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West Virginia Teachers Point the Way Forward!

West Virginia teachers are showing what real union power can do, even in a right-to-work (for less) state.

As we go to press (March 1), teachers in all 55 counties of West Virginia are still on strike. They took strike votes on February 28 and vowed to continue the strike indefinitely until their demands are met. It is the first statewide teachers’ strike in five decades.

The teachers are asking for a wage increase (they are among the lowest-paid teachers in the country), but most important, they are asking the governor and state legislature to “fix” the teachers’ broken PEIA health-insurance program. The governor promised to place a temporary freeze on health insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays and prescription costs, but the teachers have insisted that a “freeze” — even when combined with a pledge by state officials to “set up a commission to resolve the long-term problem of PEIA” — is not good enough.

Hundreds of teachers rallied on the Capitol in Charleston, chanting “A Freeze Is Not a Fix.” They say that whatever pay increase they get — the governor has upped his initial 2 percent proposed increase over three years to 5 percent — will disappear almost immediately with the increased health-care costs. They are demanding an immediate solution — a fracking tax — to fix the problem.

The teachers walked off the job on February 22 in what has been an illegal wildcat strike, as strike action for public employees is banned in West Virginia. It was supposed to last only two days. But enthusiasm on the picket lines was so high, and public support so strong, that the teachers voted to extend their strike into the second week — and now they have voted to extend it indefinitely till their demands are won.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has threatened to seek an injunction against the teachers if the strike continues. But the teachers are unfazed by the threats; their confidence and strength have grown by the day.

Now it is up to the rest of the labor movement to step up to the plate.

Teachers’ unions — together with the AFL-CIO and SEIU — need to deliver their full and uncompromising support (including financial support) to the striking West Virginia teachers. A victory in West Virginia — which is a very real possibility given the resolve of the teachers on the ground and the widespread community support for the strike — could mark a turning point in the class struggle nationwide.

“An Injury to One Is an Injury to All!” must become the battle cry of the teachers’ unions and of the entire labor movement.


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