Teacher strikes spark increased school funding and social activism

“[The strikes] shape the national political conversation, particularly on public education in a way that no other movements have the power to do.”

In 2018, nearly 400 thousand educators struck in the United States, demanding pay raises and increased student funding. Eric Blanc —  the author of “Red State Revolt” — attended strikes nationwide, ranging from Oakland to West Virginia.

As a former high school teacher, Blanc hails from the Bay Area, with published appearances in The Nation, The Guardian, and Democracy Now! His recent novel “Red State Revolt” tells the story of a wave of teacher strikes throughout the United States, a social movement that resulted in increased funding for teachers and students.

Addressing students inside the Carwein Auditorium May 9, Blanc stressed the significance of overwhelming success in strikes throughout the nation.

“The significance of the strikes is that they were large and that they won — big victories across the board,” Blanc said. “In a place like Arizona, which is hardly a bastion of left-wing thought, the strikes got overwhelming support. They won a 20 percent pay raise for teachers, increased funding for students, and defeated proposals to further cut taxes on the rich.”

Several states nationwide shared Arizona’s success. Locally, Tacoma educators voted to approve new contracts with the school district last fall, including an additional $23 million put toward teacher salaries.

But job security differentiates Washington state from others in regards to striking.

“In places like Arizona, West Virginia and Oklahoma, you could lose your job by striking, and politicians did anything they could to scare people so [teachers] wouldn’t walk out,” Blanc said. “Despite this very serious risk … hundreds of thousands of people decided to collectively break the law for a righteous cause.”

Blanc suggests that politicians who oppose school funding need to pull funds from other public services in order to make up for the spending. However, this may not be the case.

“There’s more than enough [funding] to go around,” Blanc said. “The problem is that corporations and the rich haven’t paid their fair share for decades, if not longer. Even just a rollback of the ten years of tax cuts to corporations and the rich would be more than sufficient for funding the types of decent, quality public education that we need.”

Activists participated in the nationwide strikes, but newly-found voices in political issues moved Blanc the most.

“I thought the most moving thing were people who had never really been involved in politics at all,” Blanc said. “The reason most working-class folks don’t get involved is not because they’re doing too well-off … people resign to the conditions they face because they feel powerless.”

Blanc emphasized the importance of small-group organizers in educator strikes — few people can spark a massive gathering. He additionally pushed the message that activism can range into other high-profile political issues.

Throughout the wave of educator strikes, Eric Blanc reinforced the idea that our actions shape the world.

“What’s exciting about the strikes is that for the first time, hundreds of thousands of people got the experience of collective agency and felt like they were actually shaping the world instead of others shaping it for them.”