Why Did the WV School Workers Strike Not Achieve More in the Near Term?

This is an important question that many people are asking but no one is directly and specifically answering. Unlike in a traditional strike, the striking school workers lost no pay, because each county school system closed the schools, as on snow days, with the intent of making them up in June. Plus, the teachers raised over $300,000 in 2 weeks with various fundraising efforts to help cover various extra strike expenses. So, the teachers could have held out much longer. Unfortunately, the teachers misjudged how big and how specific their demands and the solutions to their demands needed to be, and this weakness was seen immediately and constantly attacked by the corporate state officials, including the corporate media.

Consequently, when the officials (including union officials) rushed to end the strike with very marginal measures of appeasement (minor salary raise and an insurance task force, mainly), the teachers had no clear idea what could be further gained upon continuing the strike. I go into more detail on this at “Next Steps from the West Virginia School Workers’ Strike. Not difficult to anticipate: I did so at “WV Public School Workers’ Demands Need To Go Up.”

These issues need to be addressed prior to strikes, however, not on the fly, which would be extremely difficult or impossible in the great flux of things. The strike was limited but good as far as it went. The demands ultimately weren’t focused well enough and the organizing seemed to have sort of tapered off too much to be able to sustain things much beyond where they went.

Yes, the PEIA public workers insurance could certainly be “fixed” overnight, if the political will were there, and in the sense that plenty of money is available in the state to restore benefits to what they once were, including going forward. But public pressure was neither strong enough nor well-focused enough to force it. Can it get there via the promised task force? I think it would probably take another strike, one even more well organized, and more imaginative of possible solutions.

Marijuana legalization money should definitely be one of those possible contributing solutions proposed. But mainly: reinstating the temporary severance tax on coal and gas ($125 million annually, more than was doled out with the 5 percent salary raise), and increasing the severance tax otherwise, and rolling the rainy day fund and possibly the state pensions (as the state of Pennsylvania has been considering) into the creation of a state bank, a public bank, like the State Bank of North Dakota (and perhaps somewhat the State Investment Council of South Dakota) which helps greatly to cut financial costs and increase local, state, and community investments and revenues, and on and on.

The political will needs to be found, creatively, determinedly, and with great ongoing organization. The vital public banking movement is on a roll nationally, including in nearby states. West Virginia should join in, rather than go the other way, the wrong way, but it will require striking public workers who go in with big enough demands in the first place and the detailed fiscal solutions (mainly various sorts of corporate taxation) – of which there are many – that don’t split the working class. Because the workers failed to come up with or emphasize these focused and detailed demands for specific gains as well as for specific solutions to bring about these gains this time, the corporate state officials immediately recognized this great weakness and pounced, and the strikers could not recover.

Ultimately, the only thing that will truly “fix” PEIA insurance for WV public workers is when it is thrown into the trash and replaced with national, universal, single payer (free) health care; that is, vastly improved Medicare for all. Short of that, the only thing that the state of WV can do to “fix” PEIA (that is, restore to earlier benefit levels) is to find major new revenue sources to pay for the restoration of good benefits. In WV, that can only come from additional severance taxes on coal and gas and other corporate taxes and otherwise taxing wealth. Now, how on earth is that going to happen, since wealth funds the election campaigns?

Only a new massive strike, probably a general strike, with specific revenue sourcing demands could generate the force necessary, the public pressure to achieve it. In other words, public school workers and all state workers will need to be even much better organized and even more effective in striking than they were this time. 

In Canada, decades ago, unions demanded free, universal, single payer health care for the whole country, everyone, not just for themselves. That’s how that country made that huge advance. WV workers should broaden their demands to cover and include more people, while also pushing for demands strictly particular to their own groups. The workers need to set the terms of debate very precisely, otherwise, they will always be given a pitiful limited offer that they will find themselves trapped into accepting. That is exactly what happened this time, and that is exactly why the WV workers strike did not achieve more in the near term. The money to achieve much more was there and remains there, the public support also, but the workers failed to adequately demand it, and they were mercilessly attacked for showing this weakness.

Next Steps from the West Virginia School Workers’ Strike

Lessons of the West Virginia Teachers’ Strikeis a very strong article at the World Socialist Website, though its practical use would be enhanced by a few additions and qualifications.

The article omits one of the very crucial factors that caused the school workers to “acquiesce” to the state’s desperate, and successful, gambit to end the strike: the workers lack of specific demands for ending the strike. The workers demanded a “fix” – far too vague – for PEIA health insurance. This left the state free to decide what a “fix” would be (a merciless one year fee hike freeze – the fees are already painful – and a task force creation – an empty promise).

