The Teacher Strike in West Virginia: Interview with IWW Teacher Michael Mochaidean

By Radical Education Department - It's Going Down, March 12, 2018

The Radical Education Department talks with West Virginia wobbly Michael Mochaidean, who has also spoken with IGD several times, about the recent teachers’ strike.

West Virginia has been rocked by a statewide strike by teachers, bus drivers, and other school employees.  Today, March 2nd, the strike enters its seventh day.

Beginning on February 22nd, workers shut down public schools in all 55 of West Virginia’s counties, rejecting abysmal and declining teacher pay and the state’s attack on public employees’ health insurance.  The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), one of the unions helping to organize the strikers, reports the following worker demands:

  • A natural gas severance tax that creates a self-sustaining source of revenue for PEIA [Public Employees Insurance Agency] and public employee pay.

  • No regressive taxes, which ultimately affect working-class families more than the wealthy elite.

  • A permanent tabling to any and all legislation pertaining to co-tenancy and joint development, which allow large natural gas industries to engulf local landowners.

  • A pay raise of 5% per year over the next half decade.

  • A permanent tabling to any and all legislation pertaining to charter schools, voucher systems, and any attempts to privatize public schools.

On February 27th, Governor Justice announced an agreement with three of the major teacher unions in the state: a 5% pay increase for teachers as well as a 3% increase for state employees generally. Union officials and the governor alike pleaded for school employees to return to work, despite the fact that key demands remain unmet.

On March 1st, however–defying the governor and official union leaders–teachers refused to return to work, swarming the capitol and chanting “It’s not over.”

Meanwhile, that same day, even the modest pay raise was refused in the state legislature.

(Following) is an interview conducted via email between John Schultz of RED and Michael Mochaidean, a West Virginia teacher and member of the IWW.

West Virginia: Extend the Strike, Build Long Term Power

By West Virginia IWW members - It's Going Down, February 26, 2018 (includes a February 27 update, below)

What follows is a proposal for how to extend the strike unfolding in West Virginia. To hear our interview with a striking teacher, go here.

Donate Here
Download and Print PDF Here

The statewide strike of teachers in West Virginia that started on February 22nd is a model for teachers and other working-class people across the US of how we can struggle together for what we need. It is a desperately needed example of mass working-class solidarity in a time when the rich are attempting to fracture us even more. It is also an important model of the kinds of strikes we can wage when we realize that the existing labor laws (the same ones that the rich are trying to destroy anyways) are traps designed by the rich to tie our arms behind our backs and hold us back.

Some teachers and supporters in West Virginia are organizing through the IWW to spread a revolutionary unionist perspective in the current strike, to expand the strike and strengthen the militant mood of the teachers, and to build for long-term organization that is not reliant on politicians or bureaucrats. They will begin by distributing a leaflet to encourage teachers and other members of the working class to extend and expand the current struggle, and they will be looking for openings to expand on that organizing.

You can support their organizing by donating here. Funds raised will be used to print agitational materials, to cover travel costs related to organizing, to rent spaces or cover child-care for meetings, and to cover other costs related to building a militant and organized presence among teachers and working-class people in West Virginia.

The text of the leaflet they will be distributing is below. We also welcome anyone in West Virginia, or any teachers anywhere, or anyone else, to download the PDF and distribute it in your workplaces, schools, churches, and neighborhoods.

The Power of Working Class Solidarity

What Do We Face?

Jim Justice and the Republican-dominated legislature seek to cut state funding to the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA), increasing premiums over the next several years, and eliminating teacher seniority while opening up the possibility of charter schools to privatize public education in areas in most need of quality public servants. The goal for this legislature is to utterly decimate public sector labor, reap obscene profits through private charter school investments which lack accountability measures, and ultimately reduce the quality of education in the state.

We know that both Democrats and Republicans no longer have a need for a highly-educated workforce. Instead, they seek to create a system of obedient workers who can perform the menial tasks asked of them by their corporate masters without questioning the powers that be. Careers that provide meaningful employment with a steady wage and quality health care no longer exist for the many. They have been replaced, over the course of the past few decades, with a series of half-hearted promises by both parties. If we do not act NOW to halt this reactionary legislation, we will ultimately lose our future – our children’s future – to big business and the corporate-controlled parties.

In sum, we face the daunting challenge to confront elitism in our political party system and the legislation they seek to create. BUT, we cannot create a new destiny simply by voting out one party and replacing it with another. For substantive change to occur, we must FIRST organize around our common destiny as workers.

