While they are common in Europe, most of us have never seen a big political strike in our lifetimes, until now.
The strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona represent a big step up for the American working class. Newspersons are treating the phenomena as something angry teachers are doing, but it is much more than that. It’s a giant step upward for American workers.
What Is a Political Strike?
Almost all we know about strikes in America since 1947 is limited to actions against a single employer. The austerity oppressing American workers since 1980 has not been met with the kind of united class action we commonly see in Europe. The French railway workers, for example, are just about shutting down the nation right now, and it’s not so they can get a raise. It’s a political strike against government! So are the school employees’ actions in the United States!
If we organized for it, we could be conducting concerted action everywhere to get an increase in the minimum wage. The “Fight for Fifteen” could be a political strike, and I believe that, sooner rather than later, it will be.
It’s Not Just Teachers
Teacher aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and all kinds of school employees are doing picket duty. They are joined by students, parents, and the public at large. School administrators, in many cases, are helping by shutting down the schools so that strikers can make up the pay they’re losing with extra school days in the summer. Many politicians and high-profile personalities such as sports figures are on our side. Just about every progressive person is spreading the word on social media.
The demands are not limited to teacher raises. The strikers are demanding an end to the steady starvation of public education and full funding for everything the students need.
It’s Not Just Unions
In fact, I’m not even sure that the unions are directly involved. If one looks at the web site for the Oklahoma Education Association or the Oklahoma American Federation of Teachers, it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Both of their Facebook Pages have some good photos, but very little to show that the biggest unions are backing the strike. I have a theory about that.
One of the leaders from West Virginia told me that their strike was “wildcat.” It means that the official unions did not call it and did not officially support it. It also means that the official unions were not legally nor financially responsible for it. My theory is that America’s unions are so constrained, so hogtied, that they dare not push the legal limits with such an action. I’m guessing that all the strikes today are “wildcat.”
I don’t exactly blame them. Unions represent their members and that’s all, no more no less. If they go out on a limb, they may be risking their entire existence. They could be fined every cent they have and then some. Officers could be put in jail. It would not be the first time that the government has punished organized workers. Would that be the responsible thing for a union that represents all its members?
CHEERS to the AFL-CIO Labor Federation
The American Federation of Labor/Congress of Industrial Organizations is not a labor union. It is a federation and consequently has a different legal and political situation. In my opinion, the present AFL-CIO leadership is far in advance of most of their constituent unions. That’s why I emphasize that all progressives should be working with them.
President Rich Trumka has given the national AFL-CIO position on teacher strikes: “When working people dutifully play by the rules and still can’t get ahead, they’re going to upend those rules. That’s exactly what’s happening today. Teachers, from West Virginia and Kentucky to Oklahoma and Arizona, are fighting to overturn a rigged system that has left them behind for decades. They’re inspiring a resurgence of collective action among all working people who are hungry for real change to improve our lives. The 12.5 million members of the AFL-CIO are proud to stand with all those marching to secure a brighter future for our teachers, students and families”
The only part of Trumka’s statement I disagree with is where he said it was “teachers.” Teachers may be spearheading it, but we are witnessing a giant working class process. Conditions, meaning low unemployment and high discontent, are ripe for it to spread throughout the nation.
I discuss these things on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. From the “events” tab, you can see the last two programs. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site