This kind of resistance does not allow onlookers to look away, especially in an age of social media. It brings the story to those who have refused to read it
Saturday, March 10, 2018
The victorious strike by teachers in West Virginia did not only result in a long overdue pay raise. With the exuberance of a nine-day teach-in, the teachers and their supporters have taught the nation a compelling lesson on the historical role of a true resistance.
Taking to the streets, picketing on the sidewalks, and charging into the Capitol itself, the strike turned the public commons into a counter space for “we the people.”
One by one, the roughly 20,000 teachers in West Virginia essentially forced lawmakers – and the nation – to stop our daily routine and address the growing education crisis on the terms of those most devoted to ensuring the best outcomes for our children: our teachers.
This is why strikes, more than one-day protests, often bring lasting victories. It took an uncompromising walk-out to get West Virginia lawmakers to recognize that our inability to commit to a living wage and decent health benefits for our teachers mirrors our negligence in investing in classrooms for our children.
Instead of a fleeting protest, the hardship of the open-ended West Virginia strike reflected the urgency of our times and the long-haul commitment of the teachers for an enduring resolution, not a compromise or some sort of fleeting gain.
With an estimated 10% of the American workforce reportedly in a union, the legacy of striking might have become a lost tactic to some. As the son of a union teacher and the grandson of a union coal miner, I believe the West Virginia teachers have renewed a strategic call for other movements engaged in what we have called a “resistance” against the onslaught of policies decisions and regulatory rollbacks by the Trump administration.
The time has come to employ strikes in other areas.
When it comes to dealing with the inexorable grip of the National Rifle Association lobby on our gun policies or the undue influence of the oil, gas and coal lobbies on our energy and climate plans, for example, wide-scale strikes by students, teachers and all concerned citizens may be our last best hope for policy changes today.
Imagine how quickly we could begin to deal with gun control, if all pre-school employees, teachers and staff walked out and went on an indefinite strike – and the large majority of supporters, according to most polls, joined them.
Imagine how swiftly we could start the process of transitioning to renewable energy alternatives, low-carbon transportation designs, local food and regenerative agricultural policies, if all school employees, teachers and students refused to teach and study in schools powered by carbon emission-spewing fossil fuels that are destabilizing our planet.
The strike in West Virginia has powerfully revived this historic tactic for the rest of the nation.
Addressing the same egregious combination of low wages and underfunded schools in bottom-rung states like Arizona and Oklahoma, teachers are wearing red in solidarity this week and negotiating the terms of their own possible walk-outs to raise attention to the instability of school districts that have been gutted by disastrous funding policies.
This is a tactical lesson of resistance that reminds us that our schools have always served as the front lines of the challenges of inequality facing our communities.
This kind of resistance does not allow onlookers to look away, especially in an age of social media. It brings the story to those who have refused to read it. It forces everyone to take part in the national discussion, and engage in the still small possibility of justice.
- Jeff Biggers is the author of the forthcoming book, Resistance: Reclaiming an American Tradition
This article was originally published at The Guardian.
People Are Showing They’ve Had Enough
The growing wealth divide is generating a backlash, which will likely grow.
As David F. Ruccio points out in the chart below, since the 1980s, the wealth gap between the top 1% and the bottom 90%, which was stable for several decades, has been widening at a fast pace. At the same time, the military budget has been growing, now consuming 57% of federal discretionary funding, leaving only 43% to meet our many needs for education, housing, transportation, protection of the planet and more.
There are fewer dollars for necessary programs at a time when more people depend on those programs. Austerity is here.
People can only be squeezed so much before they rise up and say, “enough!” From strikes to blockades to boycotts, people are taking action and becoming more resolute in their demands.
Enough is enough
Out of necessity, people are compelled to fight back. This week, hundreds of people came to Washington, DC for the stated end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to pressure Congress for “a clean Dream Act.” Some walked 250 miles from New York City, raising awareness of their right to “stay home.” Once in DC, they blocked streets, held sit-ins in members of Congress’ offices and rallied.
