When brave educators in 55 West Virginia counties went on strike Feb. 22 of last year, no one could have seen the impact that their commitment and solidarity would make nationwide. Less than three months later, following strikes and job actions in a number of traditionally conservative (or “Red”) states, the 2018 Educator Uprising was in full-swing as teachers across the country stood together for each other, their students and public education.
Author and activist Eric Blanc provides an insider’s look at the inspiring struggles that sparked the wave of teacher activism in his new book, “Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics.” On the ground for the historic statewide strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, Blanc outlines the situations that led to the mass actions, chronicles the deep organizing (physical and online) that helped each movement build power and shares the beautiful voices of educators who put it all on the line to fight for the schools their students deserve.
“In the least likely of circumstances, school employees in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona rose up to deal a serious blow to the forces of reaction,” Blanc writes. “Though not all of their demands were met, striking educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona achieved more in the span of two months than had been won over the previous two decades.”
These powerful struggles erupted at a time when unions nationwide waited for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a decision in the Janus v. AFSCME case, which was expected to be a devastating blow to workers and our unions. The strength and courage of these united educators breathed life into the American labor movement, making working-class heroes out of teachers from Mercer County, West Virginia to Maricopa County, Arizona, and helping build the #RedForEd wave that spread to Los Angeles, Oakland and other cities here in California this school year.
“The 2019 educator strikes in California are pointing the way forward for working people across the nation,” says Blanc, the son of United Educators of San Francisco former president Lita Blanc. “When the 2018 Red State Strikes erupted, many pundits portrayed the nascent movement as limited to Republican-led regions. But the powerful workplace actions from Los Angeles to Oakland to Sacramento and beyond have shown the crisis facing public education is truly national — as is the need for a fighting union movement. And as unions and allies prepare to reform Proposition 13, California will hopefully soon become the model for fully funding our schools by making the rich and corporations pay their fair share.”
“Red State Revolt,” available here, is a powerful account of these historic strikes, the lessons learned (and taught) by the courageous educators, and the potential of our solidarity when working people say “enough is enough.” Follow Blanc on Twitter (and in Jacobin) for ongoing news about the educator uprising, teachers’ strikes across the globe and the continuing fight for the soul of public education.