"Lessons from the 1990 and 2018 West Virginia Teacher's Strikes"

2018 might well be “the Year of the Teacher.” Teachers are protesting low pay, cuts to health insurance and benefits, and attacks against public employees generally. This movement got its start this year in an odd location for the national news media—West Virginia. Supposedly “Trump Country,” a deep working class movement gained momentum, setting the tone for teachers in other conservative-leaning states. What lessons can we get from this strike? The better question might be to look back first, to place 2018 in the proper context, at the state’s first statewide teacher strike in March 1990. There are many intriguing parallels between both labor actions, as both occurred at a time when labor unions were supposedly on the decline. This paper will examine the 1990 strike as a window onto the recent teacher action, noting parallels in organization by the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (WV-AFT), approach, and response by the state government. Both strikes reveal the large amount of union support in a state, where neo-liberal governments have cut state services, particularly education, and where public employees lack collective bargaining rights.