Monday, April 2, 2018

Teachers Wildcats Follow West Virginia Lead. Workers and Youth Unite*

West Virginia Teachers Open up a Pandora's Box: Source
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

We wrote in our statement in response to the rising movement against gun violence and the huge turnout in Washington DC and around the nation that  "In FFWP's view the greatest mistake at the moment would be to underestimate the effect of the events that are taking place in US society and the potential of these events for bringing about change."

We have pointed out the anger beneath the surface of US society and how that anger will not be contained indefinitely and will, by its very nature, begin to draw in to it the numerous movements that have arisen around various issues.  The West Virginia Teachers strike taking place in a state where strikes are illegal has given confidence to organized workers throughout the country as we see in this Guardian report:

  "On Friday, teachers in Kentucky went out on illegal wildcat strikes in more than 25 counties against the wishes of union leaders to protest against draconian changes to the state’s pensions plan."

The report gives some idea of the condition of the public school system in the richest most powerful country on earth,
“Over a decade of neglect by the legislature has given our students broken chairs in classrooms, outdated textbooks that are duct-taped together, four-day school weeks, classes that have exploded in size and teachers who have been forced to donate plasma, work multiple jobs, and go to food pantries to provide for their families,” said the Oklahoma Education Association in a statement. “We are saying enough. No more empty promises. The governor and legislature need to act now to fix this.” Trump will not make this “Great Again” Just the opposite

The conservative and pro-capitalist trade union hierarchy is facing a movement from below we haven't seen in a long time and in these recent developments were unable to force their members to go to work. 

The evidence is clear as Facts For Working People has said many times, that the trade union hierarchy fears nothing more than a victory and for valid reasons; a victory would inspire millions of workers and encourage them to take action. It isclear from all reports that the victory of the West Virginia teachers is thespark that has ignited this revolt against the bosses and the restraining conservative approach of the union officialdom and its army of full time staff. 

“A lot of teachers were inspired by what happened in West Virginia,” says Kelsey Hayes Cotts. “I think West Virginia sent a signal to people that this can happen. It works and it sent a signal to the nation.”

Facts For Working People has also stressed the importance of social media and the role it can and will play in the struggles that will arise in opposition to the present Trump offensive and the general assault by capitalism on US workers and workers worldwide. As socialists we have appealed to other socialists and the left in general to recognize this and use social media not simply to recruit a member here and there but to help build the movement rising in response to the capitalist offensive but also to build a genuine non-sectarian revolutionary current within it.  In these developments, not only our contention that the obstacle of the trade union leadership would be breached proved correct, but the use of social media has been central: “This social media crowd is adding a different element that I haven’t seen before,” one veteran union organizer told the Guardian.

It is not the time to be pessimistic. The recent marches against gun violence brought 800,000 youth to Washington DC and many more around the country. Facts For Working People has stated our support for and helped build support for the rising student movement against gun violence and for the March 24th marches throughout the US. We also support the statements from leading participants in this movement that that they oppose not just the gun violence in the schools but in the communities and society in general. And in particular the minority and working class communities, and the police violence and murder that takes place daily in the African American communities.

African America Stephon Clark was shot 20 times and murdered by the Sacramento police while in his grandparents back yard while in possession of a cell phone. That the Somali cop who shot the Australian tourist has been charged with murder, tragic as that may be, shows again the racial bias as white cops are let off with these murders time after time.

There are those that will find every reason to criticize this movement. They will study every little detail. They are too white, they are middle class, they're not calling for socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, they are not mentioning this and not mentioning that. The leaders will sell out; the Democrats are behind it all etc.

This is the voice of the despair and defeatism.  Movements are complicated things and do not arise ready made. The 1000 black youth from Baltimore that went to Washington on rented buses are an example of how movements from below draw in to them different forces.( See the video at the end. ) Of course the liberal sections of the capitalist class will try to co-opt movements, try to undermine their radicalism and buy off the leadership. They will be successful in some instances not in others. From my limited understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement, there are strong middle class, liberal academia types involved in the leadership but we don't condemn that entire movement for it. There will be many, many black youth from the working class and inner city communities there also.  It’s one thing to bring out thousands of people, it’s another to control what they want and will fight for.

Rather than find every reason to criticize a movement made up of thousands of young people or workers that has arisen from below in response to capitalism’s excesses, those of us with some history must be positive. We must listen to the youth in particular and engage with them. FFWP would like to suggest to the leadership of the youth movement against gun violence, most prominent of whom are David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, that they take the initiative, reach out to the activists in the minority neighborhoods and to Black Lives Matter and build a national coalition with roots not only in the schools but also in the neighborhoods, and importantly in the minority neighborhoods.

While pointing out that violence hits all communities whatever color, the youth movement should point out that violence, especially police violence, is much greater in communities of color.  FFWP advocates that this national coalition should call a conference and set a date for another national march. Such a conference can be called in a matter of a day or two using the Internet, these wildcat strikes have shown how quickly things can happen.

