Author: Bryan

Still fighting to cleanse the world of ancient evils, ancient ills. Union for life, Southern until I'm dead.

West Virginia And The Coming War For Labor’s Survival

We have a guest post today, talking about the illegal strike that’s ongoing in West Virginia. C. formerly tweeted as @thehousered and works as staff for an education union in rural America.


Labor militancy isn’t a novelty in West Virginia.

It’s almost poetic, then, that West Virginia’s public school employees are on the fourth day of an illegal strike as the Supreme Courtat the behest of the bossescomes for the rights of working people.

The emerging struggle doesn’t fit anyone’s narrative. Liberal elites have eagerly devoured narratives from right-wing shills like J.D. Vance about the reactionary, racist white working-class of rural Appalachia. In the coastal liberal imagination, West Virginians are Exhibit A of the category of so-called “deplorables” that elected Donald Trump.

Nor does it fit the right’s preferred tale, of red states wholeheartedly embracing ‘pro-growth’ capitalist public policy. West Virginians are in a populist uprising in defense of public institutions, and against predatory corporations and corrupt pro-business politics: hardly the characteristics of the Republican Party’s long standing agenda. The populist uprisingsomething that seems to fit cleanly into the Left’s political imaginationis in rural Appalachia instead of the coastal metropolitan enclaves Left “thought leaders” inhabit.

Yet for the second time in 28 years, West Virginia’s public school employees have drawn a line in the sand in defense of public education, and turned​ to militant industrial action to fight for the common good.

How To Succeed In Organizing A High School Walkout While Really Trying

Si quiere leer en español, por favor hacer clic aquí.

So you’re going to high school and have decided that you can’t abide the notion of your classmates getting gunned down by yet another perpetrator of domestic violence. You want to walk out of your classes in protest, be it on 3/14 or 4/20, but you haven’t really done anything like this before. Worse, you live somewhere that has Confederate battle flags flying near the Interstate and there’s not many adults you can trust to help you organize a walkout at your school.

Don’t worry, I am here to help guide you through the process of taking your first direct action.

FIRST PHASE: Preparing The Ground

It is astonishingly rare for any kind of direct action to be truly spontaneous. Most of the major marches or pickets you see on the news were weeks or months in the planning and organizing, and this is no exception. Best case scenario at the time of writing is that you have three weeks to plan if you are walking out on March 14. That’s short notice, but very far from impossible. The longer time horizon of April 20 is going to allow you to potentially do more publicly facing actions, like teach-ins, or arrange for speakers. Either way, the steps you need to follow are the same, how much time you have to do them is the only difference.

First, your strongest shield is numbers. The bigger the walkout, the harder it will be for administrators and teachers to retaliate against you for taking action. If 95% of the school marches out the doors and rallies against the violence that infests our society, it will be impossible for Deputy Assistant Vice Principal McMAGAhat to suspend every single one of you. If it’s just six of y’all, well…you might be able to fight whatever the administration does to you in the courts. Likewise, hostility from your peers is allayed if you’re in the majority. If some wannabe Trump White House flunky that always wears a suit to school is in the far minority and doesn’t want to walk out, they aren’t going to be able to get away with harassing you the next day. They can’t bully all of you if you stick together.

Unionism Must Be Internationalist Or It Is Bullshit

This past Tuesday, Harley-Davidson announced that it was closing its plant in Kansas City, Missouri.

It’s regrettably a common occurrence these days. During the Obama to Trump transition, much was made about a deal cut by Trump to save jobs at the Carrier plant in Indianapolis, Indiana. Sadly for the workers there, it was a pack of lies and called as much by Chuck Jones, president of USW Local 1999 and the union that the workers of the Carrier plant were members of, from the very start. None of these plant closings are novel. They’ve been happening since the 1970s as capital controls dropped along with trade barriers, allowing multinational corporations to move work to places where wages are low, workplace safety is nonexistent, and effective unions do not have the right to exist.

The Harley plant closure is especially a bitter pill to swallow, given that the company had been doing relatively well until recently. The reasons given for the plant closure (and the laying off of eight hundred workers) was a drop in net income caused largely by a 6.7% decline in sales last year. The ineffectual wad of centrist nonsense known as #TheResistance also seized on a statement blaming some of the earnings drop on changes caused by Trump’s tax cuts. It’s also a blow to scandal-wracked Governor of Missouri Eric Greitens. After his blackmailing of a woman he had an extramarital affair with came to light, a major plant closing is a wound his political career can ill-afford.

