Follow the UK example
Shuvu Bhattarai upholds Enough is Enough as a model which socialists in the US ought to emulate. He sees it rapidly developing “into a mass working people’s party” built around basic bread and butter economic demands
“To win a political revolution, we need a new mass organisation,” comrades Jeremy Gong and Nick French of the Democratic Socialists of America caucus, Bread and Roses, declared in Jacobin.1 They pointed to how in this period of generalised crisis there has been no organised opposition able to represent the interests of the country’s working people at the national level - with the Democratic Party repeatedly proving itself as an ineffective vehicle, while an organised Republican Party is successfully advancing its assault on, among other things, labour rights, abortion rights and democracy.
They argue that socialists and progressives need to call on politicians in the national arena - specifically senator Bernie Sanders, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and ‘the Squad’ - to build a new mass organisation which can meet the needs of this moment. The comrades believe that these politicians have the legitimacy among millions of working people to effectively call for an organisation that unites the various progressive forces in the country - socialist organisations like the DSA, labour unions, progressive parties, etc - into a common mass organisation with the following characteristics:
- Democratic and member-based: “Local and national leaders should be elected by the members, and members should be able to influence the policy platforms of elected officials like Sanders through conventions and internal debates.”
- Supports progressive election campaigns but also year-round organising.
- Working class-funded: “Rejecting all corporate and billionaire donations, large unreported donations from anonymous sources and donations from PACs, foundations or other groups that launder capitalist cash.”
- Effectively non-partisan: The organisation will support candidates from any party or independent, so long as they advance the cause of the working people.
In effect they believe that in the United States, at this moment, the recipe for a mass workers’ party hinges on the initiative of a handful of Congress members - a recipe which they themselves believe is “a long shot”.
The views of Gong and French do not represent a unified consensus within Bread and Roses, the largest organised Marxist caucus in the DSA. In response comrades Peter Lucas and Sean Estelle argued in the Socialist Call, the official publication of Bread and Roses, that “A mass socialist organisation to meet the moment” does not currently exist, but is in the process of formation with the growth of the DSA.2
They wrote: “Calling on Bernie and the Squad is a shortcut that skips the necessary preconditions to build working class power”, going on later to state: “We need to rebuild the labour movement and build a class-struggle electoral arm … with the hope of merging the two in the future into a workers’ party.”
They say that calling for a new organisation would take energy and focus away from the DSA and do not believe that an organisation called for by the politicians would be democratic in character. However, they acknowledge the current disorganised and disparate state of left forces in the country. Their solution is for the DSA to work “in coalition with other organisations and labour unions to build an engaged political bloc”, but are short on the details as to how this political bloc can be formed.
The core of the debate within Bread and Roses revolves around this question: Under conditions of crisis and the threat of a far-right government takeover, how can we unite the activist layer of the working class, agitate and activate countless more, and organise them into a mass working people’s party?
Fortunately for us here in the USA, in the United Kingdom, under conditions similar to our own, a mass movement with the potential to develop into a mass working people’s party is developing at a rapid pace.
In the midst of a tightening labour market, slashing of wages, growing inflation, hunger, housing insecurity and homelessness, a militant minority has declared “Enough is Enough!” and is calling on all working people in the country to join and organise their communities and workplaces for a better life.
Enough is Enough3, which is the name of this movement, is organised around five demands:
- A real pay rise: Tying public-sector pay to increase in line with inflation and creating a pathway for a £15 per hour minimum wage.
- Slash energy bills: Cancel the price hike to be instituted in October, bring energy companies into public ownership and increase public investment in renewable energy.
- End food poverty: Enshrine a Right to Food law and put it into practice by introducing universal free school meals and community kitchens, and reinstating the £20-a-week universal credit uplift. A new independent regulatory body must be created that will hold the government to account with oversight and endorsement powers.
- Decent homes for all: Cap rents, build over 100,000 public homes a year and introduce a charter for rent rights.
- Tax the rich: Introduce a wealth tax, raise taxes on corporate profits and on the top five percent of earners, close tax-dodging loopholes, increase the capital gains tax and introduce new taxes on speculation. In addition tax burdens on working people must be lowered, starting with the reversal of the hike to national insurance.
