Thursday, March 8, 2018

West Virginia: Do-It-Yourself Class Struggle - Jacobin

One lesson from the West Virginia teachers’ strike is clear: nobody is coming to save us. We’ll have to do it ourselves.... 
....many workers in Wisconsin have argued that it was the intervention of union officials into the militant upsurge of 2011 that demobilized the occupation of the capitol building and redirected workers’ energies into an unsuccessful electoral bid to oust Governor Scott Walker. The calls for a general strike that echoed through the rotunda represent the road not taken: had workers relied on their own power rather than deferring to elected officials and union leaders, things may have turned out differently...... Kevin Prosen, Jacobin
I bet the people most frightened by the strike are our very union leaders who are probably hoping for swift retribution (which is already beginning - see Ravitch) so they can say to UFT members -- see what happens when you get too militant? We will examine the role Randi and Lily and their reps played in WV - remember the union leaders said they had a settlement and the rank and file revolted. We will delve more into that issue in upcoming posts.

But the strike has been making the mainstream press -- though mainly ignored by the so-called liberal MSNBC and CNN.

See Ed Week
Will Teachers' Strikes Happen More Often?
Union supporters have claimed that strikes and labor unrest could happen more frequently if the Supreme Court rules against mandatory union fees. But experts aren't so sure. Read more.

We will delve into the impact of the WV strike -in upcoming posts --  will it increase militancy or not? Like I pointed out above - retribution of some kind is going to come and how that is dealt with is the key. I think they are going to try to fragment the public school system with a heavy choice movement -- kill public education and no state wide strikes.

Kevin Prosen, a MORE member (and cheesehead from Wisconsin) connects a few dots in this post of a few weeks ago.

There's a lot to chew on in Kevin's piece. I don't always agree with his analysis but do agree with most. But I need to spend more time educating myself and will be posting more commentary on WV. It is definitely worth a read and feel free to comment. Here are a  excerpts (in red), some in bold by me with comments by me (in black) but read it entirely at
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court began hearing oral argument in Janus v. AFSCME, a lawsuit that seeks to gut public sector unions by denying them so called “agency fees,” or mandatory dues contributions from workers. One component of the deliberations was the question of “labor peace” — the state’s interest in stable, predictable labor-management arbitration. Justice Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and others questioned whether undoing agency fees would open the door to a more tumultuous and unpredictable labor-relations regime. The argument on the union side was an interesting one — in the words of Illinois’s solicitor general Lisa Madigan, “[w]hen unions are deprived of agency fees, they tend to become more militant, more confrontational, they go out in search of short-term gains that they can bring back to their members and say, ‘stick with us.’”
This is an important point often made by union critic Mike Antonucci - labor peace - and the role unions play as partners - often to the detriment of union members - as we've seen in NYC where the UFT often plays an arbiter rather than our advocate -- but that is a reason unions are essential to management. The point made by Kagan and Sotomayor is illustrated in West Virginia where the unions seemed to lose control for a time. Our union leadership's role is to place a brake on wildcat strikes. It didn't work in WV.
As though to prove the point, 200 miles away, across the border in West Virginia, the state’s teachers had voted to extend an ongoing illegal strike against a Republican legislature that had threatened to drastically increase the insurance premiums for workers whose pay already ranks among the lowest in the country. West Virginia is a “right to work” state, meaning workers are denied the right to collectively bargain or the stability of the “closed shop,” in which workers automatically contribute dues to the union whether they sign up or not. Such automatic collection prevents workers from “free riding” — that is, benefiting from union activity without contributing equally to the organization’s finances — while also providing a reliable stream of income to fund the activities of the union apparatus.
So what we've noticed in all the hysteria over Janus is that it ain't over for unions even in right to work states -- but the thing we have warned those wanting to leave the UFT is that the long-term effects in RTW states are much lower salaries for teachers -- and WV is 48th out of 50 states in the race to the bottom.

Kevin goes on to talk about Wisconsin -- and the lesson for many was the fact that the Democratic Party - Obama, Hillary -- abandoned them. And also the blowback from the neighbors of teachers who seemed happy at what happened to them -- read

Janesville: An American Story: Amy Goldstein.

The lesson: Make sure your non-teaching neighbors have your back -- do a lot of work out of your classroom -- yes, my friends -- sort of social justicy -- if you lock yourselves in your  classroom and then go home -- well, the long-term is not good.

