West Virginia teachers’ strike: mobilizations in the education sector show the proletariat is not defeated

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This article, written by a close sympathizer in the US, attempts to draw a balance sheet of the recent struggle by teachers and other public sector workers in West Virginia.

For two weeks in late February and early March, public school teachers in the state of West Virginia were on strike. This strike was not a manoeuvre by the state to set the teachers up for a defeat at the hands of the union. On the contrary, the teachers’ anger, resilience, militancy and willingness to buck the established institutional channels for voicing their grievances appear to have taken the bourgeoisie, at both the state and national levels, rather by surprise. Although the strike is now over and the teachers’ have returned to their jobs having won only part of the concessions they sought from the state, this episode marks perhaps the most important development in the class struggle in the US since the mass mobilizations of 2011—in particular the resistance to public sector austerity in Wisconsin and the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

In fact, the West Virginia teachers’ strike is itself a part of a broader movement, both within the United States and internationally, transpiring within education and other parts of the public sector. The mobilisations of US high school students over gun violence, the public sector strikes in France against the Macron government’s “labor market reforms,” and the mobilization of university lecturers and support staff in the UK over attacks on pensions are all part of what appears to be a developing international response to the effects of years of state budget cutting.[1]

The education sector in particular embodies the contradictions inherent in social reproduction under capitalism. While subject to the capitalist logic of productivity and valorization like everything else, the education sector is nevertheless also where the vital social function of training, preparing and disciplining the next generation of workers (the reproduction of labor power at the generational level) takes place. As such, as much as the wages of teachers and the costs of investing in educational infrastructure and services are a burden on state coffers, capitalist society would simply be unable to reproduce itself without a functioning educational system. Moreover, the need for individual national capitals to remain competitive on the international level by developing a workforce with the skills most relevant to the technical development of society mitigates against reducing educational investments below a certain functional level (at least in areas and communities deemed worthy of such investments). This is one of the major functions of state capitalism in decadence—to protect the overall national interest from the most vulgar expressions of capitalism’s logic by directing social resources to areas like education, even when a certain market logic would dictate otherwise, through “redistributive” measures like taxation. 

Nevertheless, in the wake of the “Great Recession” that broke out in 2008, the resulting “fiscal crisis” of states and the often ham-fisted attempts of various factions of the bourgeoisie to manage the crisis by cutting the state budget into oblivion, the tension between education as an investment in future productivity and education as a major cost for the state to bear, was often resolved in favor of austerity. In the United States, this process was abetted by the rightward ideological degeneration of the Republican Party, which, especially at the state level, locked in on increasingly maximalist policies of tax cuts to aid wealthy campaign donors and business interests, while reducing state services as close as they could to the minimum functional level, mostly through attacks on public sector workers’ salaries, benefits and working conditions, but also by seeking to eliminate the added costs of the public sector union middle man though various state-level “right-to-work” policies.

While this process found its most extreme expression in “red states” like Kansas, it also took place in more traditionally “blue” and “purple” states in the rust belt, like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, particularly in the aftermath of the so-called Republican wave election of 2010, which saw public sector austerity hawks like Scott Walker come to power in Wisconsin. In Michigan—a state whose electoral votes went to Obama twice—the state government became dominated by Republicans and many localities were subject to the cost-cutting whims of “emergency managers” appointed by the Republican Governor, resulting in outrages that shocked the public conscience, like the 2014 Flint water crisis and the Detroit school crisis.

In Wisconsin during the of spring 2011, Walker’s attempts to ram through legislation stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights was met with an unexpected mobilization of workers, students and concerned citizens, who in the spirit of the then still burning Arab Spring, occupied the state house and walked out of schools in a spirited attempt to obstruct what many perceived to be a right-wing coup. However, these mobilizations were quickly recuperated by the media-state complex, which quickly constructed a narrative that situated them as part of a broader anti-Republican resistance movement, pulling them behind the state Democratic Party and the unions. Tellingly, this movement ended without achieving any tangible concessions from the state, dissolving itself into the failed intra-bourgeois electoral effort to recall Walker from office.

