In less than three months, rank-and-file teachers and educational support staff in five states—West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona—have turned the entire country into their classroom. They haven’t just pushed for—and won—better pay and working conditions for themselves. They’ve also mounted a direct challenge to decades of bipartisan tax cuts for corporations, helping us all understand what austerity means. And by championing a raft of policy proposals to redistribute wealth away from the 1 percent and back to the working and middle-class, they’ve shown us how austerity can be defeated. As Emily Comer, a middle-school Spanish teacher and leader in the West Virginia strike, put it, “The phase we are in now—to win a real, progressive solution to the health-insurance crisis—forces us to dream bigger. This isn’t just about our healthcare plan. It’s about rebalancing the power of workers and corporations in our state.”
Remarkably, these strikes have garnered overwhelming support from the public, despite years of well-funded attacks on teachers unions. In a recent NPR/Ipsos poll, just one in four respondents said they think teachers are paid enough, and three-quarters said teachers have the right to strike. Remarkably, this support cut across party lines. “Two thirds of Republicans, three-quarters of independents and nearly 9 in 10 Democrats” support the teachers’ right to strike, the poll showed.
The most recent walkouts have shifted to western states. On April 26, 50,000 teachers and their supporters march through Phoenix in 100 degree heat. That same day, thousands of protesters descended on the capitol of Colorado.