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Report Back: Maine DSA 2023 Convention

Working Mass - Mon, 2023-01-30 19:37

By Maine DSA Communications Committee

Originally published in Pine & Roses, a project of the Maine DSA.

On the weekend of January 21-22, Maine DSA held its first of two semi-annual conventions for 2023. Over the course of a chapter convention weekend, members gather both in-person and online for workshops on a range of topics, as well as business meetings where resolutions and amendments are debated and decided. At anytime during those two days, members are invited to fill out online ballots to elect candidates to open leadership positionsThis piece recaps the workshops and business items, it does not address the election results.


Opening Speaker

During our opening plenary, we heard from Communications Co-Chair, Chris C, who spoke about the importance of developing mutual respect and camaraderie between members. We were left with a reminder that fellow socialists are first and foremost comrades. Even when we disagree about this or that strategy we must not view each other as essential political opposition. Instead, that designation should be left for the capitalists currently ruining our planet and communities within. 


Maine DSA hosted seven workshops on Day 1, five of which were in person. These in-person events were hosted at the Quaker Friends Meeting House in Portland. 

At the top of the morning we were joined remotely by the Emergency Tenant Organizing Committee. This group works with chapters across the country helping them set up autonomous tenant unions in every city. This is done largely through a mentorship program where local socialist organizers are guided through all of the challenges associated with launching a tenant union. We then discussed the challenges we face in Maine. How a tight housing market and poor tenant protections have cooled tenant organizing in our area. We talked about how existing social networks are very useful for building the trust needed for taking on landlords. For DSA, defeating the death grip of landlords and supporting bottom-up tenant power is the only path forward.

Meanwhile, at the local in-person workshops, comrades learned essential life-saving care measures most effective at stopping rapid blood loss typically caused by gunshot wounds. We owe a special thanks to Maine SRA for helping put this training session together. One of the attendees and hosts of this training returned later in the day to help with another workshop. After a lunch break, folks then had the choice of attending an Art and Capitalism workshop or a Membership Engagement workshop. 

The Art and Capitalism workshop, hosted by Jon D, provided an in-person space for members to come together to not only make art but also discuss the struggles surrounding art. Important questions addressed in the session included: what makes someone an artist, how has capitalism changed art and its function, and what does art contribute to the socialist movement? 

Meanwhile, Jake G and others discussed how to keep our membership engaged. There was an in-depth review of statistics comparing members in good standing v. constitutional members, and how to better focus on turning the latter into the former. A membership engagement survey sent out late last year provided good insights into ways that we as a chapter can do better to activate members. The floor was then opened to folks to suggest new creative ways to engage with current members, as well as reach out to new potential ones. This workshop was also hosted on Friday night before the convention. Attendees generated wonderfully creative ideas that will surely prove fun, if not effective. So keep on the lookout for some cool new events coming up this year, a game night is in the works as well as a few other atypical in-person events. 

Later on that afternoon, Cam H led attendees in a speculative fiction workshop. Participants were encouraged to think about their utopian worlds, dystopian worlds, and what those changes might look like throughout several periods in the future. Folks then engaged in world-building, character development, and learning the basics of story structures. Attendees left this workshop with a beautiful handmade zine and an outline of a story that they created. 

The last in-person workshop, led by Chris C, was a tent heater build. Maine DSA owes Maine SRA gratitude once again for showing up to help with this activity; they provided extra materials and knowledge that were critical to its success. Attendees were able to come together and collectively begin the process of building tent heaters, an essential tool for folks facing precarious housing situations. A few of the heaters from this workshop have already been distributed and some folks are continuing to build in order to distribute more. 

At the same time, Rep. Grayson Lookner and Prof. Brendan McQuade hosted an online workshop on important legislative efforts happening this year. The focus was on abolition and abortion rights. Bills discussed included: efforts to defund the Maine Information Analysis Center (read our shadow report from last year for background), a bill to ban crisis pregnancy centers (see our website on this), shutting down Long Creek Youth Development Center, and building new social housing. If you’d like to stay in the loop on these and other issues Rep. Lookner is focused on this session, you can fill out this form. Anyone specifically interested in closing down Long Creek Youth Development Center should check out Maine Youth Justice. And lastly, for folks looking to learn more about the public housing crisis, we invite you to read this Beacon article and this Jacobin article, co-authored by Rep. Lookner. 


