From the March-April 2018 issue of News & Letters
As we go to press, as of March 5, teachers across West Virginia have refused to end their statewide strike, disregarding the maneuverings of a hostile state government and the plans of their union officials. The strike began on Feb. 22, as teachers and other school personnel across all 55 counties in West Virginia walked out in defiance of state law banning walkouts by public employees.
The state’s teachers—the lowest paid in the region, who will be paying hundreds of dollars more for health insurance because corporate tax breaks have gutted state coffers—pressured union leaders to continue the strike beyond the planned two days. After two more days on strike, they forced the governor, mine operator Jim Justice, to concede a 5% raise to the teachers (and 3% raise to other state employees), suddenly claiming he had found the money for it. Once again teachers rejected the union leaders’ calls to return to classes and the strike continues.
Teachers have been outraged by more than below-subsistence take-home pay. The legislature chose to fund only “education for unemployment” as coal mining jobs—those not already lost to automation and strip mining—disappear with declining demand.
Teachers have invoked their history of relatives who had worked in the mines, to demand solidarity in this strike. There are parallels to the 1949-50 coal miners’ general strike that was also centered in West Virginia. Then miners wildcatted against the government Taft-Hartley injunction and over the objections of United Mine Workers president John L. Lewis.
Food shipped in solidarity from auto workers helped the miners outlast the mine owners. This time teachers are directing food aid to their students deprived of school lunches.