Teacher/service worker strike is the latest in organic organizing

The word I have used most often over the last week when talking about the nature of the strike by teachers and service workers is “organic.” Of course the leaders of the three unions involved have been integral in this work stoppage, but this has always been a more bottom-up movement.

Absolute confirmation of that came yesterday when teachers and service workers showed up en masse at the Capitol even though their union leaders, along with Governor Jim Justice, had reported a settlement the night before.

The assumption from the top was the strikers would be pleased with a larger pay raise—five percent—and the promise of a seat-at-the-table on a task force that will craft long-term solutions to PEIA.

Wednesday was supposed to be a “cooling off” day, but it was hotter than ever under the Capitol Dome. The picketers who showed up were really mad—mad at the Governor, mad at legislators and even mad at their own union leaders.

The strikers said all along that PEIA was their main issue, but the so-called settlement included only a vague verbal reference to a long-term solution. AFT-WV sought to clarify that later in the day Wednesday.

“A PEIA Task Force will be formed to develop a long-term fix for PEIA funding. Stakeholders will include teachers, service personnel, state employees, legislators and representatives from PEIA and the Governor’s office. The Task Force will finalize the long-term funding solution by October 2018,” AFT-WV said.

However, that plan is based on trust and it’s evident these strikers are hesitant to put their faith in promises.

All this reminds me of other bottom-up movements lately: The Tea Party, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, to name a few. Members of these movements found commonality and banded together through social media.  The Drain the Swamp movement has a leader in Donald Trump, but it is still an amalgamation of people who believed the traditional politicians did not speak for them.

They created their own waves and often those who tried to bring them back in line were reduced to shoveling sand toward the ocean.

These amorphous organizations distrust the traditional avenues of power and established institutions. They generate their own energy that fuels their activism. That makes them hard to control and difficult to predict.

Perhaps the teacher movement will be short lived, lasting only long enough to see through to the end their fight over healthcare benefits and the more nebulous issue of greater respect for teachers.

But it is also possible that the teachers will embrace their new found power and coalesce into a movement that can effect change on more than just one issue.

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