Manual The Newark Teacher Strikes: Hopes on the Line

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The story begins with an insightful analysis of the motivations of people like Hannah Litzky and Bob Lowenstein, who started the union, Local , in Most of the union's founders were Jewish high school teachers from families with radical and socialist leanings who saw the struggle for teacher unionism as a vehicle for advancing social justice. These pioneers were joined in the s by a group of Italian American activists, like Tony Ficcio, who pushed the union to focus on collective bargaining and more immediate economic concerns of teachers.

Two of the Italian American male activists were elementary school teachers who expressed resentment felt by elementary teachers towards teachers in higher grades: Golin notes that activists were aware of a tension between "the new strand of bread-and-butter unionism and the older strand of socially committed unionism," p. Typical of the way Golin allows the voices of Newark teachers whom he interviewed to come through in this narrative is his description of two teachers' critique of his analysis: Weren't Jews really more middle class, and Italians more working class?

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Italian teachers tended to define class "in terms of relations on the job: Jewish teachers were more likely to define the working class politically, in terms of what it had already accomplished in transforming American society and might yet accomplish. Golin looks at race as well, explaining that although the union "aggressively courted African American teachers" p. Because of their exclusion from many unions, few African American teachers grew up with the pro-union sentiments Italian and Jewish teachers brought to teaching, along with a proclivity to join the union in its early years, before collective bargaining was possible.

When black teachers did join, their explanation and reasoning related to the history of slavery, or as teacher Charles Nolley said when told to remain after school to work with no pay, "That's bondage. Golin does a strong job of explaining how gender, especially a sense of what it meant to be a man, influenced the way teachers understood their identity as teachers and unionists. For instance he observes that when Bob. Lowenstein talked about his dignity as a worker, he "spoke from a long tradition of masculine independence.

Though Golin is alert to gender as an influence on identity formation he misses the gendered aspects of the tension between elementary and high school teachers, perhaps because in Newark two male elementary school teachers were leaders of the union. Another reason the book misses the gendered division between elementary and high school teachers is a factor I return to later in the review, the ways in which the definition of work is itself a gendered construct.

In the first strike, a three-week stoppage in , black and white teachers fought for the union to have a say in decision-making. Golin traces the evolution of the demands, demonstrating that the monetary demands were part of a social movement to maker teachers' voices heard in decisions about their work. In the second, eleven-week strike in that erupted over a union provision to eliminate "non-professional" duties as well as the board's attempt to revoke binding arbitration, many black teachers crossed the lines, siding with the board and parents.

The strikes led to mass arrests and eventually to teachers serving jail terms of up to 3 months, also described in the book. The second strike became violent and polarized Newark racially, pitting the union and its supporters, among them Anthony Imperiale and his Italian American white supremacists, against black activists and the black mayor, Kenneth Gibson.

The story of the second strike is one that continues today, a destructive conflict between two forces that should and could be allies: In Newark the alliance was undercut because "the protagonists denied each other's legitimacy. Their opponents saw Black parents and citizens against white teachers. There was tremendous pressure to choose between these two competing views, rather than to seek what was true in each. Either the strike was seen through the lens of class, or it was seen through the lens of race.

Black teachers were under the most pressure and ultimately many who were union members identified "community" with race and crossed picket lines. Even when the strike ended the strife did not, and many striking teachers returned to schools at which parents physically barred them from entering. Golin notes, correctly I think, that an alternative possibility was for a teacher-parent alliance, which occurred in a few schools, ones in which teachers had been proactive in reaching across the border of race and class -- and as I will explain, gender -- to parents.

As Sari Biklen explains in her book Schoolwork , "work" is defined in traditional sociology as what we do outside the home, so "family" or "home" and "work" or "career" are opposites. If one accepts this dichotomy as natural, immutable, or given, what should we make of paid labor, "work," done outside the home that consists of functions mothers traditionally do in the home, like caring for children?

Taking into account the gendered construct of work explains the perception of teaching as "women's work" and other things that are germane to Golin's analysis, for instance why teaching has low status and why it is not well-paid or well-regarded in the dominant society -- or considered "work" at all by many academics whom one might expect to be interested in the subject of teacher unions and teaching, including labor historians, feminists, and educational researchers. A full explanation of why teaching and teachers have been unpalatable topics for leftist academics in the U.

First we should understand the circumstances that make the absence of attention to teachers noteworthy. Overall, more than two-thirds of all teachers are female, and as students' ages rise, the proportion of female teachers in the school declines steeply. Public school teaching is one of the largest occupational groups in the nation, with more than two million workers organized into unions in almost every community. Even in states that do not have automatic dues payment or mandatory union fees, social norms within schools prompt a majority of teachers to join their local affiliate of the National Education Association or American Federation of Teachers.

The exception is in states that have not yet legalized collective bargaining for teacher public employees. Despite the size of these organizations and their predominantly female membership, teacher unionism was not taken up by academics interested in labor, women's rights, or educational reform until the late 70s, when History of Education carried an article about Margaret Haley, a socialist elementary teacher in Chicago who organized the first local of the American Federation of Teachers. Labor History carried an article and cover photo about women miners almost a decade before it mentioned teacher unionism, in an interview with Dave Selden, the one- time president of the American Federation of Teachers who was ousted by Albert Shanker.

