Lessons From A Year of Striking Teacher Insurgency

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In this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, we again caught up with Michael from the West Virginia Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). In 2018, we interviewed Michael several times as the initial strike in 2018 broke out in early March. The strike and the growing #Red4Ed movement was monumentous for several reasons, which we discuss in detail throughout our discussion. These include:

  • The initial push of the strike was self-organized; its organization coming out of worker run discussion forums on Facebook that ended up translating to on the ground action.
  • The action was technically “illegal,” as teachers were not allowed to go on strike. In the face of threats of the National Guard being called out, teachers held their ground.
  • Teachers and other education employees stood together in solidarity, and refused to be divided across job lines of teacher and bus drivers.
  • The strikes saw intense community support as teachers also organized to make sure that children who were missing school were also fed.
  • The strikers pushed back against attempts by union and DNC bureaucrats to return to work.
  • The West Virginia strike helped inspire a massive strike wave around the country in 2018. In fact, we saw more days lost to strike activity than we’ve seen in the US in decades.
  • Later in 2018, the State government tried to pass new laws flooding the state with charter schools, as a way to kill the unions – people went out on strike again and won.

As VICE wrote:

In 2018, 485,000 workers participated in what the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as a “major work stoppage,” up from just 25,000 in 2017. It was the first major increase in work stoppages in three decades, and it was nearly entirely driven by 379,000 teachers and other education workers, who accounted for 78 percent of all those who went out on strike.

Striking teachers have also been targeted by those in power, such as Donald Trump, Jr:

Teachers have become so synonymous with the word “strike” that Donald Trump Jr., at a recent rally in El Paso, called them socialists.

“You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers who are trying to sell you on socialism from birth,” he said in February.

But regardless of what those in power say, the strikers in West Virginia have managed to give birth to a growing strike wave that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, as teachers and other workers across the US respond to stagnant wages, the rising cost of living, the gig economy, and automation with action.

We hope that this conversation offers insight to the unfolding class war that took place in the schools, capitol grounds, and workplaces across West Virginia beyond, and informs the strikes yet to come.


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