Teachers Fight Forward
The “Red State Revolt,” as the uprising of teachers has been described, shows the clash between new and old, as the U.S. moves further into crisis. Early in February, West Virginia teachers organized dramatic work stoppages. The revolt spread rapidly to Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, and South Carolina. All these states have anti-union right-to-work laws, where workers don’t have to join the union, non-union workers don’t pay union dues, and collective bargaining and strikes are illegal for public workers.
These teachers openly fought against a national attack, implemented state by state, cutting education funding, cutting budgets for public services, weakening public worker unions, and slashing corporate taxes. It is ironic that precisely because of state’s rights and right-to-work, teachers were put in a position with no choice, but to go outside the bounds of trade union politics and to directly confront the government.
From the first walkouts in West Virginia, teachers demanded increases for all public workers, including school service staff. Teachers organized around the silos imposed by labor laws and national unions, to unite with public workers and parents. They organized state-wide against state legislatures and governors who have been implementing the national attack. Their political unity expressed their common economic condition: the growing poverty of teachers, working multiple jobs and even selling their own blood to supplement wages, matching the poverty of public workers and many families.
The teachers attacked plans by governors and the federal government, “to save public schools by privatizing them,” through their imposition of charter schools and vouchers, and demanded the government provide adequate funding for public education. They demanded that health care and pension cuts, and tax cuts for oil and gas companies, all be reversed. Thus, from states stereotyped and dismissed as “Trump states,” teachers rejected the entire austerity agenda, which is an expression of the ruling class’ strategy to further attack the very class already being denied access to the basic necessities of life.
Like the Dreamers, #metoo, and Parkland protesters, teachers reached out to their communities, also suffering from pitiful wages. Their Facebook pages rapidly became larger than their unions’, opening up discussions of strategy and tactics. Teachers used everything, including shop window posters and car window messages to take their case to the community.
Their demand that government operate in the interests of the people – the workers – not the corporations, is a powerful political demand, because it challenges corporate control of the government. These elements signal important steps toward political independence from both corporate parties.
Why the Attacks? Why Now?
Today, teachers and other working class families face a combination of economic and political attacks. Corporations used to have an interest in good public education … what’s changed?
Public education was created because corporate industry needed literate workers to operate complex equipment for industrial manufacturing and services. This was true until the 1970s, when computers became powerful enough to be applied massively throughout industry. The digital revolution changes “labor-saving” production into “labor-replacing” production, revolutionizing not just industry but the entire economy. The problem is not digital technology; corporations under capitalism must automate or die, thereby eliminating labor power from production, with all of the destruction that flows from it.
Corporations supported the broad funding of public education when millions of workers were required. Today laborless production, combined with the capitalist imperative of maximum profit, drives the process of creating a new class of workers expelled from production, who must fight to obtain the necessities of life. This process is invading the public sphere. If they don’t need workers, they don’t need to really educate students. They just need to school them for submission.
This objective economic transformation forces the ruling class to go on the political offensive, attacking the new class in order to defend and expand corporate private property. Corporate groups like American Legislative Exchange Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce operate in every state to demand government cuts to all aspects of people’s lives: unemployment insurance, food stamps, public education funds, pensions, health care and more. For example, between 2010-2015, there were 12 states that restricted minimum wage, 15 limited bargaining by public employee unions, 10 restricted union electoral activity, 19 capped unemployment payments, 23 restricted voting rights, and four eased child labor laws.
Taking away everything people need for a decent life is a consequence of an ongoing objective process ,wherein a growing new class, cast aside by laborless production, is forced to fight for its very survival. Many teachers within this new class are a part of a growing mass of newly dispossessed workers, educated, socially aware, and used to organization. Their deteriorating economic position is forcing them to move against their conditions. This development is of the greatest political importance. As the teachers’ strikes and actions demonstrated, because of their position in society, they can pull a huge section of society with them. These newly dispossessed are the center of gravity of American politics. Through their actions they are shining a light on what is going on in the country, and are inspiring other struggles throughout the country.
Public education today is being destroyed by an aggressive national campaign to make education exclusively serve corporate interests. The goal is to condition us all to expect nothing from government, and to accept impoverished conditions. This is education for subjugation, bleeding workers, students, and taxpayers dry, with student loans, for-profit colleges, charters and vouchers.
Teachers recognize that imposing charters and vouchers is a tool to create a national system of two-tiered education. Privilege for the rich: small classes, advanced curricula, taught by experienced teachers, and subsidized by the public. Subjugation for the rest: large classes, narrow curricula, inexperienced teachers, and for-profit online programs. There’s no shortage of teachers who want to educate, or students, who want to learn, and there’s no shortage of money. This is a systematic withdrawal of money from the public, as the wealth of society is transferred to the capitalist class.
The digital revolution won’t stop. The social destruction will continue as long as government operates in the interest of corporations. The changes forcibly imposed on Puerto Rico, as with New Orleans post-Katrina, reveal the new model: close 300 schools, lay off 7000 teachers, begin by turning 10% into charters, begin vouchers, cut pensions, cut the education budget $466 million per year by 2023.
There is no common ground. Either corporations will take over society, or the people must take over the corporations and the government.
The teachers’ revolt has already generated important strategic ideas. The question already being asked is, “What next?” The first priority, expressed by many teachers, must be a national strategy. Anything less leaves the movement open to being divided and outmaneuvered by an enemy that definitely has a national plan.
The corporate reformers move state by state, because states’ rights lets them pick off states one-by-one, concealing their national campaign of dispossession. Education is funded principally within each state and less by the Federal government. The teacher uprisings directly held the government responsible for basic human needs. The combination of state funding and states’ rights means the teachers’ movement must also move state by state, but tactics must be guided by a national strategy.
Both corporate liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are deeply involved in the attack on public education, profiting handsomely. Focusing on the Koch Brothers and Trump in isolation from their class is used to disorient workers, disguising corporate class interests and the economics of capitalism driving this process. This smokescreen serves to spread their national program, based in the right-to-work South: states’ rights, anti-labor laws, low taxes, little corporate regulation, and slashing of benefits and resources for the working class, while beefing up mechanisms of control like the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, the police and more. It is the core of the political program that now dominates the political scene of the U.S., with Democratic Party complicity.
The teachers’ revolt opens up the possibility of taking the offensive, and provides lessons that can be applied nationally. A new political force is being born that can forge a new kind of political unity of our working class. The strategy needs to be national, like that of the capitalist class. It means challenging the very right of corporations to profit from education, and their right to have any say at all in public education. Education is an act of sharing between human beings. It is not for sale.
It means national funding of public education. Only the Federal Government has the power, resources, and jurisdiction to guarantee excellent education nationwide with complete equality. Government must be held responsible to guarantee public education as public property, and block every attempt to turn it into private property.
A national strategy must address government’s responsibility to guarantee the necessities of life for all. Foreclosures and evictions seem local, but they are clearly part of a national plan. Public education faces the same attack. Only the federal government can guarantee a national solution. Only the federal government has the power to block privatization with a single action.
There is no middle ground between corporate interests and human needs. One or the other will win. The objective situation requires new working class politics that addresses whose interests the government serves, and raises the question of the kind of political power needed by the working class to achieve its goals.
While the Parkland students say, “Either represent us or get out!” the top leadership of the Democratic Party intends to channel the “Red State Revolt” into Democratic election victories, but never challenge the corporate campaign of destruction.
Attempts to divide, derail and confuse the movement will be constant. A working class national strategy demands independence from the capitalist class and their two parties. It demands a real working class politics that implacably holds government accountable to guarantee the necessities of life for all.
September/October 2018 Vol28.Ed5
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011