Socialist Worker

US pay fight spreads after West Virginia teachers’ strike wins

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2595

The West Virginia teachers have inspired others to fight back

The West Virginia teachers have inspired others to fight back (Pic: West Virginia Education Association)

Education workers in West Virginia have inspired a potential upsurge in struggle across the US.

Union leaders and the state’s billionaire governor cut a deal on Tuesday of last week that gave all state workers including teachers a 5 percent pay rise. There will be a pause on rises to their health insurance premiums.

The strike won more than bosses initially offered and has been seized on as an example by workers across the US. But the battle goes on.

The raise was won through striking, mass mobilisations and at one point a willingness by workers to go beyond their union leaders’ wishes.

Now teachers and other workers in the states of Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona, as well as Jersey City in New Jersey, are pushing for strikes over pay, healthcare costs and pensions.

Teachers in Oklahoma have demanded that their union organises strikes on 2 April if employers don’t make a decent offer. The state legislature recently voted down a £3,500 pay rise.

Standarised testing will begin across the state on 2 April—if the strike goes ahead it will throw the plans into chaos. Oklahoma teachers’ pay has been cut by 15.3 percent since 2010.

Teacher Sylvias told Socialist Worker, “Oklahoma has among the lowest teacher pay and the highest cuts to education. The dispute focuses on both.

“After taxes, health insurance and social security the take home salary is about £15,000. There are some fast food places that pay better than that.”

And on Saturday some 32,000 workers employed by the state voted to join the strikes if they go ahead.

Teacher Heidi explained that even district bosses are on the side of teachers.

“Our Boards of Education recognise that this can’t go on,” she told Socialist Worker. “We are not allowed to strike against our Districts by law.

“However, because this is a walkout against the State we are able to do so. Most of us are doing this with the blessing of our Boards of Education.”

Teachers in Arizona are demanding strikes against a 1 percent pay deal proposed by state politicians.

They were set to protest outside the state capitol building on Wednesday, and more protests are planned for 28 March.

And teachers in Kentucky have protested against changes to their pensions. There were protests at schools across the state on Wednesday of last week.

Teachers travelled to the state’s capitol on Sunday and were set to protest again on Monday. They are pressuring the union leadership to take action.

The pension changes would cut annual increases from 1.5 percent—already well below inflation—to 1 percent.

The potential strikes come as school students are set to walk out this month to protest against school shootings.

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