there were supporters of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 campaigns self-organizing for their union to endorse Sanders. Having served on the leadership team of Massachusetts Labor for Bernie in the 2020 campaign, I can tell you that we suffered from a lack of organization and would have benefited tremendously from a pre-existing, well-organized structure. In the next period, organizing unions toward working-class politics has the potential to drive the clearest and most favorable division between the fighting-democratic and conservative-bureaucratic elements of the labor movement. 

In the field of worker organizing, the two clear campaigns are new organizing and pushing existing unions toward militant strike action. We should assist every organizing campaign we can, and have a key role to play as the militant minority. But it is the established unions, not the militant minority, which have the resources capable of reaching the millions of workers required to rebuild a powerful labor movement. It is crucial that we place clear demands on the leadership of established unions to invest the resources necessary to expand the labor movement.

While the issues of amalgamation and industrial unionism are not fully resolved, they may not be the crucial campaigns for our work that they were for the TUEL. However, it is worth considering whether movements like the graduate workers would be better off in one national union rather than spread throughout several national unions. But even if this was answered in the affirmative, it is probably not the most important campaign.

The question of independent unions also deserves further consideration — and potentially differs from that of the TUEL. While we should absolutely fight for radical militancy within the AFL-CIO unions and other established unions, much of the best new organizing is taking place either outside the established unions or nominally within them, as with Starbucks baristas organizing under Workers United, but led by the workers. Certainly, we should back the campaigns of UE, Amazon Labor Union, and other independent union campaigns. Without abandoning a general orientation toward the AFL-CIO, it may — or may not — be the case that establishing our own union could be helpful in select cases where the already established unions simply will not run campaigns. These questions deserve further consideration — ideally at a DSA labor conference.

Conclusion: Learn from the TUEL

If we accept the TUEL’s philosophy that the militant minority is the key to the success of the labor movement, then we must prioritize strengthening our own internal structures in order to maximize our impact. The centralization of DSA’s labor work, facilitated by a national conference and a national publication, will maximize our ability to engage with the wider labor movement. From this position of strength, we will be better able to support new organizing and labor strikes, push unions towards militancy and away from corporate politics, oppose and replace conservative-bureaucratic leadership, and reach millions of American workers with a clear socialist strategy for worker power.

All DSA labor activists should study the publications of the TUEL. In my opinion, first-hand sources are generally better than historical reviews, which are almost always morphed by the political leanings of their authors.

Here are a few places to start:

For More:

Henry De Groot is the Managing Editor of Working Mass, a member of the Boston DSA Labor Working Group, and an organizer with Massachusetts Drivers United.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the official position of Working Mass.