Certainly the romanticization of the "real" working class, the industrial proletariat, is a factor that partly explains the lack of interest in teachers, despite the fact that during the 60s and early 70s almost every major city in the U. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. The Newark Teacher Strikes: Hopes on the Line by Steve Golin.

Hopes on the Line really liked it 4. For three weeks in and for eleven weeks in , the schools in Newark, New Jersey, were paralyzed as the teachers went on strike. In the wake of the strike, almost two hundred were arrested and jailed. The Newark Teachers Union said their members wanted improved education for students. The Board of Education claimed the teachers primarily desired more money. Aft For three weeks in and for eleven weeks in , the schools in Newark, New Jersey, were paralyzed as the teachers went on strike.

After interviewing more than fifty teachers who were on the front lines during these strikes, historian Steve Golin concludes that another, equally important agenda was on the table, and has been ignored until now. These professionals wanted power, to be allowed a voice in the educational agenda. Through these oral histories, Golin examines the hopes of the teachers as they picketed, risking arrest and imprisonment.

Why did they strike? Teachers demanded a pay raise, sick pay for substitutes, a fifty-minute break for lunch, and binding arbitration, but when negotiations dragged on into the spring of , the union called another strike. They won the first comprehensive collective bargaining contract for teachers in the country.

New York City teachers were not alone in growing more determined and militant. The success of union organizing and mobilization in the Big Apple led the AFT of which the UFT was the largest local to send organizers around the country, and the results were immediate. Detroit teachers won collective bargaining rights in , and the next year, in neighboring Hamtramck, teachers, like the auto workers of the s, held a two-week sit-down strike. Teachers in Pittsburgh walked out a few years later, and when they were arrested, the public outcry led a judge to release them.

Teacher militancy helped establish the political clout of their unions. The arc of teacher militancy coincided with rising urban unrest and escalating protests against the Vietnam War, but it was no coincidence. They held their employers, the boards of education, responsible for the terrible conditions and saw their militancy as a means to force the cities and states to improve the schools. They took a further step by connecting the conditions in the schools to larger issues of war, crime, unemployment, and racism.

Such links were obvious to teachers, many of whom, for example, found themselves teaching young African American men of draft age who used high school to avoid the draft much as middle-class young white men used college. The inequalities of the draft and the American education system were manifest in the classroom. As teachers increasingly made these connections, they made the struggles of their communities part of their own struggles for better schools. The AFT had considerable credibility in these efforts, because it was one of the most progressive unions in the country.

Despite a substantial loss of membership in the South equaling some 18 percent of total membership, the union began desegregating in by combining its African American and lily-white locals a full fifteen years before the NEA did likewise. Teachers and AFT leaders funded and joined civil rights demonstrations, desegregation marches, and struggles for greater school funding in African American districts. As a result of this type of activity, the AFT had strong relationships with local and national civil rights organizations, particularly around efforts to integrate the schools, and it won to its ranks thousands of African American teachers who saw the union as a means to fight racism.

Relationships between the AFT and African American leaders were not without their tensions, and those tensions grew, especially in New York City, as both teacher militancy and the African American struggle accelerated in the late s. The teachers asked for more control over the curriculum, professional preparation time, paraprofessionals in the classroom, and the power to remove disruptive children.

This program, which the Board of Education adopted first in for about a dozen schools, called for smaller schools, a radical reduction in class size, the introduction of pre-K classes, and the use of teams of psychologists, social workers, and other specialists to work with students and their parents to address the impact of poverty and prejudice. As part of the campaign, the union pointed to the false promises made by the Board of Education in Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Ocean Hill-Brownsville.

Cities were in flames, dozens killed, and the turmoil lasted through the fall and winter. The urban unrest accompanied and encouraged the emerging Black Power movement, which shifted the emphasis of the African American struggle from integration to empowerment. When it came to schools, these organizations were more interested in community control than desegregation. They wanted a thoroughgoing transformation of education that would address the specific needs and culture of African American children, including an Afro-centric curriculum.

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As they saw it, such an education was part and parcel of the larger social transformation they advocated for their communities and American society generally. Many African American teachers, who had joined the union as a vehicle for civil rights, agreed with Carson, at least when it came to the strike, and for the first time large numbers of them refused to support the UFT and crossed the picket lines.

The divisions between the UFT and the African American community, and within the UFT itself, remained muted during the strike, but the conflicts sparked by the strike set the terms of the much larger conflagration that took place the next year in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville section of Brooklyn. The assassination proved particularly tragic for Ocean Hill-Brownsville, because it ended an incipient movement for economic justice led by King that might have provided an alternative to the conflict that developed between labor and community. The alliance King envisioned at the time of his death would have rested on the two legs of an integrated civil rights organization and a more progressive labor movement.

