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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.

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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.

Going on Offense During Challenging Times

By Marilyn Sneiderman and Secky Fascione - New Labor Forum, December 2017; image by Brooke Anderson

Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG) campaigns are expanding and spreading across the country. These campaigns offer important lessons on how unions, racial justice organizations, and other community groups can go on offense and win in these challenging times. The upcoming Janus decision at the Supreme Court, which threatens the membership and financial base of public-sector unions, makes this all the more crucial. In essence, BCG campaigns are when union and community groups together leverage contract negotiations for broader, shared gains.

Far from being new, much of BCG builds on what have been essential elements of building the labor movement from its earliest inception. The “mixed assemblies” of the Knights of Labor (founded in 1869) acted as community of unions working in conjunction with the organization’s trade assemblies. Unions and community groups have been partners in bargaining, budget, and political fights for years. Labor’s greatest battles—from the sit-down strikes of the 1930s to the United Farm Workers strikes in the 1960s, to the Memphis sanitation workers (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees [AFSCME]) strikes—all depended on deep community support that also reflected the values and needs of the whole community.

More recently, Jobs with Justice was founded in 1987 with the vision of lifting up workers’ rights struggles as part of a larger campaign for economic and social justice, particularly in the face of growing attacks on the right to organize and bargain. In 1996, the AFL-CIO through its Department of Field Mobilization launched its Union Cities strategy, working with key Central Labor Councils to reimagine labor’s relationship with community groups. This work included mapping corporate power structures, developing and building an infrastructure for political work, increasing diversity in leadership and activists, and supporting organizing of unrepresented workers in local communities.

Digging a little deeper, however, it is clear that the history of too many labor–community alliances were transactional in nature: “Support us on this campaign and we will support or fund you in some way.” When in fact what went unrecognized are the unified values and needs of community and labor, what’s good for a group of workers is generally also what’s good for the community, and, conversely, organized labor can exercise muscle and leverage access to power for broader shared community interests.

BCG aims to avoid transactional relationships between community and labor by building lasting alignments between unions and community groups, not merely temporary alliances of convenience.

How Canadian universities can confront climate change: moving from greenwashing to action

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 6, 2018

Confronting Climate Change on Campus  is a newly-released guide by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT/ACPPU), in response to growing awareness and concern amongst the professors and researchers who are members. It presents a three-step plan of practical action to be followed by academic staff associations and researchers across Canada:  To reduce the carbon footprint of campuses by improving building energy conservation and promoting low-carbon transportation;  to expand course offerings dedicated to climate change, and to encourage climate change research through grants and awards; and to advocate for the creation of association or institutional environment committees, or work with established committees, such as collective bargaining or workplace joint health and safety committees, to push climate change concerns.  The French version of the guide is here .

The growing awareness and concern amongst academics can be partly explained by the research efforts of the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN) at the University of Saskatchewan, which CAUT has highlighted, most recently  in  “The Politics of Climate Change” in the CAUT  Bulletin (June 2017).  The article summarizes results of a survey of Canadian colleges and universities by researchers at SEPN, and calls for exactly the kinds of actions addressed in the new CAUT guide.  The scholarly article on which the CAUT Bulletin article is based is “Climate Change and the Canadian Higher Education System: An Institutional Policy Analysis” , which  appeared in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education in June  2017.  The key findings are: “less than half (44 per cent) have climate change-specific policies in place; those policies focus most often upon the built-campus environment with “underdeveloped secondary responses” to research, curriculum, community outreach and governance policies; and the “overwhelming” response of modifying infrastructure and curbing energy consumption and pollution, while important, risks masking deeper social and cultural dynamics which require addressing.”   A 2-page summary is here ; an infographic is here.

Other relevant SEPN publications include “The State of Fossil Fuel Divestment in Canadian Post-secondary Institutions” (2016) ; “50 Shades of Green: An Examination of Sustainability Policy on Canadian Campuses” (2015) , and the related Research Brief Greenwashing in Education: How Neoliberalism and Policy Mobility May Undermine Environmental Sustainability  (2014),  and “Greening the Ivory Tower: A Review of Educational Research on Sustainability in Post-secondary Education” , which appeared in the journal  Sustainability in 2013.

