Protecting Pensions: From Defense to Offense

The words “class struggle” may not have been uttered at the two-hour April 3rd rally at the VT Statehouse, but few can doubt the far-reaching import of the words of the mostly female speakers. In the first half, testimonies focused on the themes of the legislature’s betrayal; more burdensome economic futures for teachers, nurses, and other state employees; and the apportionment of moral and fiscal responsibility.

But these gradually developed into an more outraged and energized platform calling for 1) a new social blueprint based on serving human need through meaningful work; 2) the replacement of politicians with leaders rooted in the working class; 3) the rejection of the notion that wealthy elites execute any positive social function in this state or elsewhere; 4) intimations that behind Gov. Scott and other anti-pension voices stand anti–public sector ghouls like billionaire John Arnold and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Crucially, the organizers of this rally and fightback—declared just a first step—were rank-and-file members of both VSEA and VT NEA, and its members were exhorted to rely on themselves and to organize independently of union officialdom and elected officials (most of them Democrats). In solidarity were Vermont AFL–CIO members & leaders, including Vice President Omar Fernandez (APWU) and AFSCME 1674 officers Dan Peyser (Local President) and Katie Harris (Local VP) . 

In the end, “Tax the Rich” grew into a mantra shouted by a crowd of hundreds.

DSA poster for the Rally

There were many notable moments, such as when Vermont AFL–CIO president (and DSA member) David Van Deusen reminded us not to confuse the strike, an essential political weapon, with abstract legal categories. After all, unions, he recalled, matured in the face of hostile courts and police violence.

And educator Mairead Harris shared how a student’s consolatory thought that a person like her should not be content to be “only a high school teacher” was in fact an unintended insult that encapsulates one aspect of a fundamentally antisocial ideology. In sharing this anecdote the speaker’s point was that education is a calling, a way of life, and a commitment to making each generation kinder and wiser than the one that came before. In our capitalist society, however, where ever-larger profit margins and competitive individualism hold sway, teaching is seen as simply a job—and a low-paying, emotionally taxing one at that. Why would anyone really aspire to “only” be a teacher?

Fortunately, in one way or another every one of these dynamic speakers clarified that under capitalism workers’ wages inversely correlate to the good that they produce. We need only think of the glaring contradiction—much noted throughout the rally—that our politicians (like CEOs) laud “essential workers” while aggravating their exploitation through stealing their deferred earnings.

These are socialist voices, and we must continue to engage, amplify, and learn from them.

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