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T. Stamm

Wall Street Rulers Force Wage Cut
on the Teachers of New York City

(January 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 1, 7 January 1933, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The teachers are going to have their pay cut. Wall Street decided that. The City of New York which spends from twenty-five to thirty-three percent of its budget on interest on loans made to it by Wall Street, recently applied again to the bankers for additional financial assistance. The men who overthrew Herriot and the Belgian ministry told our city moguls to economize to the tune of forty million. Twenty million, they said, must come out of the wages of the policemen, the firemen, the city employees and the teachers.

The city employees did nothing about it. The policemen and firemen took it lying down. But the teachers showed active resentment. A number of organizations representing the more advanced minority attempted to fight. They called conferences, sent delegations to Albany to plead their case with the state legislature and the chief executive of the state. Their fight ran a short course and ended in defeat. The poor showing they made was due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the teachers are full of illusions about society and the state they teach their pupils. The Times quoted one of their spokesmen as saying that the teachers had no faith in the city politicians but trusted the state legislature. Such political naiveté made the teachers easy prey for the experienced sharks in Albany. After much fruitless rushing to and fro the teachers’ delegations (except the small teachers’ Committee to protect salaries) decided not to oppose the wage cut but to “compromise’’ by “protecting” the legislation reserving to the state legislature the right to cut their wages; their pension rights, and other such fol-de-rol which will go by the board under the next assault by Wall Street. A third item in their “compromise” was the attempt to limit the reduction to two years.

Just before the special session of the legislature got around to this particular item on the agenda of the bankers’ instructions a delegation of teachers went up to Albany to see Roosevelt, Lehman et al. about this compromise. When they broached this ultimatum to Roosevelt he told them that he would relay it to New York. Dejectedly but still hopefully the delegation filed into an ante-room, here they cooled their heels for two hours while the wires hummed between Albany and New York. Finally, Roosevelt told them that the bankers were opposed to the time limit. Meekly they accepted the decision. That was the inevitable conclusion of their fight under the circumstances of their lack of class consciousness, lack of organization and their poor fighting method.

Further attacks on the living conditions of the teachers are foreshadowed. Roosevelt recently announced that the state will be about $100,000,000 short by the middle of 1933. He suggests that a large share of this deficit will be made up by a drastic cut in the appropriations for education.

The attacks on their standards will compel the teachers to resist. To make their resistance effective they must make clear to themselves what they are resisting. The bankers, of course, are the people who initiate these attacks. But they are routed through the state apparatus. In defense of their interests the teachers are brought into conflict with the state bureaucracy.

Against its crushing weight they cannot contend alone. They must seek support among the classes whose economic and social interests impel them to struggle against the capitalist state. They can find allies among the petty bourgeoisie. They can enlist the aid of the taxpayers’ associations; social service organizations, women’s clubs, etc. Their support, in the long run, will amount to paper resolutions passed at conferences in expensive hotels; futile appeals to the state legislature the Board of Estimate and every board which will allow steam to be let off in its presence; and “moral support” in the press. But when it comes to a showdown these doughty knights of democracy, good-will and what not will leave them in the lurch. The class which lives in eternal hope of becoming big bourgeois and in everlasting fear of being pushed into the proletariat by the bourgeoisie cannot be counted on to risk its stakes in a fight against the stronghold of world reaction.

The teachers will have to seek and find allies in their own class, the working class. This raises the question of the relation of the teachers to the working class movement. The relation must be the central axis of their program. On this point they must strive to attain the greatest possible clarity. They must formulate their relation to the working class movement on class lines. To do this they must slough off their illusions. They must become clear on their class position in society, the class nature of their conflict with the capitalist state, their need of fighting support against it. In a word they must develop class consciousness.

The problem of which current-reactionary, socialist or Communist – to ally themselves with has already sought the teachers out and is pressing for solution. The Communists have begun to penetrate their ranks. They are not alone in the effort to win influence among the teachers. Others groups and interests are attempting the same thing in the interest of patriotism and paycuts, of reform and milk-and-water protest. If the Communists pursue a correct policy they can win the teachers for Communism.

These are the basic considerations which the teachers must take into account in formulating their program. According to the answer they give to these questions will depend the organisations they build. The question of organization is a very complicated one. At the present time there are about seventy organizations among the approximately 40,000 teachers in New York City They range all the way from a Teachers’ Welfare League through the Teachers Union of the American Federation of Teachers in the AF of L, to the Teachers Committee to Protect Salaries organized by the Educational Worker’s League of the TUUL. We will return to this aspect of the situation in an early issue.

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