On May 1 2023, an essay called 20 Theses for Liberation was co-published by various media outlets and organizations. It is co-authored by 30 progressive activists (among whom, I am one), co-hosted by 5 international organizations, and is intended to become a widely shared and dynamic organizing strategy towards mutual aims where vision, values, policy, and prefiguring can converge in an accessible and actionable way. It aims to be a “living document” on an online portal for participants to engage with and adapt while connecting with one another in solidarity.
The essay ends with a call to action for participants to engage by adapting the framework to their diverse contexts and exploring how it relates to their communities. We are each asked to make the leap from guiding vision and strategic norms, to applications in our own areas of expertise, our own lives. In this way, the 20 Theses for Liberation is intended as merely a jumping off point for a larger project of building a much needed culture of unity in collective self-determination.
What would such a shared perspective be? “The result, of course, wouldn’t be a fixed, unchangeable stance. It would instead continually alter in accord with new experiences, contexts, and insights. The best result would be a continued, collective process of refining, adapting, and utilizing a unifying framework. We would be building and sustaining a culture of coalescing around shared vision and strategy—which is the work of building a movement of movements. We would be bringing separate agendas into powerful solidarity with one another” (20 Theses for Liberation).
To kick off what we hope will be wide and diverse engagement, and in honor of International Workers Day, I was asked by one of the co-hosting organizations, RealUtopia.org, to comment on how the 20 Theses for Liberation relates to the labor movement. The relationship has nested implications:
- First, the vision and strategy proposed by the 20 Theses helps us consider how we organize and progress internally, within work teams, networks, unions, federations, etc. When we look at our own organizations for struggle, are we practicing what we seek or mirroring the oppressive relations we claim to resist?
- Next, the 20 Theses are applicable to building solidarity and power within the broader labor movement, beyond any one group or campaign and across industries and countries. It provides strategic norms for achieving broad worker solidarity.
- Third, the 20 Theses bears on inter-movement organizing when applied to building relationships and capacity for intersectional solidarity, program, and action. For example, in building the urgently needed power bloc that includes both the labor and climate justice movements, labor must be integral in developing and forcing a just transition to a decolonized economy and society that prioritizes people and planet over profit.
- Finally, via these nested applications, the 20 Theses is also a unifying vision and strategy that can be adapted to relate to diverse people from all over the world, by diverse people from all over the world. In this way, the outermost layer of all the nested applications is like a snowball picking up size and speed as it rolls onward, growing and being shaped by everyone who joins it.
Getting more specific within these nested layers of strategic organizing, below are some proposals that arise from applying the 20 Theses for Liberation to the labor movement today. Part 1 deals with applying the 20 Theses as a lens to guide labor organizers, while Part 2 explores inter-movement organizing using the example of the labor and environmental movements.
Part 1: 20 Theses for Liberation Inside Labor Organizing
The history of strategic organizing in the labor movement has been marked by changing circumstances and challenges, and it has consistently evolved, sometimes more and sometimes less successfully, to adapt to the needs of workers and achieve their goals. Today’s organizing efforts need to be inclusive, grassroots-driven, creative, legally and politically savvy, and focused on building public support. By applying lessons from the past, leveraging relevant strategies and tactics, and most importantly, by coalescing around shared vision and strategy towards mutual aims, the labor movement can make progress in advancing workers’ rights, improving working conditions, and achieving economic justice in the present day while continuously pushing towards sustained, fundamental changes in labor relations across society.
In response to the current challenges of neoliberalism, neocolonialism, systemic racism, rapid technological innovation, and ecological collapse, the labor movement has adopted new strategies and tactics like grassroots organizing, community-based campaigns, and alliances with other social movements, such as civil rights, environmental, and immigrant rights organizations. Labor unions have also used legal and political strategies to advocate for pro-worker policies, such as raising the minimum wage, expanding access to healthcare, and protecting workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. The vision and strategy laid out in the 20 Theses for Liberation aligns with these developments, and can be used to further demands and guide strategic organizing on an increasingly radical systemic trajectory while building collective power to achieve more, faster.
Labor organizing, through the participatory lens laid out in the 20 Theses, would prioritize principles of economic democracy, equity, solidarity, and worker empowerment, as well as the sought gains of anti racist, environmental, and feminist movements. The economic vision proposed in the 20 Theses advocates for decentralized decision-making, collective ownership of productive assets, equitable distribution of resources and wealth, the protection of diversity, and ending class-based divisions of labor.
What would this mean specifically? It would look different across diverse contexts, as it should, however some concrete possibilities could develop in the following areas:
Worker Self-Management: The 20 Theses for Liberation emphasizes worker self-management, which means that decisions about workplace conditions, production processes, and distribution of goods and services are made collectively by workers themselves. Labor organizing efforts would focus on empowering workers to have a meaningful voice and decision-making power in their workplaces, through mechanisms such as worker cooperatives, workplace councils, and democratic decision-making processes. This would involve organizing efforts to promote democratic governance structures in the workplace, where workers gain steadily increasing control over their working conditions and the direction of their work.