Later that year, the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street Movement—really part of an international reaction to the economic fallout of the Great Recession that included the Indignados movement in Spain—challenged established and official forms of protest with the emergence of the general assembly as a kind of embryonic form of proletarian struggle reflecting a desire to go beyond electoralist, union and leftist forms. Nevertheless, since the crushing of the main centers of the Occupy Movement by state repression and the petering out of its peripheral expressions, the last six years have been marked by stagnation, if not a retreat, in class struggle. The tendency for working class grievances with stagnating or declining living and working conditions to express themselves through the distorted lens of populism, and conversely by the “democratic” resistance to populism, have largely driven the proletariat off its class terrain.

While the emergence of populism has posed new and challenging problems for the main factions of the bourgeoisie in a number of states, it has nevertheless served a perhaps unintended purpose in forming an alternative political option under bourgeois democracy that can recuperate proletarian anger and disgust at the “system.” In the United States, both the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders campaigns[2] served an important function in 2016 and beyond in appearing to offer an alternative to establishment bourgeois politics that was nevertheless fully within the realm of the electoral circus. Moreover, in the wake of Trump’s victory, a so-called “resistance” movement in both official (the Women’s March of 2016) and unofficial (Antifa, leftist and identity-based movements, etc.) forms, along with the emergence of a perverse media-driven Russophobic and anti-“deplorable” moral panic, have seemingly stunted the emergence of genuinely proletarian actions, based on the defense of workers’ living and working conditions.

However, while it is clear that the conditions of capitalist decomposition and the political effects of populism are still making it very difficult for the proletariat to find its footing on its own class terrain, the West Virginia teachers’ strike nevertheless appears to confirm our analysis that the working class, even in regions dominated by some of the crassest factions of the bourgeoisie, is not yet defeated in the historical sense.

Two weeks in winter: the unfolding of events:

The first thing to say about the West Virginia teachers’ strike is the extent to which it undercuts a certain media-constructed liberal “resistance” narrative that attempts to paint the Trumpian world as a fierce battle between two opposed Americas: an enlightened, educated, diverse, forward-moving coastal and urban metropolitan one and an angry, resentful, ungrateful, racist and xenophobic, mostly white, backward-looking heartland. Having given Trump his largest margin of victory of all states he won in the 2016 election (68.5 to 26.4 percent, with no counties going for Clinton)[3], West Virginia has often been painted by the media as the epicenter of Trumpism—a dark and frightening place metropolitan liberals only venture to when on an anthropological quest to understand the inner workings of their enemy’s mind.

When West Virginia teachers went out on strike on February 22nd, it likely came as a shock to the liberal media establishment who must have assumed the state was one solid block of impenetrable social reaction. For whatever reason, the mainstream national media virtually ignored the strike until it was clear a resolution was imminent. Limited to a few throw-away lines at the bottom of the newscast, there was no coordinated attempt to drum up the strike as some kind of anti-Republican movement, despite the fact that the teachers were confronting a Republican Governor and a Republican controlled legislature led by a particularly obdurate Senate President (Mitch Carmichael) ill-disposed to compromise. Quite clearly, something about the events didn’t fit a certain narrative.

First of all, it is clear that the strike occurred against the initial tepidness of the unions who feared that an illegal strike would result in sanctions against the union and worsen their already tenuous position in the state’s political apparatus. Nevertheless, the teachers walked out anyway, dragging the union bureaucrats behind them, in what many in online alternative media described as a “wildcat strike.”

The grievances that motivated the walk-out were situated firmly on the proletarian class terrain of the defense of living and working conditions. West Virginia public school teachers earned less than teachers in almost all other states (48 out 50) and were facing a serious erosion of their take-home pay as a result of a planned increase in their expected contributions for health care costs. The West Virginia Public Employee Health Insurance Agency (WVPEIA), which provides health coverage to state employees, was facing yet another funding crisis, this time resulting in a possible increase in employee costs of hundreds of dollars a month. When the increased health care costs were factored, the state’s proposed wage increases—originally a 2 percent increase in the first year and then a 1 percent increase in each of the next two—would likely have resulted in a cut in take-home pay for most teachers.

