Working Mass Speaks with Evan MacKay

  • Reading time:13 mins read

Evan MacKay speaks on the lessons they learned in the labor movement, and the value of labor leaders serving as public servants.

By Oriana R.

Evan MacKay is running for state representative in Cambridge’s 25th Middlesex District. They are challenging incumbent Rep. Marjorie Decker in the Democratic state primary on September 3. Evan is a teaching fellow at Harvard University and was most recently the president of the Harvard Graduate Students Union, Local 5118 of the United Auto Workers (UAW). They are endorsed by both Boston DSA, of which they are an active member, and their union, the UAW Region 9A. Working Mass spoke with them via video call. We discussed how standing up to the bully of the boss in the workplace can translate to standing up to bullies in politics, as well as their analysis of how the lack of transparency in the legislature leads to inaction on climate and housing policy that would help working people.

WM: Tell us about the problems you see facing your district.

EM: I’m running for state representative in the 25th Middlesex District, which is the only district that’s entirely contained within Cambridge. It goes from Central to Harvard to Porter Square. This district is really struggling with the status quo right now under a Democratic trifecta where we are seeing so many people displaced. With the cost of housing and the cost of rent being something that people are talking about constantly when I listen to my neighbors within this district and people are really worried about housing precarity. Are they going to be able to set down roots in Cambridge? Can they make Cambridge their home? Some people, Cambridge is their home and they’re being pushed out because we don’t have rent control and because our state is failing in responding to the housing crisis. 

I think that another thing that is really resonating with people and that my neighbors are incredibly concerned about is the climate crisis. Where we see so frequently a lot of the correct words from politicians and a lack of action on it. We should not be building more fossil fuel infrastructure in Massachusetts right now. That is a form of climate denialism of the impact that the climate crisis will have on working class people all throughout our Commonwealth and throughout the world. I think that these issues of housing and climate and just really an ineffective state government are really important to me and my neighbors and the residents of the 25th Middlesex District. 

WM: Why are you running for the Massachusetts legislature? 

EM: I’m running because this district deserves a progressive state rep who will fight consistently for our progressive values and who will uncover and make visible to our district the failures of the status quo of Democratic State House leadership. We have a Democratic trifecta, and yet we have had the least effective legislative session in Massachusetts in decades. And Massachusetts is ranking at the very bottom in transparency and effectiveness compared to all 50 state governments in the U. S. This district needs a state rep who will fight for rent control, who will fight for workers rights, who will deliver on housing and climate justice.

And one of the key obstacles right now in the State House is this lack of transparency and this leads to the effect that we are all so familiar with where politicians say the right things. And then we can’t get them to act on their promises. Under the status quo, State House representatives are shielded in their votes from public visibility. And I think it’s really important that voters be able to see what our politicians are doing behind closed doors. And to me, government must be by the people, for the people. And I don’t believe that government works in any ethical or effective manner if it is done by those people over there behind closed doors.

WM: What does socialism mean to you, or democratic socialism?

EM: Democratic socialism to me is government by the people, for the people. I have been a socialist for years, and I carry the values of democratic socialism. For so many years before I knew that that terminology applied to me, I knew that I didn’t believe in health care for profit, or housing for profit, or education for profit, and I knew that it was the right thing to do and completely possible to guarantee these things: housing, education, healthcare, clean air and water and an end to poverty. These are possible for us, but right now the concentration of wealth and power within the hands of the few people and large profitable corporations is holding back the rest of society from the future that we deserve.

It’s through organizing with my union that I came to better understand what democratic socialism meant. And it is this recognition that we want workers to be collectively determining the conditions of our workplaces, and we want more power and resources to the workers and less to the CEOs in the corner offices and in the boardrooms. 

Evan MacKay calls for a ceasefire outside of Representative Katherine Clark’s office in Medford (Pine M/Working Mass)

WM: How would you use your office to advance the socialist movement?

EM: To me, I think it’s really important as a democratic socialist to be consistently showing up for workers and confronting the worsening of wealth inequality. We in Massachusetts, as voters, came together in 2022 with the Fair Share Amendment to tax the rich to invest in public transportation, infrastructure and education. In the very next year, our state legislature gave hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts to large multistate corporations, to the estates of the richest dead people in the Commonwealth and the capital gains tax cut, where the top 1 percent received 77 percent of the benefit. I know that funding the things that I really care about: health care, climate resiliency, housing, clean water, clean air, this takes resources. But right now, we’re giving hundreds of millions of dollars to the richest corporations and individuals on the backs of poor and working class people all throughout the Commonwealth. So I want to make sure that our budget is reflecting our values and investing in people who have been pushed to the sides, investing in communities where people are concerned about displacement and affordability, and I think that it’s really important as a democratic socialist to always be with the workers. And right now, our Democratic State House leadership is not recognizing the organizing efforts of their own employees with the State House employees union. 

And as a democratic socialist, I’m also really concerned about democracy, and to me, it’s the failure of democracy where we as voters are not able to see what our legislature is doing. We as voters are underserved when our legislature is the least effective it has been in decades. And our democracy is under threat when so many poor and working class people are kept out of positions, such as serving as a State House employee, because these are paying poverty wages, and where employees are subject to unsafe working conditions, where harassment and discrimination are all too common in our State House. And so I really want to show up for the workers and make sure that we are taxing the rich and investing in working class people all throughout the commonwealth. And I think that people all throughout Massachusetts deserve to know what our legislature and what our government is doing. And so I view it as one of my goals, to the maximum extent possible to show people all throughout Massachusetts, what our legislature is doing. 

WM: As you know, at Working Mass, we report on labor and we’re excited to interview a well known local labor leader. What lessons did you learn during your time in the Harvard Graduate Student Union as a rank and file member and then president? How would those lessons inform your work as a public servant?

EM: Yeah so through labor organizing, I think I just developed a much deeper respect and lived experience for the power of everyday people and workers coming together to change problems. Our unions are, at their best, vehicles for helping workers come together to identify the problems in our workplaces and our communities and our lives and then work alongside somebody else and your co-workers to change them. And so my labor union taught me how to organize with my co-workers and it also really taught me that deep value of solidarity. One need not share the exact same working condition as somebody else to recognize that they need justice too. And by lifting them up and making sure that you are right alongside them in their struggle, we all are better off because of it.

My time organizing in my union also really gave me a deep personal experience of the need for our institutions, our union, to be democratic and accountable. My union caucus, Unite All Workers for Democracy, UAW-D, has been really important for my political development and my ideology, where we together took on entrenched corruption within the United Auto Workers, because we insisted that workers be able to see what our leaders were doing behind closed doors. And I’m really proud that through UAW-D we were able to organize for direct election of top leadership. I’m proud that my union siblings trusted me to be a delegate to the UAW convention for a push for democracy, accountability, and anti-corruption.

And then I proudly served as co-chair of Shawn Fain’s 2023 election in New England. And I’m proud that we were able to deliver this victory for the reform movement, the union reform movement, and I’m really thrilled to see the results of this reform effort. Not only through things such as the historic standup strike in 2023, but we’re also seeing a lot of climate justice organizing possibilities in the United Auto Workers because of this, and we’re seeing a lot of attention to new organizing of non-unionized manufacturing and auto workers. I think that all of these experiences in the labor movement really have me viewing the status quo of the State House through the eyes of an organizer. And a lot of my commitment to transparency comes from my lived experience in the union. But also my recognition that working class people coming together have an enormous amount of power. Right now, we don’t have enough critical attention to the status quo of the State House, and I think it’s really important that we show who are the obstacles and who are the barriers for achieving the future that we all deserve. That grounds my commitment to transparency because I think that we need to give this information to all of the people of Massachusetts, and I have this enormous level of trust in working class people coming together to change our working and living conditions.

Evan MacKay on the picket line.

WM: Is there anything else you want to tell us about the Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAW-D) campaign and your involvement in it?

EM: I think it’s fantastic that that movement has been able to learn from so many other reform caucuses, including the core from the Chicago Teachers Union, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators and other democratic reform efforts within unions. I think that UAW-D showed me that yes, we love unions. Yes, we want workers to be represented by a union. But also, we want workers in charge of the unions. We want workers to be leading the unions. We want workers to be the source of the power and the decision making of our unions. And I think that that’s really important, and it informs my analysis of power within the labor movement coming from the workers themselves.

WM: Why is it important to have union leaders in the State House?

EM: I think it’s really important to have people who come from the labor movement, people who have lived experiences organizing their workplaces, people who have lived experiences of confronting the threat of intimidation and retaliation, and seeing the impact of solidarity with their co workers and solidarity in, their communities in standing up to bullies. Whether the bully is the boss or anybody else. I think that organizing background is incredibly important to have in the State House. And, yeah, I think that right now there are so many people who say the right things, but working class people in Massachusetts need more than empty promises and tax cuts to the rich.

Oriana R. is an educator, union member, editor of Working Mass, member of the Boston DSA and the Marxist Unity Group caucus. 

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