Teacher Strikes Give a Lesson

It makes sense that everybody who works would want to study successes and failures of those who struggle to make things better for our side. But do we?

Author Eric Blanc talked about the recent wave of successful school employees’ strikes to a small group gathered at Alliance/AFT (school employees) union hall on April 30, 2019.

Blanc, Eric, ‘Red State Revolt. The Teachers’ Strikes and Working-Class Politics.” Verso, London, 2019

The book is available on Amazon and elsewhere on-line. Blanc said that all money gained from book sales will go to “the national strike fund.” Apparently, he’s not just reporting on developments in the working class; he’s pulling for us!

The strike wave actually began a few years back with the Chicago Teachers, but the West Virginia wildcat strike of 2018 was the immediate inspiration for the successes that followed. Blanc emphasized that strikes in the American labor movement had become quite rare, and successes were threatened with extinction before a small group, Blanc mentioned that there were two or three of them, started things moving.

Another important aspect of the school employees’ strikes was the high degree of unity showed between different job groups, different ethnicities, and different communities. Blanc said that it is no coincidence that the other two industries that had large numbers on strike in 2018 were health care and hotels.

What’s the connection?

Women.

In all three industries, women dominate. “Really, these strikes were led by women,” Blanc said. It makes perfect sense. Women, especially women of color, are also winning elections right and left!

What Were the Main Issues?

Blanc said that none of the strikes were about wages. They were about changing the national dialog, created by the dark money manipulators, that schools are failing and the solution is privatization. There was never any evidence to support the idea, but it was the only thing being said prior to the strikes. Blanc said, “The reality is that privatizing is being tried and it isn’t working. All it does is hurt workers and students.”

Teachers struck against privatizing. They struck against divisive school policies such as merit pay. They struck in order to be able to teach instead of spending their entire day filling out forms. They struck over class sizes.

“You Can’t Do It Here”

Just about all I’ve heard here in Texas since the West Virginia strike is that such an activity would be impossible in Texas. Blanc pointed out that West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona are just as Republican-dominated as Texas. School strikes were just as illegal in West Virginia as they are in Texas. The way to keep from getting fired for striking, all seasoned unionists know, is to win the strike.

What’s Next?

Blanc wound up his opening remarks by pointing out that the strike wave is continuing. He said that there will be one-day walkouts in South Carolina and North Carolina. Tennessee and Oregon may have actions coming up. “That should give us hope in our opportunity to seize this moment.”

Who Is Learning These Lessons?

Only 18 of us gathered to hear Eric Blanc. I was the only one from the private sector. Virtually all of the questions thrown at Eric Blanc were about obstacles that school employees had faced and how the Texas situation might compare. I was almost last when I asked how we can get the entire labor movement to realize that the school employees won because they curried broad-based support.

Blanc responded that other kinds of workers could develop broad support for strikes and other progressive activities. “The majority of the workplaces have a relationship with the public that can be leveraged, but it’s not being leveraged right now.”

When somebody finds a winning combination, it makes sense that the rest of us would study their tactics. We might start by reading Eric Blanc’s book.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

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