Wisconsin teachers are an angry bunch and this latest uprising isn’t the first in the state. In 1974, teachers belonging to the Hortonville Wisconsin Education Association went on strike against the Hortonville School District and created a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Teachers and the school board had been negotiating teachers’ salaries in early 1974 and had reached a tentative agreement. The teachers, in an attempt to speed up what they saw as a slow bargaining process, stipulated that no contract for the 1974 school year would be signed unless negotiations were undertaken and completed on the next year’s contract as well.
The board rejected this position and on the morning of March 18, 1974, all 88 teachers of the district walked out and went on strike. This was a direct violation of Wisconsin State Statutes that prohibited strikes by public employees, including teachers. School bus drivers were ordered to return students to their homes. Teachers picketed the schools, the board chambers and the homes and businesses of the board members.
On April 2, 1974 the Hortonville School Board fired eighty-six teachers (two had returned to duty) on the grounds that they were participating in an illegal strike and had breached their contracts. At this point, things got ugly.
Outside labor agitators flowed into Hortonville. During Easter break of 1974, more than three hundred teachers from around the state came to Hortonville marching in the streets, blocking stores and disrupting town activities.
Windows were smashed. Board members were subjected to threatening phone calls and tire slashings. “SCAB” was spray painted on three sides of the home of the board president. The school was kept locked while classes taught by replacements was in session, and parents patrolled the halls and guarded the entrances. Hundreds of magazine subscriptions, record club memberships and other services were ordered in the names of board members resulting in harassment from collection agencies. Outside agitators filled every parking place in the town’s business district making it difficult for customers to patronize stores.
Striking teachers set up an “alternate” school but only 80 of 1,900 students in the community attended.
Teachers sued to retain their jobs and the case made its way through the courts to the United States Supreme Court. The union claimed that the disciplinary hearings that resulting in firings held by the board were prejudiced. In a 6-3 decision authored by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, the court found the board had the power to discipline the teachers and the firings were upheld.
Little of the ugliness of the Hortonville situation is evident in today’s teacher uprising. Maybe it is still to come. On the other hand, maybe the difference is the citizen media. Perhaps the ability to keep thugs in check with technology that records their every move an instantly broadcasts it to the world restrains them from their worst behavior. The New Media is not beholden to the press and their prejudices. Union thugs, somewhere in their subconscious, know they are being watched and judged. Just one more way the New Media is making the world a better place.