From a teacher to West Virginia educators: An open letter
Dear education workers of West Virginia,
Your militancy is phenomenal. Your courage to stand up and fight back is inspiring. Your bravery is powerful. Your 55-county-strong strike is historic. You are what we all need.
You have stood in defiance of billionaire Gov. Jim Justice and the anti-worker West Virginia Legislature in order to fight for decent family-supporting wages, for access to affordable health care and in defense of your union rights. You have inspired by showing us a militant strike led overwhelmingly by women.
You have shown that this strike is not just a fight for educators. This is a fight for students, communities and all workers to have these same basic rights.
I am a social studies teacher in a neighborhood high school in Philadelphia, and your action has caught the attention of me and my co-workers. While we have collective bargaining for public employees (a right won through a strike similar to yours), we still went over four years without a contract, losing hundreds of millions of dollars in wages. While we are not “Right-to-Starve,” we have lost 30 schools to closure and over 60,000 students to privatized charters, as well as over 6,000 union members in the past few years. Your struggle is ours.
We know that we, as teachers and education workers, are the most unionized sector of the economy. While the Supreme Court threatens to destroy our organizations, encouraging the decline of unions to lower our wages and benefits, they will not stop us from struggling for our rights.
While your strike was not “legal,” you have shown that legality is nothing compared to people’s power.
Every day, we teachers have a tremendous responsibility to our students and our communities. Every day that you are on strike you are showing you take this responsibility seriously. West Virginia educators have shown that you are ready to take the responsibility to fight for our entire class and to galvanize us in the first major workers’ struggle since the last election.
Let this be a lesson for workers across the U.S. to “Strike for our rights!”
We hope your struggle to win better pay and benefits, along with building your union, connects with teachers in Oklahoma, who are planning to strike for the same reasons. We hope you connect with educators in Detroit fighting to defeat austerity attacks and with educators in Puerto Rico, where U.S. banks set up financial dictators to try to close 300 schools and bring in charters to bust unions, using Hurricane María as a battering ram of austerity. We hope you connect with the movement that rose up after the death of cafeteria worker Philando Castile, a Black school worker and union member killed by Minnesota police.
Solidarity wins! Let’s continue to build solidarity with our students’ lives who are under attack and with our communities facing crisis after crisis. This means fighting racism, fighting violence against women and LGBTQ people, fighting for health care for all and more, in order to unite all people in a struggle for dignity, respect and equality.
In honor of the Battle of Blair Mountain and the many militant workers’ strikes in the history of West Virginia, let’s continue to build solidarity and union power!
American Federation of Teachers Local 3, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers