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T. Stamm

Left Wing in Teachers Union

(October 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 48, 21 October 1933, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The continued attacks on their living and teaching conditions and the attacks now pending are awakening the rank and file of the Teachers Union of New York City to the need of action to protect their interests. Their alarm and their desire to resist is making itself felt on the conservative union administration. Under this pressure the administration is moving toward the left. It now demands unemployment insurance for unemployed teachers and speaks of holding mass meetings of the teachers and is engaged in organizing them, whereas formerly it preached the gospel of reliance on the state legislature and condemned the Left wing for insisting on mass actions of the teachers themselves.

It goes without saying that we have no faith in the administration. It sold out the teachers in the fight against salary cuts a year ago. And if it gets the chance it will do it again. But what is important for the teachers in this new “turn” of the union administration is that it has been forced to move in the correct direction. By this “turn” it opens up possibilities that may well sweep beyond the limits which it sets for the fight.

Left Wing’s Opportunity

An alert and correctly oriented Left wing can play a decisive part in this movement. This is the opportunity for which it has been working and preparing. In this period and in the period to come its influence and strength should grow.

But this new perspective finds the Left wing unable to realize the opportunities that are presented to it. The Left wing is divided into two groups that are as hostile to each other as they are to the union administration. The Progressive Group which carries out a Lovestoneite trade union policy thunders against the administration in its literature and speeches but supports it against the rank and file, the other Left wing group. Their orientation was reform of the administration. They condemned in principle any independent activity on the part of the Left wing. They branded as dual unionist any such attempt. That they themselves organized some of the unemployed teachers outside the union and did not until a few weeks ago bring them to the union did not prevent them from denouncing as dual unionist the other organization of the unemployed by the rank and file. In short they supported the administration from the left.

The rank and file have carried out a policy which is now contradicted by the new developments in the union. Their thesis was that the union was hopeless; that the administration had a strangulating grip on it; that it could not be reformed into an instrument of struggle in; the interests of the teachers. Readers of the Militant will recognize this thesis as one of the elements of the Stalinist trade union line. It is the A.F. of L. company union idea applied to the Teachers Union.

Errors of Left Groups

The consequences that have flowed from the false policies of these two groups have been ruinous for the Left wing and have not helped the union. Now after a fight of years the Left wing is in a worse position than it was and the administration is firmly in the saddle.

Even now they are more interested in preserving their factional differences and justifying themselves to their own members than they are in building a united Left wing. That is the task that the progressive teachers in the union face. They can, if they make the attempt, penetrate both groups with the idea of one united Left wing.

For this they need a program. Whatever program they work out cannot include the false policies and conceptions of the Stalinist and Lovestone trade union lines. The teachers need instruction in how to find their way to the trade union movement. The way to do it is not in the secret domination of the Left wing by factional cliques but in the open formulation of policies on the basis of trade union democracy. How can the Left wing fight the union administration which has destroyed trade union democracy if it violates it in its own house?

When the Left wing is united it can press the fight for a militant union representative of the interests of all the teachers in the system, steering toward the working class movement.

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