But there is another dimension to this that did not get reported in any of the coverage of this story that’s upending the lives of eight hundred workers. Back in September, the International Association of Machinists and United Steelworkers ended their labor-management partnership with Harley-Davidson over the company’s plan to build a plant in Thailand. The partnership agreement, two decades old and praised as a model by some, is the latest iteration of the ‘jointness’ trend first pioneered by UAW and General Motors in the 1980s. Focusing on collaboration and co-determination and informed by the European works council approach, these kinds of labor-management partnerships inevitably break down when the company wants to do something that will screw over its workers’ ability to organize, like it has here.

So while eight hundred workers will have their lives upended in Missouri, Harley-Davidson will plow ahead in standing up a brand new plant in Thailand. But why might they do that?

On Practical Political Education

For a lot of socialist groups, political education has a tendency to linger on abstracts.

This is something of an unfair stereotype, as plenty of socialist formations expand what they teach their members and supporters beyond the usual list of Lenin, Marx, Engels, Mao, and interpretations of the above. Inevitably, though, all socialists have to reckon with the legacy of Marx and the soaring achievements and miserable failures of the Soviet Union and these political education efforts return to reading Capital, or The Little Red Book, or The State and Revolution. Most groups structured along democratic centralist lines in the US have a new member vetting process and an intensive political education program that involves reading some or all of those thinkers.

This is not to say any of these books are unimportant, or the ideas in them lack vitality in the current times, or even that the kind of thorough political education that groups other than DSA engage in are bad. They absolutely are not. They are merely a different political approach that the one DSA uses, the difference being largely created by DSA’s looser and more open organizational structure and the political inexperience of your average new DSA member when compared to the average new member candidate for a democratic centralist group.

The Readjustment

(This is co-written by Douglas and Bryan.)

Roy Moore is terrible. He has been terrible for years, and the scope of terrible that he brings to American society just greatly expanded this week.

It is easy to run a campaign as “not Roy Moore”; all that takes is a measure of compassion, humility, empathy for those who are less fortunate, and not ‘dating’ fourteen year olds as a man in your thirties. Judging from his statewide television ads, Alabama’s Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate — Doug Jones — seems content to meet that bare minimum standard.

There is lots of talk of “bipartisanship” and “working across the aisle”, which must sound great to people who have been living in some crag-based domicile for the last decade or so. The ads also play on his background as the federal attorney that put the surviving co-conspirators of Dynamite Bob Chambliss in jail for the rest of their natural lives, and urge “unity”. But unity with who? Republicans? The same conservatives who agitated racial animus to their political benefit until it blew up in their faces? The people in the Evangelical Church who are more than willing to blame the women who have come forward against Roy Moore? What iteration of that unity would benefit Alabama’s most vulnerable?

There is a resolution to this horrible situation out there, and its seeds can be found in Virginia.

The Commonwealth Network In Practice

Last time, I wrote out a model around which the Left could organize cooperative enterprises into a more coherent base upon which to build more powerful, more confrontational politics.

One thing I didn’t do is address how the commonwealth network could remedy historic iniquities, or how it would be able to defend the gains it makes. I didn’t discuss how a commonwealth network could be formed and expanded.

All of these are topics that need to be addressed if this model can ever be put into place.

The Commonwealth Network: A Theory And Model For Political Production

One of the fundamental problems preventing the American left from growing is a lack of political-economic infrastructure.

This has been one of the premises that Douglas and I have organized our writing about labor around. Be it a call for a second assault against the bosses in the South or an idea to defragment the labor movement and finish off the last vestiges of craft unionism in the US, we have sought to suggest actions that build working class power sustainably. While it is easy to propose strategies of disruptive protests, it is far harder to actually implement those ideas. Disruptive protests faces down brutal violence from the police, which frequently causes job loss and eviction through the arrest of those brave enough to participate.

And this is before we say anything about the basic miseries of life under the current system. Affording medical care, shelter, food, and other necessities is increasingly difficult as the prices of these basic fundamentals of life go up and wages do not. The life of the working class has grown increasingly tenuous, dependent on low-wage work for predatory employers like McDonald’s and Walmart that provide their workers little opportunity to live lives of dignity and security.

At the same time, the model of collective bargaining through exclusive representation has broken down beyond repair. The strike has been defanged through bad legal precedent. Attempts to revive its use have seen some success at shifting public policy but not in building power over the long term. There are some good proposals out there to address the glaring problems with labor law, but any push to fix this iniquity in law will require a system of political logistics to back it up.

Any political approach that is going to be successful in this environment will have to meet the material needs of the working class and encourage the expansion of working class power. The good news is that the seeds of such an approach already exist.