After a first day filled with wonderful workshops, members reconvened that night to address a slew of business items. We had wonderful debates throughout. We were able to reach decisions on all business items with one exception. Citing time and a clear lack of consensus, our Digital Voting Results Policy was referred to our Steering Committee. Our Abortion Rights Working Group was rechartered and will continue its efforts fighting predatory fake abortion clinics, aka crisis pregnancy centers. We were able to settle on an electoral strategy that centers partnerships with candidates who are openly socialist and committed to working-class struggles. We also passed a coalition policy that will ensure Maine DSA is able to work in the open as socialists within Portland coalitions. And last but not least, with the DSA National Convention around the corner, we passed a resolution that will provide chapter funding to help our delegates attend without financial stress.


Opening Speaker

On Day 2, we heard from Heather Hillenbrand who is a National DSA Labor Membership Co-Chair. We discussed further efforts in organizing labor, where we have footholds already, DSA’s popular report with much of the rank & file of Starbucks Workers United, and how to prepare for further action and organizing in 2023. Heather also invited Maine DSA to send a chapter member to the upcoming Labor Corps Solidarity Call.


Day 2 was a little lighter on the workshops with only four total. This was welcomed, as most of the chapter membership was still recovering from a long and exhausting Day 1. All workshops on Day 2 were held remotely online. 

The first workshop of the day was a study group on Salar Mohandesi’s article in Viewpoint, “Party as Articulator.” This was facilitated by Todd B from our Political Education Committee, and the author of the piece was in attendance to summarize its main points and respond to questions. After an introduction, we moved into break-out rooms where attendees went around discussing their biggest takeaway from the piece. We then reconvened as a broader body to further flesh out its more nuanced points, possible critiques, and questions. This discussion proved quite engaging, going 30 minutes over the allotted time. 

In another Zoom call, we heard from Liz Trice of Maine Cooperative Development Partners to learn about the cooperative social housing model and the cooperative housing developments that MCDP expects to begin building later this year in Portland. Reservations for these are still available. Social housing cooperatives are an approach to creating permanently-affordable housing. Housing following this model is mutually-owned and governed democratically by all residents. During this session, a number of members expressed that they already had reservations to join MCDP’s upcoming Dougherty Court housing cooperative. The session closed out with an extended Q&A. You can find more information about Maine Cooperative Development Partners and their projects at mainecooperativehousing.com.

Maine DSA also hosted a discussion about logistics and labor. This workshop was hosted by Jeanne L and Spencer B. It included an open discussion on the role of Maine DSA in the potential UPS Teamster strike this summer. Attendees agreed that this would be an extremely important moment. This work will be qualitatively different from much of the chapter’s labor solidarity work up to this point due to the scale of the potential strike, the national significance of a bottleneck in logistics, and the radical open-mindedness of masses of workers. Suggested tactics included both material support and conversations asking about the contract, asking what workers care about, and discussing how it connects to the capitalist system in general. Other ideas from members included producing a pamphlet on the history of Teamster actions from a socialist perspective, and that we prepare contingency plans for the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling making workers liable for the lost profits of bosses. It was a lively starter conversation on a topic that will be discussed further both locally and nationally as socialists prepare.

As mentioned above, our Day 1 workshops had been hosted at the Portland Friends Meetinghouse. On Day 2 we heard from local Quaker activists. Sophie G, a member of Maine DSA and an activist with The Friends Committee on National Legislation spoke to us about the history of the Child Tax Credit, the impact of the latest lapse of the CTC, and what we can do to help. We also heard anecdotal stories from Julie, a micro-school employee and mom, about the impact and importance of the CTC. During this presentation, we contacted our national representatives with help and instruction from Sophie G. 


Day 2 business was just as busy as Day 1, but we were still able to conclude on schedule. We were able to recharter our Pine & Roses working group, a chapter-backed journalistic project that offers an online publication, providing a New England based working-class viewpoint that is not represented in other major media. We also rechartered our Labor Solidarity working group, and approved a project for that group to utilize relationships with Maine labor in an attempt to gain as much union support as possible for the Pine Tree Power ballot initiative. We then passed an electoral strategy resolution on Day 2 that builds upon what was passed during business on Day 1. Maine DSA also voted to implement a mask policy in an effort to allow folks with compromised immune systems to engage with us and participate in spaces where they are usually prohibited via health risk. To cap off Day 2 business, we held a deep discussion on the chapter’s diversity requirements. In the end we voted to make a few tweaks to them, including some simplification to the language and hopefully reducing any undue pressure on marginalized members.


After business concluded, comrades came together on Sunday night at Portland Zoo. The dense roar of our collective chatter could be heard from the sidewalk as you walked up. Jokes were flying about the newly formed Lighthouse Caucus and the tongue-in-cheek possibility of future caucuses like the Franco-American CaucusThe Fists Caucus, and The Dark Tower Caucus. We collectively thanked and congratulated our outgoing Chapter Co-Chair Rose D for all of her hard work and incredible dedication to the chapter. To cap off the celebration and convention, we came together in song.

