March 03, 2018

How to kill a deal

I have  good friend from southern West Virginia who used to say that when politicians wanted to kill a bill they didn't like they wouldn't come right out against it. Instead they'd love it to death. I think that's just what we've witnessed in the senate finance committee, where Republican leaders pretended to care so much about public employees that they derailed a bill that would easily have reopened schools across the state.

These guys could have done the right thing and made all this go away the easy way. Anything can happen (obviously!) but it looks like we're going to do it the hard way. The level of cynicism is pretty hard to fathom. I'm guessing it would take some deep drilling to get to the bottom of it, but that shouldn't be a problem since they're in the pocket of the gas industry.

I'm almost kinda sorta starting to get mad.

My last word for now is a positive one-major shout out to WV's school superintendents, who have been real heroes in all this.

Unveiling Appalachia: #55strong

When teachers, school support workers and public employees rise in West Virginia, they rip away the veil from West Virginia's open secret, which is hidden in plain sight.

(Geek moment: the word "apocalypse" comes from the Greek meaning to  unveil, uncover or reveal, which is why the last book of the New Testament in English is called Revelations. So we could actually call this an Appalachian apocalypse even if the moon doesn't turn to blood.)

That open secret  WV workers are revealing is that behind the squalor of our public institutions and poverty is the fact that for over 100 years the wealth of our state has been drained away by outside extractive industries which left a lot of wreckage in their way. And it's still happening.

This is an old secret but it's still new. As far back as 1884, the Tax Commission appointed by the WV state legislature warned of the dangers ahead if state leaders didn't act to protect the interests of the people who actually live here.

The Commission argued that economic activity alone was not a measure of prosperity or progress unless the wealth generated remained in the state and benefited its residents. It warned that extractive industries owned by outside interests would, in the end, leave West Virginia “despoiled of her wealth and her resident population poor, helpless, and despondent.”

The report’s conclusion is worth quoting in full:
“The wealth of this State is immense; the development of this wealth will earn vast private fortunes far beyond the dreams even of a modem Croesus; the question is, whether this vast wealth shall belong to persons who live here and who are permanently identified with the future of West Virginia, or whether it shall pass into the hands of persons who do not live here and who care nothing for our State except to pocket the treasures which lie buried in our hills?
If the people of West Virginia can be roused to an appreciation of the situation we ourselves will gather this harvest now ripe on the lands inherited from our ancestors; on the other hand, if the people are not roused to an understanding of the situation in less than ten years this vast wealth will have passed from our present population into the hands of non-residents, and West Virginia will be almost like Ireland and her history will be like that of Poland.”

Alas, this warning went unheeded. But this struggle has once again awakened thousands of West Virginians to the need to ensure that our natural wealth contributes to the lasting well being of all West Virginians.

For starters, this means increasing severance taxes and eventually creating a functioning Future Fund to create a lasting source of wealth. That  could help prop up PEIA and deal with many of our other problems.  That struggle won't be won right away, but at least many more people are aware of what needs to happen.

Speaking of apocalypse, if we actually did that it really would be the end of the world as we know it.

March 02, 2018

What's next in WV's Appalachian uprising?

It's pretty much official. This is more of an uprising than a work stoppage. The movement is driven from below and no formal organization is pulling the strings.

Historically, that's often the way change happens. Working people's organizations fight the day to day fight for their members and allies but most of the time they do so in the absence of a huge movement willing to disrupt business as usual. When movements like this arise--they can't be manufactured or sustained at will, alas--there's sometimes a bit of a disconnect.

But spontaneous mass movements need organizations to consolidate their gains. And organizations can always use the power of a mass movement behind them. But either alone is in this context could be a recipe for disaster.

I could be way off but here's my take on where things stand now:

*First, as I argued here, this uprising has already resulted in major victories in a political climate MUCH more hostile than the 1990 strike. I'll say it again, don't minimize the victories. To see all the changes most of us want means we need to change the composition of the legislature so that friends of working people are in positions of leadership. And Congress.

*Second, I think the proposal to use the $58 million, wherever it may come from, for PEIA is just a distraction designed to defeat the movement. I'm no PEIA expert, but the people I know and trust who are all say it needs a long term fix, not a one time bump.

*I think the best outcome would be to push for the raise and long term task force with adequate representation from people directly affected--but to commit to long term educating, organizing and mobilization through May and November and beyond. The progress made shows what can happen when people wake up--but the ground working people have lost in recent years shows what damage can be done when we fall asleep.

*As to the senate president's assertion that the state budget is a fixed amount, that just isn't true. The state budget is the product of deliberate values and choices--or the lack thereof--not cosmic destiny.

*Division and confusion play into the hands of our opponents. And time may or may not always be on our side.

February 27, 2018

Don't minimize your success!

