The new Democratic Socialist Labor Commission has been announced and, being that guy who writes about DSA, people have asked me to comment on what happened and what it means. This is somewhat different than my usual commentary because I was a candidate for the Steering Committee that wasn’t elected — in that sense I had a dog in the fight. At this point though, my interest is more in explaining the outcome as a democratic task.
The Democratic Socialist Labor Commission is the group that represents DSA’s labor activity. The Commission is somewhat different from other DSA national bodies in that it has a prescribed membership: only labor activists are voting constituents of the DSLC, with conditions for who qualifies. Members elected to the Commissions’ Steering Committee (hereafter DSLC) serve a two-year term and are charged with carrying out Convention directives and coordinating the efforts of DSA’s labor activists.
Elections for the second DSLC were announced in November 2019, to be held in February 2020. Where the Labor Commission had previously been fragmented, loosely organized around an email list and Facebook group, the outgoing DSLC began anew and called for DSA members to register as members of the Commission at least one month in advance to be able to vote in the election. Multiple emails were sent explaining this process and members were asked to relay this to their chapters, branches and working groups.
In addition to the registration, the outgoing DSLC expanded the size of the SC from nine members to twelve, and also announced that there would be multiple quotas in effect for the election:
1. At least half of the SC will be rank and file union members. A candidate will be considered rank-and-file if they are a dues-paying union member working in a job represented by a union, with the exception of union staff members who may be in a union. This includes union officers whose primary work is still their union job, but excludes union officers who are paid full time for their work representing the union. It also includes members of worker centers that represent their members in workplace struggles and workers actively engaged in union organizing drives in their workplace.
2. No more than half the SC will be men and at least 5 will be from historically marginalized groups such as those based on race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, religion, nationality, etc. as self-identified.
3. No more than two SC members may be from the same chapter.
4. Each of six geographic regions will be guaranteed at least one spot on the SC. These regions are numbered on the attached map.
The Smaller-Than-You’d-Think Race
Approximately thirty-three candidates were initially nominated for the DSLC. This was interesting coming out of the 2019 DSA Convention, which passed three different labor resolutions. As I argued before, I didn’t believe that these were necessarily contradicting each other, but in saying “do all the things” the Convention effectively provided no direction. With no resolution on their key strategic differences, both caucuses that advanced major labor perspectives (Collective Power Network [CPN] and Bread & Roses) took to the DSLC to settle things. Two slates were announced for the DSLC election: Toward Workers’ Power (organized by CPN) and a Bread & Roses slate, representing a combined thirteen candidates. Socialist Majority caucus did not run a slate but had one member in the race (Zack P) and endorsed the Toward Workers’ Power slate. The remaining twenty-some candidates were unaligned.
As with the National Political Committee, the election was run using Single-Transferrable Vote. Results of the election were announced Saturday, February 15th. No vote counts were released, so we do not know how the election rounds went, who received the most votes, the runners-up, how many votes were cast, or any other basic information of that sort.
With the quota system as it was constructed, my argument is that there were only four seats that were seriously up for election in this race. Before the ballots were cast, I had a strong sense of who eight of the DSLC members would be based off what would need to happen to satisfy the quotas. I am making no positive or negative statements about quotas; I’m only analyzing how this process works given the rules that were established. Where there would be any competition, this would come down to name recognition and active organization — caucus slates by their nature would have the advantage of rallying the votes of their fellow caucus mates.
If we work our way through the parameters of the quota system, the first thing we should note is that there were only seven non-male candidates. At least six members of the DSLC would have to be non-male, so this meant that six of these seven candidates would be seated. Five of the seven were attached to caucuses, with only Damiana and Kaylah unaligned; Kaylah did not submit a candidate statement. The five non-male candidates attached to slates were elected, as was Damiana.
The second major requirement is that there be at least one DSLC member per districted region. Two regions had only two candidates: the Northwest (Zack P and Mark A) and the Southwest (Rebecca G and Jake D). For both these regions, at least one of these two candidates would have to be seated. In the Northwest, Zack P is a member of Socialist Majority and supported by that caucus and has been active in the Labor Commission for a few years; Mark A offered a great candidate statement, but my sense was that he was much less known and did not have the organized support Zack would have — Zack was elected over Mark.
In the Southwest, two quotas overlapped. Rebecca had a very high chance of being elected on the basis of her being one of the few non-male candidates and her support from Bread & Roses, but Jake D campaigned hard and solicited endorsements from chapters. Both Jake and Rebecca were elected.
Eight seats having been filled, there remained at least one more regional quota that would need to be filled: the Midwest. We cannot know without vote figures, but this was likely the hottest race as it had JP K (incumbent, B&R); Dario S (TWP); Joe A; Tim T; and myself (Andy S) — JP was elected for this region.
The remaining candidates seated were Anthony D (B&R), Daniel D (TWP), and Peter O, a well known figure on the labor left and retired organizer for the ILWU. Presumably, these three candidates would have received among the highest vote counts, though we cannot know if any additional quotas play in (since any identity or rank-and-file status is not public information).
Before going any further, I want to make clear that I’m making no value judgments on any of the candidates. In my view, the candidates were exceptional, and I largely believe that even without the quota system the results would have been similar — I don’t wish to diminish the election of any candidate by acknowledging how the rules affected the results.
While Collective Power and Bread & Roses may have wished to see this election settle the question of the Rank and File Strategy and DSA’s labor approach more broadly, I do not think the results give a mandate to either perspective. While it is true that B&R has five members elected to TWP’s three, at least five members seated who were attached to a slate were affected by the quota — even if we got the vote counts now, it would probably only reveal to us the voting strategy of those who understood how to rank votes with these rules rather than give us a clear political picture. There was only one race where TWP and B&R would had competing candidates for a seat, the Midwest, and we do not have any figures to weigh the outcome.
In general, I think we end the race with a strong, reasonably representative DSLC. There are larger questions about the quotas and how best to ensure representation among women and marginalized identities without sliding into tokenism, but that is another article.