The defacto house band of the Richmond IWW – RED SOUTH – recently released an ensemble version of the classic union tune “Which Side Are You On?” with the lyrics reworked to be about the plight of education (and other) workers in the state of Virginia.

This version of the song is markedly more somber than RED SOUTH’s previous release of this tune which was nearly double the tempo. Adding in two banjos, a second guitar, mandolin, and a chorus of workers to sing…well…the chorus. These additions make for a very different atmosphere. Contributing further to the new release is about a one-minute spoken word section featuring VA public school teacher, organizer, and fellow worker, Brian Teucke. In addition to his Banjo picking talents, Teucke delivers a message directly to the VA General Assembly and Governor Northam – two institutions that have repeatedly failed the working class (doubly so for the education workers of VA).

This message is aimed at forcing Virginia’s politicians to choose a side and to remind them when it comes to public schools, there’s no middle ground. Either they are fully funding the basic needs of our schools, or they are placing our schools in a secondary position to corporate interests (i.e. Northam’s decision to offer hundreds of millions to Amazon in tax breaks). For decades, Republicans and Democrats have made excuses on why they cannot fund public schools. Their excuses are no longer acceptable. The working class and union power in Virginia will now hold them accountable.

RED SOUTH – Which Side Are You On?

These choice words come not a moment too soon as today the governor released his own statement bragging over the ‘accomplishments’ of his administration. His words regarding the public education system in VA were particularly nauseating given the distortion of truth in Northam’s statement. Northam contends that “…I’ve proposed landmark funding to increase access to early childhood education, support K-12 students and teachers…” yet this proposal still fails to bring the pay of teachers in Virginia to even the national average (VA teachers are $9,000 below the national average and support staff are even further behind). Moreover, and as footage in the film highlights, Northam’s budget has not included any funding for the much-needed repair of decrepit school infrastructure.

With Democrats in power, the “Blue Wave” boasted promises of “big changes” for our educators and students. But many Democrats are more concerned with bowing down to corporate interests and perpetuating austerity in our public institutions than funding basic educational needs. As of Feb. 12th, Republicans and some Democrats are refusing to fully fund the SOQ (standards of quality) positions (bare minimum staffing recommendations). In other words, the Governor and the General Assembly, are refusing to ensure funding for localities to make sure schools have enough school counselors, social workers, classroom instructors, and other vital support staff.  With Virginia ranked 40th in the nation for per-pupil spending and 32nd for teacher pay (even though they are the 12th wealthiest state), why would Northam or anyone in the General Assembly be celebrating today?

Virginia’s education workers are interested in more than just some paltry raise. Instead, they have their eye(s) on the prize of collective bargaining rights. In Virginia, like many other states that are hostile to workers, state employees specifically do not have the right to collective bargaining. Although bargaining with bosses over contracts is not within the IWWs purview, it is a crucial first step towards lifting our education workers out of the depths of oppression and exploitation.

Education workers visiting the VA Capitol building in January 2019.

Further, the education workers of Virginia have embarked on this struggle not only for themselves but on behalf of all state employees in Virginia. The support of such public displays of solidarity between groups of workers is entirely crucial to the aims of the labor movement and the IWW more specifically. Indeed, working-class people looking after one another’s interests is anathema to the will of the state and it’s greedy financiers.

On account of this fight and the Richmond IWW’s involvement in education worker organizing in the state our fellow workers in RED SOUTH were kind enough to record this tune and to make a video for it. Please help pass this around to spread the word – let’s make this thing viral! We would very much love to see Ralph Northam, Dick Saslaw, and Tommy Norment’s smarmy faces reacting to the message carried in this new spin on a classic song that brought so much fire to workers past.

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