The history-making statewide teachers’ strike in West Virginia seems to be coming to an end. On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled state legislature agreed on a deal to give all state workers, including teachers, a 5% raise. The bill has passed both chambers of the legislature and Governor Jim Justice is expected to sign it later in the day.
While union leaders have not yet announced an official end to the strike (“We want it signed, sealed and delivered,” one teacher told the Associated Press), several counties have announced that school will be open on Wednesday. Teachers gathered at the state Capitol chanted “back to school” after the bill was announced:
Before the strike, the bill that the governor and legislature offered teachers would have raised teacher’s pay by 2%, with a 1% raise scheduled in 2020 and 2021. The 5% raise that teachers won is 2.5 times higher than what they would have got. This is the power of organized labor.
Teachers did not get everything they wanted. Most importantly, the deal does not include a fix to the underfunded Public Employee Insurance Agency, the state employee health insurance program, although the governor agreed to set up a task force to look into the issue. And, worst of all, Republican state lawmakers are already threatening cuts of $20 million to Medicaid and other parts of the state budget to pay for the increase. (Instead of fucking over poor people, they could look instead at raising taxes on coal and gas industries.)
But there is no question that in the past two weeks, West Virginia teachers gave us a very clear demonstration of what organized labor is capable of. While their strike might soon be over, their movement is not.