Kevin goes on to talk about the unique role teachers play all over the world in fact -- they are often the first targets - Chile, Turkey, etc -- because as a mass they have contact with almost every family in a nation and have the ability - if organized - to have as much influence as any group.
Teachers are poised to lead such social movements by virtue of their work as caregivers in schools, which ties them intimately to wider layers of the working class. As public employees, their demands are inherently political insofar as they must be addressed to the state. For this reason they have been repeatedly thrust to the frontlines of movements against austerity — Wisconsin in 2011, Chicago in 2013, and now in West Virginia. The right wing understands this — indeed it is part of their argument that such organizations “mandate” their members’ “political speech,” a key contention of anti-union lawsuits like Janus. By kneecapping teachers’ unions, they strike a blow against one of the last remaining bastions of working-class economic power.
What the West Virginia movement shows — with teachers packing lunches for their students so they wouldn’t go hungry while they walked the picket line; with picket signs blazoned with images of Harriet Tubman, John Brown, and Martin Luther King, Jr — is that American workers bear no resemblance to their one-dimensional, Hillbilly Elegy-type portrayals. Workers have no stake in such a debate, based as it is on a flat, stereotyped image of working-class life. These discussions imagine us as passive dupes to be pandered to, rather than as agents of our own destiny, capable of struggling in our own self-interest. West Virginia is a bracing challenge to this narrative.
 Let's remember that W. Virginia went overwhelmingly for Trump - as big a win as anywhere. Did many striking teachers vote for Trump? I bet a good chunk did. When we hear the voices of some of the strikers in commentary from the left like Jacobin are we only hearing voices from left wing activists in WV or are we also hearing from Trump supporters who struck?

We will explore more of this in future posts --
Kevin goes on to differentiate the Wisconsin and W.V struggles and places the point of the spear at our union leadership:
What explains the different trajectories of the two struggles? Many workers in West Virginia point to the state’s history of explosive strikes, and indeed these traditions, passed down through families, constitute one key factor. But Wisconsin also has a history of militant labor struggle. Ironically, it may be the very weakness of labor unions in the greater South that left the field open for workers’ own activity; unlike the stable institutional labor relations that prevailed in Midwestern states, the union apparatus in West Virginia was largely hollowed out. While workers didn’t have the benefit of an active union involved in their day-to-day working lives, they also didn’t have ingrained habits of deference to union officials. As Jay O’Neal, a strike activist at Stonewall Jackson Middle School in Charleston, described to me: “Because there’s been such a surge of activism so quickly and many new, organic leaders have emerged, I think a lot of them don’t really have any relationship with the union leadership. I was in a meeting today and the head of one our state’s teachers’ unions came in and I heard someone next to me ask, ‘Who’s that?’ Leaders have emerged from below and are really doing the work.”
We'll be hearing a lot from Jay O'Neal from the left/socialist press. Jay seems connected to the activists and we will see that they probably had an impact in organizing since that is what many have experience doing.
Workers need strong unions, but they also need to organize independently in the workplace and learn to rely on their own power. Building durable rank-and-file networks and union caucuses is a crucial next step in revitalizing American labor.
I like this point. I see the work some of us in MORE-Carisma doing around the closing schools issue is along this lines, often with the UFT when it fights - but without them when they don't. And if they see us doing that work and getting results, they try to coopt.
when leaders returned to the picket line to announce a 5 percent wage increase but without a permanent fix to the public employees’ insurance system, it seemed enough for them to declare victory and send the teachers back to work. But workers understood that spiraling health care costs were the heart of the matter and that the wage hike wouldn’t be enough to cover them, so they kept the strike going. We know our interests better than our representatives do, and need to understand that the union officials work for us, not the other way around. In the words of one striker, a strike is not simply to earn more benefits from the state, but to force the state to negotiate with labor on labor’s terms.
Another great point below. And this one echos what I said above about making sure non-teachers have your backs - which we have often seen inside the UFT:
.... teachers cannot merely fight for their own, narrow interests. To earn the kind of public support necessary for such a large-scale struggle, they have to fight to improve the conditions of the working class as a whole. It is too easy to isolate workers who define their interests narrowly.
 Kevin ends with comments about the role in all this on the part of the American left:
lessons for America’s burgeoning young left as well. Long isolated from the working class, socialists now have the greatest opportunity in a generation to close this historic rift. With the stabilizing institutions of the union movement being dismantled, we are likely headed for a period of renewed volatility in the labor movement; in fact, one has arguably already begun. A socialist movement previously confined to student milieus or eccentric corners of the internet can no longer be satisfied with passively studying labor history or showing up to support strikes organized by others. There is a world of difference between being merely interested in the labor movement and being implanted in it.
Kevin is correct about the separation of the left from workers. But then again so much of the left does not come from the working class itself like it did in the 20's and 30s.

From what I've seen in MORE where I mingle a lot with the socialist left, there is a long way to go to close the historic rift. Some people have told me that they don't know anyone not on the left. Check the backgrounds of most people on the left in the UFT. It is not working class. (Just for the record, both my parents were ILGWU garment workers with barely an education.)

