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West Virginia strike as “wildcat” ? nomenclature challenged

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Tue, Mar 06, 2018
by Monty Kroopkin
IWW San Diego branch

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A new article, “West Virginia’s strike is no “wildcat”  — Getting the language right”
The New Politics article contends, in part:
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“When workers have no contract or collective bargaining and do not belong to the union that says it represents them, they have not organized a “wildcat” strike because they are not violating the “no strike” provision of the contract, nor are they “defying” the union officers, whom they have never elected to speak for them, when union officers say the strike has been settled.” http://newpol.org/content/west-virginia-strike-no-wildcat
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Point well taken, and the article is well worth reading, but…
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Even the article’s linked Wikipedia article is somewhat self contradictory:
“In 2018, West Virginia teachers went on strike to demand higher wages and, crucially, comprehensive and affordable health coverage. Without the sustained sanction of union leadership, this strike became a wildcat strike. [4]
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The New Politics article is technically correct in noting the legal (in USA) definition ( https://definitions.uslegal.com/w/wildcat-strike/ ) of “wildcat”, as tied to a collective bargaining agreement, does not match the situation in West Virginia. The fact that the 3 unions (officials) did at one point call for a strike and that those officials at a later point called for the strike to end, but that the officials were then ignored by the workers is the legally and logically and linguistically imperfect basis for anybody to call the subsequent continued strike action a “wildcat”. It is closer to the ordinary meaning of a strike not sanctioned by union officials DURING the course of a collective bargaining agreement contract, despite the fact that no such contract exists here. Furthermore, strikes that are NOT sanctioned by union officials and which occur AFTER the expiration of a contract, are also popularly called “wildcat” in situations where the union has previously won a representation election and remains the exclusive legal representative of those workers. Legally, such strikes after the expiration of a contract are not “wildcat” despite a lack of official approval by the recognized union’s officials.
The fact that public sector teachers and school staff in West Virginia have no state law that recognizes that they have the right to strike, and therefore all such strikes are deemed “illegal” was NOT enough to cause people to call the strike “wildcat” at the point that union officials had called workers to go out. Note however, that the Wikipedia article on “Wildcat strikes” references the 1965 federal postal workers strike in Canada, which took place at a time when those public sector workers in Canada were not covered by any law which recognized their right to strike.
It is importantly the supposedly “illegal” aspect of the strike which echoes the concept of a “wildcat”.
If we step back from the ‘blinders’ of a perspective limited to state and federal labor law statutes, it is worth notice that the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 23, Section 4: “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” The word “strike” is not mentioned, but “protection” of ones interests by use of a union (including by strikes) is a key part of what is meant here, and is clearly fundamental to what unions do, historically, and worldwide. The Declaration is a treaty the USA has ratified, and therefore, per the US Constitution’s provisions regarding treaties, the Declaration is also federal law.
Revolutionary unions, including the IWW, do not recognize the legitimacy of any law anywhere which intends to make any union or any strike “illegal”, whether the law does it expressly or implicitly by failing to “recognize” the right to strike or form a union. UN Declaration or none, we hold freedom of association and the right to strike as being fundamental and inalienable human rights.
The rebellious spirit and grassroots, self-organized democracy embodied in the term “wildcat” is an important message flowing out from the strike in West Virginia. That is at least as important, if not more important, than whatever results from this strike.
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