The rising youth and student movement and the increased struggles of a section of the organized working class should come together. The leading figures in the student movement can reach out to those involved in building the teachers’ wildcats and call for such a national conference. There are many struggles against the capitalist offensive taking place in the US and representatives from the Black Lives Matter movement, the Battle at Standing Rock, those fighting against water pollution like the working class activists in Flint and other urban centers would all be open to such a process. Discussions and debates about strategy and tactics and how to proceed, including building links internationally and opposing the endless US wars and their human and monetary costs can take place here. When the working class moves in to struggle history shows us that there is a strong tendency to seek allies, to overcome the imposed divide and rule tactics of Wall Street and the capitalists.

US working class history contains periods of seemingly unending calm before the storm when explosive moments, expressing a deep seating anger beneath the surface of society, burst in to the open.  The rise of the CIO and the Civil Rights movement come to mind. Readers, particularly young workers, should not underestimate the affect the teachers' successes and illegal actions are having on the 14 million members organized in unions. Workers are very cautious, it takes a lot to take actions that threaten one’s livelihood, our homes, our children’s education. Most workers and middle class people (perhaps even more so) are in debt bondage.

What FFWP is advocating here would also help energize the existing trade union membership and also lay the basis to organize workers who are not presently organized and allow for other issues to be taken up -  free education, cancellation of all student debt, free health care, the ending of low wages.

There should be no waiting for the union leaders to do this. These pro capitalist union leaders will not take this action. The youth movement can take the initiative and call on the existing trade union rank and file members to call meetings. They can also take the initiative at home by asking their parents and family members and friends to mobilize and organize for this action. For every youth who is organizing and marching there should be at least one adult who is organizing in their workplaces and neighborhoods and marching. The youth are leading the way. But the struggle must not all be left to the youth alone. Such an appeal would be even more successful if made in conjunction with the teachers groups leading the wildcats and others.

The pressure on the student leaders as well as the rank and file teachers from the liberal capitalist media who will have them speaking on their talk shows and liberal celebrities like Oprah and George Clooney who will be praising them and offering money is a danger: Recall the famous adage from history and the Trojan War, “Beware Greeks bringing gifts”

It is inevitable that some leaders will be co-opted. It is also likely the Democratic Party, that graveyard of social movements, will make headway politically and will recruit from the youth in particular, new young leaders. There is also great pressure for the rank and file leaders of the wildcat strikes as the trade union hierarchy is wedded to the Democratic Party and act as its agents within the organized labor movement. Witness the deafening silence of the heads of organized labor in the face of all the assaults that are taking place against living standards and workers rights and the building trades leaders that met with the serial predator Trump. Trumka of the AFL-CIO and Hoffa of the Teamsters also praised him.

The police murders, the environmental catastrophe, sexism, racism not to mention the wars and massacre of workers abroad that is paid for by US taxpayers and deteriorating living standards The union officialdom has the resources to lead and organize protests like the ones for Stephon Clark but they won’t. They are more afraid of this movement than the bosses and the US capitalist class is.

But at some point, even if it is not this time, we will see some cracks opening up in the trade union hierarchy as that is what happens when the pressure from below builds to a certain level. John L Lewis, the United Mine Workers’ leader who used the communists to help build the CIO and break from the conservative and racist AFL in the mid 1930s played that role but only took the movement so far. While splits to the left in the present trade union hierarchy are welcome and should be supported, they will not likely lead a successful challenge to capital and oppose to it a democratic socialist alternative and will also need to be challenged.

We have also pointed out on this blog that we have learned lessons in our politically active lives whether in the labor movement, the youth movement, or as members of the socialist US left, that we made some mistakes and that part of remaining active is learning from them. One is that we don’t know everything and we can’t predict exactly what will happen; there are no guarantees in life that’s for sure.  What we are confident in saying is that the era in which the two parties of capitalism, Democrats and Republicans that have governed US society for over 100 years is coming to an end. Whether this present activity, the strikes, the youth movement, the struggle against police brutality, the huge Boston march of 40,000 that practically arose out of nothing and drove the Nazi’s from the streets, whether it will subside does not change the fact that we are in a new phase.

If there is a lull in activity, and there are many forces working on the movement in order to temper it, render it harmless, the labor officialdom, liberals, the Democratic Party, its so-called friends more dangerous than its open enemies, in all battles, even those lost, great lessons are learned. Things will not be the same and the huge movement necessary to halt the capitalist offensive will arise, if not this time, the next.

We have discussed these issues weekly in the Facts For Working People Think Tank conference calls, If you are a regular reader and have a general agreement with our approach and would be interested in participating in our Think Tank to add to it, to enrich it and learn how we can develop a healthy collective understanding of the world in order to help change is. Contact us at: 
* For those particularly the young workers:  a "wildcat" strike is a strike initiated from below and taken in opposition to the official union leadership. Also, For those,  members of the self-styled revolutionary organizations or any others who ignore the role of the union leadership these events prove this to be a false argument, especially so as the leadership will, in more ways than one, directly not so directly, intervene to hold back and prevent this movement from posing a serious threat to capital and the relation they have built with the bosses' and the Democratic Party based on labor peace.

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