Across the country, newly confident teachers unions are taking a stand and reminding the nation of just how powerful organized labor can be when its interests are threatened.
Teachers in West Virginia went on strike for the second time in a year in protest of Republican amendments to an education bill that would pave the way for privatized charter schools, the creation of a voucher system and the accompanying leeching of public funds away from public schools. On top of that, it would create financial penalties for teachers who go on strike.
West Virginia Republicans bundled their flagrant attack on the public school system together with the 5% raise that the teachers had won during their last strike in a disgraceful attempt to poison their victory and punish them for their insolence.
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“They’re trying to break our unions and our public education system. This is our only option— we have to shut schools down to force them to back down” said the head of the Mingo County Education Association, Brandon Wolford, to Jacobin.
“This is not reform, this is retaliation. Nothing in this proposal would make things better for students or staff. How does bringing in uncertified teachers [by legalizing charters] help our kids? How does taking public money and putting it into private hands help our schools? Unfortunately, the politicians are listening to the top 1 percent instead of listening to us.”
Days of negotiations between the House and Senate did not produce the watering down that teachers wanted and knowing that the bill had enough support in the House to pass, the union went on strike — and successfully pressured enough Republicans (12) in the House to cross over and kill their own bill in the space of a few hours.
VICTORY IN WEST VIRGINIA: Under pressure from today's teachers' strike, the Republican-led House just voted 53-45 to kill the pro-privatization bill.
Strikes work — and West Virginian educators have again made history. pic.twitter.com/f0um1SMV1P
— Jacobin (@jacobinmag) February 19, 2019
While this certainly won’t be the last battle that the teachers of West Virginia have to fight against a stingy and uncaring Republican majority and their devious billionaire backers, the swiftness of their second major victory is yet another shot in the arm for our underpaid and overworked teachers unions and for organized labor across the nation.
As the teachers of Oakland, California prepare to walk off the job on Thursday in an effort to secure the pay they deserve and the extra funding their kids deserve, it’s clear that the wave of teacher strikes isn’t crashing down any time soon. Budget-cutting austerity hawks and charter school profiteers, take notice.