Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Clarence Taylor's Reds at the Blackboard - a History of the NYC Teachers Union

I've been reading Clarence Taylor's new book along with Marjorie Murphy's Blackboard Unions a basic history of teacher unions from 1900-1980. These are both must-read books for any union activist. Taken together, these books present a shocking account of what our union brothers and sisters mostly sisters in the early days) went through during the WWI and post WWII red scares, along with the attacks on teachers and other public workers during the depression - and surprise - Roosevelt wasn't on our side. These books are really must-reads to put into context the current attacks taking place on teachers. How interesting to read of the hundreds of NYC teachers fired in the 1950's - some acclaimed teachers - for their political activity alone.

The TU was so weakened by the attacks (and mistakes it made) that when the UFT was formed out of the Teachers Gild (what a lesson on how this group functioned - it explains a lot about how the UFT works today) and the High School Teachers Association, the TU lost to the UFT in the bargaining election. TU later evolved into Teachers Action Caucus in 1968 to become the official opposition to Unity and around 1990 merged with New Directions to form the current New Action  - there's a lot of history in the background behind the New Action sell-out to Unity in 2003. I was telling this story yesterday to some of the young teachers in the New Teacher Underground and they were eating it up.

I've been waiting for the Taylor book for years. I've known his twin brother Larry, just retired chapter leader of Art and Design HS (David Pakter's Chapter leader for reference) for years through union activism (Larry is one of the best people I've met in the union) but only met Clarence last summer at a forum on the 1968 strike.

Weds night I and a bunch of GEM/ICEers are going over to this book party. ICE will be sponsoring a future study group on both the Taylor and Murphy books.

July 13th, 2011 7:30 PM
Reds at the Blackboard
Communism, Civil Rights and the New York City Teachers Union
Clarence Taylor
The New York City Teachers Union shares a deep history with the American left, having participated in some of its most explosive battles. Established in 1916, the union maintained an early, unofficial partnership with the American Communist Party, winning key union positions and advocating a number of Party goals. Clarence Taylor recounts this pivotal relationship and the backlash it created, as the union threw its support behind controversial policies and rights movements. Taylor's research reaffirms the party's close ties with the union—yet it also makes clear that the organization was anything but a puppet of Communist power.

Reds at the Blackboard showcases the rise of a unique type of unionism that would later dominate the organizational efforts behind civil rights, academic freedom, and the empowerment of blacks and Latinos. Through its affiliation with the Communist Party, the union pioneered what would later become social movement unionism, solidifying ties with labor groups, black and Latino parents, and civil rights organizations to acquire greater school and community resources. It also militantly fought to improve working conditions for teachers while championing broader social concerns. For the first time, Taylor reveals the union's early growth and the somewhat illegal attempts by the Board of Education to eradicate the group. He describes how the infamous Red Squad and other undercover agents worked with the board to bring down the union and how the union and its opponents wrestled with charges of anti-Semitism.
Clarence Taylor is professor of history and black and Hispanic studies at Baruch College and professor of history at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He has written or edited several books, including The Black Churches of Brooklyn and Knocking at Our Own Door: Milton A. Galamison and the Struggle to Integrate New York City Schools.

Please Forward Widely
The Brecht Forum
451 West Street (Between Bank and Bethune)
Register here: www.brechtforum.org
Wednesday, July 13
7:30 pm
Reds at the Blackboard
Communism, Civil Rights and the New York City Teachers Union
Clarence Taylor
The New York City Teachers Union shares a deep history with the American left, having participated in some of its most explosive battles. Established in 1916, the union maintained an early,...

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Anonymous said...


It would be interesting for someone like you to flesh out for others how Unity's tactics (pledge/DA protocols) are linked to Trots and democratic centralism. I have always found it ironic to think about how certain members of the left would actually run DA's if they were the ruling caucus. In a nutshell, it would like this: Lots and lots of debate and "democracy" but in the end it would be their way or the highway. Make no doubt about it. I can't stand Unity and it's anti-democratic practices, but I also know that if any other caucus came into power with strong links to any vanguard like party, the union be crushed overnight. What are your thoughts?

zulma said...

The struggle of Ocean Hill - Brownsville schools 1968.


want to share this with you especially since you were affected by the strike.

ed notes online said...

I will flesh it out more but are you saying that Unity uses undemocratic methods to keep people out of power who might use undemocratic measures? Because after all Unity is the utmost of democratic centralism. Pretty ironic that the founding ideology of the UFT comes from a former Trot Max Schactman whose wife Yetta was Shanker's long-time secretary.
Yes I agree that if the UFT were controlled by certain (not all) left forces we would also face a battle. But that will not happen as long as independent activists like me are around.
There is some irony in the fact that the central theme of Taylor's book is the takeover of the Teachers Union by the Rank and File Caucus which was definitely controlled by the Communist Party. Rather than fight it out inside the TU for power, the people who founded the Teachers Gild which led to the UFT just left in 1935 - we call that dual unionism which now the UFT would accuse anyone else of doing.

Anonymous said...

Good points. Thanks Norm. Unity practices "democratic centralism" at the DA but has an anti-communist ideological stance. One other point of irony: The problem with independent lefties (myself included) and
"democracy" is it can be hard to move things forward. In other words, issues of consensus can paralyze leadership initiatives. Does this make sense?