© 2015 Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
The Teacher's Union, Local 5, was organized in 1916 as an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, (A.F. of L.) by
Henry R. Linville, Abraham Lefkowitz and a few other pioneering teachers in New York City.
Perhaps the most significant contribution of the T.U. during those early years was its fight on behalf of civil liberties,
an area in which it would later become a formidable combatant. Its principal target was the repeal of the Lusk laws,
statutes which allowed for the revocation of a teacher's license "if he is not of good moral character -- or if by act
or utterance he shows that he will not support the constitution of the State or of the United States of America."
During the 1920's the T.U. continued its fight for increased salaries commensurate with the higher cost of living, reduced
classroom size, tenure for teachers, improvements in the pension system, and increased state aid education. Unfortunately,
the results rarely met the organization's expectations.
About 1925, organized political factions began appearing within the T.U.'s ranks. After 1929, two such groups were dominant
in their opposition to the majority organization: the "Rank and File" group which represented the official Communist
Party of America, and the "Progressive" group which represented a faction within the Communist movement opposed to the
The leadership of Local 5 soon realized that it was helpless in the factional battle that ensued because of an overly liberal
constitution, which had been designed to insure the rights of all minority groups whatever their objectives. In an
attempt to rid its house of revolutionary elements, on October 27, 1932, at a large membership meeting, a Committee of
Five was selected to try five members of the Rank and File group and one member of the Progressive group on the charge of
John Dewey, chairman, delivered the unanimous report of the Committee on April 29, 1933 before a Membership meeting of approximately
800. As was anticipated, the Committee reported that the primary cause of the intolerable strife within the
Teachers' Union was due to the existence and activity of the two Communist organized factions. With the support of both
the Executive Board and the Delegate Assembly, the local petitioned the national office to investigate the local and sought
to have the local's old charter revoked so that a new local might be formed without the Communist element.
In May 1935, the national office sent an investigating committee composed of its president, secretary-treasurer and its Washington
representative. The Committee's finding was that the local union "was 'helpless' and 'completely at the mercy of a
small obstructionist group in the local', and that the obstructionist's group was itself 'not free to formulate its own
policies but was subject to a political force which is itself fundamentally opposed to basic principles for which the union
Despite this report of the investigating committee, a request by the administration of the Teachers Union to reorganize the
local was turned down at the A.F.T. National Convention in August 1935 by a vote of 100 to 79. As a result, October 1,
1935, Henry R. Linville and Abraham Lefkowitz led eight hundred dissatisfied members out of the Teachers Union and into
the newly formed independent Teachers Guild. Also among the seceding members were all the officers (with the exception of
one) and a majority of the Executive Board.
In 1936, the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor, as a result of testimony taken before a sub-committee
in Washington, recommended to the American Federation of Teachers that it revoke the charter issued to Teachers Union Local
5. The A.F.T., however, did not see fit to abide by this recommendation.
On March 15, 1938 the Greater New York Central Trades and Labor Council suspended the Teachers Union from membership in its
organization. Also in March, Teachers Union, Local 5 was expelled from the Joint Committee of Teachers Organizations of
New York City.
Again in 1941, the subject of Local 5's charter revocation came up before the American Federation of Teachers. However, this
time the Executive Council recommended (with one dissenting vote) revocation and their action was overwhelmingly
endorsed by the delegates at the Conventions in August 1941, at Detroit. After having its charter revoked, the Teachers
Unions continued as Local 555 of the United Public Workers of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The C.I.O. in
February 1950 expelled the United Public Workers due to its alleged Communist domination. The Teachers Union, however,
continued its association with the U.P.W. until it withdrew in February 1952.
Finally, in 1964, at the suggestion of Rose Russell, one of the T.U.'s guiding lights, the annual convention dissolved the
T.U. with the recommendation that its members unite with the other forces in the New York City Teacher's Movement. On June
20, prior to the 1941 Convention, the Teachers Guild accepted the offer of a charter and was reunited with the American
Federation of Teachers. Although it retained its name of the Teachers Guild, it was now designated Local 2, AFT.
The Teachers Guild during this period increased in both size and strength. In March, 1960, the Teachers Guild merged with
the CATU (Committee of Action Through Unity) to form the United Federation of Teachers. Under the auspices of the New York
City Labor Department and empowered by the Board of Education, a representation election was scheduled and held on December
15, 1961. The results were overwhelmingly in favor of the U.F.T. (Local 2, AFT) and so the following August the Board of
Education and the U.F.T. entered into their first collective bargaining relationship.