In marking the 40th anniversary
of the student strike at
San Francisco State College this year, don't overlook the faculty strike that
broke out in early 1969, not long after the student strike began. The
eight-week-long walkout led by the American Federation of Teachers was one of
the longest and most bitter teacher strikes in California history.
Although the faculty members called their strike to seek
firmer rights, lesser teaching loads and other improved working conditions for
themselves, they also demanded that the college negotiate an agreement with the
student strikers and otherwise resolve student grievances.
The teachers didn't specify support for any of the
students' particular demands, only that the college administration reach an
agreement with them and meanwhile rescind the harsh disciplinary rules for
students that were adopted during the strike and take other steps to end the
campus turmoil that the strike had prompted.
Most of the faculty demands eventually were met, but
theirs was a long, hard struggle that spread to San Jose State College and
involved brief sympathy strikes at a half-dozen other state colleges. The
faculties' specific demands were secondary. The stumbling block was their
simple demand for negotiations.
Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, his hand-picked State College
Board of Trustees, and San Francisco State's politically ambitious acting
president, future U.S. Senator S.I. Hayakawa, claimed that teachers didn't have
the right to collective bargaining. They insisted that the faculty members were
legally obliged to accept whatever Hayakawa and other college administrators
dictated. The most they could expect was to "meet and confer" with
administrators about their working conditions, with no guarantees that any
changes would be made.
Reagan, the trustees and Hayakawa tried to halt the
strike by arguing that the law prohibiting public employee strikes applied to
the teachers, by obtaining court rulings ordering them back to work and by
invoking a State Education Code rule that teachers off the job for five
consecutive days without permission were to be considered as having resigned.
The trustees wanted to go even further, arguing that teachers who struck for
any length of time should be considered to have voluntarily resigned.
But though none of that halted the strike, it did bring
great media attention and public praise to Reagan and Hayakawa for their
righteous attacks on irresponsible, law-breaking teachers and the radical,
violent students they supported.
The few media outlets that explored the facts behind the
political bluster were attacked as well. Hayakawa was so angered at the
in-depth coverage of KQED-TV's pioneering "Newspaper of the Air"
(later known as "Newsroom"), that he stormed off the set and out of
KQED's studio in the midst of a live interview with "Newspaper of the
The teachers got important support from the San Francisco
Labor Council, whose formal sanction of the strike kept food service workers,
truck drivers and other union members from crossing their picket lines.
Council Secretary George Johns played a major role in
getting the state college trustees to finally agree to negotiate a settlement
despite Gov. Reagan's continued opposition to negotiations. The governor even
opposed the provision, standard in such settlements, that there be no
post-strike reprisals. Reagan asserted there should be reprisals against
teachers for having struck in violation of the law.
Key provisions of the settlement set up a formal
procedure for teachers to attempt to settle their grievances against
administrators, promised there'd be no reduction in the current number of
teaching positions, reduced teaching loads that were among the highest in state
colleges nationwide, and created sound financing for the new Black Studies
Department and School of Ethnic Studies that student strikers had demanded.
The faculty strike was a true landmark. It showed that
teachers could strike despite the laws against public employee strikes - and
despite heavy opposition from the public and political leaders. It showed that
a teachers' union could negotiate for its members, again despite supposed legal
barriers and disapproval by the public and politicians. It helped push much
larger and more powerful teacher organizations into demanding what amount to
union bargaining rights.
Whatever the specific demands of the teachers, or of any
group of unionized public employees, that is what they wanted above all - the
rights to strike and to negotiate. So whenever one of the unionized groups
managed to do both, they all moved toward winning those rights. It's a movement
that has continued to this day.
Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister