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September 11, 2012

Hortonville: The Strike That Changed Wisconsin

Christian Schneider:

When 25,000 Chicago teachers walked off the job on Monday, it provided a perfect bookend to the sturm und drang Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker faced in his recent attempts to lessen teachers union power.

But while the Chicago imbroglio marks the end of the Wisconsin struggle, many have forgotten that Wisconsin played a central role in birthing the framework that emboldens teachers unions.

In 1974, tiny Hortonville, Wis., saw one of the longest and ugliest work stoppages in American education history.

Before it was over, the town would be flooded with thousands of union activists and would draw the attention of the nationwide media. In fact, the Hortonville strike would prompt many of the changes Walker only recently revoked.

In March 1974, teachers unions were still a relatively new phenomenon. Wisconsin was one of 11 states in the late 1960s and early '70s where statewide teachers unions were formed. (The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association became the first certified teachers bargaining agent in Wisconsin in 1964.) Between 1969 and 1974, Wisconsin teachers struck 50 times.

But the state hadn't seen anything like what happened in Hortonville on March 18, 1974, when 88 teachers walked off the job. The teachers were seeking pay increases of 16.5% in the 1974-'75 school year; the district offered 1.2%. After several days of picketing, the district fired 86 of the striking teachers and immediately brought in replacements to get the schools running again.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at September 11, 2012 9:49 PM
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