Class War in W.Va.: Education Workers Strike, Win

Book Cover: Class War in W.Va.: Education Workers Strike, Win
  • Education workers fighting back in West Virginia!
  • Statewide education strike looms in West Virginia
  • Workers shut down West Virginia schools!
  • Class war in West Virginia: School workers strike and win raise
  • West Virginia education workers, teaching how to fight
  • From a teacher to West Virginia educators: An open letter
  • Lessons of the West Virginia strike
  • Is a ‘Defiant Workers’ Spring’ coming?
  • Battle of Blair Mountain still rings true

In West Virginia, famous for pitched battles between unionminers and the coal barons, class war is raging. This time it’s teachers and all school employees on one side and right-wing capitalist politicians on the other. To quote the old labor song, “Which Side Are You On?” — “there are no neutrals.”

Education workers were still out on the picket lines at the end of the day, continuing their historic statewide strike for better wages, as well as blocking health care takeaways and other union-busting attacks. West Virginia ranks 48th in the U.S. for teacher wages — teachers earn less in only two other states. Starting pay is around $32,000 a year, and teachers with families must often apply for food assistance.

The strike in all 55 counties, which began Feb. 22, will continue indefinitely until the state Senate passes a bill granting state education workers a 5 percent raise.


On Feb. 28, the House approved the 5 percent pay raise, which billionaire Republican Gov. Jim Justice approved in talks with the three unions the day before. But on March 1, the right-wing Senate proposed taking away the pay raise and diverting it toward supposedly “fixing” the health insurance plan. The legislature must believe the workers will fall for this as if it’s a magic trick. This capitalist fakery only made the workers angrier.

Members of both the House and Senate are heavily influenced by the coal, oil and gas company owners of West Virginia.

For three days, including a Saturday when a special session was called, the Senate failed to pass the 5 percent raise. Then they tried to substitute a 4 percent raise under the cover of giving it to all state workers.

A joint statement from the striking unions explained why that was unacceptable: “You do not equalize pay for different groups by simply taking from one group and passing it to another. The purpose of this is clear — to divide us and to pit us against each other.”

The three unions are the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginina School Service Personnel Association.

A Senate clerical error actually endorsed the 5 percent increase briefly before pro-business senators rushed to erase the raise. One striker’s social media comment was that the legislators seemed to need a teacher to help them check their figures and their draft language.

The strikers’ impact was felt early when the governor approved, and the Republican-majority House passed, the pay hike. The governor had to back away from pushing bills that gutted seniority, promoted charter schools, prevented unions from deducting union dues from members’ paychecks, and would expand “Teach for America” — a program that hires new college graduates without teaching degrees at a lower rate of pay. These types of bills are part of a national anti-union campaign funded in part by the far-right billionaire Koch brothers.

The governor’s offer did not create a permanent fix for the Public Employees Insurance Agency, only proposing a temporary “freeze” on health care insurance premiums and a “task force” to find more funding sources. However, the worst legislative changes to PEIA, mostly various excuses to raise premiums, are paused for the time being.

The strength of what is essentially a general strike of education workers was demonstrated March 2 when 45 county school superintendents told Republican legislators that schools would stay closed until the 5 percent increase passed. Now all 55 superintendents have taken that position.

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