When the strike quickly spread to all of the state’s 55 counties, it began to become clear to more astute members of the state’s ruling class that some contrition would be necessary to contain the anger. Governor Jim Justice—once a Democrat, but now a Republican out of political necessity—met with teachers in an attempt to calm their anger. Contrary to the union’s fears, the Governor wanted to use the carrot more than the stick to end the strike. Nevertheless, any pay increase for the teachers would have to be approved by the state legislature, where more intransigent budget hawks held sway in the Senate. On Wednesday, February 28th, Governor Justice appeared to have negotiated a deal to give teachers a 5 percent raise in the first year in exchange for ending the strike.

Although the House of Delegates approved the deal, the state Senate rejected it, offering a 4 percent raise. The teachers vowed to fight on and continue the illegal strike. In addition to the rejection of the 4 percent wage increase, teachers were angry that there appeared to be no solution to the chronic underfunding of the WVEIA, meaning that the threat of future premium and deductible increases remained patent. In the recounting of one participant, teachers were furious at this lack of action on health insurance and chanted, “Back to the table, back to the table,” at their union reps.[4]  Swarms of teachers, parents and students descended on the State Capitol building in Charleston in what looked like a potential repeat of the mobilizations in Madison, WI seven years earlier. Despite the national media’s lack of interest, in West Virginia public opinion appeared to be clearly on the teachers’ side.

However, by now the stage was set for various parts of the state apparatus to engage in a political division of labor to end the strike. Governor Justice, who in the first week of the strike was told by a group of teachers that they couldn’t promise not to shoot him,[5] could now attempt to pass himself off as an honest broker against the unreasonable and intransigent budget hawks in the Senate. The union played its part, sending out a memo on Friday, March 2nd, essentially blaming the continuation of the strike on one man—Senate President Mitch Carmichael. The union thus turned a general mobilization of teachers and support staff across the state against the attacks to their living and working conditions into a quest to petition one man to change his mind—a kind of plea to the Tsar. After putting up a bit of a show on talk radio, Carmichael could only relent and a five percent pay raise for all state employees was signed into law by Governor Justice on Tuesday, March 6th. The union promptly ended a strike it hadn’t called in the first place with a robo-call, instructing the teachers to show up for work the next day.

Victory or Defeat?

Much of the post-strike commentary in leftist and alternative media—but also from elements closer to the proletarian milieu—has centered around analyzing the meaning of this strike in the broader context of US labor relations and assessing the extent to which it should be regarded as a victory or a defeat. On the one hand, the teachers appear to have won a very tangible material gain in forcing the state to grant 5 percent pay raises to all public employees against the initial plans of the state to offer a much more modest increase. On the other hand, the issue of funding for the state employee’s health insurance fund remains unresolved even if there will be no premium hikes or increased deductibles for now. The only concession won on this issue was the formation of a commission, made up of various representatives from government and unions, to study the issue of how the WVPEIA could be placed on a more solid financial footing. Moreover, rumors have been swirling that the state plans to pay for the pay increases by cuts to public welfare programs like Medicaid.

For many in the emerging “social democratic” milieu in the US—expressed mainly through the pages of the increasingly popular journal Jacobin—the teachers’ strike is being regarded as a momentous event that “has the potential to change everything.” One writer, Eric Blanc, claims that this strike was, “the single most important labor victory in the US since at least the early 1970s.”[6] Another writer in Jacobin, Cathy Kunkel, described the strike as a “major victory” in that, “The strike also deepened the political understanding of school employees, as rank-and-file leaders made demands not only about funding, but also about where that funding should come from.” For Kunkel, the demand put forward in the context of the strike to fund the WVPEIA, not through cuts to social programs for the poor, but through a “severance tax” on natural gas extraction, was a major step forward in workers’ political sophistication. This demand was concretized by a Democratic political ally of the strike, State Senator Ojeda, who introduced a bill to “go after” the coal and natural gas industries who have “extracted wealth from West Virginia for decades.”[7]

