Case Study

From 2018 to 2021, the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) had the rank-and-file strategy as a national priority. In 2018, YDSA helped produce and distribute DSA’s pamphlet Why Socialists Should Become Teachers. In 2020, members voted to build a pipeline to prepare students for strategic jobs. YDSA’s National Labor Committee launched a survey of members’ career plans and held a number of mass calls, including a jobs fair featuring panels of rank-and-file organizers in healthcare, education, and logistics.

Small cohorts of YDSAers are working toward getting union jobs. Oscar Fregozo, a junior at UC Berkeley, attended the 2021 YDSA Rank and File School and intends to get a job in or for a union after he graduates, most likely in logistics. The most interesting part of the school, he said, was “the context given about socialists’ roles historically in the labor movement with the CIO and their multiracial organizing, and the effect their expulsion had on the labor movement. Also people’s experiences, working in unions, and seeing that the labor movement is not always welcoming of socialists but there is a strong community doing that work. It made me feel more realistic about the choice, and more determined.”

Rank-and-File Teaching

One YDSAer who has already graduated and gone to work is Whitney Witthaus, a teacher in New York. Studying food systems in college brought her in contact with food workers and farm workers, and soon she realized “it wasn’t just food workers, it was all workers.” Going to North Dakota for the DAPL pipeline protests was the “first time I saw people fighting, and it was beautiful.” She returned to school to help found a YDSA chapter, which soon helped union campus workers on strike.

After graduation she was accepted for a job as a union organizer, but decided it wasn’t for her. A stint at a nonprofit was unsatisfying, as she saw how profoundly different from her own were the lives of the workers the organization was supposed to represent. She had conversations with DSA Labor Branch members in New York who were organizing on the job.

“I felt excited by the prospect of being on equal ground instead of this tremendous distance,” Witthaus said. “I had never imagined myself as a teacher, but when I was accepted to the NYC Teaching Collaborative, it was a joy explosion.”

Now she belongs to the Movement of Rank-and-file Educators caucus in the teachers union. “Teachers get to be creative every day,” she said. “The work is so entirely fulfilling. My co-workers are awesome. I have opportunities every single day to move people toward collective action.”