People are also taking strong actions to stop fossil fuel projects that endanger their health and safety. In DC, a group of youth called the Sunrise Movement blocked the entrance to an oil lobby’s reception at the Trump Hotel singing, “So you claim to be an American, but we see right through your greed. It’s killing all across the world, for that oil money.”
Tree-sits and blockades were held in Appalachia and Maryland to stop workers from clearing land for fossil fuel projects before they have been given permits to build the projects. Actions were held across the country to protest banks’ financial support for Energy Transfer Partners, the company that built the Dakota Access Pipeline and is currently constructing the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. The FANG Collective successfully forced Citizen’s Bank to divest from ETP.
Workers are also taking strong actions. More than 100 childcare workers went on strike in Chicago to protest the YMCA for paying poverty wages and retaliating against them for joining a union. Graduate student workers at the University of Illinois are in the second week of their strike over tuition waivers. They even occupied the office of the president. At Disneyland in Anaheim California, workers are organizing a ballot initiative to raise their pay because some are forced to take numerous jobs to survive. Some are living in their cars.
Teachers and school employees in West Virginia went on strike and had significant success this week. West Virginia ranks 48th in the United States for teacher salaries. They are not allowed by law to collectively negotiate for better pay or benefits or to go on strike, but this did not stop them from going on strike statewide. Large numbers of school employees rallied at the state house day after day, defying union leadership. They eventually settled for a 5% pay raise for all state workers, but they are concerned that cuts to necessary programs will be used to fund the increase instead of taxes on corporations, as they demanded.
Now, teachers in Oklahoma are planning a strike. As Heather Reed, a teacher, explains, “We are to the point where we have no other option.” We discussed the attacks on public unions this week on Clearing the FOG Radio.
It’s about health care
In the photo above, medical students who support National Improved Medicare or All (NIMA) marched in New Orleans during their Students for a National Health Program annual conference last weekend. The movement for NIMA has grown significantly over the past year.
As the Affordable Care Act fails, with rising premiums and out-of-pocket costs and monopolization of the health care industry, people are calling for an end to treating health care as a commodity. In the past year, business leaders have started speaking out about the need for a single payer. Businesses in the US, especially small and medium-sized businesses, rank healthcare costs as their highest concern.
Workers and families also struggle under the current healthcare system. Rising premiums eat into any pay raises that workers receive. Medical illness is the biggest factor causing personal bankruptcy. Healthcare benefits dominate union negotiations, leaving little leverage to bargain for higher pay and better working conditions.
The strike in West Virginia was largely about health care. Teachers’ out-of-pocket costs have been rising, making health care unaffordable with their low salaries. While they settled for a state commission to explore the problem, it has been pointed out that the only way to resolve the problem of healthcare benefits is through NIMA.
As Meagan Day describes, “It’s no surprise that health care is the crux of the most combative domestic labor upsurge in years. In a poll last summer, Americans said they regarded health care as far and away the biggest challenge facing the nation.” As Day explains, health care is an issue that not only unites workers and others, but winning NIMA would have a great and positive impact on people’s lives and the economy.
The time to become militant about demanding our right to health care is here. That’s why we believe our first action camp for single payer health care is needed. We will gather in Washington, DC for four days to share and build our skills and put those skills to work by holding actions. The camp will be from April 7 to 10 and provides food and accommodations.
Click here for more information and to register. All are welcome, but space is limited.
One of our priorities for the camp is to strengthen the connections between anti-poverty and healthcare advocates. This is especially important given the upcoming Poor People’s Campaign mobilizations and the coming attacks on Medicaid. Contact us at [email protected] with questions and sign up for our next national healthcare conference call this Monday at 9:00 pm Eastern/6:00 pm Pacific to learn more.
The next few years provide an historic opportunity to organize and mobilize for National Improved Medicare for All. More groups are openly supporting NIMA, there is record support for legislation in Congress and single payer is becoming a litmus test in the upcoming elections. We will only win if we have the necessary skills and strategy to win. Sign up for the action camp.
Winning a single payer healthcare system will be a turning point. It will create social solidarity and the confidence that we can take on other critical struggles and succeed.