Teachers Union of the City of New York Records

Collection Number: 5445

Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library


Teachers Union of the City of New York Records, 1920-1942
Collection Number:
Teachers Union of the City of New York
4.5 linear ft.
Forms of Material:
Munites, reports, pamphlets, correspondence.
Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library
Organization with a long history of radical involvement. Substantial materials on the Lusk Commission, teachers dismissals for unpopular political views during the 1950's, etc.
Collection material in English


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 official party.
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 disruptive conduct.
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 attends.'"
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.

Teachers' Union of the City of New York
American Federation of Teachers. Local 5 (New York, N.Y.)

Teachers' unions -- New York (State) -- New York.
Teachers' -- New York (State) -- New York.
Labor unions and communism -- New York (State) -- New York.
Civil rights -- New York (State) -- New York.

Form and Genre Terms:


Access Restrictions:
Access to the collections in the Kheel Center is restricted. Please contact a reference archivist for access to these materials.
Restrictions on Use:
This collection must be used in keeping with the Kheel Center Information Sheet and Procedures for Document Use.
Cite As:
Teachers Union of the City of New York Records #5445. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library.


Related Collections:
5015: Teachers Union of the City of New York Records
5015 AV: Teachers Union of the City of New York Audio-Visual Materials
5015 mf: Teachers Union of the City of New York Executive Board Minutes on Microfilm
5015 MB: Teachers Union of the City of New York SCMWA Local 555 Anne Grant Pin Memorabilia
5927: Teachers Union of the City of New York Additional Records


Box 1 Folder 1-4 1921-1938
Box 1 Folder 5-7 1938-1939
Box 1 Folder 8 1935
Box 1 Folder 9-11 1938
Box 1 Folder 12-13
Box 2 Folder 1 1930-1939
Box 2 Folder 2-3 1920-1935
Box 2 Folder 4-5 1935-1937
Box 2 Folder 6 1940
Box 2 Folder 7 1940-1941
Box 2 Folder 8-13 1930-1936
Box 2 Folder 14 1938-1939
Box 2 Folder 15 1940
Box 3 Folder 1 1939
Box 3 Folder 2-10 1939
Box 3 Folder 11 1939-1940
Box 4 Folder 1 1926-1929
Box 4 Folder 2 1922-1926
Box 4 Folder 3 1923
Box 4 Folder 4 1934-1938
Box 4 Folder 5 1936-1937
Box 4 Folder 6-11 1920-1924
Box 5 Folder 1-5 1936
Box 5 Folder 6 1932
Box 5 Folder 7 1934
Box 5 Folder 8 1933-1934
Box 5 Folder 9 1940
Box 6 Folder 1-11 1940-1942
Box 7 Folder 1 1940
Box 7 Folder 2 1923-1940
Box 7 Folder 3 1936-1941
Box 7 Folder 4-12
Box 7 Folder 13
Box 8 Folder 1 1932
Box 8 Folder 2 1940
Box 8 Folder 3-4 1934
Box 8 Folder 5 1941
Box 8 Folder 6-7 1941-1942
Box 9 Folder All