Sunday, February 11, 2018


The recent controversy about whether MORE should have talked to the press over the Black Lives Matter resolution being turned down at the Delegate Assembly got me thinking about how the UFT handled sensitive issues in the past. Is there anything more sensitive than a debate over whether or not to strike?

The contentious debate over strking in 1962 was covered by the NYC newspapers as this excerpt from an account in the NY Teacher shows.

At any rate, as the day of the threatened walkout drew near, negotiations heated up. On April 9, one day before the deadline, there was a breakthrough. Gov. Rockefeller agreed to lend the city some $14 million for salary hikes while Mayor Wagner, as he had done in the 1960 strike, put forward a plan to appoint a three-person, fact-finding panel. In a narrow 6-4 vote with one abstention, the union’s negotiating committee OK’d the Rockefeller/ Wagner offers.
Next it went to the union’s executive board. It was well past midnight on April 10 before the deeply divided group voted to accept the negotiating committee’s recommendation to delay the strike for one week while the fact-finding panel did its homework.
Throughout these long deliberations, the Delegate Assembly had been kept waiting, and waiting — and waiting. Convened at 4 p.m. on April 9 at St. Nicholas Arena in Manhattan, the more than 1,000 delegates sat around hour after hour, hungry for any bit of news or gossip. The first word they heard, though, was at 10:30 that night from School Board President Max Rubin, via radio and television. “We have been informed the negotiating committee of the UFT will recommend that there be no strike. There will be no interruption in the education of the city’s children.”
Not surprisingly, Rubin’s statement infuriated many of the delegates and played into the hands of the militants who were saying the leadership was trying to pull a fast one. It wasn’t until 1:30 in the morning that President Cogen finally made it to St. Nick’s Arena. Usually the home to prize fights and wrestling matches, the seedy West Side haunt proved an apt setting for what was to follow.
After waiting some nine hours, many of the delegates were in no mood for peace overtures. Cogen was greeted with catcalls, jeers and cries of “sellout” when he announced the executive board’s recommendation for postponing the strike pending the fact-finders’ report.

‘Strike, strike’

“No, no, Charlie,” the delegates chanted. “We want a contract, not more promises.” Newspaper accounts told of “frenzied foot-stomping and shouts of ‘strike, strike.’” To great cheers, militant leader and UFT deputy president Sam Hochberg called the city’s offer of $28 million “nothing” and predicted a “tremendous strike.”
Near 3 a.m., Shanker made an impassioned plea for restraint, warning of what was in store if the city got an injunction under the harsh Condon-Wadlin Law. “This is what you will have to face,” he said. “Your leaders will be arrested and will lose their jobs. As the first set of leaders is taken off to jail, another set of leaders will be arrested and jailed. Are there enough teachers who then will be willing to support a strike?”
Hochberg countered that if the union caved in to the threatened injunction, the board would have found its weapon. “I’d say you have given up the right to strike for all time,” Hochberg said.
Lou Frazer, a junior high school teacher, got up. “We are here for every teacher and not for money reasons, but for the preservation and dignity of the profession. Let us go. Our issues are clear, simple and valid. You owe it to yourselves.” The delegates were on their feet howling with approval.
By a resounding 9-1 margin, the delegates rejected the executive board’s plea for more time. It was decided, instead, that the issue would be put before the general membership later that day.
Round 2 at St. Nick’s that afternoon proved to be more of the same. There on the stage was the lone figure of Charlie Cogen standing before an angry crowd of 5,000 members stamping their feet, booing, jeering, yelling “sell-out” and “strike now” and waving signs reading “Money yes, promises no” and “Action now.” It took Cogen some 40 minutes just to bring the raucous group to order.
Boos and cat-calls greeted Cogen’s plea to avoid being labeled “strike-happy” and to vote for a temporary truce. Newspaper reports told of “prolonged applause and loud cheers” for Hochberg and Parente, “leaders of the militant wing.”
A Daily News reporter described the scene this way: “Some 5,000 public school teachers, split between red-hots anxious to strike today and more cautious souls … The union … is torn by internal dissension and power fights among its officers.” On the question of whether to postpone or strike now, the vote was 2,544–2,231 to rebuke the leadership and strike immediately. The hardliners had won by just 313 votes. The strike was on.

You’re all fired

Narrowly defeated or not, after the vote Cogen said, “We’re completely united.” Asked about the threat of being jailed if they defied an injunction, Cogen is reported to have smiled and said: “Life has risks. Everything has risks.” The next morning, April 11, brought out the pickets. One newspaper account told of one protester: “Charles Hoffman, 24, a 9th-grade teacher picketing outside JHS 65 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, said: ‘We’re getting a raw deal from the city and it’s up to the teachers to do something. It’s about time we stood firm. We’ve been fair. Now we have to be firm.’”

I didn't see accounts of people screaming for the "Cone of Silence" to come down on the Union back then. It shouldn't be called for now because of a Black Lives Matter debate either. We can handle it.


