West Virginia Continues to Lead Radical Labor Struggle in the US

For decades, West Virginia has been at the forefront of labor activism in the United States. As the state’s teachers continue their historic strike, which has shut down every single West Virginia school, we look at the history of the labor activism in the Mountain State. We speak with Jay O’Neal, a middle school teacher and a union activist in Charleston, West Virginia. And we speak with Mike Elk, senior labor reporter at Payday Report. His most recent piece is titled “West Virginia Teachers’ Strike Fever Starting to Spread to Other States.”


AMY GOODMAN: Well, last week, Democracy Now! spoke to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, about what’s happening in West Virginia, the teachers and staff strike there.

RANDI WEINGARTEN: There’s no collective bargaining in West Virginia. So, it is whatever — we’d lobby the Legislature and the governor, and we got to a deal, so to speak, of increasing salaries by 5 percent this year — you know, it is not enough, because of what West Virginia teachers make, and they need to make more — and to actually freeze the premiums for about 18 months. The problem is, the bills have not actually gone through a very hostile House and Senate, and no one trusts the governor. And so, there — until some of these bills go through and there’s a task force that actually takes on these huge premium hikes over the long term, you have a lot of confusion.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. I wanted to go back to Jay O’Neal. This whole issue of West Virginia being in the forefront historically of labor strikes, many of the teachers of today are children or grandchildren of mine workers in West Virginia. Could you talk about this sense of history that the teachers are participating in and what you expect to happen in the next few days?

JAY O’NEAL: Sure. If you see videos or clips of people here, you’ll see a lot of teachers wearing red bandannas…

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