Labor’s biggest gains have been made not when the law has been on our side, but when workers have been most willing to stand up and fight.

The service model of unionism exists because paid union leadership believes that the most efficient way to make change is through union staffers, lawyers, and proximity to elected officials. The message that workers get is that change comes from the top down and organizing is like a business deal that happens between powerful individuals behind closed doors. The result, of course, is that rank-and-file workers don’t have the freedom to exercise the leadership that they need to build power in their workplaces and their communities.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that rank-and-file workers can bring about radical change more effectively than the Democratic politicians who tend to receive the support of union leadership. During Obama’s 2008 campaign, he pledged to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2011. When fast-food workers were still being forced to work for $7.25 in 2012, they stepped out on strike for the first time, with very few politicians by their side. Many thought their hopes were too lofty, that they couldn’t win. But workers in the Fight for $15 kept pushing, kept striking, kept organizing, and now many cities and some states have lifted the minimum wage to $15. The Democrats didn’t lead that charge; low-wage workers did. Eventually, politicians had no choice but to fall in line.

Democrats are generally moved more by unions’ actions in the streets than by the deals they try to make behind closed doors. In 2008, unions collectively spent over $200,000,000 dollars to elect Barack Obama. He ran on the promise of passing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would allow workers to unionize through card check, without needing to go to an election. It would also force employers to bargain with their workers within 120 days of a union’s being formed—forcing bosses to stop dragging their feet on contract negotiations. Although union members knocked on countless doors for Obama, he couldn’t bring himself to pass EFCA—even with a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate.

Instead of funneling our vanishing resources to the Democratic Party—which ignores us until the next election rolls around—we should put workers’ dues towards organizing. And real, deep organizing—not just helping workers vote for a union but developing worker leaders who have the tools and skills not only to to lead their shops but to do transformative political work in their communities.