Before the month gets away from us we wanted to make sure we shout out the major inspiration and victory that came out of the West Virginia teachers strike. For 9 days, teachers from all 55 counties filled the Capitol to max capacity. The results? a 5% pay raise and a promise to deal with rising health insurance costs through the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA).
As citizen activists, we have to fight tooth and nail for even the slightest of wins, and we often have to look beyond immediate results to feel victorious. The teachers in West Virginia have gone above and beyond. In fighting for themselves and their families, they won for all public employees. In fighting for themselves and their families, they’ve inspired citizen action across the country, empowering other oppressed workforces to rise up and giving voice to reason for so many.
In a recent update from Coal River Mountain Watch: “Did you know that there are more K-12 teachers in WV than there are miners and frackers combined? This became apparent when they flocked to the Capitol during the teachers’ strike last week. And there are more registered nurses in WV than there are miners and frackers combined. And there are more bartenders than mountaintop removers. And so on and so forth. But why does an industry that employs less than 5% of our workforce get to call the shots for everyone else? It’s time we all stand up and say no more mountaintop removal, no more fracking, and no more poisoning our people.” – Vernon Haltom, Excutive Director at Coal River Mountain Watch
Events like the teachers’ strike shake and move the status quo, and give us the opportunity to come together across common ground, like the need for a just transition to a post-coal economy. As teachers and public employees feel the ramifications of an economy (and state education system) so utterly dependent on a dwindling industry, we ask why?
Why can’t the state raise teachers pay, but can hand out tax breaks like their candy? Why is public education failing while politicians tout a boom in oil and gas? Why are our students’ futures dependent on an industry that never served them anyway?
Teachers were asking these same questions when they proposed to raise the state’s severance tax on oil and natural gas to fund PEIA. When the strike ended, WV lawmakers threatened to cut Medicaid continuing their divide and conquer rhetoric. But, one of my favorite stories from the strike was about coming together around investments, not cuts, and it came from a 12-year old (yeah 12!) who confronted Governor Jim Justice and just so totally schooled him. Get inspired! check it out here and the video here.
AND if you were at the strike, tell us more about it in the comments below- what’d you see, what’d you learn?