Economic Democracy: The 20 Theses for Liberation seeks to create economic systems that are democratic and participatory, rather than hierarchically controlled by a few individuals or corporations. Labor organizing through this lens would prioritize creating democratic economic structures, where workers have a say in the allocation of resources, investment decisions, and distribution of wealth. In today’s context, this could involve advocating for policies that promote cooperative and collective ownership, profit-sharing arrangements, and participatory budgeting, where workers have a direct role in shaping economic decisions that affect their lives.
Equity and Social Justice: The 20 Theses for Liberation places a strong emphasis on equity and social justice, with the goal of eliminating disparities in income, wealth, and access to resources. Labor organizing efforts would prioritize addressing issues of inequality in the workplace, such as wage disparities, discriminatory practices, and unfair labor practices. This could involve advocating for fair labor laws, promoting pay equity, and challenging discriminatory practices that disproportionately affect marginalized workers, such as workers of color, women, LGBTQ+ workers, and workers with disabilities.
Solidarity and Cooperation: The 20 Theses for Liberation promotes cooperation and solidarity among workers and communities, rather than competition and individualism. Labor organizing through this lens would prioritize building alliances and collaborative efforts among workers, unions, communities, and other social movements. This could involve forming coalitions with other labor unions, community organizations, and social justice groups to advocate for shared issues, such as worker rights, affordable housing, healthcare, education, and sustainability practices. It could also involve promoting cooperative networks, where workers and communities collaborate and support each other in economic activities.
Education and Empowerment: The 20 Theses for Liberation emphasizes the need for education and empowerment of workers to actively participate in economic decision-making. Labor organizing efforts would prioritize educating workers about their rights, labor laws, and economic principles, as well as building their capacity to engage in collective bargaining, negotiation, and decision-making processes. This could involve providing training, resources, and support for workers to understand and navigate the economic system, and empowering them to actively participate in shaping their own economic realities. It could also involve demands for redistributing workplace tasks in a non-hierarchical and fair way, so that empowering, rote, and care-work tasks are increasingly balanced across a workplace. In the context of the need to adapt entire industries to an ecological economy, it could also involve training and re-skilling workers preemptively to transition to green jobs, and to organize policy demands for achieving a just transition for all workers that gives voice to all workers.
Sustainability and Environmental Justice: The 20 Theses for Liberation recognizes the importance of ecological responsibility and reciprocity in economic systems. Labor organizing efforts through this lens would prioritize advocating for environmentally sustainable workplace practices, addressing issues such as climate change, pollution, habitat destruction, and resource depletion as well as simultaneously advocating for policies that guarantee the livelihoods of all people. This could involve campaigns, in diverse contexts, for policies such as green job guarantees, universal basic income, broadening sustainable public provisioning systems for housing, transportation, communication, healthcare, education and food, advocating for environmental regulations, and ensuring that workers have a voice in shaping workplace practices that impact the environment. It would also mean workers participating in expanding the commons to meet the basic needs of communities sustainably.
Through these potential applications, and through a diversity of other possibilities relevant to various contexts, labor organizing using the 20 Theses for Liberation as a broad guiding framework would prioritize worker self-management, economic democracy, equity, solidarity, empowerment, and sustainability. It would seek to create workplaces and economic systems that are democratic, equitable, and socially and ecologically responsible, with the goal of empowering workers to have a meaningful voice in economic decision-making and promoting economic justice for all workers.
Part 2 of Labor #4Liberation focuses on applications at the intersections of Labor and Climate Justice.
The 20 Theses for Liberation can be read in full and signed by any person or organization who wishes to engage with the ongoing project. #4Liberation
20 Theses for Liberation Co-Hosts & Co-Authors:
ZNetwork, DiEM25, Academy of Democratic Modernity, MetaCPC, RealUtopia, Cooperation Jackson, Kali Akuno, Michael Albert, Renata Avila, Ramzy Baroud, Medea Benjamin, Peter Bohmer, Fintan Bradshaw, Jeremy Brecher, Urška Breznik, Noam Chomsky, Savvina Chowdhury, Devriş Çimen, Mark Evans, Andrej Grubačić, Jason Hickel, Kathy Kelly, Arash Kolahi, Bridget Meehan, Sotiris Mitralexis, Jason Myles, Cynthia Peters, John Pilger, Matic Primc, Don Rojas, Stephen Shalom, Alexandria Shaner, Norman Solomon, Cooper Sperling, Yanis Varoufakis, Brett Wilkins, Greg Wilpert
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