education/childhood

Visiting the strike of West Virginia teachers

I just arrived in time for the last day of the teachers’ strike here. Spent the day at the state capitol building with several thousand teachers. I was told that yesterday – Monday – the building was so packed with teachers that you couldn’t walk from one side of the hall to the other. But even today, there were a lot of teachers here. The mood was celebratory; I think they could smell victory.

One thing you have to hand it to them: They were demanding a 5% pay raise for ALL state employees, not just teachers.

Whereas some (see interview with teacher) were saying that the 5% was not the issue, that the real issue was health insurance – PEIA – that wasn’t the mood today. I asked one teacher about that, and she said that that might have been true before, but once the Legislature turned down the 5%, then that became the marker.

Trump
A huge issue for many people in other parts of the country will be the fact that Trump got a massive majority in W. Virginia. I asked everybody I talked with about that. One teacher said that some of her co-strikers were thinking that Trump would come down there to give them support.

What I asked teachers was this: “A strike means like the Three Musketeers – ‘all for one and one for all’ – whereas the mentality that has gained steam in the country is ‘one for one and the devil take the hindmost; if I have to get ahead by stepping on you, then so be it.’  It seems that many politicians have built themselves up based on that mentality, and that includes the president. So, the question is whether people being involved in this strike, whether this experience will start to bring out a different side of themselves.” People seemed to agree with me, but I’m not sure if they were just being polite.

I talked with one guy, a school bus driver, actually, and his school teacher wife, who kind of agreed but seemed to think it might for the moment but then they’d return to the old way,w high was deeply inset. He said that for many, there were three things that mattered: “guns, god and gays.” He and his wife did agree, however, that if this strike is part of, helps lead to a wider movement then it will change that thinking.

Women
the overwhelming majority (over 90%) of the teachers there were women. While we were rallying in the hall, various people got up to speak. Every single one of them was a man. I commented on this to a few teachers, and they had noticed it also. But there was an overwhelming mood that that, and a lot else, will change come November, meaning that a lot of these people will be voted out.

I also interviewed three high school students, two young men and a young woman. The young woman at first deferred to the two guys, but I got on her case. “Come on, now,” I said. “This is anew day. You can’t let the guys do all the talking for you!” She smiled in agreement and then gave a very good statement.

Democrats

As the politicians emerged from their session after having voted in the 5%, they were greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm – cheers, dozens of people wanting to have selfies of themselves and these politicians. Of course, the politicians ate it up, waving, smiling, pretending that they were conquering heroes. It was similar at the signing ceremony.

Union

A number of teachers mentioned the strike that had happened in the earlier ‘90s. One said that the AFT made huge headway, gained a lot of new members, during that strike. One teacher commented that she was a member of the NEA, but that the local AFT had kept her on their list as far as keeping her informed on things ever since the ‘90s. She was very grateful for this and said that she’s now going to join the AFT. There seemed to be great support for “the union” and little of the disillusionment that exists in other parts of the country.

Some Conclusions

Quite a few teachers are aware that teachers in Oklahoma are talking about going on strike. With high school students rising up against the shootings and the role of the NRA, with the Me Too movement, and with the years-long campaign of Black Lives Matter, it may be that a new wave of struggle is starting to develop.

One point: Oklahoma teachers were saying that they’re not worried about getting fired because Texas is looking for teachers. Several West Virginia teachers expressed a similar sentiment. In other words, the low unemployment is starting to have an affect as far as boosting confidence. That will only multiply if inflation starts to take off.

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