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*State of the Strike*

By Eric Blanc

(reprinted from Jacobin Magazine’s website)

For the first time, the capitol protest today took place on a weekend.
About a thousand people were here in the morning, though it thinned out by
the afternoon. Momentum remains overwhelmingly with the strikers. Everybody
really wants to go back to work, but they are determined to only return
once their demands are met. Morale remains high. The general perception
among the public at large is (correctly) that a small group of recalcitrant
now responsible for blocking the return of West Virginia’s children to

There is a deep crisis in the state leadership. The strike’s demand at this
point is for the legislature to pass the proposed 5 percent pay increase
for teachers, service personnel, and state troopers. (Partly because of the
refusal of the Republican legislature to accept this, the question of
PEIA, public employee health insurance, has been put on the backburner.)
The governor and the House under pressure accepted the raise a few days
ago, but the Republican-dominated senate finance committee blocked this

At their late afternoon meeting, they stuck to their insistence on a 4
percent raise, which everybody knows will not be accepted by the strikers.
The committee decision was seen by teachers as a slap in the face. In
short, there’s no resolution to anything.

The relationship of forces has been sufficient to organize a historic
statewide strike and cause a major split up top. But it hasn’t quite been
enough yet to win the pay raise. One powerful example of this split:
Republican governor Jim Justice, who just a few days ago was Enemy Number
One, today called on strikers to not accept anything less than 5 percent.
Specifically, he announced in his press conference
“Stay united. Don’t settle for less, even if they offer you 4.9 percent and
nineteen chickens.” (The quote made the rounds online.)

The superintendents — whose influence over the course of the strike is
extremely important since they decide ultimately whether schools are closed
the next day — also continue to support the strikers. Likewise, the
minority of Democratic politicians are generally seen by strikers as
defending their pay demands.

The union leadership remains lurking in the wings. It has lost much of
whatever authority it had among strikers during the first days of the
strike — but in the eyes of the state (and some teachers) it still stands
as the “official” voice of the strike. If a debate over next steps breaks
out, the question of who speaks for the strike will be posed sharply.

As it stands now, there is a strongly established rhythm of complete school
shutdowns across the state, plus protests of thousands all day inside the
capitol. But there is little in the way of political speeches, deliberative
assemblies, or mass meetings to discuss next steps for the strike, making
it difficult for anybody, including the militant minority of radical
teachers, to discuss demands or raise proposals for action. In so far as
there’s organization from below, it largely has revolved around
distributing information to parents and food to children
the state.

The capitol protest is extremely lively and inspiring, but it mostly
consists of chanting all day, plus a bit of meeting with and/or berating
politicians. Strikers generally feel that this tactic has been working so
far, and that victory is within reach. But the inability so far for the
politicians to meet the strikers’ demands means that the whole situation is

It seems virtually certain at this point that the strike will continue on
Monday. It remains to be seen whether the strikers can develop forms of
self-organization and mass action that would allow them to push for some
sort of escalation sufficient to force the remaining right-wing politicians
to concede.
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