And elsewhere in the world:  According to The Guardian, on February 5, the University of Edinburgh , which divested from coal and tar sands investments in 2015, announced that it will sell its final £6.3m of fossil fuel holdings.  Edinburgh has a  £1bn endowment fund,  (exceeded in the U.K. only by Cambridge and Oxford). Signalling the change to a more climate-friendly investment strategy, Edinburgh has invested £150m in low carbon technology, climate-related research,  and businesses that directly benefit the environment.

Puerto Rico teachers fight to reopen schools

Mercedes Martinez interviewed by Peter Lamphere - Socialist Worker, January 4, 2018

Months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leading to hundreds of deaths and devastating much of the island's infrastructure, ordinary Puerto Ricans are still struggling to put their lives and communities together--with little help from the U.S. government.

In November, Mercedes Martinez, president of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR)--a teachers' union that has organized against school closures and attacks on public education for many years--talked to New York City educator Peter Lamphere about how teachers are continuing the fight to rebuild Puerto Rico and what others can do to help.

In early November, 18 FMPR members were arrested as part of a civil disobedience action demanding the reopening of schools and drawing attention to the threat posed by advocates of neoliberalism--who view the hurricane as an opportunity to privatize public education and further weaken the power of the teachers' union.

P is For Privatization

By Camille Baker and Lydia McMullen-Laird - The Indypendent, December 27, 2017

When Nilda Sánchez and her children ventured outside after Hurricane Maria waged a direct hit on Puerto Rico, aluminum road signs were crumpled by the highway near their house and trees crisscrossed each other like slain animals in the street. The power and water were off, and remained so for six weeks. It was nearly three months before Sánchez learned whether another of the mainstays in her family’s life would be restored: her son’s education.

Sebastián, Sánchez’s 9-year-old son, had been receiving therapy for his learning disabilities at Instituto Loaiza Cordero, a public school in their San Juan neighborhood. Already the school had been shut down following Hurricane Irma’s sweeping of the island Sept. 6. For the next three months, Sánchez had no word on how much damage the school had sustained in the storms, and no inkling of whether or when it would reopen.

Their hardships multiplied. Sánchez began to worry that Sebastián, who suffers from developmental delays in hand-eye coordination and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was regressing without therapy and the routine of school. Child support payments from Sánchez’s ex-husband — whom she left, she said, after he became abusive toward her — stopped coming, slipping through the cracks of administrative upheaval. Without anywhere else to be, Sebastián had to accompany Sánchez to the few job interviews she could find in the hurricane’s wake.

Sánchez says Hurricane Maria opened her eyes to the “cruelty” of living in bureaucratic limbo.

American Federation of Teachers Resolution on A Just Transition to a Peaceful and Sustainable Economy

Passed by the Executive Council of the American Federation of Teachers on February 3, 2017:

WHEREAS, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate warming trends over the past century are due to human activities, and most of the world’s leading scientific organizations have issued public statements endorsing this position; and

WHEREAS, we are already experiencing the warming of the planet at a dangerously rapid rate, primarily as a result of our reliance on carbon-based fossil fuels, deforestation and other human activities that have caused a dramatic increase in the global level of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases; and

WHEREAS, according to the Congress of South African Trade Unions, there were already, in 2011, 150 million climate refugees around the world, with more certain to follow because “it is the working class, the poor and developing countries that will be most adversely affected by climate change”; and

WHEREAS, unless we curb the emissions that cause climate change, average temperatures in the United States could be at least 3 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit higher by 2100, with consequences including sea-level rise of at least 3 to 6 feet, more frequent extreme hurricanes, more powerful tornadoes, prolonged drought, larger and more frequent wildfires, much more severe winter storms in some areas, reduction to agricultural productivity with resulting food shortages and famine, spread of disease, and a spasm of plant and animal extinctions that threatens to eliminate up to half of all living species on earth; and

