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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
“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
"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.