Preparing for Mass Movements Connects Key Areas of Struggle

Maura M., Sara H.-K., Bahaar T.

We (i) support a focus on mass movements because, while no one can call a mass movement into being, the work an organization needs to prepare requires a broader look at our conditions, beyond the workplace into the community and domestic “private” spheres, beyond one workplace into the intersections of organized and unorganized, and off the timeline of an electoral focus. While DSA can not create a mass movement, we can predict and assess key areas of strategic organizing based on community context and need, as well as assess where our membership is positioned, or able to focus. Workplace organizing is strengthened, radicalized, and transformed when the focus of the organizing includes community needs and unwaged places of labor.

An Example: Building interconnections between sectors of reproductive work—organized and unorganized, waged and unwaged

The COVID pandemic has added another layer to the disruption of our lives, and another opening to change of consciousness and potential for organizing. The pandemic has collapsed distinctions between care & education, unpaid (private) and paid (market) labor, and through the shut down of K12 schools and child care, revealed the value and power of reproductive work. 

Public TK12 schools, already long under attack, are under pressure for when and how they will re-open for direct services. Without public schools their function as a place of child care has now been made obvious. Parents and guardians of TK12 children struggle to do their waged-work, while now needing to do additional reproductive care and education work, or find additional care for their children.

Early care educators (aka child care workers) and out of school time educators, unorganized and without dedicated public funds, are forced to re-open, and absorb some of the TK12 child care and education, still at the same low pay—no additional program funding, and now with higher operating costs. Early care educators at licensed sites leave for possibly COVID-safer and more highly paid work in family homes, but with the added risks of a single employee in a home.

Parents and guardians who can’t work at home, either essential workers or those who have no safety net, risk their own and their family’s safety, returning to work and group care. Unlicensed pop up care is encouraged, especially by some workplaces, “needing” to get their workforce back. Families that can, create their own pods, without safety guidelines, or equity protocols.

Child care sites, both centers and family child care, focus on reopening to survive and push for higher teacher to child ratios to meet operation costs, rather than the ratios needed to ensure safety. The early education sector, predominantly women of color, is destabilized, with many sites closing permanently.

All of this exacerbates existing tensions and weaknesses, and could lead to a further destabilization of both public schools and early care and education—risking normalization of the replacement of educators with technology; and exacerbating inequity in education and care by a families’ ability to hire private educators, housing conditions, food resources, and access to technology—or open an opportunity for a cross section of those providing reproductive labor to act collectively. 

DSA can prepare to support the emergence of a mass movement—beyond the red wave of K12 educators— by focusing on reproductive (education) workers organized or not, waged or unwaged, mapping the Bay Area family, early child care, and K12 systems, identifying all DSA members who provide reproductive work, promoting links between these workforces, developing community reproductive worker support systems, denaturalizing reproductive work, and revealing it as requiring skill and knowledge, as well as its essentiality to human communities.