According to its website, Enough is Enough was initially formed through the support of socialist politicians, unions, community organisations, and a socialist magazine:
- The Communications Workers Union - a union of postal, telecoms, financial services and tech workers with over 200,000 members;
- Acorn4 - a mass membership organisation of low-income people;
- Fans Supporting Foodbanks5 - a joint initiative between football fans to tackle food insecurity in communities;
- The Right to Food Campaign6 - set up to enshrine a national Right to Food law;
- Tribune7 - A socialist website and magazine which was bought by Jacobin in 2018;
- Zarah Sultana MP - A vocal socialist and Labour Party member elected in 2019 to the House of Commons; she joined Labour in 2011, was elected into the youth leadership and was a vocal supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. As an MP she has denounced “40 years of Thatcherism”, pushed for a Green New Deal and is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, a leftwing formation within the Labour Party;
- Ian Byrne MP, co-founder of Fans Supporting Foodbanks; in 2018 was elected to Liverpool city council and in 2019 to the House of Commons. He was a supporter of the Corbyn leadership, is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group and is spearheading the Right to Food campaign.
In an article in Tribune8 Zarah Sultana explains why Enough is Enough was launched: the present moment for working people in the UK is one of crisis, with all working people being hurt by sharp increases in the cost of living. At the same time corporations and billionaires have profited from this crisis, with their wealth continuing to increase.
Rather than helping working people, the UK government has instead slashed social security funding and allowed energy prices to increase, with leading figures in the state bank and government calling for “pay restraint” and “pay discipline” - basically telling working people to suffer quietly. However, the masses of working people have begun to adopt a fighting spirit, with a major act of resistance by railway workers in the RMT union sparking a wave of strikes across different industries and sectors.9
The head of the RMT, Mick Lynch, has emerged as a symbol of resistance, going on major news platforms and media outlets to spread awareness about the railworkers’ demand for a 7% wage increase and to refute capitalist talking points to the public at large.
The Tories have attempted to shift blame for the suffering of working people to migrants and refugees, and ramped up their campaign to demonise trans people. Sultana explains that, while this strike movement is developing and while the Tories and the rightwing media continue their campaign of demonising the most vulnerable in society, there must also be a generalised left response, which clearly articulates the needs and common demands of the working people. It is under this consideration that Enough is Enough was launched.
Its website was launched on August 8, with a video call to action10 for “building real organisation for the working class”, featuring Mick Lynch, Zarah Sultana, rank-and-file workers, among others. Enough is Enough will be planning rallies across the country and the movement will be entering into different picket lines with the purpose of building class solidarity among all of the working people in the country.
Its first rally was held on August 17, with over 2,000 in attendance and many turned away due to the space’s capacity.11 According to The Guardian, it has gained over 450,000 supporters.12 This bears repeating - over 450,000 in 16 days since its launch. Furthermore its gravity is attracting several unions and other organisations, MPs and even celebrities to offer support. The campaign is planning over 50 rallies over the next month.
Perhaps most importantly, it is indicating its willingness to use physical force in the form of general mass action on October 1 in order to push forward its demands. These demands and the plan of action are clearly resonating with the working people in the UK. While the movement is currently run in a top-down direction, the potential exists for hundreds of thousands to be mobilised and push for the transformation of the campaign into a permanent democratic and independent working people’s party - a party built through the strength of its working class membership, with the ability to force through its demands through strategic work stoppages across different industries and sectors, along with other mass action.
While the demands of Enough is Enough do not cover the growing threat of nuclear war, the issue of police violence or the undemocratic structure of the UK government and constitution, it is an excellent starting point for a mass, democratic, workers’ organisation, which can take the initiative to grow and develop its political direction through debate and discussion among its membership.
Furthermore it reveals that under conditions of crisis, an organisation gaining the support of hundreds of thousands or even millions can be built in a short period of time if it is able to tap into the general needs and desires of working people through a concrete plan and has the pre-existing activist forces necessary to spread news of this far and wide.
This movement is strikingly relevant to the working people of the United States, where the same general problems face the working people as in the UK: increasing cost of living and inequality, the material impact of climate change, food insecurity, increasing attacks on marginalised groups and the growth of a far-right movement, etc. These are problems that the working people of the United States face in a more intense and brutal form.
