W.Va. workers proud of victory of teachers strike there

By Ned Measel
May 14, 2018

BLACKSVILLE, W.Va. — A team of Socialist Workers Party members and supporters returned to the coal mining region in West Virginia April 27-30 to speak with miners and other workers the party had met during the recent school workers strike and to get to know others in the area. We found workers’ spirits buoyed by the experience of the strike victory, and from more hiring in the coal, gas, oil and related industries. “Now Hiring” signs are visible all around.

Support for the teachers and other school workers is nearly universal among working people. Many we met were downright proud of what was accomplished. And we found that many had a tradition of fighting.

We met with Derrick Conaway, a 27-year-old worker, and his mother Deborah around their kitchen table here. Derrick met SWP members a few weeks ago when they knocked on his door, and he got an issue of the Militant. He liked what he read and called the paper’s office in New York to invite members of the SWP to come back to visit and talk some more.

His mother explained that she used to work at Walmart, and had a fight with the bosses to try to keep her job when she got sick. “I had to fight Walmart to get unemployment, when they tried to prevent me from getting it,” she said. “I won.”

They subscribed to the Militant and got two books, Teamster Rebellion and “It’s the Poor Who Face the Savagery of the US ‘Justice’ System.” Derrick Conaway decided to join the team the next day to go door to door in areas he suggested, helping convince two people to get subscriptions to the paper.

Our discussion with Ryan Spiker, a pipe welder, on his stoop in New Hill was wide ranging. Both Spiker and Conaway, like others we met, were intimately familiar with police brutality. Conaway was once severely beaten by the cops. Spiker told us about a friend who was beaten so badly he hasn’t been the same since. He couldn’t work and lost his house. He tried to sue the police, but said his attorney sold him out.

After leaving Spiker’s place, we watched the video “Maestra,” a documentary about the 1961 literacy campaign in Cuba after the victory of the revolution there, while sitting at the local Sheetz gasoline and convenience store.

As team members said goodbye to Conaway and prepared to return to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, we agreed we would stay in touch and get together again. Malcolm Jarrett, a supporter of the party from Pittsburgh, who had joined the team and an earlier one during the teachers’ protests in Oklahoma, decided to order a weekly bundle of the Militant.