Inside the Hard Road to Transform the Teacher’s Movement into Real Power
Before the West Virginia teachers went out on strike on February 23, Jenny Craig’s local union wasn’t terribly active. The union, like most others in the state, was held back by the lack of legal collective bargaining for teachers in West Virginia: that meant it didn’t have the right to negotiate a contract that would cover the teachers at the workplace level. Rather, the union functioned as a voluntary association, and most of its work was in lobbying elected officials and trying to elect favorable candidates to office.
Craig grew up in Ohio County, in the state’s northern panhandle, where she is now a middle school special education teacher and the president of the Ohio County Education Association. Many in her community qualify for various forms of government aid. “We are a diverse community of hard-working families that often struggle to make ends meet,” Craig said.
Inspired by teacher walkouts in other parts of the state last February, Craig and the other teachers in her county began to organize meetings, educational pickets, and make fliers to distribute to teachers and to parents and students across the community, explaining their wage and insurance issues and calling for more funding for the schools. This work, Craig said, brought them “from complacency and lack of knowledge to a progressive movement in which we garnered support from our communities and other labor organizations.”
It’s impossible to live “off of heat and momentum” of a strike for longer than a few weeks.
The ensuing statewide teacher strike, which took place over nine days, won a five percent raise for every single public worker in the state. It also kicked off a strike wave in Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado, and North Carolina, with teachers halting work to demand their state legislatures address the school funding crisis. For four months, the movement known as “Red for Ed” (playing off the teachers’ red T-shirts and also a nod to the fact they were in “red” Republican-dominated states) gripped the nation, attracting nationwide front-page coverage. For Craig, the strike was…