Teacher Strikes Breathe New Life into the American Labor Movement

A wave of teacher strikes has been roiling the red states of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma in recent days. Fed up after years of Republican austerity measures wreaking havoc on school budgets and salaries, teachers are taking action. The scale of the teachers’ strikes, and the successes have already been won in West Virginia, bring hope that a revitalization of the US labor movement may be possible  

The labor movement is in a desperate state after decades of attacks by the GOP. In the mid-1950s one-third of US citizens belonged to a labor union. Today, only 10.7 percent do. Since Reagan, conservative factions have been hard work on a multi-stage plan to undermine labor organizing and collective bargaining rights across the country.

And they have simultaneously campaigned for tax cuts, leaving state governments in conservative areas with no room to breath and a waning ability to fund even basic municipal services.

In a recent New York Times op-ed entitled “The Rising Ghosts of Labor in the West Virginia Teacher Strike,” writer Sarah Jaffe argues that the strikes are “a reminder of the period of more open class struggle in the United States, the one decades of compromise were designed to soften and control.”

And indeed, the teachers strikes do seem to be be proof that the repressive strategies undertaken by the GOP to dismantle labor unions are finally backfiring. It’s no surprise that the states where education was most hampered by funding shortages are also the ones that are leading the strikes, even without the leadership of unions.

We find ourselves in a time of popular uprisings,from the Women’s Movement, #MeToo, and the March for Our Lives. Teachers have a unique ability to leverage since the serve a vital purpose in our society and can vacate that responsibility in protest. If the resistance uprisings have inspired them even a little, we can count the teachers’ demands as proxies to our own, and their wins as society’s wins.

If the resistance uprisings have inspired the teachers even a little, we can all count the teachers’ demands as proxies to our own, and their local victories as our collective victories. It’s been a long time since the face of collective power has shown itself proudly in America, but it sure is good to see it again.