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold

Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousandfold

We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old

For the union makes us strong

Solidarity forever

Solidarity forever

Solidarity forever

For the Union Makes Us Strong

Stolen Wages Returned for 3 Hotel Workers, Highlighting Need To Fight Wage Theft

Working Mass - Sun, 2023-01-22 15:39

By Paul Garver

Metrowest Worker Center Recovers Wages for 3 Hotel Workers

Wakefield, MA — On December 20th, workers and supporters demanded managers pay back wages when they made a surprise visit at the Five Points Marriott Hotel in Wakefield. The action got results: three days later, three Brazilian immigrant workers confirmed that they had received their paychecks. It’s estimated $800 million is stolen annually from workers by their employers in Massachusetts.

The delegation was led by the Framingham-based Metrowest Workers Center [CASA in Spanish and Portuguese] and included the Center Director Diego Low, volunteer workers from the Center, one of the unpaid workers, and members of immigrant solidarity organizations that partner with the Workers Center, including two from MetroWest Boston DSA (Democratic Socialists of America).

The delegation delivered a signed letter to the hotel manager asking that the hotel require its cleaning contractor Castro Construction to pay back wages owed to three Brazilian immigrant women working as cleaners at the hotel. Refusing to accept the claim that no managers were available, the delegation milled around the hotel lobby, insisting to speak with a hotel manager with the authority to ensure that the women get paid.

Eventually two hotel managers emerged, read the signed letter, and promised to meet with their cleaning contractor to require that the workers receive their stolen wages.

Three days later, Aparacida C., Janice G., and Dalila C. confirmed that they had received their paychecks.

Castro Construction also owes larger sums of stolen pay to at least eleven immigrant workers it formerly employed at the Five Points Marriott Hotel in Newton. It may be necessary to go through the laborious process set up by the Attorney General’s office to recover their stolen wages.

Although many permanent workers also suffer from wage theft in the form of non-payment of overtime and other abusive practices, it is immigrant workers — especially undocumented construction and service workers — that are especially vulnerable to out-and-out wage theft. Their employers, usually labor brokers and sub-contractors, assume that undocumented workers, fearing deportation, and are therefore unlikely to take legal steps to recover their pay or collect the benefits to which they are entitled.

In his report back to CASA supporters, Diego Low wrote:

The three women owed wages for their work at Four Points Wakefield received their back wages yesterday. The hotel collected the payments from the labor broker and advised CASA Thursday, allowing time to collect and distribute them the funds for their families’ holidays. CASA will be looking at strategies for pursuing strategies for collecting wages for the other dozens of workers owed wages by the broker at other hotels, where we lack the leverage of an ongoing contract.

These strategies might include trying to recover stolen wages at the Five Points Newton Marriott. The global Marriott chain would suffer reputational harm from the shady practices of the labor brokers and contractors that were hired by its hotel managers to cut costs.

CASA could also work with statewide labor unions and other immigrant and community organizations to compel the state legislature to make business owners and lead contractors responsible for preventing their subcontractorssub-contractors and labor brokers from cheating workers to keep their bids low. The key issue for CASA is holding not only lead contractors responsible for abusive practices of sub-contractors, but also the companies for which the workers perform services.

CASA is governed by its board composed of immigrant workers, who make the strategic decisions in response to the perceived needs of their communities.

Fighting Wage Theft in Massachusetts

The AFL-CIO, workers centers and immigrant support groups have identified wage theft as a major problem for workers in Massachusetts. Of the approximately $800 million stolen annually from workers by their employers in Massachusetts, the Attorney General’s office has collected and returned only $12.3 million.

Comprehensive legislation against wage theft has failed at the Massachusetts State House for two consecutive sessions. In 2019 some 100 workers packed into a legislative hearing to join with AFL-CIO staff to provide detailed testimony of their experiences with wage theft. Bill 4681, the 2021-22 Act to Prevent Wage Theft, advocated by the AFL-CIO,the Brazilian Workers Center and numerous labor and community organizations, was refused even an up or down vote by business-friendly house leadership. 

What should DSA do?

Wage theft is a major problem facing workers in Massachusetts, and one of the most blatant forms of the capitalist exploitation of workers. It is particularly vile because it targets the most vulnerable workers, those with the greatest need to get paid on time, and often with fewer resources to fight back. Workers Centers like the Metrowest Workers Center in Framingham do not see their role as substituting for labor unions, but work with unions to build a stronger organizational and political movement of the working class. As a democratic socialist organization, DSA supports workers centers that like the Metrowest Workers Center.