WHEREAS, scientists say that there may still be time to prevent the most catastrophic levels of global warming—if we eliminate the burning of fossil fuels worldwide within the next few years; and

WHEREAS, eliminating the burning of fossil fuels is perfectly feasible with existing technology; and

WHEREAS, the known and proven reserves of oil, gas and coal, if extracted and burned, would emit enough carbon to guarantee catastrophic, irreversible global warming within a few decades; and

WHEREAS, emergency measures must be taken to prevent catastrophic increases in global warming that will trigger irreversible changes to our biosphere; and

WHEREAS, at the present rate of carbon emission and consequent global warming, we could reach that tipping point by 2050 or sooner; and

WHEREAS, these developments have sparked a global movement for climate justice, which has taken direct action across North America and around the world to stop fossil fuel extraction, processing and transport; and

WHEREAS, the global movement for climate justice is demanding urgent action by our governments, including an encyclical by Pope Francis that lays out the moral imperative for transforming our economy and social practices; and

WHEREAS, members of the world’s governments, including President Obama, met again in Paris in December 2015 for the Conference of Parties held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) and called for significant reductions in the global use of fossil fuels; and

WHEREAS, we will solve the climate crisis only when we in the labor movement put our unions at the center of the climate justice movement; and

WHEREAS, addressing the climate crisis means immediate emergency measures, including, minimally, leaving all fossil fuels in the ground and retooling our infrastructure to run on renewable sources of energy; and

WHEREAS, the Pentagon and the military-industrial sector that feeds it and feeds off of it together are the largest consumers of fossil fuels and create the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions on the planet; and

WHEREAS, we have been sold the myth that we must choose between military jobs that do not enhance our nation's security vs. having no job at all; and

WHEREAS, there is no good reason why the richest nation in the world cannot fund protection for its workers as we move toward less military spending and minimal reliance on fossil fuels; and

WHEREAS, millions of good jobs can be created by moving toward greater energy efficiency, reliance on renewal energy, and the rebuilding of our civilian infrastructure; and

WHEREAS, there are several bills before Congress to tax carbon pollution, such as the Climate Protection and Justice Act, which would use the funds to provide rebates to households making less than $100,000 per year; and

WHEREAS, the Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act is an example of legislation that would protect workers whose jobs were lost because of the transition away from fossil fuels:

WHEREAS, the education and health sectors are, in fact, the epitome of green jobs—low in carbon emissions and vital to the wellbeing of our communities; and

WHEREAS, the American Federation of Teachers has previously passed resolutions at its national conventions calling for an end to the militarization of U.S. foreign policy:

RESOLVED, that the AFT will take its place at the center of the climate justice movement, extending wholehearted solidarity to—and, where possible,participating in—the full spectrum of community efforts for climate justice, including campaigns of public education, ofnonviolent direct action, and for legislative reform and theelection of public officials who genuinely understand the climatecrisis and support our movement’s program; and

Resolved, that the AFT is committed to a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy; and

RESOLVED, that it is the policy of the AFT that as much as possible most fossil fuels should be left in the ground; and that the AFT will unreservedly support community and legislative efforts such asthe New York state ban on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 201, and that the AFT will support similar bans in the future; and

RESOLVED, that it is the policy of the AFT to oppose the building of new fossil fuel infrastructure; and that the AFT will support AFT affiliate and community partner efforts to address new fossil fuel infrastructure construction in the way that works best for their community; and

RESOLVED, that it is the policy of the AFT to seek retooling of our infrastructure to run on renewable sources of energy where possible, to include, to begin with, massive expansion of public transit such as proposed by the Amalgamated Transit Union, and the rebuilding and retrofitting for renewable energy of our education and health infrastructure, much of which is crumbling due to long-term neglect by government and business; and

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers reaffirm its commitment to reduction in the Pentagon budget, with part of the money saved to go to green jobs in the education and health sectors; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will support legislation that enables a just transition for workers and communities directly affected by the transition to a renewable energy economy, and such legislation should include appropriate protections for workers in the fossil fuel industries and military industries; and that in order to speed the transition toward renewable energy, the AFTwill support legislation that places a fee on carbon pollution.