This post is for all WV public employees who put themselves on the line in this struggle (which isn't over yet). I'm showing my age here, but this isn't the first big labor struggle I've seen, although it is one of the best. Here are a few thoughts from someone who has been in a few dozen fights:

1. First, give yourselves a pat on the back. Over a few weeks, you mobilized thousands of people of all ages to stand up for working people and actually get something out of it, even though it wasn't all we wanted. That used to happen here in decades past, but hasn't for a long time.Trust me on that one. Or ask any union worker.

2. I know a lot of folks out there may feel disappointed by where we are now. But one danger of social movements is that they often perceive failure when they've achieved considerable success. Think about where we stood even a month ago with PEIA premiums and Go365, not to mention raises.

3. Realize how bad things are for working people. I wish there was a nice way to say this but there isn't: the legislative majority is in the hands of enemies of working people. Period.  That's been the case for the last few years and it hasn't changed over the last few days. Other steps are needed to change that. To have gotten this far under these conditions is little short of amazing.

4. Our union brothers and sisters  have experienced agonizing defeats over the last two years while many of us weren't even paying attention. There are three kinds of unions: industrial, skilled trades (think construction); and public sector. Two out of three lost serious fights in the last few years. Industrial workers lost a huge one with the passage of so-called "right to work" legislation in 2016. Skilled trade workers lost another huge one with the repeal of prevailing wage for state construction projects. Public sector workers (teachers, school support workers and public employees) just won one, even though their legal status is weaker than other unions with the lack of collective bargaining.

5. Your actions helped kill or delay other bad legislation, including unproductive tax cuts and anti-worker bills, such as the "paycheck pilfering act."

6. The fight for justice is a marathon, not a sprint. Consider this: the first unfree African laborers were brought to what became the United States in 1619. The Emancipation Proclamation wasn't issued until 1863, the same year WV became a state. The Civil Rights Act wasn't passed until 1964. The Voting Rights Act wasn't passed until 1965. Lots of people died to get that far. Many other struggles, such as that for the right of women to vote, took decades to win. We did pretty good in less than a month.

7. No offense, but some people new to the struggle don't realize how badly the deck is stacked against working people and how much work in terms of education and organizing it will take to change that. We didn't lose this much ground overnight and won't gain it back that quickly either. Be proud to have gone as far as you did.

8. I suggest you resist the temptation to criticize your leaders. Let our enemies slander "union bosses" all they want, but the leaders of WVEA, WV-AFT and WVSSP are all former teachers and support workers. They have the hard and thankless job of trying to get the best they can for members in a bad situation. They could do a lot more if that situation changes, which will take mass mobilization by you.

9. It isn't over. The power you just used to shake the state to its foundation is always in your hands, provided we act together. People who have power don't own it; they only have it as long as people below cooperate with it. Withdraw that cooperation (strike!) and their power evaporates

10. Remember The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy thought she needed the wizard to get back home, but she had the power all along. That power is the power that comes when working people act together. Remember the last verse of the WV-inspired labor song "Solidarity Forever:"

"In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand fold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
while the union makes us strong."

West Virginia's teachable moment

(This alert went out from the Legislative Action Team for Children and Families, which includes over 20 of WV's leading non-profits and organizations working for children and families.)

This is a teachable moment... will we learn the lesson?

In every county across West Virginia our teachers, service personnel, and state employees have put their jobs and bodies on the line in the struggle for decent wages and benefits.

For those of us who want to live in a a state that meets its obligations to its residents with good schools, good infrastructure, public parks, good jobs and excellent quality of life, the struggle of these teachers, service personnel and state workers is OUR struggle. THEIR fight for a better state is OUR fight for a better state.

This is a teachable moment for all of us. Our teachers are teaching all of us a valuable lesson.

For the last 10 years our leaders have chased down the blind alley of tax cuts for corporations, which neither paid for themselves nor created jobs.

For the last 100 years our state has bumped up against the dead-end of an economy where our natural and human wealth has drained away. Our policies have enriched out-of-state corporate CEOs and left us behind. We have failed to keep our promises to our children. We cannot afford another failing grade.

This is a test. One we cannot afford to fail.

This is a teachable moment for all of us, but only if we learn the lesson.

This could be the moment we learn from past mistakes. This could be the moment when we reverse course and invest in our children and our schools, invest in the people who care for our children and families and keep us safe.

In West Virginia, we care about one another. Our values are on display all across the state as our neighbors, families and churches are working together to support children with food and care, standing side by side on picket lines lifting our voices together calling for change, and working to make that change a reality.

What can you do to help during this critical time so we learn the lessons that our brave educators and their allies are teaching us? 


Please call the following leaders and urge them to put people first, come to the table, and work for a solution that is fair for WV families, teachers and students.  Please be courteous to the person answering the phone:

Governor Jim Justice, 304-558-2000
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, 304-357-7801
House Speaker Tim Armstead, 304-340-3210

Reach out on Twitter:

Support your local teachers and service personnel by posting on social media, visiting picket lines or honking when you drive by, send messages of support to local school boards.
Continue to stand together #55Strong #55United.

Share this Action Alert with your friends and networks.