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Building for Power Campaign Summary


In August 2022, DSA’s Green New Deal Campaign Commission (GNDCC) adopted a resolution outlining the next phase of national Green New Deal organizing within DSA. In March 2023, Building for Power was officially launched, with ambitions to expand and bolster the campaign via the 2023 National Convention consensus resolution. The following is a summary of the resolution, its strategic outlook, and next steps.

The Proposal

DSA GNDCC will support and encourage campaigns at the state and chapter levels. These campaigns will aim to win policies and collective bargaining provisions which expand public services through green construction projects with strong labor standards, including project labor agreements (PLAs) with unions and targeted hiring provisions. The campaign will train and support DSA chapters to build their own base and form coalitions primarily with four elements of the working class: public sector unions, building trades, environmental justice groups, and public service users like transit riders’ unions or tenants unions. The campaigns will craft widely felt demands to expand public services in a way that broadens and deepens union organizing, lowers cost of living, and improves quality of life for working class people. These projects could differ depending on local conditions, but would fall into one or more of the following categories: 1) public power buildout (especially where entities already exist), 2) green social housing buildout, 3) public transit expansion, and 4) public spaces and facilities. We referred to this proposal as B4P (“Building for Power”). Depending on the context, campaigns would expand legislative goals to laws which unionize IRA-created jobs and help pre-existing public and cooperative electric utilities to appropriate a greater share of IRA money, thus expanding public power overall.

Ideal labor alliesTypical non-labor coalition partnersTypical non-labor coalition enemiesGroups to be skeptical of
Public PowerUtility workers unions, building trades unionsRatepayers’ associations, environmental justice organizationsPrivate energy developersNonprofits without a mass base, nonprofits aligned with business groups, nonprofits opposed to public provision of basic goods and services
Public Mass TransitTransit workers unions, building trades unionsTransit rider unions, most urbanist advocacy oupsAuto companies, NIMBY groups, conservative business alliances
Green Social HousingHousing workers unions (SEIU, UNITE HERE), building trades unionsTenant unions and associations, renters writ large, some housing advocacy groupsPrivate housing developers, NIMBY groups, small construction companies
Public Spaces and FacilitiesPublic sector unions (teachers, AFSCME, etc.), building trades unionsProgressive parent groups, public education advocacy groupsNeoliberal groups that promote privatization/free markets
Table 1: Organizational Alliances in B4P Campaigns

The strategic case for B4P is as follows. First, such campaigns would allow DSA to organize sections of the working class most dependent on public services, such as social housing tenants and transit riders, who are demographically a priority for DSA. Second, such campaigns would help align environmental justice (EJ) groups  with unions against capital, rather than EJ groups and “green” capital vs. unions and fossil capital, as often occurs. Third, B4P would allow chapters to form relationships with tenant organizations and building trades rank-and-file and leaders, which is a critical prerequisite for more difficult battles later. Fourth, chapters can scale B4P campaigns to adapt and fit into the available capacity and intersecting priorities of chapters (i.e. housing, transit, labor, etc.) without losing coherence as a national frame that allows chapters to see their work as part of a broader movement led by DSA.

From a work plan perspective, GNDCC is serving two roles. First, GNDCC is  preparing resources for a large number of chapters to use, some of which have already been disseminated. Second, GNDCC is providing a series of trainings, and more targeted coaching relationships with a smaller number of chapters as capacity permits.

On the chapter level, the organizing work typically involves coalition-building and outreach, canvassing public service users, holding public events, building socialist in office committees (SIOs) that have policy expertise, and applying pressure tactics that involve open confrontation with the local capitalist class. Ultimately, the idea is to run “inside-outside” style campaigns which leverage existing relationships with elected officials and labor leaders while building our own independent base of power.

Example Chapter Campaigns

Public Power

  1. Where a public power entity already exists (on the cooperative, city, county, or state level), partner with Working Families Party, People’s Action, public power worker’s union (if it exists), EJ, and public power groups to pressure the overseeing government (state leg, county board, governor’s office, etc.) to modify the entity’s charter to mandate renewables and storage buildouts/stronger labor standards and direct public subsidies/public investment towards achieving those goals, i.e. allowing these smaller entities to transition their assets wholesale over a short period of time. Note: We do not recommend nationalization campaigns unless the chapter already has strong labor and caucus support in the relevant legislature. This may be a potential area where rural chapters can be encouraged – the Inflation Reduction Act offers financial assistance to rural electric co-ops for transitioning to electrical energy. Since rural co-ops are already publicly owned, albeit with little democratic oversight, a pressure campaign to hold them accountable, especially with raising rates or paying off utility debt, could work. 

Green Social Housing

  1. Chapters can work with tenants and/or tenant unions as well as building trades unions to retrofit social or other tenant housing to use renewable energy, such as installing solar panels on roofs. Alternatively, they can advocate for “green roofs” for any flat roofs, which minimizes the amount of energy required to cool and heat the buildings. This would require a legislative campaign to secure funding from the state or city government. The Whole-Home Repairs Act, written by DSA elected Nikil Saval, is a great example campaign. A good example would be to see if we can push Denver DSA electeds to propose a similar bill in the CO state leg – funding is an issue given the unique law in CO which prohibits it from raising taxes, but with BIF and IRA allocations, that problem can be solved. IUPAT in CO is interested in such retrofits and would be a good ally. 
  2. Chapters can work with building trades unions (IBEW, LiUNA [Laborers], Carpenters, IUPAT…) on building projects that create a state-owned developer corporation to build green social housing. Public education staff could use the housing (such as in Daly City), senior housing (like a green version of this AFL-CIO development in San Antonio), or low-income housing. This would require a legislative campaign on the state, county, or city level (only large counties and cities with significant budgets).

