Oklahoma teachers will walk out en masse this coming Monday, despite a historic agreement from the ailing state legislature to give them a long-overdue pay raise which will be paid for by increasing taxes on the state’s previously untouchable oil and gas industry.
Oklahoma is a financial basket-case, ruined by Republican orthodox economics, producing a state that is so broke that school districts have switched to 4-day work-weeks so teachers can make ends meet by working second jobs as airport baggage handlers and fast-food workers.
The state’s neoliberal policies – which began with a Clintonite Democratic legislature, and were supercharged by subsequent GOP legislatures who waltzed into office after the Democrats sold out working people – have produced the lowest tax rates on the oil and gas industry, a state rule that only allows tax hikes with a 75% majority of the legislative votes, and some of the worst-paid public servants in America, especially teachers.
Earlier attempts to stem the tide of teachers fleeing for higher-paying work elsewhere have been a joke, with GOP legislators offering to find the additional funds by raising taxes on the working poor – not the oil industry and the wealthy.
Public sector trade unions have been gutted by GOP law, leaving workers unorganized; but after the examples in West Virginia, the rank-and-file self-organized on social media, coming up with a platform that was much more radical than any traditional, compromise-oriented union leadership would have gone along with.
So when the GOP-dominated legislature finally caved and sent a bill to the governor’s desk that would have given a substantial pay-hike to teachers by taxing the oil and gas industry, the self-organized rank and file decided to go for the brass ring: they’re going to walk out on Monday anyway, and they’re vowing to stay out until the whole of Oklahoma’s public sector gets economic justice.