America is in a new “gilded age”, only without the mass child labor. We are still riddled with mass wealth inequality, neglected social institutions, and a government run by tycoons and villains. The crackdown on unions and labor movements of the past decades has yielded no fruit for America’s working class, and for too long crippling austerity measures have been used as a cudgel against institutions like our schools.
But change might be on the horizon: in West Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, now Oklahoma. A new labor movement seems to be stirring, and it is beginning with our nation’s educators.
Teachers in the heart of Republican states are defying budget cuts and demanding pay raises for school staff. In March, West Virginian teachers went on strike for nine days demanding a pay raise. In Kentucky, teachers protested the passage of a controversial pension bill. Arizonans, after years of tax cuts, are threatening a strike if their demands are not met.
Last week in Oklahoma thousands of public school teachers and state staff, some estimated over 30,000, took to the streets to demand $3.3 billion over the next three years for school funding, benefits, and pay raises for all public
“Oklahoma’s teachers are rebelling against a decade of state tax cuts that triggered deep cuts in education spending,” explained Vox journalist Alexia Fernández Campbell, “forcing about 20 percent of public schools to switch to a four-day-week schedule and pushing average teacher salaries to rank 49th in the country. Teachers haven’t gotten a raise in 10 years.”
Before the April 2nd walkout, Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill that provided $50 million in funding for schools, increased teachers’ salaries and gave pay raises to support staff. But the package wasn’t nearly as much as what educators had demanded, who say the education system will need at least $200 million in the next three years.
Mass strikes would have been seen as impossible a year ago, but we now live in unusual times. The outcome of the Oklahoma protests is still unclear, but with a stunning victory in West Virginia, teachers are hoping to ride a wave of public support to win. Perhaps these teachers will evoke Oklahoma’s state motto: “Labor omnia vincit,” labor conquers all.