While King had originally seen his work in Memphis as a distraction from his work on the anti-poverty campaign, with its march scheduled for that summer, the discussions in Memphis led him to believe that the movement could go forward with help from the trade unions where new black leadership was emerging.

Cities all over the country exploded in violence. Virtual insurrections took place in Chicago, Washington, D. In New York City, the poor community of Brownsville was burning. That these two groups could become direct adversaries was the result of a complicated process that mixed school reform, philanthropy, racial politics, and class struggle. And who can be surprised that many of them exercise that right? Because UFT officials disagreed with both their exclusion from the decentralization process and the details of the Bundy proposal, they were hostile to the experiment.

Militancy in Many Forms: Teachers Strikes and Urban Insurrection, 1967–74

By accepting the Ford Foundation plan, the board succeeded in weakening the UFT politically and pitting it against the community. The first experimental school district started in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. As manufacturing declined in New York City in the s, the new, largely African American and Latino migrants into the area suffered high unemployment and struggled with the decaying housing stock. Sonny Carson led the effort.

The Newark Teacher Strikes: Hopes on the Line

Born and bred in Brooklyn, he was, by his own description, something of a gangland thug in his teenage years. He served in the Korean War with the 82nd Airborne division, an experience that radicalized him and motivated him eventually to join CORE.


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With a fluid set of politics that some labeled opportunist, he was a Black Nationalist in the late s, and one of the most vocal critics of the UFT. From the spring of through the spring of , Carson, CORE members, and other community activists organized elections for the new Ocean Hill- Brownsville district school board. The election results and the composition of the new local school board reflected their educational politics.

Led by District Superintendent Rhoady McCoy but influenced heavily by CORE and Carson, the new board denounced the historic racism of the educational system both in the classroom and in the administration of schools. As they saw it, the existing system discriminated against African American teachers in examinations and licensing. Racist white teachers undermined African American children with their low expectations, colonialist mind-set, and Euro-centric curriculum. In contrast to the existing system, the board believed the schools could serve the community, give African American children a positive self-image, teach them the lost history of African American struggles, and lead them to believe in themselves as the arbiters of their own destiny.

To accomplish its goals of transforming the schools, the board insisted on the right to hire teachers committed to its vision and fire those who did not share its predilections. However, the zeal with which it sought independence had its contradictions: There was also the simple issue of power. The teachers received no hearing and no alternative assignment, violations of the union contract and past practice of the central Board of Education.

Newark Teacher Strikes

The dismissals sparked a series of strikes that spilled over from one school year to the next. All agreed that objectionable teachers would be quietly transferred. Galamison and Shanker thought that the issue had been settled when school started again in the fall. Increasing racial polarization characterized the conflict. McCoy fired an additional teachers who walked out in support of their dismissed colleagues. He then hired replacements, including many young militant teachers who supported community control of the schools.

On several occasions when UFT teachers tried to return to work, Carson led protests of students, parents, and replacement teachers against the returning strikers, personally blocking their entrance to the schools. These confrontations were characterized by shouting, jostling, and other forms of intimidation, despite the presence of police.

At one community meeting in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, militants surrounded Shanker and refused to let him leave the room. From then on, he used a bodyguard. Many militant teachers were growing disillusioned with the UFT. Shanker insisted on strict union discipline during the strike, leaving teachers who supported community control and the idea of self-determination little room to maneuver. One of those teachers was Dick Parrish, a lifelong educator, who, as vice president of the national union, had made sure the AFT was one of the few AFL-CIO unions that had honestly desegregated by the late s.

He had played key role in making the UFT an important part of the school desegregation projects in New York City that began in By the final strike, Parrish was urging teachers to cross the picket lines and teach African American children. He insisted that the UFT was not opposed to community control or decentralization. He further stoked the conflict by exaggerating the anti-Semitism of the African American community-control movement. Despite the fact that they had no connection to the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Board, CORE, or any known organization, Shanker distributed 50, copies of anonymous anti-Semitic leaflets found in the mailboxes of several Ocean Hill-Brownsville teachers.

These actions were designed to pit teachers against the community-control movement, especially Jewish teachers, and isolate the large minority of young, militant teachers, both black and white, who supported the African American struggle and wanted to push the UFT to take a more militant stance in favor of community control. Of the teachers who crossed the picket lines in the fall of to teach African American children, 70—80 percent were white, and half of them Jews. It took an outsider, the state commissioner of education, to convince all sides to settle the dispute.

The union won the transfer issue, though most of the teachers fired by the local board were no longer in the district by the end of the strikes. The community experiment continued, but without the funding of the Ford Foundation, which also stopped supporting CORE.

Should Teachers Strike for Higher Pay or Do As They Are Told?

The strike cast a long shadow over subsequent teachers rebellions. The strikes in the Midwest and West involved many issues, including union recognition, contract negotiations, decentralization, and community control. Many of these were large strikes, involving tens of thousands of teachers. Only in Newark did the conflict take similar form as in Brooklyn, only this time it was a revolution.

Teachers in Newark had long struggled for union recognition, as they followed the successes in nearby New York City.