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When Minneapolis Teachers Last Went On Strike 50 Years Ago, They Broke The Law And Risked Their Jobs

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The last time Minneapolis teachers went on strike was in 1970, when Richard Nixon was president.

WCCO-TV covered the strike as teachers marched for 20 days, demanding changes in the classroom and in state law.

Now, teachers in Minneapolis and St. Paul could strike again as early as next Tuesday.

Among those prepared to strike is Edward Barlow, a St. Paul educator and Teacher of the Year semifinalist. He and other Twin Cities teachers are calling for better pay, smaller class sizes and more mental health support for students.

"Unfortunately, we've lost some amazing educators, including educators of color, to surrounding districts due to the fact that we are not competitive with our compensation," Barlow said.

Minneapolis Teachers Strike
(credit: CBS)

It was more than half a century ago that Minneapolis teachers last went on strike. At the time, the strike was illegal, as Minnesota had passed a law banning public employees from striking.

"The moment they picked up a placard and set foot on the pavement to join a demonstration, they had violated state law," said Dr. William Green, an Augsburg University history professor.

Green, who was once superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, wrote a book about the Minneapolis strike. The book is called "Strike!: Twenty Days in 1970 When Minneapolis Teachers Broke the Law" and it's slated to be out in June.

In 1970, the Minneapolis teachers broke the law to demand higher pay and better working conditions. They were willing to risk their jobs.

"A lot of people who experience that strike never really were the same," Green said. "Many of them were still wounded from that experience. And that was yet another reason why I found that this strike was so critical."

Green's book is filled with photographs from the Minnesota Historical Society.

"A lot of the men were dressed very conservatively, they looked like they were used car salesmen," Green said. "The women were dressed in the fashion that was very characteristic of the 1970s."

Minnesota Teacher's Strike (1970)
(credit: Minnesota Historical Society)

The strike went on for almost three weeks. While the teachers didn't get the pay increase they wanted, the strike did prompt the state to grant public workers the ability to bargain collectively.

Today, teachers are hoping a resolution can be reached before a strike. They plan to hold around-the-clock negotiations with their respective districts.

"We really do not want a strike," Barlow said. "We really would like to have our concerns addressed and come to some solution that is going to benefit everyone."

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