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Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell in the early 1990s, Vincent was tasked by the U.S. State Department to lecture at Moscow State University on the role of labor unions in a democracy – the form of government that Americans expected to replace Communism in post-Soviet Russia.
Vincent was uniquely qualified for the job, having spent about 15 years as director of higher education for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the AFL-CIO-affiliated teacher’s union.
In spite of Karl Marx’s philosophy, independent unions have far more power in capitalist countries than under Communism. The U.S. government hoped to in uence a significant sector of the evolving Russian economy by exposing Soviet-trained educators to U.S.-style unions.
Vincent said he was impressed by the luxury of the facilities at Moscow State. He said the university was, at the time, the most prestigious institution of higher learning in the Soviet Union.
For most of his 30-year career, Vincent was a leader of the AFT’s effort to bring the militancy of old-time industrial unions into the classroom. It was not easy. Most teachers consider themselves to be middle class. For them, a strike is difficult to contemplate. Besides, teachers’ strikes are against the law in every state but Alaska.
Nevertheless, Vincent led several strikes including a 1970 faceoff in Newark, N.J., which lasted three months, the longest in U.S. history.
About 95 percent of teacher’s labor disputes are settled at the local level without resort to strike, he said. In one dispute that did put teachers on the picket line, Vincent was threatened with arrest for breaching the no-strike law. “I said, ‘If you put me in jail, you’d have to come to the jail to negotiate with me.’ “ He was not jailed.
Vincent was born and grew up in New Hampshire. He is a graduate of Keene State College in New Hampshire and spent four years in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.