FORTY YEARS OF DIGNITY AND STATUS
Forty years ago, a group of determined teachers, most of them women, most of them elementary school teachers received a charter from the American Federation of Teachers to form a local teacher union, then called the Plainview-Old Bethpage Federation of Teachers. They had enough of poverty level wages; they had enough of paternalistic bosses; they had enough of having almost no say about how they practiced their art.
These brave teachers wore a little blue button with what we would now call their strategic message. "Dignity and Status." The button was so small it could hardly be seen. Its hard to imagine today how much courage it took to wear it - how it marked you as one of those radical, unprofessional union people who were selfishly bound and determined to destroy public education.
These union pioneers would not be deterred from their goal. They organized their union, won recognition for it from the school district, bargained contracts and fought for their rights and the improvement of the education of children. They demonstrated, struck and did whatever else they could to challenge the powers that held them back, the forces that demeaned them and robbed them of their dignity.
On October 12th, members of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers gathered to celebrate the fortieth birthday of our union. As we do each decade or so, we got together to remind ourselves of our solidarity with those who struggled before us, those who built our union and who are responsible for the many benefits that have flowed from working together in common cause. We have a history of which we can all be proud. It must serve us to build an even prouder future. There is still much for our union to do. The day has not yet dawned when teachers are recognized and appreciated and appropriately rewarded for their profound contribution to our society, the education of our nations youth. The battle for dignity and status is never-ending.
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