Closer to the proletarian milieu, the statement Not All Strikes Are Created Equal at anticapital0.wordpress.com,[8] made by a politicized former West Virginia public employee, is somewhat less sanguine about the overall significance of the strike. While seeing some promise in the fact that the strike evidenced “impeccable solidarity across jobs, workplaces, geography and social divisions” and in “flaunting the law when the law is in your way,” the statement laments that it is not enough for there to be a strong mobilization in the public sector, and that “we have to confront capital on its explicit terrain—on the terrain of private property.” Contrasting the teachers’ strike with the simultaneous strike at Frontier Communications (which remains isolated), the author argues “a strong fraction of the working class in the public sector is not a substitute for a weak working class in the private sector.”

Moreover, the author suggests that the task force appointed to study the funding issue for the WVPEIA is likely a “sham” and will only lead to more austerity in the form of reduced coverage and higher premiums along with more invasive data collection in the form of “wellness programs.” The statement ends with an unambiguous declaration that “The strike did not end in a workers’ victory.”

The statement published on the International Communist Tendency’s (ICT) website regarding the strike has the somewhat curious title of “West Virginia School Employees Strike Sold Out?”[9] This statement is also much less celebratory and points to the many limitations of this strike in failing to go beyond a kind of shop floor radicalism (walking out without the sanction of the union), which would have meant forming independent assemblies and strike committees. The statement declares, “There is a stark contrast between the ability to organize a walk-out of that size and on the other hand issue instructions to go back to work with a promise and a robocall. (…) If workers can get themselves out on strike, they certainly have the capacity to form a workers’ assembly or strike committee independently of the unions and the feuding clans of the bourgeoisie.” In a sense then, the ICT see this strike as evidence of a certain level of combativity in the class—a kind of raw energy for struggle bursting forth after years of attacks and austerity.

Still, for the ICT this combativity is in and of itself insufficient to push the struggle forward: “However, without the presence of an organization representing all the workers that serves as a pole independent of the unions, the eventual suffocation of the unions and the capitalists is inevitable.” The ICT comrades thus argue against viewing this strike as a victory, “when it is more like a temporary pause than a real gain.”

Nevertheless, it is unclear how the ICT imagines that the strike might have been “sold out.” Sold out by whom? The unions? If the unions are there to “suffocate the struggle,” in what sense can they be said to have sold the strike out?

Clearly, the evaluation of this strike as a victory, defeat or something in between has tremendous import for how one views the prospects for the development of the class struggle in the period ahead, as well as the nature of the tasks facing the working class and revolutionaries. For our part, we agree with Anticapital0.wordpress and the ICT that this strike should not be understood as some kind of profound victory on the material level.

Moreover, we do not think that this strike means some kind of new age of class struggle is about to break out, one that takes place through the established institutions like the unions and their allies in the Democratic Party. Contrary to the views of the newly emerging social democratic milieu, we don’t think that capitalism is capable anymore on the historic level of offering humanity a “new New Deal” that improves the standard of living of the working class in some substantial and permanent way in a society that remains capitalist. On the contrary, this strike shows us that in order to really struggle at all, the working class will increasingly find it necessary to go beyond these outdated forms and push forward demands that the capitalist system is, in the long term, simply unable to meet. In fact, it is only in the realization of the ultimate futility of achieving lasting material victories through the existing institutions that the working class can develop the revolutionary consciousness it needs to go beyond this failing system.

But to return to the current juncture, it remains the case that globally—despite evidence of an increasing will to struggle— that the working class remains very disoriented by a series of blows to its consciousness since the break-up of the blocs at the beginning of the 1990s. The massive ideological campaigns around the so-called “death of communism” (really a particular Stalinist form of state capitalism), the illusions in material prosperity bred by repeated speculative bubbles over the course of the 1990s and early 2000s, the ideological campaigns around the “war on terrorism” after 9/11 etc. have all taken a profound toll on the working class. Even with the reemergence of open economic crisis after 2008, the brutal austerity unleashed on the proletariat has itself been disorienting, accompanied by the twin ideological threats of right-wing populism and the so-called “democratic” resistance to populism.

