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.
“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.