West Virginia teachers and their advocates, fresh off a successful strike that will earn the teachers a five percent pay raise, now fear that the resulting cuts to public spending could result in an anti-strike backlash, according to The New Republic.
What’s the concern?
The teachers’ pay raise isn’t coming from raised taxes. Instead, reports say they will come from budget cuts to college tuition subsidies, tourism funding, general services, and possibly from Medicaid.
Some teachers and legislators are concerned that the deal plays into a conservative attempt to create animosity toward the teachers, and against strikes in general:
From Sarah Jones in The New Republic:
On Tuesday, some Democratic legislators seemed conscious of the deal’s Faustian implications. “I want to make sure there’s not a back-room deal here that’s punishing people who are too poor to go to the doctor,” said Democratic Senator Michael Woelfel.
Teachers expressed similar reservations, although they’re prepared to accept the deal. “It does bother me,” said Kristina Gore, a fifth grade teacher, referring to the possible Medicaid cuts. “I believe it’s another ploy for Senate Republicans to try to turn the public against teachers. Our state budget office spent time with conference committee ensuring them that the revenue estimate was there. I would like to see in writing where the cuts are coming from and just how extensive they are.”
The other issue the teachers were protesting, better health insurance, required the teachers to end the strike before negotiations on that front could continue. The governor established a task force to handle that, which will meet for the first time March 13.
Politics as usual?
How the West Virginia strike is ultimately viewed will become a matter of what voters do in future elections.
The West Virginia strike is not a partisan action, as the there are both Republicans and Democrats among the teachers. That’s a large part of the reason national Democrats kept their distance from the issue. Still, West Virginia Democrats had little choice but to support the strike, Jones wrote:
Meanwhile, for Democrats, the deal is a political necessity: They can’t afford to be seen as antagonistic to teachers, and that leaves them susceptible to unsavory bargains.
And, with even West Virginia Democrats governing in a relatively conservative manner, it’s possible the teachers’ strike won’t end up being the progressive populist movement some hoped it would be.
More broadly, the deal shows the potential limits of progressive activism in cash-strapped states where conservative legislators refuse to raise taxes on big businesses. When the pool of available cash is small, cuts tend to come at the expense of those who need it, not wealthy campaign donors.