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September 5: Victor Gotbaum

September 4, 2016

07tue3web-master675Victor Gotbaum, who led New York’s largest municipal union, District Council 37 of AFSCME, from 1965 to 1987, was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1927. In 1971, Gotbaum led a strike that snarled New York traffic by leaving all but two of the city’s twenty-nine drawbridges open. By 1975, he had built his union from 36,000 members in 1965 to more than 100,000 members, comprising some sixty separate labor locals representing workers ranging from zookeepers to computer programmers. When New York nearly went bankrupt in 1975, Gotbaum first instigated a sanitation workers strike, a blockage of traffic by highway workers on the Henry Hudson Parkway, and a blockage of the Brooklyn Bridge by five hundred New York police. He then compromised with Mayor Abraham Beame to allow a partial wage freeze and to invest hundreds of millions of dollars from union pension funds into municipal bonds. During World War II, Gotbaum arrived in Normandy shortly after D-Day and earned six battle stars fighting across Europe. He entered the labor movement in 1955 as education director for the Amalgamated Meat Cutters in Chicago. DC 37 was one of the first unions to come out in opposition to the Vietnam War. Gotbaum also founded the Center for Labor-Management Policy at the City University of New York and was director of the National Center for Collective Bargaining at Baruch College. He died at 93 in 2015.

"“We could stop the collection of millions of dollars a day, turn off the water supply, pull out the ambulance drivers, leave Coney Island without lifeguards. . . . To me this would be disgraceful for any union to do it. I never think there’s validity in destroying the city. I really believe that a union has a responsibility to the public.”--Victor Gotbaum