We start airing this week in New York, along with New Jersey and Connecticut, on WNYE Channel 25 over the airwaves and cable (22 if you have Cablevision) Sunday Mornings at 9:00. Since finding out last week I have not been able to get thoughts of my youth out of my mind.
Thoughts of friends, family, school and all sorts of common type remembrances were all there, but something else was floating through my mind. At first I could not see the connection, but then this morning it came to me.
It was close to my last year in New York just before I moved to New Jersey and maybe that’s why it left such an impression.
During my last year and a half in New York City there were three major strikes by city employees that nearly crippled the city and had a ripple effect that literally changed America.
The first one that impacted me personally, and as a kid it was in a very positive way, was the teacher’s strike. It lasted for months and we did not start school until the middle of the year. For my friends and me this meant playing sports all day long and praying every night that the strike would never end. We even marched with the teachers in the hopes that it would prolong the strike.
Officials threatened that if the strike continued any longer we would have to go to summer school. We immediately left the picket line. Best news of all was that instead of extending school they just would pack more lessons in less time into our heads. The results were fantastic! With no waste and more intense shorter lessons the students, state-wide, not only lost ground but had some of the best student performance results. As we continue to do everything in our power to improve student performance we should keep this in mind. It is what really matters.
There soon followed two other massive strikes that had a powerful effect. One was famously titled: “The Blue Flu” and lasted a little over a week. All at once 20,000 police officers were refusing to report to work, calling in sick. For a little over a week New York City was essentially unpoliced. In fact, during one shift, it was discovered that no more than 200 officers were on the street policing a city of over 6 million. Again there was an amazing affect. THERE WAS NO INCREASE IN CRIME DURING THIS PERIOD. It was as if people knew the potential danger and pulled together. The character of the entire city changed. Even we kids behaved better. Character, it really is what matters.
It began when some 7,000 sanitation workers gathered in New York’s City Hall Park and voted to go on strike to get a decent contract. For years the city had an unfair official policy: Sanitation worker salaries had to be lower than police and firefighters’ salaries, and sanitation workers had to contribute more from their paychecks, but got lower pensions, compared to police and firefighters. The strike lasted a very short while but the consequences were more powerful than the two other strikes. The two other strikes could not bring the city down, but this one had a much different result. It did bring the city down. As the pictures will show, no test of character or less is more theory applied. The entire New York media was in full force against the sanitation workers. Then,
Governor Rockefeller, had to declare a state of emergency. Police on strike could not shut down the city but garbage men on strike not only shut it down, but the National Guard was called in to help haul away the tons of trash that piled in the streets.
But what changed history was the strike inspired another to take place in an American city. The city was Memphis, Tennessee.
Just days after the New York strike began sanitation workers in Memphis followed suit. Martin Luther King Jr., ever a man of the people, was in Memphis to show solidarity with the trash collectors.
The strike began in February and King visited the city several times to work with union leaders, his final visit being in April. He was assassinated outside his hotel room April 4. The strike would end two weeks later.
Sometimes we don’t know what really matters, but we better always keep it in mind.
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