Moreover, the restructuring of the labor market towards increasingly tenuous jobs and long-term unemployment, along with the looming retirement of the generation of workers who remember the struggles of the 1960s-1980s and the difficulty the younger generations have in integrating themselves into the labor force, have intensified the problem of a fading of “working class identity.” All of this has made the prospect of an emergence of class confrontations more difficult than we have previously imagined.

However, if we highlight all of these difficulties facing the working class today, it is not to throw cold water on events like the West Virginia teachers’ strike. Our goal is not to foster a sense of resignation and despair. Instead, we seek to avoid an immediatist and opportunist reaction that would see us compromise our revolutionary principles by celebrating apparent material “victories,” in an historical context that does not allow them.

For us, the capitalist system has long since passed into an historical phase of decadence in which it is no longer capable of granting any lasting material reforms to the proletariat. As such, it is simply not possible for the working class to win real, tangible, durable, material victories anymore on the level of its living and working conditions.  In a sense, every struggle ends in defeat. As Rosa Luxemburg put it in 1919, “Because of the contradiction in the early stages of the revolutionary process between the task being sharply posed and the absence of any preconditions to resolve it, individual battles of the revolution end in formal defeat. But revolution is the only form of ‘war’ – and this is another peculiar law of history – in which the ultimate victory can be prepared only by a series of ‘defeats’.”[10] While Luxemburg was referring here to the revolutionary process underway in Germany at the time, the same logic holds true to the class struggle in general under the conditions of decadence.

Of course, we are not blind. We recognize that the West Virginia teachers won a 5 percent increase in pay for all state employees and held off any immediate attacks on the level of their health benefits. However, in our view these gains, while real, can only ever be temporary. Under the logic of decadent capital, they will quickly be eaten away: whether it is through inflation, an eventual rise in health care costs, lay-offs, attrition or some other mechanism, the workers simply cannot win durable reforms from a system condemned by its own logic to permanent crisis. We can already see this logic at work in West Virginia with suggestions that the public employee pay raises will be paid for by cuts to social programs. In other words, the teachers may have only won their rises by setting in motion of chain of events that leads to cutting other sectors of the proletariat’s benefits. Even if the “progressive” legislation advocated by Democrats to make the coal and natural gas operators pay to stabilize the WVPEIA is ever adopted, it is nevertheless in the logic of the system that the capitalists will seek to recuperate their increased cost of business by making workers somewhere else in the chain foot the bill.

Even if it is not right to say that the West Virginia teachers won some kind of material victory, it is also not the case that the experience of the strike was without any benefit for the development of a proletarian response to capitalism’s continuing attacks. Contrasting the events in West Virginia with the 2011 uprising in Wisconsin, it is clear that there appears to have been some clear advancement in how the struggle took place. First and foremost, the workers went out on strike against the wishes of the unions. Second, the workers appear to have caught the state-level ruling class rather off guard and forced it to concede to demands it was not initially prepared to grant. [11]

Even if the 5 percent raises will eventually prove fleeting, it is nevertheless important that the teachers were able to force the state to make concessions, in contrast to Wisconsin in 2011 when the state rammed through almost the entirety of its agenda in spite of the mass protests. If the material gains will only be momentary, the sense of collective power that such an action and result portends may not be so temporary. In decadence, the importance of the struggle comes from the lessons learned, the gains in consciousness and the appreciation of the power proletarian solidarity can have when confronting capital and the state. Moreover, as other comrades have remarked, the struggle evidenced the power the working class can have when overcoming barriers of age, seniority and job description as was shown when school support staff, bus drivers. etc. supported the teachers. While much of these less tangible gains will undoubtedly appear to fade as the struggle dies and normalcy returns, the subterranean percolation of ideas born from this experience will hopefully continue and manifest themselves in an even more profound and conscious way in the next struggle.

