A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

Now It’s Oklahoma

Recent militancy by the school employees of West Virginia is inspiring public workers in other non-collective bargaining states to take concerted action. The next likely state-wide strike is in Oklahoma, where the Oklahoma Education Association has carefully developed a campaign entitled Together We’re Stronger. There are four central planks to their campaign – a $10,000 raise over three years to all teachers with a $5,000 increase to support personnel, the restoration of education funding cut in recent years, a five percent increase in the pensions of retirees and a $7500 increase for all other state workers. Clear, concise and anchored in economic terms all state works with frozen wages can understand. Coupled with the threat of a statewide walkout, the Oklahoma Education Association has positioned themselves to be taken seriously by the governor and legislature.

In West Virginia and Oklahoma, public sector works are rediscovering an old truth. They are learning that worker solidarity around carefully crafted demands can force reluctant governments to bargaining even where there are no collective bargaining laws. Who would have ever expected West Virginia and Oklahoma to lead this rediscovery?

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The Little Noticed Strike

At a time when collective bargaining is under attack by powerful corporate interests, when those interests have brought a case to the United States Supreme Court that will probably end agency fee for public sector unions, wouldn’t one expect our national teacher unions to be making a big deal out of the statewide teacher strike in West Virginia? Yet, looking at the AFT website just minutes ago I was shocked to find nothing about it at all. NEA was better, with one dated article with appropriate quotations from NEA officers.

The efforts of the West Virginia teachers are a powerful example to public employees in non-collective bargaining states of the power they have when they stand in solidarity and demand to be treated fairly. They also remind collective bargaining unions of the strike weapon that has largely been surrendered in recent times. If national unions are not to publicize such efforts, if they make no effort to hold them up as examples of unions at their best, if they make no visible move to organize their memberships to come to the aide of the West Virginia teachers, what conclusion are we to draw as to the reasons for their continued existence? Both the NEA and AFT talk about organizing. Yet, here is an opportunity to organize that goes almost unnoticed.

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