At a recent MORE meeting I heard how much people wanted to reach out to those in the UFT who are left-leaning and inside the bubble. The idea of even talking to a Trump voter seemed to make people shudder -- they ought to come to our Passover seder in a few weeks where we expect matzo food fights.

That is why I wonder about the WV striking teachers who voted for Trump. Is the left talking to them too or only leftists?

When we see the leftist press actually talking to those people and connecting to them there is a chance the rift will be breached.

Here is where I agree with Kevin wholeheartedly:
In the post-Janus world, the Left will have to seize the initiative rather than ceding the field to liberal labor leaders. We will have to learn the key lesson of West Virginia: nobody is coming to save us, and great leaps in organization and consciousness don’t appear like acts of nature. We have to create them ourselves.
There are so many interesting lessons to the story, the next few days will be heavy on WV. So if you are not interested take a vacation from ed notes.

Jacobin events

Solidarity with West Virginia Strikers!
Saturday, March 106:30-9pmMore information
We've been riveted to the labor insurgency in West Virginia, a glimpse at what workers can achieve when organized and united in solidarity.

Join us for a discussion featuring West Virginia striking teachers, Emily Comer and Jay O’Neal. You won't want to miss on the ground reports from the strike, how they earned wide support, and what lessons can be learned going forward.
This event will be livestreamed at, beginning at 6:50pm.

Don't miss Jacobin's coverage of the West Virgnia teachers's strike
At Jacobin we've been racing to keep pace with events in West Virgina. We've featured over a dozen pieces on the latest developments, providing political or historical context, and interviewing key participants. Here are some highlights of Jacobin's coverage:

What the Teachers Won
West Virginia shows that we can fight back and win. We talk to two teachers to assess the tentative settlement and what comes next.

“There Is No Illegal Strike, Just an Unsuccessful One”
The West Virginia teacher strike represents a return to public worker unionism's radical roots.

The Strike Is On
"We’re not going back to work until there’s solid proof our demands are going to be met," a striking teacher unionist tells Jacobin.

Do-It-Yourself Class Struggle
One lesson from the West Virginia teachers’ strike is clear: nobody is coming to save us. We’ll have to do it ourselves.

PS — Teachers, we're offering below-cost copies of our Class Action booklet, produced in conjunction with the Chicago Teachers Union's CORE caucus.


  1. The Left - whatever that is - needs to do more than just talk to people. It needs to offer them something, like universal material benefits such as health care, free or reduced-cost college education, etc.

    Unless and until that happens, the Left will be talking to itself, and we see where that's led us.

  2. My father was a member of the UAW. A substantial number of my regular contacts are Trump supporters. They do not differ praticularly from other people I know. It would be a step forward to rise above the identity politics stereotyping typical of the DNC. I have tired of returning surveys with public school education scrawaled in red marker. The Hillary Clinton sector of the Democratic Party has no interest in voters like me. They would sell me out to a TFA in a charter school in a New York minute. Labor is an antiquated notion for them that does not fit neatly into their neoliberal meritocracy sensibilities.

    Abigail Shure

  3. Two years ago I would have laughed at the one world government story. Not anymore.

  4. Trump is bringing back manufacturing. The globalists don't like that. Their goal is to bankruptt the nation and make
    workers dependent on government. Look at Europe. same shit.

  5. Right on! Rise above the race baiting.

  6. From a West Virginia teacher:

    For a successful mass movement, people don’t have to agree on partisan politics, on religion, or anything else for that matter. But they do have to come together and fight in solidarity around a shared issue. We’ve learned that people will push the other differences aside in the name of solidarity.

    That makes sense to all of us who have organized our schools.

  7. Just reread Homage To Catalonia about the Spanish civil War in 1936 by George Orwell. Great parallels and lessons for today. Guess which group kept the workers militias virtually unarmed against fascist Franco. Guess which group controlled the media propaganda after their victory in Madrid. Guess which group vowed to crush the anarchists (very strong in Catlonia) after Franco was defeated. Guess which group forever soured Orwell about their motives and agenda. Yes! The Russian Communists who were ostensibly in Spain
    to help the workers.

    1. Yes James. I didn't read that but did read Orwell material and it was clear he too was an anti-Stalin Communist - A Trotskyist of sorts and he fought with the Trotsky group which Stalin viciously viewed as the bigger enemy - remember that ice ax in the head. To the very end Orwell was aligned in some ways with the left - he was a leftist in some ways on the order of many of our friends in ICE and MORE currently. Animal Farm and 1984 are condemnations of Stalinism not necessarily socialism. He did not defend capitalism and maybe had anarchist sympathies. At least from the little I've read. The right has always used him.

  8. The communists are against an organic mass movement. They use the bureaucracy instead. Check out Saul Alinsky. Obama and the Clinton's mentor in Chicago.


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