In this sense, the debate over whether or not this strike was a “victory” or a “defeat” seems to us to somewhat miss the point. On the material level, it is not possible for the working class to win lasting reforms anymore from a decadent capitalist system doomed to permanent crisis—in this sense every struggle that does not generalize into a revolutionary confrontation ends in a defeat. The real question revolutionaries must ask in analyzing such events is to what extent does a particular struggle mark an advance or a retreat in the working class’ level of consciousness and combativity. In this regard, keeping the overall historical context in mind, the West Virginia teachers strike showed important signs of a proletariat that remains undefeated and is looking for ways to struggle on its own terrain despite the political and social headwinds of the period.

Beyond West Virginia: continuing unrest in the education sector

As this article is being written, teachers in several other states are mobilizing. In Kentucky, many teachers have walked off the job in protest to the Governor’s plan to make unwelcome changes to their pensions. In Arizona, teachers are demanding a 20 percent rise in advance of state budget negotiations and are threatening job action if there isn’t a serious effort made to increase education funding. In Oklahoma, teachers are now on strike and staging massive rallies at the state Capitol building, demanding increased funding of education, even as the Republican Governor Mary Fallin has offered up a spending package that purportedly includes an average additional pay increase of $6,100 per teacher. The Oklahoma teachers appear to have the support of the public and many students, parents and otherwise concerned citizens are joining the protests.

While the situation is still fluid and it is not possible to make a definitive analysis of any of these mobilizations here, it is possible to make a few preliminary observations, which suggest that the ruling class is rapidly attempting to co-opt the anger brewing among teachers and other public employees into a broader anti-Republican resistance movement that is firmly situated on intra-bourgeois political terrain. Whereas the West Virginia teachers strike appears to have caught the ruling class, including the unions, off guard, the actions in some of these other states seem to have been anticipated well in advance.[12]  While the West Virginia strike was met with something of a media black-out, the mainstream media have been more actively covering these actions in other states and actually promoting them as a kind of “red-state rebellion” against the Republican ideological orthodoxy which has governed in many red-states for the last decade, based on the philosophy that tax cuts always take precedence over investment in public goods. While there are signs of teachers expressing frustration with their unions (particularly in Oklahoma), the unions in these states appear to have much better control of the situation—or at the very least of the narrative.

The bottom line is that while there is undoubtedly some serious frustration and anger among teachers and other public employees, the main factions of the bourgeoisie are now attempting to recuperate the outrage into safer channels and domesticate it into a more comfortable political narrative in advance of the 2018 mid-term elections and the 2020 Presidential Election, in which they will undoubtedly do their utmost to unseat Trump or otherwise hamstring him.  They will attempt to make the moral indignation of the teachers and the public at the underfunding of education a theme in a broader campaign to dampen not only Trumpian populism, but also the more extreme ideological factions of the Republican party, whose budget hawkishness has reduced investment in public education below what the main factions of the bourgeoisie might consider sustainable for the national interest. [13]

For the working class, it is important to resist getting dragged behind such a campaign. We should be cognizant that the problem of a lack of investment in education is not limited to so-called “red states.” Only a few months before the outbreak of this round of struggle, there was a minor outrage in the media because public schools in Baltimore, Maryland—often considered the epitome of a “blue state”—having to close due to a lack of heat in school buildings.[14] Moreover, we should remember that blue state Democrats like Corey Booker and even Obama himself have been advocates for charter schools that divert funding from public schools and other education policies that tie funding to “performance”—inevitably meaning that schools in lower income areas suffer. Democratic mayors and governors are no strangers to the politics of demonizing public school teachers—painting them as greedy leeches sucking on the public teat and too often delivering a “failing product.”[15]

While it is critically important for the teachers to avoid getting drawn into some kind of “coalition” political campaign to defend public education itself and remain on the class terrain of defending their living and working conditions, it is also evident that there is a potential for education issues to activate a broader public moral indignation around the increasingly brazen attempts by factions of the state to disinvest in the future generations of humanity due to immediate budgetary or ideological concerns. It is here where the current teachers’ movement could potentially intersect with the public outrage over gun violence in schools. The so-called “March for Life” in response to the massacre of 17 students at Parkland High School in Florida by an emotionally deranged individual, for all its defects and for all its recuperation by the media and celebrity culture, nevertheless touched this same nerve in the populace, increasingly concerned by the decomposition of society into an ever more atrocious spiral of violence, to resist the ever more barbaric ways this process negatively impacts the younger generations, whether by snuffing out their lives in increasingly irrational outbursts of violence or by denying them the effective education they need to compete in the capitalist labor market. [16]

