Tag Archives: strikes

Attacking The Teachers

There are lots of lessons we can learn from the wave of teachers’ strikes that have erupted around the country. To the extent those strikes have been “wildcat” efforts, we can see the extent to which public sector unions have been neutered by anti-union lawmakers. To the extent that we have become aware of the grievances that prompted these actions, we see the effects of the steady erosion of adequate public funding for public education.

Paul Krugman recently reminded us of the connection between that erosion and Republican tax-cut orthodoxy. Education accounts for more than half the state and local work force, and “at the state and local levels, the conservative obsession with tax cuts has forced the G.O.P. into what amounts to a war on education, and in particular a war on schoolteachers.”

The GOP’s fixation on tax cuts, together with its anti-union ideology (and a particular hatred of teachers’ unions) and in some quarters, a desire to divert public funds to religious schools via vouchers, has resulted in an unremitting assault on public education.

Thanks to a recent report in The Guardian, we learn that opponents of public education fully intend to intensify their ideological attack on public education and the teachers who provide it.

A nationwide network of rightwing thinktanks is launching a PR counteroffensive against the teachers’ strikes that are sweeping the country, circulating a “messaging guide” for anti-union activists that portrays the walkouts as harmful to low-income parents and their children.

The new rightwing strategy to discredit the strikes that have erupted in protest against cuts in education funding and poor teacher pay is contained in a three-page document obtained by the Guardian. Titled “How to talk about teacher strikes”, it provides a “dos and don’ts” manual for how to smear the strikers.

Top of the list of talking points is the claim that “teacher strikes hurt kids and low-income families”. It advises anti-union campaigners to argue that “it’s unfortunate that teachers are protesting low wages by punishing other low-wage parents and their children.”

According to the Guardian, the “messaging guide” has been developed by an organization called the State Policy Network (SPN). SPN is an alliance of 66 rightwing “ideas factories,” that evidently includes members from every state in the nation. SPN also has an $80 million-dollar” war chest” – funded (no surprise) by the Koch brothers, the Walton Family Foundation, and the DeVos family. (If there was any doubt that Betsy DeVos is the antithesis of a person rational lawmakers would install as an education secretary…).

SPN’s previous campaigns have included a plan to “defund and defang” public sector unions. Now it is turning its firepower on the striking teachers….The SPN document urges its followers to attack the walkouts stealthily, rather than criticising them directly. A head-on assault on teachers for their long summer vacations would “sound tone-deaf when there are dozens of videos and social media posts going viral from teachers about their second jobs [and] having to rely on food pantries”, it says.

If moral people find meaning by acting in ways that will benefit future generations–if, as the saying goes,“The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit”-how immoral is this effort?

It isn’t just that these people are refusing to adequately fund the public schools that educate the overwhelming majority of American children. They are also busily polluting the environment and endangering the planet on which those trees must be planted. They are despoiling public lands originally set aside for the enjoyment of our children and grandchildren. They are presiding over the decay of the nation’s infrastructure, and they are intentionally encouraging the tribalism and bigotry that undermine the social cohesion necessary for communities to thrive.

I assume they derive satisfaction from the extra dollars these measures are intended to bring them.

I wish I believed in the existence of hell.

 

Is West Virginia An Omen?

When media reported that the West Virginia teachers strike had ended in victory for that state’s teachers and other public employees, a newsletter to which I subscribe (link unavailable) described the potential fallout:

 As striking West Virginia teachers win their demand for a 5% increase for themselves and all of the state’s public employees, teachers in Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Arizona are poised to follow suit, amid reports that “a backlash is brewing against the Republican tax-cutting frenzy.” The Payday Report’s Mike Elk reports that “West Virginia Governor Justice vowed to veto any bills that would fund charter schools, strip teachers of their seniority, or reduce or remove the deduction of union dues from their paychecks even if those dues are applied to political work.”

It was especially noteworthy that the bargaining effort was mounted despite the fact that it occurred without official union backing.  The union representing teachers in West Virginia–as elsewhere– has been hamstrung by state law; it was too weakened to attempt an action like this. As a column in the Guardian noted, “The teachers walked out on their own, fed up with a status quo that was leaving them nearly destitute.” It was an illegal wildcat strike.

Is this a turning point? A breaking point? With the rightwing Neil Gorsuch poised to cast the deciding vote in the Janus v AFSCME, the US supreme court is on the verge of dealing a devastating blow to public sectors unions. If it’s not a deathblow – unions in labor-friendly states will find ways to retain power, while those elsewhere will wither – it’s something not far off.

In West Virginia, there is hope. The first Gilded Age gave rise to labor militancy; oppressed workers across the country proudly organized unions to strike back against the oligarchs who were torturing them day and night. The eight-hour day, vacation days, and all the other labor protections we take for granted were born out of union advocacy.

Another column dubbed the strike an example of “real resistance.”

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.

The author then indulged in a series of “what if” questions: what if everyone who detested the NRA joined a nationwide strike for more stringent gun laws? What if all teachers, students and other school workers refused to come to work in buildings powered by fossil fuels?

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.

Nationwide strikes of this sort remain highly unlikely, although West Virginia has arguably given impetus to more localized efforts.

On balance, we can draw a couple of important lessons from events in West Virginia: (1) You can only beat working people down for so long before they refuse to remain acquiescent; and (2) There are more of them than there are of the plutocrats and their bought-and-paid-for legislators.