The Teacher Strikes, the Janus case, and the path forward for labor.
On February 22nd the teachers of West Virginia went on strike. One of their motto’s was 55 strong. Meaning that all the teachers in all 55 counties in West Virginia are united in their struggle. The teachers in West Virginia are among the lowest paid in the country. Also, the teachers, being public sector workers, in West Virginia do not have the legal right to strike or bargain collectively. And yet they did anyway, and they won!
There is a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. It is called Janus Vs. AFSCME. This case has been shaking everything up. Basically it would make the public sector in all the states “Right-to-Work.” Meaning that workers in a union shop would not be required to pay dues or fees but the union is still legally required to cover them. Right-to-work laws and the Janus case are tools of anti-labor used to break unions.
Unions have helped to back themselves into this corner, however. By compromising with capital, i.e. Big Business, and relying so much on the law and government so as to become dependent on it. Unions have contributed to this decline. Is it merely coincidental that at the same time as the Janus case going before the supreme court this wave of teacher strikes is sweeping the country?
Workers in these states, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona are, and have been worse of then workers will be in states such as Washington after Janus. But there is a bright side. For these workers in West Virginia and other states show us the way. As it was before even the National Labor Relations Act was passed. Before there was any legal help for workers. When in fact the laws were all against us. Courts would file injunctions against our pickets and bosses would make us sign “Yellow Dog” contracts. Forcing us to swear not to join a union.
But all these things, then and now, do not mater when we stand together. As the teachers did in West Virginia and are doing in other states. It is important to remember that the teachers in west Virginia were offered a raise and they turned it down demanding that all public sector workers in West Virginia get the raise. Because this is not just about teachers – this is about workers! We must learn that an injury to one is an injury to all! If other workers are on strike we do not cross their picket lines. We must not be divided by what kind of work we do, whether it pays little or a lot. Remember it is the bosses that decide how much our wages are. Unless we stand together – then we, as workers united, can dictate wages and conditions. We must not be divided by race, gender, age, or anything else that they tell us makes us different from each other. The must important thing about the teacher strike in West Virginia is not that they got a raise or slightly improved their conditions. It is that in fighting for these things they are learning from each other that there is power in their union.
And that power is the power to change the world.