As Bernie Sanders noted in his remarks about the ineffectiveness of the corporate handout and signature Biden legislation called the Inflation Reduction Act,
- the USA has “half of our people living pay check to pay check”, with “the highest childhood poverty of almost any major nation on Earth”;
- “70 million Americans are uninsured or under-insured, when we pay twice as much for healthcare as the people of almost any other major nation, when some 60,000 people a year die because they cannot afford to go to a doctor when they need to”;
- “45 million Americans are struggling to pay student debt”
- “55% of senior citizens are trying to survive on an income of $25,000 a year or less”
- “600,000 people are homeless, sleeping out on streets across the country” and “18 million households are spending an incredible 50% of their incomes for housing”, all while “we have more wealth and income inequality than at any time in the last 100 years, with three people owning more wealth than the bottom half of American society, with the top one percent owning more wealth than the bottom 92%, with 45% of all new income going to the top one percent, and with CEOs of large corporations making 350 times more than their average workers”.
The Labour Party, like the Democratic Party in the United States, is held captive by pro-corporate and capitalist interests and thus is a barrier to a working people’s movement that seeks to address the suffering of the vast majority.
Also, similar to the UK, workers in the United States have begun to fight back in a historic way. After the largest protest wave in US history following the murder of George Floyd and a period of calm, there has been a resurgence of working class activity. The first Amazon facility in the US was unionised on April 1 2022 by the independent Amazon Labor Union and over 225 Starbucks stores have been unionised by Starbucks Workers United after their first victory in December 2021. There is an overall surge in union organisation, with a 57% increase in petition filings compared to the fiscal year 2021.13
Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a reform slate, won the presidency and the controlling majority of arguably the country’s most powerful union in November 2021. It has promised to go on the offensive and is preparing for a massive national strike. The United Auto Workers won a referendum for ‘one person, one vote’ in 2021 and is currently in the process of a new election for the leadership with results expected on November 29.14 This June, Labor Notes, a cross-union training and news organization, held its largest ever convention, with over 4,000 attendees representing workers from scores of different unions and worker organisations.
In the face of growing evictions and rising rents, tenant organizations have spiked with organizers winning certain legal protections15 for renters across the country. After the overturning of Roe v Wade by the undemocratic and illegitimate Supreme Court in June, mass protests were held throughout the country. In Kansas - supposedly a secure Republican state - there was a surge of voter turnout to ensure that abortion rights were protected in a referendum.16
More immediately, there is a chance that within a few weeks the US may face a national rail strike for the first time this millennium. This could open up the floodgates for a massive upsurge in strike activity in different sectors - an upsurge that is already taking place, with thousands of teachers and nurses already on strike. Furthermore, all of these tensions are being exacerbated by the Biden-appointed leadership of the Federal Reserve, which is increasing interest rates and borrowing costs to purposely drive up mass layoffs and unemployment, all in a bid to lower wages and control inflation.17
The general point being made here is this: the working people of the United States are fighting back with increased intensity and the preconditions exist and are further developing for an independent, working people’s movement as a response to the cost-of-living and political crisis.
This leads us back to the debate sparked by comrades Gong and French.
Mass workers’ party
When Enough is Enough was announced in the UK, Bernie Sanders tweeted in support.18 It was founded not on the basis of personality, but on clear demands that represented the interests of the working people.
At this historical moment, with an extremely low popularity of government institutions,19 a Democratic Party actively blocking progressives, the growing threat and likelihood of a Republican takeover of Congress and the presidency by 2024, and an upsurge in militancy, organisation and strike activity, a two-year time frame has opened up for a mass working people’s party to enter into the historical arena before the repressive apparatus of the state is wielded by Republicans eager to severely limit organizing activity20 and render the growth of mass working people’s movements far more difficult.
Comrades Gong and French are correct in pinpointing the current dispersed nature of the workers’ movement and the need for unity under a new mass organisation, but they neglect to mention a political programme which speaks to the immediate needs of the working people - needs which attract them to forms of organisation in the first place. They incorrectly point to celebrity progressive politicians as the figures solely capable of bringing into existence such an organisation, when they can only be a part of the equation, and at that a subordinate part.
On the other hand, comrades Lucas and Estelle are correct that, in order to build unity among progressive forces, the DSA must work in coalition with unions and other organisations in a political bloc, but are incorrect in asserting that a mass workers’ party will emerge as a consequence of the growth of the DSA. They are also incorrect in stating that the preconditions do not exist for the formation of a mass workers’ party in the country.
