This August, West Virginia’s three main DSA chapters kicked off our first-ever joint campaign, focusing on the struggle to fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) in our state and its connection to our larger national demand for Medicare for All.
Meeting in Charleston, the state's capitol, we brought together members from Kanawha Valley, North Central West Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle, where we spent two days getting to know each other and strategizing for this statewide campaign. We held training on canvassing, power-mapping, developing a political education program for our members and bird-dogging candidates and established a committee to continue inter-chapter communication on the campaign going forward.
In our state, we just witnessed one of the most successful wildcat strikes of the last 50 years of US history. State school employees won a 5% wage increase not only for themselves, but for all state employees – demonstrating the power and potential of working people to win ambitious demands from the state. We knew, following this strike, that it was time to meet up and work to grow our DSA chapters together, seizing on the moment of increased worker militancy.
Key leaders of the strike itself were DSA members, and their strategic influence led to demands for progressive revenue increases that we are still fighting for today, as the main piece of unfinished business from the strike is the revenue source that will fund PEIA into the future. We’re carrying forward the demand for progressive funding for PEIA to make sure that our state workers keep their health insurance and that it does not go down in quality or up in price.
To that end, our West Virginia DSA chapters have agreed to form a statewide committee to fight for progressive revenue increases. We are demanding that the governor and state legislature must raise the natural gas severance tax to 7.5%, and the corporate net income tax to 9% in order to adequately fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
The rising costs of PEIA have made it difficult for public employees and their families to make ends meet. This is causing many workers to leave the public sector, and even move out of state. We rely on public employees to teach our children, repair our roads, assist our veterans, and protect our most vulnerable. If we are serious about giving these workers a fair deal, we must raise taxes on corporations and natural gas companies, whose profits are largely funneled out of state. We must demand corporations pay to fund the state, rather than financing public goods on the back of working people in West Virginia through regressive measures.
While our first fight is to win a funding solution for PEIA, we know that the end goal and real solution for all of us is Medicare for All, and want to work in that direction. One option is first opening up PEIA to all West Virginians to increase buying power, thus making it a single-payer system for the state.
So in the immediate term, our chapters are collecting petition signatures and pressuring legislators for these progressive revenue increases, and planning to attend a rally at our state capitol on Sunday, September 16th, to let our elected officials know before the November election that we will accept nothing less than a real fix for PEIA’s funding structure: progressive revenue sources to fully fund the program.
This first statewide meeting between West Virginia chapters gave us the chance to think strategically about how we can continue to build on the working class energy created by the teachers strike. The campaign for progressive PEIA funding will allow our chapters to develop our members as organizers, engage and draw new members to DSA, and to spell out the connections between struggles for healthcare at the state level to the broader fight for a national single payer healthcare system.
We in West Virginia are excited to build this campaign together after coming together to discuss our shared priorities. And, we are affirmed in our belief that healthcare is human right, one that we are going to fight for in our state until everyone has the healthcare that they deserve – Medicare for All!
Dan T. is a organizer with Kanawha Valley DSA.