Do treeplanters suffer from Stockholm syndrome?

By x377547 - SITT-IWW, February 19, 2018

A portrait of the industry of treeplanting

While it used to be a dignified and respectable way to earn your life, treeplanting is now nothing but a way to live counter-culture for wanderers and students who seek an alternative to the minimum wage. Nowadays, the possibility of escaping the threshold of poverty is only attainable for the best of us, who endure a very long season from west to east of the country. There is no mistaken it, wages have not risen for a long time. When we ask why, we are always met with the same answer: there is not enough money, or we are told to shut up.

The ultra-competitive practices of the industry are to blame. For all these years, companies have ferociously maintained their market share, at the expense of our wages. They often leave thousands of dollars to win their submission. This represents the amount of money that separates the lowest submission of their closest competitor. And if the other companies that pay up to the standard of the industry find themselves incapable of offering lower costs, then where did they cut? In our safety? In our kitchen budget? In our wages?

What in the World is going on at CSX and Amtrak?

By John Paul Wright - Railroad Workers United, February 7, 2018

The latest round of tragic incidents at CSX and AMTRAK is causing a number of news outlets to reach out to Railroad Workers United to gain a rank & file worker perspective. In the past few months, RWU has been contacted by The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press and several other news outlets, including a business journal that is based in none other than CSX’s hometown of Jacksonville, FL.

The Voice of the Working Railroader is what is Needed

The questions are wide ranging, understandably well intentioned, and urgent. The common complaint from the journalists that we have talked to is that they lack the perspective from union officials and working railroaders. Many of the journalists report that the company press agents as well as the unions are only willing to release broad generalized statements that offer no real content that would help them with their investigative reporting. RWU hopes to engage rank and file workers in the discussion, providing the media and the general public with the invaluable “inside” perspective that only working railroaders can provide.

CSX Background to Disaster

Before Mantle Ridge and their CEO, superstar Hunter Harrison hedged their way into CSX, employees had already been through several recent rounds of harsh top down management changes, decreed under Cindy Sanborn’s leadership. Union safety programs that were working with management were abolished. Company safety councils were implemented with no input from or involvement with union safety coordinators. Rules violations that were historically not a disciplined offense were now considered major rules infractions.

Very strict rules were put into place that were designed to address safety, especially rules pertaining to switching operations. Draconian attendance policies were put into place. Employees needing to mark off to visit the doctor were being disciplined due to the inhumane nature of these new policies. Seniority rosters were being dovetailed, causing workers to qualify at locations far from their home terminals, being forced to qualify upwards for thirty days or more on their own time (i.e., no paycheck) with no reimbursement for lodging.

Brain Labor Report 1.31.18 - JP Wright, Railroad Workers Safety

By Wes Brain - Brain Labor Report, January 31, 2018

On the Brain Labor Report for January 31, 2018 we talk with J.P. Wright, railroad worker, singer, songwriter and organizer with Railroad Workers United. We discuss safety and the deadly impact of austerity and missed priorities.

Download Here - Via archive.org

A Decade of Train Wrecks: What Has Gone Wrong?

By J.P. Wright - Labor Notes, January 24, 2018

On December 18 an Amtrak passenger train traveling at 78 miles an hour derailed on a 30 mile-per-hour curve outside DuPont, Washington, killing three people and injuring scores more.

It’s the latest of five major passenger train wrecks in the U.S. in the last decade, and it came during the trial of three workers indicted for the 2013 freight train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. (Last week, a jury found the workers not guilty on all counts.)

Why do these tragedies keep happening? We miss the point when we simply pinpoint the worker who “screwed up”—without asking why that worker screwed up.

Train wrecks often result from hidden factors over which the individual worker has little control, including poor work schedules, chronic crew fatigue, limited time off, inadequate staffing, lack of training, improper qualifying, task overload because of crew downsizing, deferred maintenance, antiquated infrastructure, and the employers’ failures to implement available safety technology. It is almost never just one of these factors, but a complex web that can result in disaster.

Update on #OperationPUSH in Florida Prisons

By IWOC - It's Going Down, January 19, 2018

Photo from @IWW_IWOC, features banner that was put up at solidarity demonstration at facility where two ex-prison Florida guards who were found guilty of belonging to the Ku-Klux-Klan, and were plotting to kill a black inmate after his release. 

