The Wave in the Inferno: Introducing Working Mass, a Blog About Labor and Socialism

By Lisa Xu

Introducing Working Mass

We are launching Working Mass, the labor blog of Boston DSA, in the midst of a national hellscape. We are six months into a pandemic that has thrown our country into the deepest recession since the 1930s, with millions of workers hanging on by the barest scraps of public assistance. We are four years into the Trump presidency. And with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we may be facing a Supreme Court that will be dominated by the far-right for a generation.

The only remedy is collective action. Fred Hampton, the great socialist and Black Panther Party leader, said, “We don’t think you fight fire with fire best; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity [….] We’re going to fight their reactions with all of us people getting together and having an international proletarian revolution.”  

We don’t think you fight fire with fire best; we think you fight fire with water best.

Fred Hampton

In the face of the stark cruelty and ineffectuality of the state’s response to COVID-19, the working class is organizing, and swelling the ranks of the international uprising against police murders of Black people. In 2020, workers are fighting racism and pandemic capitalism with a great gush of solidarity and bold action, and making demands that would have seemed improbable before this year. 

Nationally, we’ve seen the rise of the #NoCopUnions movement and the expulsion of police unions from local labor federations; unionized bus drivers refusing to transport protesters to jail in Minneapolis; the Chicago Teachers Union successfully calling for a strike vote to force remote learning in the fall; UMichigan grad workers striking over both COVID safety and abolitionist demands; the NBA players wildcat strike for Black Lives; and DSA-supported efforts to organize restaurant workers and foment a wave of new worker organizing with the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC).

Textile workers in Lawrence during the 1912 ‘Bread and Roses’ strike.

Massachusetts is no stranger to the ferment. In July, the state had the nation’s highest unemployment rate, at 16.2 percent. But in the Boston area alone, this summer has seen a surge of labor action from unionized and non-unionized workers: 

  • In July, 350 Teamsters Local 25 workers for the MBTA paratransit service “The Ride” went on strike for eight days in Everett and Watertown (see our video with a worker here)
  • In early September, educators in Andover refused to enter buildings for training, which the state ruled an illegal strike
  • In June, Whole Foods workers in Cambridge walk off the job to protest their right to wear BLM masks, resulting in a class action lawsuit against the company
  • In June and July, Tatte workers, a chain with 15 locations in the Boston area, organized to oust their CEO over complaints related to racial discrimination
  • In August, Good Vibrations workers in Brookline and Cambridge (Solidarity with East Coast Sex Educators, or SECSE) went on strike over workplace safety demands for over a month
  • In September, over 30 Teamsters workers at Transgas in Lowell went on strike for 47 hours
  • In July, the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW, a unit of over 4,000 workers, ratified its first contract, following a 29-day strike in 2019
  • In September, Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) workers affiliated with UAW Local 2110 petitioned for a union election 
  • In September, cannabis dispensary workers at Sira Naturals facilities in Milford, Needham, and Somerville, affiliated with UFCW 1445, ratified their first contract
  • In July, workers at Mayflower Medicinals in Holliston voted to unionize with UFCW 14456 as well

We’re on the crest of the wave in Massachusetts, and new possibilities for our politics, economic relations, and communities have begun to open up. All in all, this is an exhilarating—and urgent—time to be writing about the labor movement and socialism.

Labor, socialism, and Working Mass

Working Mass will document and amplify the power of worker organizing, with a special focus on the labor movement in the Commonwealth, and through a socialist lens. We are socialists because we oppose oppression in all forms, and because we believe workers should have democratic control of our economy and society. 

The connection between socialism and labor is deep and inextricable. By definition, socialism is the embodiment of worker power. Furthermore, only the working class has the interest and the power to overcome capitalism. It is the working class that has the ability to stop production in its tracks—or at least remind the capitalist class that it can and will. 

Socialist-led Teamsters truck drivers square off with police during the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters’ Strike.

Unions have also historically played a crucial role in fighting for policies that provide workers with material security, institutional protection, and free time. Union-backed reforms have provided the space for working-class movements to move beyond the fight for bare survival and to begin to imagine possibilities for revolutionary transformation. In the electoral arena, the labor movement at its height also successfully mobilized support for progressive and socialist candidates; the stronger and more militant unions become, the more they can help propel politicians like Bernie and AOC to office.

On the flip side of the coin, achieving socialism ought to be the natural progression of the labor movement’s fight to provide workers a democratic voice in the workplace and dignity for all. However, it has historically taken the sustained, active intervention of leftists to elevate the movement above so-called business unionism that pits workers against one another and concedes all too often to the capitalist class. Socialists have thus played major roles in organizing industrial unions, winning strikes, and helping organize a labor-left for decades. We are for a socialist unionism that seeks to unite the working class against capitalism, racism, sexism, xenophobia and all forms of division, and ultimately to overturn the rules of the game. 

In our blog, we will center the voices of workers, and delve into what it means to build a socialist labor movement, as well as a socialist strategy that puts labor front and center. Some of the questions we’ll explore include: How can we win better conditions for workers, especially under COVID? Why is a socialist analysis important in the labor movement? What will it take to bring the labor movement—and the socialist movement—to the next level? 

As socialists, there are many ways we can contribute to building the labor movement, whether you belong to a union or not. In 2020, there’s only socialism or barbarism, and workers are the pivot. We hope you keep reading, follow us on Twitter, and put yourself in the fight by joining DSA and getting involved with labor organizing in the Boston chapter of DSA: bit.ly/BDSALabor.

Lisa Xu is an organizer with UAW Local 5118, an editor of Working Mass, and co-chair of the Boston DSA Labor Working Group.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s