May 01, 2019

Born in the USA

Around the world but not here so much (yet), May 1 is celebrated as International Workers' Day. Ironically the roots of this observance began right here in the USA. A major struggle in much of the 19th and 20th century has been to reduce the hours of the working day, which could run as long as 14 hours or more in the early days of the industrial revolution.

A slogan of the movement was "eight hours for work, eight hours of sleep and eight hours for what we will."

Trade unionists in Chicago declared a strike for the eight hour day on May 1, 1886. One May 4, as police attempted to disperse a protesting crowd of workers at Haymarket Square, an unknown person threw a bomb which killed several police officers. The remaining police in turn fired at the crowd, killing four.

The bomber was never brought to justice. The only thing most historians agree on is that the eight people arrested and sentenced for the bombing weren't the guilty parties, several of whom weren't even there at the time. Of these, four were eventually executed. They are known as the "Haymarket martyrs."

The struggle to limit the working day didn't end there and was eventually won for many US workers by trade union organization and by the political reforms in the New Deal era and beyond, although some laws exempted protections for some of the most exploited workers, such as farm and domestic laborers.

Like everything else in the history of the struggle of working people for basic human justice, the fight goes on. In fact, as new forms of automation enter the traditional workplace, it may take new forms, such as limiting reducing working hours in order to share the available work.

The fight has always been about more than wages, hours and working conditions, as important as these are. It's also been about the need for culture, rest, leisure, education and dignity.

Lately, this hasn't been going so well, as you may have noticed. But it's not over yet.

(This is a from an earlier May Day post here a couple years ago.)

April 30, 2019

WV teachers and school workers brace for round three

West Virginia teachers and schools support workers have won two major victories over the last year or so.The successful 2018 strike help set off a wave of similar rebellions around the country, and the dominoes are still falling.

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Eric Blanc, author of the new book Red State Revolt: The Teachers' Strikes and Working-class Politics. Blanc was in West Virginia at the time of the 2018 strike and has followed the wave around the country. It was nice to hear how great the reputation of WV school workers is around the country.

I'm starting to get anxious about round three, which will be the special session of the legislature that could begin on May 22. This Metro News article highlights some of the issues. It's not clear how much of SB 451, the bad old "ominous omnibus" bill will be brought back. During many hearings around the state, stakeholders called for more mental health services, small class sizes and such.

Aside from outside astroturf groups, there has been no groundswell in support of privatization.

Still, I think a lot will depend on how teachers, school service workers and their allies stay engaged on this one. As the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, "Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.”