It’s been a hard silence for the past 5 days since Operation PUSH launched a statewide prisoner strike in the FL Department of Corrections prison system (FDOC or FDC) coinciding with Martin Luther King Day.

Information from prisoners is coming in at a much slower pace than people on the outside had anticipated, but reports are slowly and steadily making their way through the walls, despite many obstacles.

Thus far, we’ve heard from prisoners that there has been active participation or repression of some sort in the following prisons: Santa Rosa, Jackson, Gulf, Hamilton, Avon Park, Franklin, Holmes, Everglades, Reception and Medical Center at Lake Butler, Liberty, Lowell, Columbia, Florida State Prison, Suwannee, Calhoun, and Martin. (The list is growing by the day.)

Strike Repression

A common theme among report backs is the attempt by the DOC to sever communication in order to create the perception of inactivity and break the spirits of those participating in the strike. Key contacts inside have reported being threatened by administration with harsher retaliation if correspondence with advocacy groups such as Fight Toxic Prisons and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee continues.

According to prisoner reports, some facilities have shut off state phone service as of Tuesday, January 16. A Security Threat Group (STG) investigator employed at a prison in the panhandle confirmed that multiple prisons across the state were placed on lockdown in preparation for the strike. Shakedowns have occurred where independent means of communication were confiscated and their alleged owners/users were thrown in solitary confinement.

We’ve heard reports that widespread investigations are occurring for anyone who has received or sent mail to organizations offering support on the outside and certain individuals are being labelled a “security threat” for doing so which can result in heightened custody levels, which means a loss of privileges, and continued harassment by the STG unit. One prisoner was told, “As long as you communicate with these people you’re always going to be labelled a security threat and you’re always going to be put under investigation.”

Given the past two years of prisoner organizing in Florida, it’s understandable that there is an expectation to hear of something distinct on the inside marking the start of the strike.

RWU Statement Upon the Acquittal of Canadian Railroad Workers

By Ron Kaminkow - The Evidence is in: The Train Crew did not Cause the Lac-Mégantic Tragedy, January 19, 2018

Railroad workers – together with all citizens concerned with worker justice – across the continent are celebrating the acquittal of Canadian railroaders who were wrongly accused by the Crown for the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic in which 47 people were killed when a long and heavy oil train crashed and exploded in the middle of that small town in July of 2013.

At the time of the wreck, Railroad Workers United (RWU) had spoken out quickly, releasing a statement within a week condemning the reckless practices on the rail carrier – the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MM&A) – and its renegade CEO Ed Burkhart. Since then, RWU has defended the railroad workers, denying that they in any way should be charged with a criminal offense, demanding that the charges be dropped, and that the Crown charge the real criminals – the MM&A bosses and the government regulators who had turned a blind eye to their irresponsible actions regarding safety.

Once the workers were arrested, RWU took part in protest actions, assisted with organizing a defense committee, began raising funds for the defense, and attempted to raise awareness of the issue on both sides of the border. Despite the overwhelming evidence of company recklessness and irresponsibility, the Crown refused to drop the charges, and proceeded onward to the trial which finally commenced – more than four years after the event – in September 2017.

While the prosecution focused largely on a single event – the alleged failure of the locomotive engineer to tie enough handbrakes, they were tripped up at every turn by their own witnesses – government, company, “expert” and otherwise – who, by their testimony, incriminated the company and the government regulators rather than the defendants.

Some of the highlights that were revealed at the trial include:

1 – The implementation of single employee train crews just months earlier, had played a key role in the wreck. One other railroad that had been operating trains in this fashion for years (QNSL) had provided 10 days of training and made 69 safety accommodations prior to the implementation of such operations. The MM&A did none of these, while the government stood idly by. After the wreck however, Transport Canada outlawed the further implementation of the practice.

2 – The MM&A had allocated practically no funding for safety or emergency training, nor standardization of rules compliance, and had a terrible safety record compared to most rail carriers.

3 – The train in question was thousands of tons over limit. Significantly, the company had no set policy for the number of handbrakes that were necessary to secure such trains. That number remains in question, but experts now agree that the number for such a train on such a grade is well more than had been considered at the time.

4 – The train – by company policy – was left unattended on the mainline on a steep grade with no derail or other means of protection against runaway.

5 – The train’s lead locomotive was defective, and ultimately this fact would catalyze the runaway. Despite awareness of this fact, the company had failed to make necessary repairs to it, nor utilize it as a trailing unit in the consist. In addition, the mainline trackage was in a dilapidated state because of deferred maintenance by the carrier.

