Eight thousand New York social workers, many of them Jews, went out on strike on this date in 1965 in protest of oversized caseloads and low pay. Two locals led the strike: the independent Social Services Employees Union, a militant union that had just won bargaining rights for 6,000 caseworkers, and DC 37’s Local 371, which represented supervisors and clerical workers. Mayor Robert Wagner fired all the strikers and threw nineteen leaders (women and men) in jail for two weeks, yet the unions won the strike after twenty-eight days — the longest labor action by public employees in the history of New York City — with support from organized labor and the civil rights movement, and in coalition with incipient organizing efforts among welfare recipients. Among the strikers’ gains were 9 percent raises, impartial arbitration, 100 percent city-paid health insurance, the first union education fund for city workers, the right to bargain on a wide range of issues, and an automatic clothing grant for their clients.
“Throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, NYC’s militant social service workers pushed a vision of strong worker-client alliances in a broad anti-capitalist working class movement. These city workers were disproportionately Jewish, and saw the need for strong alliances with the city’s African-American poor. . . . [In the 1960s] Most of these social workers were Jewish and working with Black and Latino clients. Later, when African-American social workers led the union, it did less to ally with clients than in 1965.” —The Rank and Filer