Part 4 in a
series: Turning points in DC 37 history the 1980s
Reagan, the union-busting president
unionists protest Reagans anti-worker policies on Solidarity Day, Sept.
19, 1981, in Washington.
collision between labor and two Republican presidents who shared the philosophy
that government is the problem, not the solution, Ronald Reagan
(1981-1988) and George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) defined the 1980s and thrust
DC 37 into the forefront of important struggles.
After the end of the costly
Vietnam War, unions and progressives hoped to use the expected peace dividend
for unmet social and urban needs, but Reagan put the funds into the military budget.
The United States intervened in the civil war in El Salvador to support the military
government and made a crooked deal to sell weapons to Iran to fund the right-wing
Contras in Nicaragua. Reagans tax cuts for the rich, budget cuts and ballooning
federal deficits left little for domestic programs and put the squeeze on cities.
Director Stanley Hill (r.) marches in 1983 Labor Day Parade.
Director Lillian Roberts speaks at 1981 rally against Reagans plan to cut
back on many fronts
In New York City, DC 37 led the fight to
preserve public housing, public hospitals and public jobs. During the 1970s, the
city had eliminated the School Crossing Guards, but after nine schoolchildren
died on the streets, the union succeeded in bringing the Crossing Guards back.
Mayor Edward Koch tried to close and privatize Sydenham, Woodhull and Metropolitan
hospitals; DC 37 fought back and Woodhull and Metropolitan are still caring for
Reagan kicked off a full-fledged class war against working
people in August 1981, when he fired 12,000 Air Traffic Controllers who struck
for better working conditions and greater safety for air travelers and jailed
the leaders of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. DC 37 and
its parent union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees,
pressed for a united labor fightback.
On Sept. 19, Executive Director Victor
Gotbaum led a huge DC 37 contingent to Washington as half a million unionists
made Solidarity Day the largest labor demonstration in U.S. history. Protesters
attacked Reagans budget cuts and anti-worker policies as they marched with
the fired PATCO workers.
In 1981, Gotbaum named former SSEU Local 371 President
Stanley Hill associate director to replace Lillian Roberts, who became the first
African American woman to hold the post of New York State Labor Commissioner.
assaults on working people escalated, but his effort to cut Social Security failed
as labor mounted fierce resistance. DC 37 members marched in protest against funding
the death squads in El Salvador.
member (l.) at 1989 rally demanding more city support in the battle against AIDS.
march in 1988 Labor Day Parade.
for safe jobs
in the 1980s underscored the urgency of the unions fight to win safety protections
for public employees, which finally succeeded with the enactment of the New York
State Public Employee Safety and Health Law.
DC 37 members were also on
the front lines in the fight against AIDS, the epidemic that grew silently during
the 1970s. The federal government issued its first precautions for health-care
workers in 1983 as union members worked to educate the public, serve the sick
and fight for adequate support from city agencies.
After a career of building
DC 37 to its greatest strength and leading a united municipal union movement in
helping save the city from bankruptcy, Gotbaum retired in 1986. The Delegates
Council elected Stanley Hill DC 37s first African American executive director
a move of tremendous significance in a union that had seen major demographic
shifts since its founding in 1944.
Hill soon led a DC 37 delegation of
2,500 to Washington, carrying banners calling for Peace in Central America
and Money for jobs, not for war. In New York, he addressed a demonstration
against anti-white bias in promotions at the Human Resources Administration.
the 1989 mayoral election, DC 37 went all-out to show that Republican Rudolph
Giuliani was the point man for bringing Reagans policies to
New York City, and on Nov. 7, New Yorkers celebrated the victory of David Dinkins
as the citys first African American mayor.