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Apr 1, 18

Sparks Into Flames: The Coming Oklahoma Strike

The following is an analysis of the various teacher’s strikes fermenting across the US.

In the latest issue of Anti-Capital, it was observed that the present moment in the class struggle – particularly in the United States – has the makings of a strike wave.

There are vectors for labor’s class struggle to grow-over across sectors, industries, regions and within and between the diverse segments of the class. This potential is the result of developments in the economy and its concentration in politics and a shifting balance of class forces between the workers and the capitalists, marked by events in the class struggle. The most significant of these events has been the extraction of significant material gains from the struggle by tens of thousands of workers in a short period of time.

Tomorrow, an unknown number of Oklahoma’s 250,000 public sector workers will walk-out on strike. Even though the situation was extremely favorable for a general public sector strike in West Virginia, it did not occur. Public school workers were the only segment of the public sector to strike. Two days ago, the Oklahoma state employees’ union confirmed that state workers will join Oklahoma teachers and school service workers on strike. This is a further development and escalation of the combat initiated in West Virginia. The question of a general public sector strike was posed in West Virginia, with its shared demands and inter-trade strike encompassing both teachers and school service workers. This question gets closer to resolution with the coming inter-trade, inter-agency strike in Oklahoma.

Four days ago (Wednesday, March 28th), the 1400 striking Frontier Communications workers in West Virginia and Virginia returned to work. They had been on strike 22 days with one primary demand: 100% job security. They won this demand, which will be made official when the strike settlement is formally ratified. Approximately 200 Frontier workers’ jobs were saved and virtually all of the company’s chiseling attacks were defeated.

This contingent victory was largely won due to exceptionally strong solidarity among the strikers and their deployment of mobile pickets (“Scab Patrols“) toward the end of the strike. For Frontier, it must have been bittersweet that their successful petition for an injunction against picketing on company property resulted in the strikers taking their pickets on the road to confront the scabs wherever they tried to work. It marks the second strike in less than a month covering all of West Virginia that has resulted in substantial material improvements for the workers.

Public school teachers engaged in a spontaneous sick-out in Kentucky two days ago on Friday, March 30th, which forced nearly 2 dozen school districts to close due to staff shortages. It was a response to the passage of Senate Bill 151— a bill that will eviscerate public workers’ pensions.

Unfortunately, spring break begins for most Kentucky public schools on Monday, April 2nd. Without the schools being in active session, it is difficult to see a path for the teachers alone to develop their struggle.

There are other potentials that may salvage the situation for Kentucky teachers. Absent the leverage of a massive population of angry parents who support them (as was present in West Virginia), the struggle must find another dynamic to remain alive.

As is so often the case, vociferously anti-labor politicians can’t help themselves. When they attack one group of workers, they often attack the rest of us at the same time. Scott Walker in Wisconsin is the prophet of this particular sect. Attacks on union and non-union, public and private sector, citizen and immigrant, employed and unemployed; there isn’t an attack on the working-class that hasn’t been deployed in Wisconsin in the last 7 years. Governor Bevin in Kentucky is of like mind, and has been picking fights with other segments of the working-class as well. It’s possible that another fraction of the class will take the lead in the struggle that had been driven by public school teachers up to this point. University professors may be the next group to enter the struggle.

Workers could occupy the state capital building(s) and initiate permanent mass demonstrations, as was done in Wisconsin in 2011 and, to a lesser extent, in other states since – the latest being West Virginia earlier this month. At a time when the balance of forces in the workplace aren’t in the teachers’ favor, a pivot away from the workplace to mass demonstrations could sustain the movement for the duration of the spring break recess in Kentucky public schools.

Of course, if the Oklahoma public sector strike does start on Monday, April 2nd, it has the potential to change things; and not just in Kentucky.

In 2016, 400 workers struck the Just Born Quality Confections factory in Pennsylvania to defend their defined-benefit pension. It was an especially bitter strike in which the workers split apart. Nearly a third of the workers crossed the picket line. What prompted it all was Just Born’s attempt to force new employees into 401(k) plans while refusing to pay their contractual obligations for terminating their participation in the bakers’ union’s multi-employer pension fund.

Now, an appeal filed by Just Born seeks to absolve the company from paying its withdrawal fee of $60 million to the pension plan. A victory by Just Born would be another blow to defined-benefit pensions. It’s a front in the class struggle that affects over 10 million private sector workers and retirees. It’s an example of the kind of broad attacks by capital against the working-class that creates the potential for the generalization, the growing-over, of labor’s class struggles. It’s also the private sector equivalent to the broad attacks on public employee pensions at the heart of the struggle in Kentucky.

In the background of these highly visible struggles, an archipelago of isolated struggles continue to boil across the country. Strikes that have been ongoing for over a year remain alive at Charter/Spectrum Cable and Hecla Mining. As of March 2018, workers at Tecnocap in West Virginia were (and remain) locked-out, workers at Gradall in Ohio have gone on strike, workers at Frontier Communications, Jersey City schools, Hannaford struck and returned to work; now there is strike talk among many workers across the country in many different industries, from Heinz factory workers in Pennsylvania to AMR ambulance workers in New York to non-tenured faculty in Maryland to public school teachers in Arizona and beyond.

When there are new developments in the class struggle, all of us who work toward the revolutionary abolition of wage labor, capital and capitalist society are faced with urgent questions and urgent tasks.

Anti-Capital has been and will continue to be a forum for these questions and these tasks, and we encourage readers to engage with us, contribute to discussion and send submissions.

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