Using the ongoing experience of the Enough is Enough campaign as a guide and the growing organising, strike and protest movement in the United States, we can move forward confidently with a plan to build a mass working people’s party to meet the needs of the present moment. As the organising, strike and protest movement develops among the working people, so too will the tendency to unite these movements under a common programme. This unity can take organizational form through a cross-union, cross-organisation coalition, based on the growing cost-of-living and democratic crisis in the country.
This coalition is already taking place on an informal basis. After the overturning of Roe v Wade, several unions condemned the decision and issued statements defending the “fundamental right to healthcare and bodily autonomy”. Starbucks Workers United and the Amazon Labor Union also issued similar statements, with @SBWorkersUnited tweeting: “Abortion rights are labor rights are human rights. All unions must fight for our fundamental rights. Fuck the Supreme Court.”21
The numerous strikes and rallies held by the Starbucks workers fighting for a contract has attracted the physical support of several different unions, progressive groups and socialist groups. This cross-union, cross-organisation unity was on clear display during an Amazon Labor Union rally ahead of the second unionisation vote at a Staten Island Facility.22 Among the speakers at the rally were, in addition to Bernie Sanders23, Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants, along with representatives of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the American Postal Workers Union. There were dozens of members of the DSA present, together with unionising Starbucks workers and those of numerous other unions.
However, despite the growing cross-union and cross-organisation solidarity, if the struggles of workers are allowed to remain as simply between individual segments and individual employers, while the force of the US government is dominated by the employing class, then we will be fighting on losing terrain and the working people as a whole will suffer.
Thus, this informal coalition of unions, socialist groups and politicians must be concretised as soon as possible. As activists in the largest socialist organisation in the country, what we in the DSA can and should mobilise for is an open convention, with the aim of creating a united front for a working people’s bill of rights.
As comrades Lucas and Estelle correctly point out, the DSA already has existing connections with different mass organisations and unions. It also already has politicians at the local, state and federal levels as members. We can and should leverage these connections and organise an open convention for unions, tenant associations, socialist formations, community groups and organisations with a mass working class base to debate and draft a Working Peoples Bill of Rights alongside a democratic, mass-membership organisation called the Working Peoples Union to execute the demands.
The Bill of Rights, with demands such as increasing the minimum wage and tying it to inflation, repealing Taft Hartley and passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, concretising abortion rights into federal law, passing Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, instituting rent caps, cutting taxes on the working people, while increasing taxes on the rich, community control of policing, etc - all these would speak to the immediate needs of the working people. The demands would be backed up with the will to action, making it clear to all members that it is their duty to organise and grow the movement, so that we can build the millions of members required for general mass action to force the change we need.
These demands should be introduced through a member of the US Congress and a website and different communication methods should also be set up (like the Enough is Enough campaign), so that working people can easily sign up and organise. Rallies should be planned in every major city and every picket line for these general demands, in the collective interest of all of the country’s working people, to be popularised.
As the Enough is Enough campaign has proven, all that it takes is a militant minority coalition with an already existing activist base and mass media ties to build such a movement. The main problem that is facing the workers’ movement in the United States today is not that the working people are unwilling to fight, but that there exists no organisation with clear demands and a plan of action that captures its fighting spirit.
Building for this united-front movement does not erase the DSA and other socialist organisations, but will rather keep us in intimate contact with the fighting sections of the entire working class in the United States, far beyond what the socialist left is currently capable of, and will allow our organisation to rapidly spread and popularise the necessity of a new socialist constitution to the majority of the country’s working people, all the while growing the membership among all sections of society, including government workers and the US military, so that the physical force exists under a democratic party organisation for such a revolutionary transformation of society to be made possible.
Building a new mass organisation is not a “long shot”. It is an urgent necessity, which is entirely possible. To make this a reality, we must begin to organise amongst ourselves and use whatever leverage we have as individuals to make the Working Peoples Bill of Rights campaign a reality.
See, for example, jacobin.com/2022/07/mick-lynch-interview-rmt-uk-rail-strike.↩︎
Sanders is currently attending and boosting rallies throughout the country of various strikes that are in development: jacobin.com/2022/08/bernie-sanders-working-class-rallies-labor-movement-corporate-greed.↩︎