New York Teachers On Strike: It got ugly.

New York Teachers On Strike: It got ugly.

– WOR – Martha Deane Pgm. N.Y. Teachers Strike – 1968

A reminder of Teachers’ strikes past – The New York City Teachers’ Strike of 1968 was a months-long, arduous and deeply dividing strike that dragged on for a total of 36 days between May and November of 1968.

At the crux was a confrontation between the community-controlled School board of the Black-majority Ocean Hill-Brownsville suburb of Brooklyn and the New York City Federation of Teachers over the abrupt dismissal of ten teachers and administrators, who were mostly White and Jewish. The dismissal was brought on as the result of the newly created school districts desire to hire more Black teachers and administrators for the primarily Black school district.

What it wound up doing was pitting the community against the Teachers’ Union, who saw it as a conflict between local rights to self-determination and teachers` universal rights as workers. The resulting strike spread throughout the entire city of New York and created a firestorm of controversy and a deep rift in relations between Blacks and Jews that would go on for years after.

The Teachers strike badly divided the city and became known as one of John Lindsay’s “Ten Plagues”. Scholars have agreed with Shanker’s assessment that “the whole alliance of liberals, blacks and Jews broke apart on this issue. It was a turning point in this way.” The strike created a serious rift between white liberals, who supported the teachers’ union, and Blacks who wanted community control. The strike made it clear that these groups, previously allied in the Civil Rights Movement and the labor movement, would sometimes come into conflict. Some groups allied with the civil rights movement and Black Liberation struggles moved towards the creation of independent African Schools, including The East’s Uhuru Sasa Shule in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

According to historian Jerald Podair, these events also pushed New York’s Jewish population into accepting an identity of whiteness, further polarizing race relations in the city. He argued that the shift in coalitions after the 1968 strike pushed New York City to the political right for decades to comeā€”in part because race came to eclipse class as the main axis of social conflict. The events surrounding the Teachers strike were a factor in the decision by Meir Kahane to form the Jewish Defense League.

Here is an interview in the midst of the crisis with New York City Schools Superintendent Dr. Bernard Donovan on the Martha Deane Program from October 1, 1968.

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