Anonymous said...

The silence is the real issue here. No information except from you and Arthur. The UFT is fearful of everything especially the rank and file finding out how they make decisions that are in their own interests, not ours.

NYC Educator said...

Come on, James, that's so 1962. Reading the Unity handout, I'm thinking more 1984.

Anonymous said...

The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.

John F. Kennedy

I pity the worker and world without labor unions, but I pity myself for having the UFT as the best and only choice.

James Eterno said...

LOL Arthur.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The emperor has no clothes, and it’s high time that everyone acknowledged that. Proof positive is Washington, DC, long the favorite of the ‘school reform’ crowd, which offered it as evidence that test-based reforms that rewarded teachers for high student scores (and fired those with low scores) was the magic bullet for turning around troubled urban school districts.

But now we know that about one-third of recent DC high school graduates–900 students– had no business receiving diplomas, and that they marched across the stage last Spring because some adults changed their grades or pushed them through the farce known as ‘credit recovery,’ in which students can receive credit for a semester by spending a few hours over a week’s time in front of a computer.

The reliable Catherine Gewertz of Education Week provides a through (and thoroughly depressing) account of the DC story, which she expands to include data from DC teachers: “In a survey of 616 District of Columbia teachers conducted after the scandal broke, 47 percent said they’d felt pressured or coerced into giving grades that didn’t accurately reflect what students had learned. Among high school teachers, that number rose to 60 percent. More than 2 in 10 said that their student grades or attendance data had been changed by someone else after teachers submitted them.”
If you have read “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education,” you have read about Arne Duncan’s “Raise the Graduation Rate” effort, which is prime example of phony reform (along with W’s earlier “Raise the Test Scores” campaign). Both superficial reforms proved to be malignant in their impact upon students, teachers, and schools. Students were lied to about their proficiency, administrators and teachers cheated, school curricula were debased, standards were lowered, and confidence in public schools dropped.

The response to the graduation scandal from members of the ‘school reform’ establishment (which includes Republicans and Democrats) has been to blame “a few bad apples” for misbehaving. Wrong, wrong, wrong! This outcome was inevitable and entirely predictable, because this always happens when a system puts all its eggs in one basket. Too much pressure on a single metric renders that metric unreliable and untrustworthy. But Education Establishment figures from the (right leaning) American Enterprise Institute and the (left leaning) Center for American Progress call for greater accountability, more early intervention for kids who do poorly on tests, and so forth. No one questions the wisdom of the test-based system, as far as I can see.

By the way, if you think I feel strongly about this, check out this opinion piece, also from Education Week.

How did the graduation scam continue for so long under the leadership of Chancellor Kaya Henderson? You will recall that Henderson succeeded the controversial Michelle Rhee, who came to DC in 2007 and left in 2010. Henderson, Rhee’s deputy and closest friend, was routinely described in the media as “A kinder, gentler Rhee.” Unfortunately, people focused on the adjectives, “kinder” and “gentler”and felt relieved to be free of Rhee’s sturm und drang. Suffering from “Rhee fatigue,” everyone apparently ignored the central point of the description: Henderson=Rhee.

Sadly, the current DC Chancellor, Antwan Wilson, has not moved quickly to take control. Perhaps this is because he–just like Rhee, Henderson, and many other school leaders–is on record as a supporter of what I call the ‘test-and-punish’ approach to education.

Anonymous said...

So, end of the day, it’s not really about the people but about a school system that is inadequate for the 21st Century. We simply don’t have enough kids to sort them into ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ at an early age. Our schools now look at each kid and ask, “How smart is this child?” (often getting their answer from tests, but also from appearance, income level, and race). Instead, schools should be asking an ethically, morally and socially appropriate question, “How is this child intelligent?” Building on strengths and interests is the right starting place.

When administrators and teachers change student scores so they can pass, the adults are lying to the students, telling them they are proficient and denying them the remedial help they were entitled to. We will never know how many lives were blighted, and those kids may never catch up. In Atlanta educators went to jail, but in most other cheating scandals, no adults suffered.

The DC system can identify the 900+ students who received phony diplomas, but what comes next? Should those diplomas be recalled, and the students compensated with additional instruction? Surely the kids shouldn’t be punished, but neither should they be allowed to keep their diplomas. The principal of one DC high school has been reassigned, but that doesn’t begin to get to the heart of the problem.The rot starts at the top, but Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson are long gone from Washington. And, more importantly, they are not the top. They were just opportunistically riding the wave.

It doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of energy looking back and casting blame. We ought to reject test-based reform as the harmful fraud that it is. That’s the right starting place.

James Eterno said...

All good points.

Anonymous said...

I’m interested in the controversy around Shankar’s support of Vietnam. Was that his personal view? Did he fight resolutions at the DA opposing the war?

James Eterno said...

Ask Norm that one. He can talk for a week without coming up for air on that one.