Note - some people told me Mulgrew referred to this piece indirectly when he pointed out at the UFT Ex Bd meeting on Monday that in 1975 teachers still got their raises -- yes they did but the 15,000 laid off did not.
Some new info came in from Bruce Markens who has the best institutional memory going back to the early 60s. So I am updating and republishing - sorry subscribers for tossing so much email at you.
When I see complaints from teachers about the DOE, the UFT, the loss of
spring break, etc. I find them almost funny due to how shortsighted they are given the potential likelihood of a massive financial crisis to come that will affect and infect the school system, the most likely place to take the biggest hit because it has the biggest budget and therefore the most places to cut - except for the administrators and bureaucracy, of course.
The current home-learning situation will result in a learning experience for all - but especially the politicians and corporatists - especially in the Dem Party, who see a solution to the budget by continuing versions of stay at home schooling where feasible - witness one Andrew Cuomo taking advantage of the disaster - never waste a crisis. He's cutting Medicaid - I guarantee education is on the chopping block.
Of course the role the schools play in babysitting and feeding cannot be ignored, but I believe the idea will be there for use. Imagine closed schools and how many people can be laid off? But let's say all schools remain open.
No taxes coming in and enormous expenses for city and state government: deep cuts are inevitable
So how can they cut deeply and still maintain a system? Just tax the rich I hear some people say -- that will solve the problem. Here's what we know - that will never happen -- both parties protect the rich and that was why Bernie and Warren to a lesser extent were such threats.
What about UFT contracts? Someone commented recently - don't we have a contract preventing layoffs - a LOL moment.
Once they declare an emergency, contracts don't count. I will speculate on what schools may look like next year in Part 3.
1975 - a lesson: The UFT was much stronger then
So let's talk about what happened in 1975 when our contract was shredded when the financial crisis was declared and the finances taken over by some consortium -- Felix Rohatyn (who died not long ago and was proclaimed a hero - not to us - became the czar.)
At this time of the year in 1975 there were few signs on the horizon - even less than now. Bruce Markens called to tell me that in June '75 all 8000 regular substitutes were terminated - a warning sign. Now I do remember that --- it was clear that if you were not regularly appointed you were dead meat. Still, we thought they would be rehired. The idea of layoffs of regularly appointed teachers had never happened in memory - not even in the depression of the 1930s (I think.)
Still, when we got back in September, it was like getting hit by a brick when they announced that 13 people from our smallish elementary school were being excessed to other schools --- you see, layoffs were based on seniority, so they were being sent to push the lowest seniority out in other schools -- my school had more experienced teachers -- but they got down to within one of me -- and I started teaching in 1967 as a regular sub for three years - though became a regular licensed in 1970 - and I remember the order of seniority in case of ties was the score on the regular teaching exam - believe it or not - and I had a good score - 85- which jumped me over a few others.
Well, the upshot was that this happened in schools all over the city and there was a storm of outrage and at a DA was called and it was packed. Shanker was up there and we in the opposition were calling for us to not give in.
Shanker claimed the 1975 strike was his biggest mistake
We knew Shanker did not want to strike - he had been so damaged by the 1968 strike personally and professionally. The Taylor Law had been amended with two for one penalties for everyone who went on strike (thanks Bruce) - and was now going to damage us badly if we struck.
But there was a revolt from the lower UFT/Unity ranks (the only time over 60 years) - the District Reps were breaking ranks and demanding the union do something. But what could it do other than strike? And so it did -- but we in the opposition understood it was a show strike of sorts - Shanker went to jail and also declared we won't go back until we all go back -- NOT.
So the strike lasted a week and Shanker made a deal. "Only" 15,000 layoffs - and he helped bail out the city with our pension funds. You know I find it funny how people used to compare Shanker and Randi - but the Shanker of 1975 was a far cry from the militant union leader of 1967 (and his militancy of 1968 was misdirected and a long term catastrophe with demands from the liberal community for higher penalties for public worker strikes - witness the two for one penalties.) Randi once said that Shanker told her his biggest mistake was the 1975 strike - when it was really the 1968 strike that made it impossible to get the support of the public in the future, thus dooming the 1975 strike.
