West Virginia’s lesson plan: Solidarity and working class power

The statewide teacher’s strike in West Virginia continued into its fourth day on February 27. Throughout the course of this action, numerous allegations have been made regarding the legitimacy of the teacher’s methods of struggle and their demands by the state government and its rightwing base. They accuse the teachers of being bad influences, lazy, lawbreakers, and a whole host of other insults. Let’s  set the record straight for these anti-worker “leaders” and address some of these claims.

To begin, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey is quoted in the Charleston Gazette-Mail that “a work stoppage of any length on any ground is illegal” and “We (the state Attorney General’s office) also stand ready to assist and support any county board of education or county superintendent as they enforce the law.”

We say: there is no such thing as an illegitimate strike under capitalism. Furthermore, the notion that this action is illegal is not based on any solid legal ground either. Section 1 of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution states that:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

While we fully understand the limitations and the shortcomings of the United States Constitution in defending the democratic rights of working people in the United States (most acutely represented by the national oppression faced by Black, Brown, and Native peoples living within its borders) it does provide a legal and constitutional basis for defending the rights of all working people to take collective action in order to protect and secure their own interests. The idea that workers are mandated to labor on behalf of any governmental or private entity is not only insulting, but a blatant lie.

The second misplaced notion that has been circulating around media outlets is that there is no revenue available to fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency and give educators and support staff the raises they deserve.

This is also wrong on numerous accounts. A great start would be for Governor Jim Justice to pay the state taxes he himself owes, to the tune of $4.4 million. Furthermore, the governor and the rightwing politicians alongside him refuse to even consider the notion of raising the state severance tax on fossil fuel extraction in the state. The tax is considerably lower than in surrounding states, which is due to the industry’s stranglehold on state politics.

Even more to the point, the illegitimate state debt is an enormous drain on the economy of the state. The amount of interest paid to private capital interests by state and local
governments in fiscal year 2018 was $255 million. [3] We say that providing the public with quality education and giving the teachers and service personnel their rightful wages and benefits far supersedes any claim to those funds that private capitalists have! We say cancel the debt and pay our teachers!

The third argument used to discredit the strike is that claim that the teachers themselves are setting a bad example to the students that they serve by engaging in this action.

We say, if anything, the courageous actions of teachers engaging in this mass action are a shining example to all the state’s children to stand up for justice and a better quality of life. Further, the notion that the teachers’ actions harm the children’s well-being are also unfounded. By harnessing the logistical power of the unions and other community solidarity organizations, the teachers have been working tirelessly to provide meals to children in need throughout the duration of the strike. It is an excellent example of how mutual aid programs can provide a means of supplementing labor struggles by filling in the gap left by the state’s ineptitude in providing for its resident’s quality of life. The lessons of solidarity and of working class power are invaluable to children who are growing up in this age of capitalist decline.

Throughout the course of these events, it seems that the teachers of West Virginia might have very well kicked off something much larger than themselves. Messages of support and solidarity are pouring in from across the United States, such as Chicago, Illinois and across California’s cities. As of February 26, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania School District was served with a 96-hour strike notice from the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. As people from across the country watch what unfolds in West Virginia, it seems they are also taking note and taking action in their own communities!

This is not an isolated struggle, but one that strikes at the very core of the education system in the United States. Throughout this fight, capitalist entities benefiting from the parasitism of the banking and fossil fuel industries have attempted to mislead the public, and dismantle the community solidarity that has arisen to aid our educators. It is our duty to call them out on their lies and expose their true ambitions of dismantling unions, allowing extractive industry to continue to dominate political discourse, and bolstering profits for themselves at the expense of us all. We in the Party for Socialism and Liberation refuse to be misled or waver in our support of the working class here and across the world.

Victory to the teachers!

Tax the rich!

Cancel the debt!

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