Brilliant and articulate, no one ever doubted that Rebecca Simonson had a way with words. But it wasn't so much poetry as strategy that led the leader of the Teachers Guild in the 1940s to compare organizing to "opening a flower one petal at a time."
From her labor organizing mother and socialist Sunday school, she had learned "better times must come through the work at the union." But she had seen enough strikes broken and unions busted not to go around picking fights the union wasn't ready to win. She counseled caution when others wanted action.
"I'm not one of those who boast of not being cautious," Simonson told the UFT Oral History Project in the mid-1980s. A teachers' strike? "We were a minority organization. Nobody in his right senses would call a strike without having a good majority of the membership...While there may be a very honorable and honest desire to dramatize teachers' problems through a strike, there is a lack of sensitivity to the results of ill-considered action. Action of itself is not a virtue. It has to be planned to yield good results. Otherwise it's devastating."