Norm Scott and Kit Wainer have combined on a concise history of the opposition groups within the UFT. Kit wrote a piece for MORE and Norm added in some of the pre-UFT history. It is excellent reading but it leaves out a group that was very important to our history which was called the High School Teachers Association.
The HSTA was led by two militant leaders named Roger Parente and Samuel Hochberg. They backed the first teacher strike in New York City in January of 1959 when Evening High School Teachers walked off the job.
Many of the details are contained Class Struggles: The UFT Story, Part 4 by Jack Schierenbeck. The entire series is required reading for anyone who wants to know the history of the UFT. Jack was an objective reporter who treated non-Unity Caucus members with respect.
Here is the part on the Evening High School walkout. Note that the Guild and High School Teachers Association eventually merged to form the UFT in 1960.
It’s not surprising, then, that with resistance and rebellion swirling throughout the country, New York teachers stayed out from work for the first time in the city’s history. Fed up with years of rotten conditions and even worse pay — $12.50 a night for four hours — close to 1,000 evening high school teachers all handed in their resignations in January 1959. In resigning they’d hoped to avoid the stiff penalties for striking in defiance of New York’s Condon-Wadlin Act. Enacted in 1947, the law permitted the automatic firing of striking public employees. Even for workers not let go there would be no salary increases for three years and a four-year probationary period.
Resigned or striking, the net effect was the same — night schools were shut down. The job action was a classic wildcat strike, unauthorized by any union. But since most of the teachers also taught in the day high schools, the action won the backing of the High School Teachers Association, especially two of its officers, Samuel Hochberg and Roger Parente — himself an evening school teacher.
Fearing that a successful strike would strengthen the rival HSTA, many in the Guild wanted to do nothing. Ely Trachtenberg showed them where they were wrong. He convinced the Guild’s executive board “that it did not matter which organization sponsored a particular militant action,” Selden recalled in his book. “What mattered was that the workers, in this case the teachers, advance. It was the struggle that was important, not the organization.”
The Guild threw its whole support to the strikers, Guild members walking side by side on the picket line with high school militants. Among the nightly picketers were Selden, Shanker, Trachtenberg and Altomare. In fact, both Shanker and Selden made stops at the various schools in their station wagons, christened “Guild Coffeemobiles,” passing out coffee and donuts. When a rally was called at City Hall, it was the Guild’s telephone network, mimeo machine and tight-knit organizational structure which turned out the crowd.
After a couple of weeks the Board of Education threw in the towel. Wages were raised to $24 a night.