Expanding Public Transit

  1. Chapters can work with their local transit union (ATU, TWU) and potentially building trades unions to use federal dollars to expand transit in their cities. System expansion can include installing bus rapid transit/TPS, adding light rail, shelters & signage, fleet electrification, adding designated bus lanes, increasing green areas near bus stops (trees, plants, etc.) Operating expansion can include: Hiring and training more operators, increasing frequency and route coverage, integrated fares, fare discount programs (provided funding is secured and transit union jobs are not threatened).
  2. Create the conditions for high-usage transit, walking, and biking. End single-family zoning. Allow mixed-use neighborhoods. Work with unions to win PLAs on existing or prospective transit projects and expand apprenticeship programs to meet labor demand, organizing new workers into unions in the process. Example: California’s AB 2011 Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act. These policy measures are ideally coupled with strong tenant protections, and support from an existing public or community land bank.
  3. Additional dedicated funding sources can include wealth taxes, fossil fuel taxes, and green banks where they are actively being created using IRA seed funding or already exist (California, Connecticut, New York state, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Montgomery County).
  4. Los Angeles’s Measure R ballot measure, which passed in 2008, provides a stellar example of transit rider orgs and the building trades working together to dramatically expand public transit and build unions in the process.
  5. Chapters in smaller cities and rural areas who do not have the density required for transit can organize for on-demand public transit, for which the the rural surface transportation grant program in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill (BIF) provides funding.
  6. Direct rebates for eBikes and/or electric vehicles, car swaps for transit passes or eBikes.

Public Spaces and Facilities

  1. Chapters can campaign to repurpose abandoned lots in city centers, especially focused in areas which do not have access to recreational spaces, to create new public spaces for recreation. This could also include repurposing and rehabilitating “brownfields” 1 to serve as green public spaces. These spaces would include native plants and trees to provide shade, potable water fountains, as well as any other recreational amenities. This campaign would include partnering with public works unions and building trades.
  2. Give public streets back to people by removing street parking and banning cars on certain streets, converting them into dedicated bus lanes, pedestrian walkways and/or bikeways. For example, in New York City there’s about 1.5 parking spaces for every car. Further, a streets campaign could reduce flooding by reducing pavement coverage and adding more permeable surfaces such as trees and bioswales, especially near high flood zones.
    • An important step to work towards car-lite cities is for people to experience what it would be like first-hand. Organize for car free days, weekends, specific streets, historic districts, CBDs, etc to start and eventually work towards reallocation of this space to the alternatives noted above. Such alternatives should be argued for on the firm grounds of public coordination and delivery of public goods for all, while continually exposing the hidden workings of car-dependent transport systems.
  3. There’s an opportunity to do a reboot of a modified version of GND4PS. Organizing by parents and teachers is already happening for greening schools. This could be an easier lift for the GND4PS chapters who have already built up a base and can pick up where that campaign left off. Plus there are already community coalitions coming together around this that chapters can build relationships with. A good example of this type of GND4PS campaign would be what is happening in DSA-LA.

Why This Focus?

Over the past two years, Congress has passed three pieces of legislation that allocate enormous sums to GND-relevant public and private entities. The American Rescue Plan Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act allocate billions to state and city governments to be spent on infrastructure improvements, mostly in the areas of energy, transportation, and parks and recreation. The American Rescue Plan Act and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) extend and create billions in incentives for clean energy generation among public, private, and co-operative utilities, and for manufacturing by private firms. In particular, the IRA makes renewable energy tax credit subsidies available to public and nonprofit entities for the first time via direct pay provisions. These subsidies are also uncapped, meaning that the potential upside is functionally unlimited.

The downward flow of money into states and cities presents multiple organizing opportunities for DSA. Right now, DSA does not have the ability to consistently affect politics at the federal level, but can intervene at the state and local level in many cases. The money flowing to state and local governments has relatively few strings attached, meaning that legislative fights over its allocation are emerging across the country. These fights involve unions, EJ groups, clean energy capitalists, and dirty industry capitalists. Key issues of contention are what sort of public works projects will be built (relatively clean or dirty), and what sort of labor standards these projects will adhere to. The money flowing to clean energy generation and manufacturing has strong labor standards attached, but how much it will result in unionized or publicly owned industry is an open question that DSA chapters can affect on the ground. And the IRA’s direct pay provides a potentially huge boost to the expansion of publicly owned renewable energy and public sector capacity more broadly. 

While many campaigns might fall under the umbrella of a Green New Deal, we have highlighted the above because our research and analysis indicates they are the campaigns best suited to a given chapter’s ability to build a sufficiently large working-class base around a shared, long-term vision for ecosocialism. We want to prioritize the improvement and sustainable funding of public services, in addition to their decommodification, and we want to encourage chapters to aim high with what they seek to accomplish: instead of stopping at a small-scale, decentralized solution like a community garden or purchase power agreements, we advocate for campaigns that include the opportunity to build relationships with labor, build a working-class base, and are large enough to begin to tackle the global nature of capitalism-driven climate change.

  1. Brownfields are not necessarily empty lots, they could also be abandoned buildings (especially malls), former industrial sites, etc. Urban infill more generally could be a focus.