TEACHERS AND POWER: The Story of the American Federation of Teachers by Robert J. Braun

TEACHERS AND POWER: The Story of the American Federation of Teachers

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Braun, education editor of the Newark Star-Ledger, is emphatically anti-teachers' union. His book begins: ""Know your enemy"" -- the power-mad American Federation of Teachers, its heartless members, and its hard-drinking organizers. Braun maps the factions within the national leadership and the New York branch, indicting one fellow for ""militancy run amok"" while sneering at Shanker as a moderate bureaucrat. There are capsule histories of key strikes. He grants that in 1970 and 1971 the Newark Board of Education was on the offensive, jailing teachers, pressing cut-backs, using Establishment-funded black nationalists against the union with Mayor Gibson's approval; nevertheless he still casts the heavily black union as the villain, pointing to ""picket-line violence"" (which was in fact stirred up by LeRoi Jones' machine) and delicately referring to scabs as ""substitute teachers."" He complains that the union is not an electorally accountable force -- but what about the Ford Foundation, whose active role in the earlier New York strike he concedes? Braun erroneously assumes that Board of Education wage-cutting is no longer a live issue. He suggests that teachers rely on the ""love and respect"" of the community to protect them, but it is not clear how these will sustain school facilities or paychecks in a time of urban budget crisis. He deplores the ""tragic impact"" of strikes, ignoring cases where the union was pushed into them and discounting the tragic impact of larger classes, teacher layoffs, etc. He castigates the ""narrow, private interests"" of unions -- as if Mayor Gibson's Prudential Insurance advisers were selfless public benefactors. His most valid criticism of the union is its failure to ally itself with students, parents, and community groups; and there is quite a good historical section describing the early unionizing fights. However Braun's overblown account of AFT power misconstrues the union's essential purpose and thrust even if a multi-partisan audience is assured.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1972
Publisher: Simon & Schuster