6 – Company policy was to leave the train’s automatic brake in the release position, even though the generally accepted practice by railroad policy and law is to leave unattended trains with the automatic brake in the “full-service” (fully applied) position. Every car of the train could have had its air brakes fully applied, but the company – against general rule and wisdom of a hundred years – insisted that engineers not set the air brakes on the train when leaving the train alone. Had this reckless and bizarre policy not been insisted upon by MM&A, the train almost certainly could not have rolled away.

All told over the course of four months, the jury gained a picture of a railroad company that was oblivious to safety concerns, one far more interested in making money than in the safety of its workers or trackside communities. While RWU applauds the jury’s verdict and sees the acquittal as a victory – not just for the MM&A railroad workers but for all railroad workers – we must remain vigilant. Railroad carriers in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere are intent on criminalizing employees, pointing the finger at them when something goes wrong, as a means of deflecting attention away from their own failures, whether it be inadequate training, lack of qualifying time, chronic crew fatigue, deferred maintenance, dangerously long and heavy trains, inadequate staffing and more. Railroad workers must be ready, willing and able to come to one another’s defense to prevent the rail carriers and the state from criminalizing our behavior while they – the real criminals – get off Scott free.

Inmates Launch Month-Long Strike to Protest 'Slavery Conditions' in Florida Prisons

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, January 14, 2018

Inmates in Florida's prisons launched a month-long strike on Monday in protest of the state's use of "modern day slavery" within its correctional facilities.

In a statement released by the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, one of several advocacy groups supporting the movement, the state's prisoners urged the prison population to refuse all work assignments during the strike:

We are encouraging prisoners throughout the DOC to band together in an effort to demand payment for work performances...Our goal is to make the Governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance. This will cause a total BREAK DOWN.

African-Americans make up about a third of Florida's prison population, despite accounting for only about 17 percent of the state's overall population. Calling their movement Operation Push, after Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1970s campaign to improve the economic status of African-Americans, the state's inmates are fighting against the Department of Corrections' price-gouging practices and Florida's elimination of parole as well as its use of unpaid labor by prisoners.

Florida is one of five states that offers no payment to inmates for their work—from washing prison uniforms and cooking meals to completing maintenance work and serving on cleanup crews after Hurricane Irma hit the state last September.

"There's a word for that, it's called slavery," Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, told the Guardian. "Some states might say they pay 10 cents a day, or 15 cents an hour, or whatever, but here they make it pretty clear they don't pay prisoners anything, they're not going to, and prisoners are totally enslaved at every level."

On top of receiving no compensation for their work, inmates—and their families—have to come up with money to afford food and other items sold in prisons.

"We can no longer allow the state to take advantage of our families' hard earned money by over-charging us," wrote the inmates in their statement. "Take for example: one case of soup on the street cost $4.00. It costs us $17.00 on the inside. This is highway robbery without a gun. It's not just us that they’re taking from. It's our families who struggle to make ends meet and send us money—they are the real victims that the state of Florida is taking advantage of."

Black Lives Matter, several local chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, and Florida State University's NAACP chapter are among more than 100 groups that have announced their support for the movement. Many of the groups planned to hold a rally with inmates' friends and families at the state's Department of Corrections on Tuesday.

Civil disobedience is the only way left to fight climate change

By Kara Moses - Red Pepper, January 10, 2018

Right now, thousands of people are taking direct action as part of a global wave of protests against the biggest fossil fuel infrastructure projects across the world. We kicked off earlier this month by shutting down the UK’s largest opencast coal mine in south Wales.

Last Sunday, around 1,000 people closed the world’s largest coal-exporting port in Newcastle, Australia and other bold actions are happening at power stations, oil refineries, pipelines and mines everywhere from the Philippines, Brazil and the US, to Nigeria, Germany and India.

This is just the start of the promised escalation after the Paris agreement, and the largest ever act of civil disobedience in the history of the environmental movement. World governments may have agreed to keep warming to 1.5C, but it’s up to us to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

With so many governments still dependent on a fossil fuel economy, they can’t be relied upon to make the radical change required in the time we need to make it. In the 21 years it took them to agree a (non-binding, inadequate) climate agreement, emissions soared. It’s now up to us to now hold them to account, turn words into action and challenge the power and legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry with mass disobedience.

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