In 1950, New York City high school teachers called on Mayor William O’Dwyer to increase their 2-5K yearly salaries by $600.
O’Dwyer balked, offering no more than $200. In response, teachers stopped supervising extracurricular activities. So O’Dwyer’s administration suspended sport teams, clubs, and other school groups.
With their extracurriculars gone, students were angry.
To protest O’Dwyer, they staged a student strike over three days in late April, ditching their morning classes or not showing up at all.
“Carrying banners on which their pro-teacher sentiments were scrawled in lipstick, they held up subway trains, wrecked automobiles, and dared police to break them up and were prevented only by hasty police action from forcing their way into the office of Mayor O’Dwyer, who had refused to discuss higher salaries,” wrote Life on May 8.
Of the strikers, The New York Times reported, “The vast majority of the youngsters were laughing and good-natured, and moved when they were asked. A few tried to stand their ground and spoke sharply to the police about ‘democracy’ and ‘people’s rights.’”
School officials claimed the strikes were organized by “subversive elements,” according to Life. The teachers insisted they had nothing to do with it and denounced the striking students.
Was it worth it? Well, it took another 18 months for the city and the teachers to reach a pay compromise, and extracurriculars didn’t resume until September 1951, according to an excellent piece on the strike from Brooklynology.
[Top photo: Brooklynology/Brooklyn Public Library; Life magazine]