Lessons, Successes, Failures of the West Virginia Teachers Strike

Mar 9, 2018 by

Lessons, Successes, Failures of the West Virginia Teachers Strike

Bruce A. Dixon –

The 9 day West Virginia school strike was a long time coming, and contains a number of useful, if not new lessons.

The first not at all new lesson is that successful strikes are possible wherever an overwhelming majority of the workforce is committed to it, whether or not those worker are in a “right to work ” state, and whether or not the strike is endorsed by their union if they have a union at all. Neither of West Virginia’s two teachers unions endorsed the strike, and the leaders of both unions initially and repeatedly attempted to “settle” it for far less than the striking workers demanded.

A second lesson was that illegal strikes can succeed. Although a teacher walkout was explicitly prohibited by state law Governor Jim Justice dared not seek an injunction ordering teachers and others back to work because they enjoyed far too much public support. The largely successful New York City transit worker strike of December 2005 was illegal too, but workers achieved most of their objectives, despite the fact that the union leadership was forced by the authorities to resign and spend a few days in jail.

A third not at all new lesson was that all for one and one for all solidarity is key to successful strikes. Back in 1990 when teachers struck, school bus drivers were taking children right through their picket lines into the schools. This time the teachers went out along with the janitors, the bus drivers, the food service workers all demanding a 5% across the board pay increase, not just for school employees but for all state workers, along with a fix on ballooning health care premiums, out of pocket costs and an end to invasive and humiliating requirements for continued health insurance. When state legislators offered raises to the teachers alone they were emphatically hooted down.

A fourth lesson is that what happens in a workplace isn’t confined to that workplace. A worker is a whole person, a renter or mortgage debtor, a student loan debtor, a member of this or that church or other formation. People carry their home concerns into the workplace, and their workplace concerns home. They don’t stop being parents or residents of communities poisoned and pillaged by greedy extractive industries when they go to work. Part of the popularity of the teachers’ cause was their demand that the urgently needed health insurance fix come from a tax on the energy companies which have ravaged the state’s land and people the last dozen decades.

A fifth lesson, again not a new one at all is that in a wildcat strike the union officials may want to prematurely settle. The West Virginia strike was organized from the bottom up, not by union leaders. Beginning the second day of the strike union leaders and the governor’s office were already announcing its conclusion, the first time based upon a mere handshake with the governor. Teachers at the state capital and impromtu meetings in malls and other locations around the state rejected these premature deals. The final back-to-work agreement was distributed to workers, according to the World Socialist Website via robocall before the governor had signed any legislation.

What the teachers got, what they didn’t get.

What the teachers got was a 5% pay increase for all state workers, from cops to secretaries to janitors, assuming these are not outsourced as they are in most places nowadays, and a guarantee that the state will deduct union dues from paychecks, along with the understanding that unions are free to use these funds for political purposes.

They didn’t come close to achieving a tax on energy companies to fix the health insurance mess. They settled for representation on a so-called “task force” which is supposed to look into fixes for the state’s public employee health plan, and report back in October, theoretically in time for teachers and their allies to punish uncooperative parties at the polls. Some teachers called it a sellout.

continue: Lessons, Successes, Failures of the West Virginia Teachers Strike | Black Agenda Report

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