By Anna Daniels
It is illegal for public employees to strike in the state of West Virginia. The teachers have gone all-in anyway, and are currently in the eighth day of a wildcat strike that encompasses all of West Virginia’s fifty-five counties. The state’s legislators have rejected the agreement that Governor Jim Justice presented last week that would have returned students to their classrooms. It doesn’t appear that the strike will end any time soon. Nor will the striking teachers’ commitment to providing food to the one in five students who live in poverty in their districts end soon either.
Teacher salaries in the state rank forty-eighth in the US. One teacher noted that a manager at a fast food restaurant close to her school makes more money than she does. According to recent data from the Department of Education, “teachers tend to be white, female, and have nearly a decade and a half of experience in the classroom.”
Once again we see a female dominated profession pushed into penury while at the same time reaching into their own limited resources to continue helping their students. Remember when Philadelphia couldn’t pay its teachers and many of them held classes for their students anyway?
There continues to be a societal and political expectation that women will “give it away for free” and there is certainly little respect or value ascribed to their selflessness toward others. Look no further than the recent tax cut and the debate about the deduction that teachers and principals can take for using their own funds to purchase classroom supplies. The current measly two hundred and fifty dollar deduction was in danger of being eliminated completely by House Republicans, but stood to be doubled by the Senate.
The $250 deduction doesn’t necessarily have a huge impact on educators’ federal tax burden. But they see it as at least a symbolic recognition from Washington that, unlike many employees, they have to spend their own money to support their work.
And once again we see private citizens stepping in with a gofundme campaign to provide support while the teachers’ state Senators argue that they are not worth a meaningful pay raise and benefits package, or as they put it—there is no money.
The West Virginia teachers strike has sparked interest across state lines—teachers in Oklahoma may be going on strike next. The strike is also occurring against the backdrop of the Supreme Court case Janus v AFSCME. Their decision could hollow out public sector unions as we know them, or as SDFP write Jim Miller describes it
The bottom line here for the vast majority of Americans is that this Supreme Court decision is a key part of a larger war against not just unions but the notion that there should be any restraint against the unchecked power of the affluent and corporations. The folks who brought you Trump and the fifth conservative vote on the court want to take away the political and economic power of the people and make an already rigged system work against the interests of those of us who labor rather than own for our living. Simply put, they want to shut you up and pick your pocket.
The West Virginia strike is the most current in the state’s history of militant labor battles, albeit less bloody. Kate Aranoff in In These Times makes the case that the labor movement should follow the teacher strike lead:
Teachers and nurses are two of the country’s most heavily unionized professions. They also stand to be hardest hit when right-wing politicians attack the public sphere. But even if the Supreme Court rules against labor in Janus, which could kneecap public-sector union budgets, strikes like the one being carried out by rank-and-file teachers in West Virginia can set a tone of militancy against austerity.
It’s not uncommon to hear union organizers say the most successful campaigns happen in the places where the fight is the hardest: where the bosses are jerks and the pay sucks. Under Trump and, likely soon, Janus, that may well soon describe the whole country. West Virginia workers past and present have offered one hell of a roadmap to navigate such a future.
Women, this time teachers, are once again at the forefront of this country’s labor discussions and more important—actions.