Nevertheless, it is clear from the point of view of revolutionary marxism that these attempts to resist society’s descent into barbarism cannot succeed on their own accord. Expressing a certain human instinct to defend the species’ young and a moral indignation at the increasingly inhuman features of a capitalist system in its period of historical rot, they nevertheless lack the proletarian perspective they need to pose a real alternative to this system. As such, these movements and marches will inevitably end by being recuperated into the state behind this or that faction of the bourgeoisie. In order to transcend the current capitalist system, which is the real author of all this misery, it is critically necessary that the working class develop its own class perspective through struggles on its own class terrain around the defense of its living and working conditions. The West Virginia teachers have shown us that a real, if imperfect in its immaturity, path forward still exists.







[2] It has been said that the Bernie Sanders campaign was the real gravedigger of the Occupy Movement, recuperating that outburst of grassroots anger into an electoral campaign inside the Democratic Party. Of course, the Democratic Party establishment’s rather rough treatment of the Sanders wing may have lessened the benefit for the bourgeois state.

[4] See: “The Strike is On, An Interview with Jay O’Neal,” https://jacobinmag.com/2018/03/west-virginia-teachers-strike-activist-in...

[10] Rosa Luxemburg, Order Reigns in Berlin (1919). https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1919/01/14.htm

[11] While the breadth of the response to Walkers’ attacks may have caught his administration off guard in 2011, it is nevertheless clear that he was spoiling for a fight, which he didn’t hesitate to exploit the opportunity to prosecute in a way that only solidified his position.

[12] The Oklahoma strike has been discussed as a possibility for well over a month, while in Arizona the threat of a teachers walk-out appears to be being used as a pawn in state budget negotiations. The walk-out in Kentucky appears to have more of a spontaneous character.

[14]  See: https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-cold-schools-20180103-story.html. Maryland is ironically one of the bluest states in Presidential elections, but it currently has a Republican Governor. Of course, public schools in wealthier suburban areas of the state like Montgomery and Howard Counties have not experienced such deprivations.

[15] While it is beyond the scope of this article, it should be remarked that much of the energy of this line of attack against teachers has been made through an attack on teachers’ unions (made by many Democrats, as well as Republicans). Breaking the back of the public employee unions, of which the teachers’ unions are often the largest and most important, was a stated aim of Walker’s maneuvers in 2011. At the time, we argued that such a strategy was likely unsound for the bourgeoisie as a whole in that it threatened to deprive the ruling class of the union buffer between the state and the grassroots anger of the working class. The events in West Virginia appear to demonstrate both the danger to the state of a working class that has lost faith in its union and in the value  - to the ruling class - of the union in reasserting control over a struggle and bringing it to a close before it has a chance to spread beyond a particular sector. Nevertheless, it may be too late for the ruling class to learn this lesson as the pending Janus case in the Supreme Court threatens to make the closed shop in the public sector illegal. For their part, the unions have submitted legal briefs arguing that their value to society is in their ability to enforce “no-strike” clauses and laws and defend the terms of the current contract against the rank-and-file who always want more. For our analysis of Wisconsin see here: https://en.internationalism.org/inter/158/editorial

[16] A similar potential might exist around increasing public awareness of the problem of crushing student loan debt that many in the younger generations are obliged to take on in order to get just the bare minimum of a college degree to compete in the labor market. Already, the Trump administration appears to be taking steps towards neutralizing the radicalizing potential of this issue by seeking public comments regarding liberalizing the rules for discharging this debt in bankruptcy. Of course, the capacity of a federal government racked by incompetence and conflicts of interest to effectively address this issue is unclear. What is clear is that the lack of any attempts to address this problem would further fuel the de-legitimizing effects of a system that many are already calling “debt peonage,” and “modern-day serfdom.”



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