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RTC Chapter Leader Column

Happy birthday, UFT

New York Teacher
Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy, Chapter Leader for Retired Teachers Chapter

Recently, I was asked to serve on a committee to plan the 60th anniversary of two milestones in the history of our union: the March 16, 1960, founding of the United Federation of Teachers and the Nov. 7, 1960, commencement of the union's first strike.

In that long-ago year, the climate was right for an emerging labor union such as ours. A labor-friendly New York City mayor, Robert F. Wagner, looked favorably on our nascent efforts. The public at large was about to elect John F. Kennedy as president.

Optimism and reform were the context of our early years. Soon social, political, cultural and economic forces would coalesce behind movements that would bring about civil rights and Medicare victories, along with many more accomplishments, including the march to attain economic and professional dignity for educators. It wasn't a walk in the park, but the struggles bore fruit and paved the way for us and for others.

The UFT became a model for others organizing across the country. I can personally vouch that the UFT still plays that seminal role in the AFT's efforts to organize retirees.

The starting point in our celebration is a resolution presented at the Feb. 12, 2020, Delegate Assembly in Shanker Hall at UFT headquarters in Manhattan. Here are some noteworthy excerpts:

"WHEREAS, on this 60th anniversary, we remember with respect and admiration our founders, who took massive personal and occupational risks to establish the UFT so that educators, parents and children would have one common voice to advocate for quality public education; and

WHEREAS, the UFT brought dignity to teaching and education professions in New York City and the lives of its members, and has been a model for educators throughout the country who aim to be treated professionally; and

WHEREAS, the UFT has grown in numbers, influence and the professions it represents and is, today, a powerful advocate for public education, children with special needs, early childhood education, workers' and civil rights, nursing practices, occupational and environmental safety, judicial proceedings and mental health among many others, which benefit society and contribute to a healthy democracy; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that we, the current members of the UFT, heartily thank those who preceded us and whose efforts allow us today to proudly celebrate … knowing that the UFT has made unique and important contributions to public education, the labor movement and millions of people's lives; … that we will keep working together toward the pursuit of our goals in these worthy professions, to help each other create a productive, dignified work environment, one dedicated to assisting our co-workers as well as the students, patients and clients we work with to also achieve their hopes and dreams."

In schools on March 16, at our Lobby Day in Albany on that same day, at our Spring Education Conference in May, at Teacher Union Day in November and especially at our retiree luncheons in Florida and here in New York City, we will commemorate our founding.

Hand in hand with our newest members, we will proclaim: "60 years standing strong; 60 years moving forward."