Young Democratic Socialists and the Student Labor Week of Action

Labor movement solidarity remains at the forefront of Young Democratic Socialists’ (YDS) work. As a socialist organization, we believe organized working people play a central role in movements for progressive change. YDS, however, does not limit our activism solely to trade unionism. For the past two years, as part of our annual Activist Agenda, we’ve promoted our National Immigrant Rights Project (NIRP). In 2008, we connected the NIRP to the ninth annual Student Labor Week of Action held from March 28th to April 4th.

NIRP has mobilized YDS chapters to confront immigrant abuse and exploitation. Members have worked to educate their peers about immigration truths, the suffering of immigrants and their families under capitalism, and how the exploitation of migrants hurts documented working and middle classes both morally and economically. Since we reauthorized the NIRP in the summer of 2007, our chapters have worked even closer with the national office on activism.

In the fall, Santa Monica High School YDS member Ananya Kepper used what she learned from Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and YDS literature to win a high school debate tournament on immigration. Emporia State University and University of Colorado YDS chapters hosted YDS organizer David Duhalde for meetings on the connections between migration, exploitation, and capitalism. The Emporia panel discussion featured a speaker who works with local Somali refugees. He recounted how Somalis have falsely been accused of raping white women and have been used to break up unions. Their situation highlights the racist backlash and “divide & conquer” tactics immigrants often face. NYC YDS held a sneak preview of La Americana, a documentary by up-and-coming filmmakers Nick Bruckman and John Mattiuzzi chronicling an undocumented Bolivian woman’s struggle to support her sick daughter back home, as well as her life without many legal rights in the U.S. The NYC chapter also stood with Families for Freedom, the New Sanctuary Movement and many others to protest deportations that break up families during the holiday season. YDS Coordinating Committee, the volunteer elected leadership, members Maria Svart and Christina Huizar attended the National Network on Immigrant and Refugee Rights conference in Houston. They helped bring a youth and ally perspective to the event, and came away with a greater understanding of why addressing intersecting systems of oppressions (such as heterosexism) is important in the struggle for immigrant rights.

The NIRP received a boost during the ninth annual Student Labor Week of Action (SLWoA). The week, hosted by the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), begins on Cesar Chavez Day and ends on the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was created to encourage labor activism. Six YDS chapters did immigrant rights themed actions during SLWoA. At New York University, New York City YDS and Domestic Workers United showed the movie Made in L.A., about three immigrant women during a unionization drive and their self-empowerment over oppression. New Meadows YDS of Las Vegas used the week of action to kick off their “Truth About Immigration” campaign. They are distributing information and facts to their peers to counter anti-immigrant myths. Butler and Wooster College YDS chapters, of Indiana and Ohio respectively, co-hosted Duhalde’s immigration talk with their campus Latino groups.

Wooster, like the Wichita State (WSU YDS) and UC Boulder YDS chapters, also worked with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Student Farmworker Alliance (SFA) that week. After victories over Taco Bell and McDonald’s, the CIW turned its energy to Burger King. The campaign’s goal is for Burger King to increase workers’ pay by one cent per one pound of tomatoes picked. Since Burger King is stalling, SFA is pushing a petition to show the company its broad-based support for the increase. On the SFA’s Day of Action the chapters got more than just signatures. WSU YDS got students to do the tomato challenge: carrying 32 pound buckets like the tomato pickers for only 45 cents. Their event received a counter protest by College Republicans fearing a loss of the dollar menu. What made this humorous was that the misinformed Republicans cited McDonald’s deal with CIW as an example of why there was no reason to pressure Burger King! The fact that McDonald’s increased pay only after pressure from farm workers without abandoning the dollar menu was of no concern for the diehard believers in the “free” market.

YDS’s actions during the SLWoA went beyond the NIRP. Bowling Green State University-Firelands stayed close to the week’s theme and held several events about the labor and racial justice legacy of Dr. King. At other events around the country, Stuyvesant High School of New York City held a discussion on America’s working poor, UVA-Wise discussed combating the poor working and environmental conditions that new coal mines could bring, and Michigan State co-sponsored a dialogue on Wal-Mart. In a more direct action fashion, William Paterson YDS distributed fact sheets about the working conditions, environmental and labor policies of companies at their school’s annual job fair.

YDS chapters do labor solidarity work throughout the year, but the SLWoA provides a unique opportunity for YDS to team up with different national economic justice youth groups. SLAP coordinator Carlos Jimenez reflected on YDS’s contribution when he said “what is truly exciting and impressive is networks like the Young Democratic Socialists who I’ve seen growing and expanding their base and membership, as well as the issues they work on and the analysis they bring to the table. From access to education to immigrant rights, across the country YDS ‘was there’ as goes the Jobs with Justice slogan.” This week gives us a time to bring our socialist critique to student-labor activism which must go beyond bread and butter issues and tackle the root of injustice towards workers: capitalism. By fighting for a democratic labor and trade union movement with a strong support network in communities, YDS moves us all closer to social and economic democracy.

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