I remember the packed rally in front of 110 Livingston Street and the march over the Brooklyn Bridge where our opposition group - NYC School Workers - were active in calling for the strike -- even as we didn't trust Shanker to make a real stand. We struck for a week and Shanker served time in jail and then went out and made a deal that screwed us. A membership meeting was held in Madison Sq Garden and we were out there with 20,000 leaflets urging a NO vote in the agreement.
UPDATE: Bruce sent me the numbers - closer than I thought or remembered.
(In retrospect I'm not sure what I would do if it comes to this again but will explore this in Part 3. Shanker sold the agreement as only he could - that was his real genius.
A few months later in the spring of 1976 Shanker endorsed militant hawk Henry Scoop Jackson for president - Jackson who wanted a massive rise in the defense budget - Shanker chose guns over butter.
One thing is clear - we in the UFT took the brunt. I don't remember any other municipal union talking strike - divide and conquer. That's why I think when cuts come in September they will try to hit one group hard - the weakest links - and I fear that's the DOE. (Just dump all the supervisors).
The initial hit was mostly to elementary schools who were hit harder -- (again, divide and conquer). Elementary schools were the biggest supporters of Shanker - and didn't garner much respect. So it seemed to be "screw them" they won't do anything.
The biggest hit was to our preps
We lost all our cluster teachers -- maybe 6 (multiply that by the number of elementary schools) -- and were left with the
librarian who covered all preps. We had been getting 5 preps but those
were cut to 3 - (contract be damned) and 2 more preps were Mondays and
Fridays at 2:15 when the kids went home early. A whole bunch of schools
were closed. And actually we adapted surprisingly easy to the new world - in my school on the two days kids went home at 2:45, the common prep turned into wine and cheese parties.
Bruce reminded me that the first heavy hit to high schools was in February 1976. And major hits in Sept. '76. By that time elementary schools had worked under restrictions for a year
The next year junior high and high schools were hit hard. But certain licenses were hit harder -- like high school social studies layoffs went back to the late 60s. Social studies teachers were hit real hard - some were laid off who were appointed in the late 60s. The DOE was still short in math licensed so offered special courses for laid off teachers to get a math license.
There were repercussions for over 15 years - like no real school repairs that led to enormous damage that had to be cleaned up in the late 80s and 90s.
In part 2 I will share my personal experience in my school union election in the spring of 1975 before the cuts and how the layoffs affected me and touch on issues not included here.
In Part 3 we'll explore some of the possibilities for the great crisis of 2020 and how schools may look - anyone for a 4 day week? And wait till you see what they do to tenure rights, thought he untenured are in serious danger. (Hint - why layoff cheaper teachers with less seniority?) But most importantly, will a crisis finally spark NYC teacher militancy to match that in Chicago and LA? And how will the UFT leadership come up with ways to damper this militancy? Will an opposition spring up to Unity and will MORE be the focus of that opposition?
I'm including an important late comment from my friend Gloria:
...online learning replacing teacher centered learning. It
would save enormous amounts of money. (Remember the fight we had
against the "School of One" program some years back?) And true, in an
emergency, contracts may not hold any power. I'm sure you can describe a
horrific yet realistic vision of what education may look like post this
Pandemic horror (although a 4 day school week is already in place in
some school districts.) Larger classes. Fewer supplies, etc But I also
think it’s important to discuss how we can work against having any of
this happen. And I think we need look at the bigger picture- not just
getting our union to fight for us (Ha!) or pushing the NYS congress to
fully fund our education budget (as I heard yesterday on the AQE Zoom
meeting about the NYS budget just passed ) by increasing taxes on the
millionaires and billionaires although I do agree these are important
steps to take.
We need to continue building the movement that Bernie Sanders helped
organize. Take local power when we can. Let’s publicize the fact that
the richest country in the world actually can afford a fair, excellent
public education system (as well as healthcare for all, housing, etc.)
The current federal military budget is 750 B dollars; half of our
taxes go to support war and militarism. Our government is giving money
away by the trillions to military defense corporations like Boeing so it
can keep its investors happy and continue producing weapons for war.
Militarization is now accelerating at a time when most people are
suffering. I’d say that now is the time to push our union to work
towards these larger goals. They want to keep their power, too and so
does not want the union membership to shrink. This won’t be easy.
Imagine all left of center groups working together. But if we can’t do
this, lets say hello to The USA of F(Fascism).