The school workers might well have demanded additionally several thousand dollars per year of salary increase not for one year but every year for the next five years or more, but they failed to be as specific, detailed and focused as they need to be. The workers didn’t make demands for workplace and salary gains big enough or specific enough, let alone detail any demands for the exact solutions, funding mechanisms (specific corporate taxes), available and necessary. Fiscal demands necessitate fiscal solutions as part of those demands to prevent the state from dividing various worker funds to conquer all workers, all the while sparing corporate, One Percent funds. This failure of the workers to insist on specific and sizable worker-detailed gains along with worker-friendly solutions basically gutted the ability of the workers to clearly understand what they would be voting for if they would vote to extend the strike.

With their far too-limited and far too-vague initial and ongoing demands, the workers ultimately left themselves nothing clear and specific to vote for. And the corporate state (and union) officials attacked that weakness. And as those weaknesses were attacked relentlessly, including by the corporate media, the workers were unable to adjust into any clear or strong defensive let alone proactive position. The World Socialist Website article misses this crucial analysis regarding the importance of effective demands in time-limited actions such as strikes.

And while “Lessons of the West Virginia Teachers’ Strike” seems to me generally well observed, it badly undercuts itself at the end where it asserts that “The critical question, not only for teachers, but all sections of the working class, is the building of a socialist leadership, which will encourage the independent organization and initiative of the workers.” In a sense, this gets the situation precisely backwards and largely contradicts everything the article previously analyzed and put forth. Good, effective leadership is important but this can only arise, in any sustainable sense, if the workers themselves collectively, mutually, grow and cohere into healthy, knowledgeable, and self-directing groups. Only then can any effective leadership (ideological or otherwise) appear to become prominent, and only because the workers are doing all of the growing and the work – the physical, intellectual, emotional, and social growth and work – in the struggle for social change.

The widespread flowering of social media has made any notion of “the building” of a “leadership … of the workers” less and less useful or needed, or even possible, which is a very fortunate social development. It has been shown time and again that workers have to grow and build themselves in groups. Any overarching leadership or leaders that workers come up with (must very much … come up with) are important but should be almost an indistinguishable part of the groups and the growth and building they have already achieved.

Possibly the best thing to come out of the WV workers strike is the utter lack of any real, distinct, prominent individual leaders. Leadership, though limited, was clear and present and remains; distinct leaders, not so much. Good prominent leaders can make a difference, but their roles seem historically always fleeting (that is, non-sustainable) and in any case of limited use and effectiveness.

What will matter going forward is what happens in the various types of groups, by the groups, of the groups, for the groups and by and for the public in general. Any leaders should be almost an afterthought, for a wide variety of reasons, though much group leadership must continue to come to be, as an inherent, inescapable part of the growth of the groups, small groups and larger groupings.

What is needed beyond the organic growth of worker groups is for those groups to increasingly reach out and be reached out to by other public groups, for those groups to grow and come together to form larger healthy and strong public organisms that can restructure and renew the life of the public and vastly improve living conditions for all.

The State Lies for the One Percent

The state of West Virginia continues to lie to the public school workers and to the public in general. Where did the money come from to end the public school workers strike? The state said for months that no money was available. It was a lie. The state constantly lies about money on behalf of the One Percent who fund their election campaigns. All states lie to benefit their One Percent campaign donors and against the public.

The state can easily afford these marginal payouts of 5 percent to the public school employees and other state workers, and in fact the state can easily afford much more than that. Simply reinstating the temporary severance tax would have more than covered the 5 percent raises, with an additional $25 million left over. Yes, the state could have easily afforded even more than a 10 percent pay raise. The officials have simply been lying all along when claiming otherwise. They are professionals at it. Professional liars. The school workers finally pushed forcefully back a bit against some of the lies. Many more lies remain to be pushed back against and are to be increasingly overcome.

This is the Time for a General Strike

All public school workers are out on strike in the state of West Virginia, tens of thousands of workers. 

It’s time to move toward a General Strike, nationwide, all workers.

About 1,400 workers of Frontier Communications have now gone on strike in West Virginia and Virginia.

It’s time to move toward a General Strike.

Tens of thousands of Oklahoma public school teachers are preparing to go out on strike.

It’s time to move toward a General Strike.

Thousands of teachers in the Pittsburgh Public Schools District are planning to go on strike.

It’s time to move toward a General Strike.

Tens of thousands of Chicago teachers are planning a strike.

It’s time to move toward a General Strike.

University of Illinois graduate student workers are in the second week of their strike.

It’s time to move toward a General Strike.

Arizona teachers are considering a strike.

It’s time to move toward a General Strike.

Teachers in New Jersey reportedly have voted to authorize a strike.

And on and on and on.

It’s time to move toward a General Strike. A demand for a $20 nationwide minimum wage would be reasonable, along with a 10 percent across the board wage hike for others. A demand for single payer, free, universal health care is urgent. A demand for free college tuition is necessary. A demand for increased taxation of the wealthy and big corporations is urgent. Demands for race and gender equity are urgent. Demands for sweeping prison reform are urgent. Demands for immigration reform are urgent. Demands for ecological laws to halt and reverse climate change are urgent. Demands to end US militarism worldwide are urgent. Demands to abolish nuclear weapons worldwide are urgent. And on and on and on.

