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T. Stamm

An “Underground Union”

(May 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 21, 26 May 1934, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One of the innovations of the Stalinists is the creation of the only underground trade union organization in the country, the Education Workers League. It was designed early in 1931 by the architects of the third-period trade union strategy to organize the workers in the field of education – principally the public school teachers – into revolutionary unions. It goes without saying that it drew organizational and ideological inspiration from the T.U.U.L. to which it is affiliated. And not alone the T.U.U.L. The E.W.L. is the American section of the Education Workers International, which is affiliated to the Red International of Labor Unions.

In the three years of its existence, the conditions of the teachers in the U.S. have been worsened. Pay cuts have been universal. Every one is familiar with the plight of the Chicago teachers who at one time were not paid for nearly a year and whose pay is still many months in arrears. Curricula have been cut. School terms and the school day have been shortened. In many states hundreds of schools have been closed. It is estimated that 2,000,000 children have been thrown out of school in this way; and that this economy cost 200,000 teachers their jobs. This entire economy program is going forward under the whip of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

No Influence on Teachers’ Movement

The teachers have offered very little resistance. There have been scattered protests, small and ineffectual strikes, and other spontaneous manifestations of discontent. Most significant of all these struggles were the Chicago demonstrations which won a small measure of temporary relief. But the E.W.L. has not played any role in these isolated struggles. In so far as a national trade union center is concerned it is as non-existent as the other paper organizations created by the Stalinists.

Only in one place has the E.W.L. any existence. It made its debut in New York City where the conditions were guaranteed to demonstrate the utter absurdity of the attempt to build a “revolutionary” trade union of teachers. The 36,000 New York City teachers in 1931 were secure in their positions and were as yet unaffected by wage cuts and the other means by which capitalist economy was lowering the standard of living of the teachers throughout the nation. On the contrary, the teachers’ wages, fixed by law, were appreciating with the fall of the price level.

Moreover the teachers were subjected to the notoriously reactionary regime of the Board of Education. Activity in the revolutionary or Left wing labor movement constitutes grounds for dismissal from the school system. Teachers are persecuted for protesting against unsanitary conditions in the schools or for criticizing their superiors or the administration of the system.

“Union” Goes Underground

Even the Stalinists realized that to call upon the teachers openly to join a “revolutionary union” would cost some of those who responded their jobs, persecution for others and iii general reign of terror and redbaiting against all progressive elements. The Stalinists boldly seized both horns of the dilemma and solved the problem by going underground.

From the depths of its underground the E.W.L. built legal covers for its “revolutionary” activity. It has not built a union – although it still entertains fond visions of doing so – but is succeeded in adding several organizations to the more than seventy that cluttered’ up the local movement.

Fights Teachers’ Union

In all of these organizations its central aim has been to discredit the Teachers Union and develop the others as bases for its new union. In a word the E.W.L. aped the policy of the T.U.U.L. If it has not built a union it can point with pride lo a great achievement: its policy has been instrumental in diverting hundreds of employed and unemployed teachers awakening to the necessity of resistance into organizational channels separate from the union and hostile to it. It can inscribe on itis banner at least half the responsibility for the perpetuation of the division between the organized employed and unemployed, and also for the division among the advanced teachers in the organized employed movement.

The experience of three years demonstrates that there is neither a need nor a basis for this caricature of a union. On the contrary, it is an obstacle to the growth and unity of the teachers movement. It is a reactionary influence.

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