Albert Shanker bigraphy, stories - American labor leader

Albert Shanker : biography

September 14, 1928 - February 22, 1997

Albert Shanker (September 14, 1928 – February 22, 1997) was president of the United Federation of Teachers from 1964 to 1985 and president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) from 1974 to 1997.

Later years

Shanker was a visiting professor at Hunter College and Harvard University during the 1980s. He continued to work toward organizing teachers throughout his life and attempted to bridge the AFT with the National Education Association, which he never saw happen. In 1991, U.S. President George H. W. Bush appointed him as a member of the original Competitiveness Policy Council.

He died of bladder cancer and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 by U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Founding the United Federation of Teachers

Shanker took a year off after graduating from college and taught mathematics at an East Harlem school from 1952 to 1959. He began his tenure as a union organizer in 1959 to help organize the Teacher's Guild, a New York City affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers that was founded by John Dewey in 1917. Eventually, the Teacher's Guild merged with New York City's High School Teacher's Association to form the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in 1960. During the 1960s, Shanker received national attention and considerable criticism for his aggressive union leadership and skillful negotiation of salary increases for New York City teachers. He left his teaching job to become a full-time union organizer. He felt that a teachers' union would be more effective if it were united with a common set of goals. In 1964, Shanker succeeded Charles Cogen as the UFT president, a position he held until 1985. In 1967 and again in 1968, he served jail sentences for leading illegal teachers' strikes. The New York City teacher's strike of 1968 closed down almost all New York City schools for 36 days.

Perhaps Shanker is best known for opposing community-control leaders in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district of New York City, which led to the 1968 strike after white teachers were dismissed from the school district by the recently appointed black administrator. By SEWELL CHAN, New York Times, October 16, 2007

For more than a decade, Shanker wrote more than 1,300 columns in The New York Times and essays in other publications. Accompanied by a small photograph of Shanker, the Times columns, titled "Where We Stand," sought to clarify the union's position on matters of public interest.


"Public schools played a big role in holding our nation together. They brought together children of different races, languages, religions, and cultures and gave them a common language and a sense of common purpose. We have not outgrown our need for this; far from it." ("Where We Stand," March 3, 1997)

“There is no more reason to pay for private education than there is to pay for a private swimming pool for those who do not use public facilities.”

“It is as much the duty of the union to preserve public education as it is to negotiate a good contract.”

"It's dangerous to let a lot of ideas out of the bag, some of which may be bad. But there's something that's more dangerous, and that's not having any new ideas at all at a time when the world is closing in on you." (Speech to the AFT QuEST Conference, 1985)

Early life

Shanker was born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (New York City) to a Russian-Jewish immigrant family. As a toddler, his family moved to Long Island City, in Queens.

His father, Morris, delivered newspapers and his mother, Mamie, worked in a knitting factory. The experience of watching his mother work 70-hour weeks made Shanker aware from an early age that there was a need for societal changes.

Shanker read several newspapers daily as a young boy, with an interest in philosophy. His idols were Franklin D. Roosevelt, Clarence Darrow, civil-rights leader Bayard Rustin, the civil-rights leader, and American pholosopher Sydney Hook.

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