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Ken Fones-Wolf consulted by national media on WV teacher strike


With the historic 2018 West Virginia teacher strike underway, people are
looking to labor history in order to understand this new demonstration of labor. Dr. Ken Fones-Wolf, a prominent Appalachian labor historian, has the expertise to contextualize this past week into broader labor movements in Appalachia. He was consulted for articles in the New York Times, The New Yorker, WCHS 8 Charleston, and The Dominion Post. 

On Feburary 23, Dr. Fones-Wolf described the history of striking in an article by the Dominion Post. He said, " You can find evidence  of workers refusing to work  in the Bible.” T he term  “strike ” comes from sailors  in the 17th and 18th centuries  who would lower the  sail, or “strike the mast” of  the ship, when they were  unsatisfied with working  conditions.

In describing what makes a successful strike, Dr. Fones-Wolf differentiated between private and public strikes, with public strikes requiring strong community support and high public opinion.  “Teachers are in the  midst of an action, and I  think that they have a good  deal of support,” he said,  “in part because there’s a  recognition that education  is important, and their  wages and benefits are  falling behind everyone  else in the country.”  He said that a well-educated  population is a key  element if the state wants  to move forward and attract  economic development  and capital.  “It’s a vital component of  the state’s future,” he said.  Fones-Wolf said he acknowledges  that the situation  is difficult but that  teachers bear a lot of responsibility  and haven’t  been rewarded well.  “I think the response of  the legislature just left  them feeling like they  don’t have much choice.”

Later that week, Dr. Fones-Wolf c hallenged the image that Senate President Mitch Carmichael created by using the term "union bosses" to describe the strike organizers i n an article published by WCHS 8, a station out of Charleston, WV.   "These are not un-democratic organizations," he  said. "The NEA, AFT are both democratic organizations. They put things to a vote. They listen to their members. So, this notion that some union bosses are coming in telling them how to act just doesn't reflect the reality of the situation."

new yorker
In a feature sketch of the strike published in the New Yorker, " The New Old Politics of the West Virginia Teachers' Strike, "  Fones- Wolf said that this is the most important strike in West Virginia since at least 1989. He argued it may demonstrate a general turn in the state's politics back to it's pro-labor roots. 
new york times
In "West Virginia Walkouts a Lesson in the Power of a Crowd-Sourced Strike," an article published in the New York Times on March 8, Dr. Fones-Wolf was consulted on the nature of labor rights in this age. With the impending Janus decision in the Supreme Court, a question on whether public unions can require non-members to pay an "agency fee", the future of unions in general are in the air.

“What it does show is that this Janus decision will force workers to look at other strategies,” said Ken Fones-Wolf, a professor of history at West Virginia University. “Without this institutional voice, it does make it harder to sort of organize this kind of thing. But when conditions do get bad enough, workers will take action without an organization.”

Dr. Fones-Wolf was consulted by Michelle Goldberg to aid in writing her opinion piece in the 
New York Times, "The Teachers Revolt in West Virginia." He described how the strike cam as a surprise even to those observing labor at a local level, reflecting later in the piece how this strike demonstrates a more general discontent felt around the nation. 

"You see evidence of it from these school kids in Florida, who are really quite amazing. Maybe we’re on the cusp of a time when people say, ‘enough.’” If that’s true — if a spirit of revolt really is sweeping across the country — it will be the one way Trump has helped make America great again," he said.