Home > Uncategorized > West Virginia Could be the Beginning of a New Era… or the Beginning of the End of an Old One

West Virginia Could be the Beginning of a New Era… or the Beginning of the End of an Old One

When Diane Ravitch writes that an article is a “must read”, she is almost always right… and her recent post linking to a “must read” article by Rachel Garringer in Scalawag magazine is a case in point. Ms. Garringer’s article, “Learning from the Leadership of West Virginia’s Teachers” is a case in point. In the article. Ms. Garringer interviews recounts how the teachers across the state initially listened to the leadership of the two unions in the state, AFT and NEA affiliates. They patiently and deliberately made their case to the State legislature and built support in their communities for the need for higher wages and better compensation– particularly better health care. When the legislature remained intransigent, however, the state-wide union leadership gave a green light to a two day strike. When that failed to elicit the firm support from State politicians, the unions recommended “rolling strikes”… and at that point they lost control of the grassroots movement that emerged from the patient consensus building and teachers, using social media, went on a wildcat strike.

I suspect that “uprisings” of teachers will continue across the nation as intransigent politicians refuse to provide adequate funding for schools… BUT the battles over raising taxes to pay for settlements will be politically complicated. I foresee a situation where teachers’ roles will be to educate the private sector employees about the benefits of organizing… and if they are successful in doing so the baristas and wait staff who work for national chains and employees of national retailers will have a template to follow that might enable them to get the wages, benefits, and working conditions they deserve.

The politicians who are promoting the principles behind Janus should be careful: the may be creating a monster they and their donors will be unable to squash. Because when the day comes that employees see that excessive profiteering and shareholder and CEO greed are diminishing their earning capacity the political tide could turn. Teachers would be wise to unite with other public sector employees, none of whom want to earn huge sums of money but all of whom rely on the voters and taxpayers for support if they hope to make a living wage. Police, fire fighters, public works employees, and social service employees all depend on taxpayers for support and all have suffered from the GOP’s plans to drown government in a bathtub and the neo-liberals infatuation with “re-inventing government” by outsourcing and privatization.

While West Virginia’s strike might be the beginning of a new era, it could just as easily mark the end of an old one. If the voters don’t gain an understanding of how the system is working against them they will react the same way as voters in WI did when Scott Walker undercut collective bargaining. By promoting the narrative that all taxes are confiscatory and any group that seeks a settlement to improve wages and working conditions is “greedy” Walker and the GOP succeeded in dividing voters against each other. And just as bad are the “reformers” who have convinced the public that privatization of public services and the competition in the marketplace will result in greater efficiency and thereby save the taxpayers gobs of money. The conservative and neo-liberal politicians are counting on the continued ignorance of voters. It is now up to teachers to educate them. If the unions hope to regain footing, they will need to lead this charge.

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