It’s time to move toward a General Strike. It’s time to set the date. It’s time to move to Strike.






WV Public School Workers’ Demands Need To Go Up

WV public school workers are being backed into a corner and must increase their demands. The WV Senate is trying to divide them from all state workers, and from workers everywhere. Anyone who knows history knows this. If the Senate counters with a 5 percent raise for school workers and lowers some state workers raise to 3 percent, then school workers should hold out for everyone receiving the same 5 percent raise, for obvious and far-reaching reasons. This is at a minimum. School workers are not demanding enough before returning to work. The WV Governor, the WV House, and the WV Senate are trying to buy them off for peanuts, while coal and gas companies, mostly out-of-state, continue to get hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts.

A demand for reinstating the temporary severance tax to generate $125 million per year indefinitely, for a 5 percent raise for all EVERY YEAR (plus a funding start to a PEIA fix) is possibly the biggest missed opportunity in failing to put forth a few potent and crucial demands. The whole movement needs to grow with more pointed demands, bigger demands, both urgent and far-reaching. There is zero union leadership on this (to say the least). It will have to come from organic teacher leaders, other school worker leaders, and possibly from other strong leaders like Ojeda.

Lots of Money for the Strike

There’s lots of money available for striking school workers, but the state won’t give it to them. The WV State Journal reports that the state killed “the temporary severance tax that was used to pay off the state’s workers compensation debt” which was paid down. That’s “more than $125 million” per year that could be reinstated to fund PEIA and raise wages. Simple. But instead that money is now going to coal and gas companies and not to public workers: Reinstating Severance Tax Could Provide Much Needed Revenue.

Even an extra $125 million per year to the public schools is a fraction of the funds the state could raise to direct to public education and public employment in West Virginia, but starting with $125 million would be a good stimulus to local economies and households statewide, instead of directing that money to the bank accounts of out-of-state coal and gas companies.

Also see: “How Tax Cuts Led to West Virginia’s Massive Strike“. The rich got richer and the public got poorer. Big time. Funny how that works. Government of, for, and by the One Percent.



Strike! Public Workers Show Strength in West Virginia

Saving West Virginia” is a great article by Kathy Kunkel, WV Working Families Party, by far the best report on the so-called “work stoppage” become wildcat strike in the West Virginia public schools.

Kunkel calls this a wildcat strike, and so does WV MetroNews corporate cheerleader Hoppy Kercheval now, which it basically is, especially by now, going against the wishes of the school employees’ labor organizations so-called “leaders,” Dale Lee and the other two complicit bumblers.

But this could also be called a Social Media strike, given the crucial secret and private Facebook organizing that went on in recent months, noted in this article. This sharing of independent news and information among school workers statewide allowed even the employees and people in rural counties in West Virginia to be as informed as anywhere else, and helped lead to great unity and strength going far beyond what the state legislature and governor and even the labor groups’ “leaders” could understand, and the first ever 55 county walkout. Even in the 11 day West Virginia public schools strike of 1990, 8 counties did not strike. Those days are gone.
This is yet another sign that things are different now, as if Trump and Bernie Sanders’ rise didn’t make that clear two years ago. It’s Social Media politics and culture ever increasingly. Thus the recent frenzy among corporate media about the fear of “fake news.” They are the fake news generators as often as not, along with the officials whom they de facto lie for, not least in this instance where virtually all national corporate media reported that the strike was ended by the officials’ deal. False news. Even to this point there have been few prominent corrections, let alone retractions. 
Great and informative article by Kathy Kunkel: “Saving West Virginia.”

…when you compare teachers to other people with similar credentials, they are paid a whole lot less. Public school teachers make 17 percent less than other comparable college graduates. The more experienced teachers have it the worst, facing even larger pay gaps. And things have been getting worse, not better: teachers only suffered a 1.8 percent pay differential two decades ago. But while college graduates overall saw their pay increase between 1996 and 2015, teachers saw theirs decline.

The gap can’t be explained by educators having fewer credentials or doing valueless work. So what can explain it? One big reason we pay teachers at a discount is that we think of their work not so much as work, but as service.

Specifically, their jobs have come to be seen as an extension of women’s unpaid work. Elementary and secondary schools are teeming with women: Three-quarters of public school teachers are female. But in the more male-dominated field of academia, where women make up less than a third of professors, median pay is over $75,000 a year. On the other end, teachers in pre-kindergarten are paid far less than those who teach in K-12 education despite usually facing the same training and education requirements — and they are nearly 98 percent female.

In fact, teaching used to be a high-paid, high-status job when men held it. Then when women entered the field, the pay and prestige dropped. This is a phenomenon that has repeated over and over again — women push their way into a particular job, then the job starts to pay less — but it’s pronounced in work that requires taking care of other people. Such jobs are seen as “women’s work,” which both lowers its status because women are simply valued less, and also connects it closely to the work women are expected to do at home for free.