Specific actions to help the most vulnerable workers, in particular ones without documents, are necessary, but insufficient. DSA should actively support the passage of comprehensive legislation as advocated by labor unions and immigrant rights organizations that would hold all employers and primary contractors responsible for paying wages stolen from workers by the labor brokers and sub-contractors. Ousting business-friendly legislators with a stranglehold over the legislative process like Speaker Mariano from office is needed to enact and enforce legislation against wage theft. Workers deserve much higher wages and more control and ownership of their workplaces. The least the capitalists can do is pay workers what they already said they would pay.

Paul Garver is a member of the Boston DSA.

Love and Solidarity Will Beat Far Right Attacks on Queer Spaces

Working Mass - Fri, 2023-01-13 14:06

After a pitched scuffle to defend a drag queen story hour last month in Fall River left comrades injured but victorious, the Boston DSA is planning to show up in force in Fall River tomorrow to protect queer spaces from far-right attacks. This piece was originally published in the Boston Political Education Working Group’s blog as “Step right up, come one come all, to defend Fall River.”

By Anonymous Comrade

The first thing I want to say about our December 10 defense of the Fall River Pride Committee’s drag story time is that we succeeded.

I wanted to start out that way because between all the various mediocre news stories and online commentaries, you might not realize it. But we succeeded. When neo-Nazi group NSC tried to rush the door, it was our team of volunteers from an ad hoc coalition of local organizations including Boston DSA, that kept them out. We, the team that I coordinated, did keep them out, and we were able to keep attendees safe. And through friendliness and creativity – singing, bells, colorful masks – our volunteers at the side door were able to provide an atmosphere of fun and normalcy for the children as they entered the event, even with NSC outside the front door and Proud Boys across the street. Volunteers were able to escort families to their cars as they left. We did all this not by being some kind of elite strike force, but by showing up, working together well, using our varied skills (tactical situational awareness, first aid, cheery child-friendly charisma, and more), and by keeping our cool.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a pleasant experience for me, and I suspect there are other people on the team who feel similarly. It’s frightening to be rushed by neo-Nazis who have a lot more muscle mass than you and who outnumber you (because they arrived quite early, only some of our team was there at the time of the rush). I was hit multiple times in the solar plexus, slammed against the doors. I would rather not have been injured, and would rather none of my comrades had been injured either. I heard a whole lot of slurs that morning. I’ve been frustrated at attempts to credit the police for keeping people safe when the cops were not present during the rush on the doors, and who later claimed to not be able to tell the difference between us, in our varied clothing, and neo-Nazis in group merch and quasi-uniform dress). But none of that changes the first sentence in this essay. We succeeded in defending drag story time.

This Saturday, January 14, is the next drag story time in Fall River, and this time it will be a little different – with a community support rally outside to provide fun and safety for all, to celebrate queerness and perseverance and courage. If it isn’t obvious, I’m writing this not simply to share my own experiences or perspective, but to encourage you to attend in support.

I have never been, to use a good friend’s phrase, a “woofing tough.” I have disabilities that impact my ability to build strength or coordinate my own movements. I have chronic pain issues. I avoid militant rhetoric and aesthetic in this kind of work because I don’t believe in raising stakes for nothing, and I don’t believe in making implied promises that I can’t back up. Every time fascists yell in my general direction about how they’d win in a fight, I shrug internally, because I’ve never thought otherwise. And yet over the last few years I’ve worked more action frontlines than I care to recall. A lot of people have been beside me on those lines who didn’t think of themselves before as the kind of people who could do this work. No matter how much groups like NSC want it to be so, we antifascists aren’t their mirror image and we don’t operate on the same terms with only the politics changed. If I have stood for anything in my time organizing against the far right, it is that this work does not belong only to the strong and the powerful.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I want good people to participate in supporting our communities and opposing the intimidation and the organizing of the far right. I don’t want people to think they can’t or shouldn’t do it, or that their contributions aren’t real, because in some way they aren’t the “right” type of person.

So come one, come all, to Fall River this Saturday – whether you’re an old hand or this would be your first action, whether you’re a ninja or regularly trip over your own feet. Dress for the weather (wearing comfortable shoes, wearing hats and masks, minimizing the amount of cotton against your body). Keep your cool, act collectively, and follow the lead of organizers (because this all has a goal and it’s not individualized catharsis). Be aware of what’s happening around you, make sure you have safe ways to enter and exit, and enjoy the performances! Numbers will make us all safer, make it more possible for people who are afraid or uncomfortable or unsure to participate. The numbers we turn out could mean the difference in whether a family feels safe enough to attend the drag story time.

Together we can preserve this queer space, and send a much-needed message to any queer kids (or adults) who may be watching: tomorrow need not be as bleak as neo-Nazis and bro-fascists want them to believe.

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