The Party for Socialism and Liberation salutes the courageous teachers who went on strike in West Virginia and those who have been inspired by them in other states such as Oklahoma, where teachers have set an April 2 deadline to strike if their demand for a significant pay raise is not met, and Arizona, where teachers wore “Red for Ed” statewide earlier this week. Like the historic Chicago Teachers Union strike in September, 2012, the brave actions of teachers and other school staff are galvanizing solidarity and more daring action across the nation.
Teachers in West Virginia won a 5 percent pay raise not only for themselves but for other state employees; stopped increases in health insurance costs and the imposition of an intrusive, neoliberal health “monitoring” system linked to their insurance.
Today organized labor is under severe attack, the number of strikes are at a historic low; the Janus case went before the Supreme Court. Yet the teachers in West Virginia–a state in which public employees do not have collective bargaining rights–stood up in statewide unity and inspired workers all over the country and the world. Teachers have been been squeezed from all sides, and today they are standing up and fighting back in some of the most politically conservative states where in many cases they do not have the legal right to strike.
It is clear that teachers are fighting not only to improve their own pay, benefits and working conditions; they are fighting for the very existence of public education. Public schools have been under a multi-pronged neoliberal attack for some time. During the George W. Bush administration, students and teachers faced a revived imposition of high-stakes testing under the guise of “no child left behind,” with arbitrarily imposed “average yearly progress” goals and the very real threat of schools being disbanded and “turned around.”
In 2008, the Obama administration took charge and teachers had hope that this testing abuse would come to an end. Instead, the game changed. The “Race To the Top” required states to adopt reactionary anti-teacher, anti-union policies. The privatization of public schools stepped up. Funding continued to decrease while the demonization of teachers and the promotion of charter schools continued apace.
Teachers have been leaving the profession in droves, creating a crisis in staffing that has been answered not by increased salaries, benefits and status to attract new people to the field but with attempts to reduce the standards for entering the profession, allowing untrained and unqualified people into the classroom.
But alongside those who have simply left the profession, a new spirit of fightback has begun to emerge among educators. The Chicago teachers led the way; in 2015 the Seattle teachers fought not only for their own benefit but for the rights of students to an anti-racist and developmentally appropriate learning environment. Now it is the teachers of the entire state of West Virginia and Oklahoma who are standing up.
Teachers are standing up for their rights and for the rights of students and the community to quality public schools. At the heart of education are the teachers–they perform the essential task of teaching.
We stand with teachers and school employees and urge all workers, in and out of unions, to stand with teachers and others who have or are considering putting it all on the line to defend their jobs, their profession and public education as a whole. The victory of the teachers in West Virginia shows the power of militant action despite unfavorable conditions for labor. Teachers need our solidarity; in turn, let this victory in West Virginia be the rising tide that lifts all our boats.