While there was belated coverage in the national media of the successful West Virginia teachers strike, and there has been some commentary about it as well, it seems to have received relatively little coverage, despite its significance. Just to review what happened:
- Teachers demanded a real wage increase and more affordable healthcare (along with the removal of an invasive health monitoring system).
- They managed to coordinate a state-wide strike for days, and also managed to gain support from other unions.
- When the governor promised their demands would be met–but no legislation had been passed–teachers defied their own leadership and stayed out until both the legislative and executive branches–which are governed by Republicans–capitulated.
- This has inspired teachers in Oklahoma to issue demands for better wages and more school resources, or else they will strike April 1.
So this seems more significant than one would gather based on the relative paucity of coverage (and when it was covered, it was, in deadwood versions, usually below the fold or inside*).
We often have a hard time confronting significant change. Something that’s modest or incremental, we can face it, we can slot it into a comfortable cubbyhole, and shout about it. But this seems unsettling. After all, professional Democrats, whose party is supposed to be a friend of labor, have been beating on teachers and their unions for years (have to get that yummy hedge fund money!). A teachers’ revolt–and that is what this was–is unsettling. Conservatives have to be terrified of mass strikes forcing conservative governments to renounce austerity and support public goods. Meanwhile the respectable wings of the pundit class (as opposed to assholes with blogs) can’t regurgitate NBER pre-prints, as this isn’t a matter of analysis or policy, but of power and its distribution.
And before the left (construed broadly) is too triumphant, while teachers in West Virginia are probably to the left of the average West Virginian (or Oklahoman), a fair number of them are probably Trump (or at least ex-Trump) supporters and cultural conservatives. People power is only as good–or bad–as the cause for which it is wielded.
To top this all off, while these were organized strikes (they weren’t spontaneous wildcat strikes, as there had been some planning before hand if talks failed), the usual effect of unions and other left-ish institutions of damping down dissent didn’t happen.
Maybe the West Virginia strike will just be another historical flash-in-the-pan: after all, most events are not historically significant. But this does seem to be unsettling people, and hoping it goes away might not make it so.
*And it was days before the MSNBC talking heads, including the supposedly liberal ones, covered it in any detail.