'Reds at the Blackboard: Communism, Civil Rights, and the New York City Teachers Union'... New book will open up an important chapter in teacher union history

A new book released this month by the Columbia University Press will open up an entire new field of Cold War studies within the American Federation of Teachers broadly and specifically in local unions such as Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and other major cities. Although the days of what was called "MaCarthyism" in the unions are now ancient history to most people, the legacy of Cold War union opportunism is still alive and well within most (not all) American trade unions. Although some would like to trace the current problems to the Reagan administration's breaking of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) strike in 2002, the origins of these problems goes back to the origins of the American unions, and the use of red-baiting by the capitalists whenever unions became strong. In fact, only white supremacy was a greater barrier to strong unions in the USA than anti-communism. And there are some who would debate me on that.

New book adds to the understanding of New York's complex union history."Reds at the Blackboard" is not the first history of the New York Teachers Union and the purges that destroyed Local 5 of the American Federation of Teachers.

During the research for my book "The American Federation of Teachers and the CIA" in the 1970s, I found a book on the history of Local 5 that didn't ignore the role of the Communist Party in making the New York Teachers Union one of the most progressive (in every sense of the word) local unions anywhere in the USA. The role of the leaders of Local 5 in civil rights and student rights agitation continued into the 1960s and 1970s, when one of the original leaders of those movements, New York's Annie Stein, mentored some of the Chicago Substance people in how to research urban school systems. (New York school justice activist Annie Stein, who had been a member of the Communist Party during the 1930s through the 1950s, had discovered the infamous "bi modal curve" of achievement in urban districts, which showed that "separate but equal" produced two school systems in highly segregated cities like Gary Indiana — where she first uncovered the data — and Chicago Illinois. Ironically, that curve, which still appears in every major segregated school district, is now used by the ruling class to claim that there is a black-white "achievement gap" instead of a depiction of the vicious inequalities of white supremacist capitals society in the USA today).

For those interested in the trivialities of union history, "Reds in the Classroom..." will explain why the American Federation of Teachers has a Local 1 (Chicago), Local 2 (New York City), Local 3 (Philadelphia), Local 4 (Gary Indiana) and Local 6 (Washington D.C.) — but no "Local 5." Once the Red Scare had destroyed the old New York Teachers Union (both from within and from the outside), the AFT sort of "retired" the "Local 5" designation forever. If AFT were a ballfield, maybe there would be a sign on the wall showing the uniform with the "Local 5" name on it, just as the uniforms of retired numbers are on the outfield wall at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

With the current contradictions between the unions and monopoly finance capitalism increasing in intensity in the USA today (Chicago isn't the only city where the confrontations are growing) red baiting is also rearing the same old ugly head it's always had against the unions. Already in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been going around ranting and raving that the Chicago Teachers Union has been taken over by a bunch of "Trorskyists, communists and other radicals". With the power of the federal government behind him, Emanuel will undoubtedly be escalating that attack.

But the real danger, as we saw when Substance first went over this ground 40 years ago, comes not from outside attacks on the union, but from within the union movement and the union itself. And those attacks are escalating as the power of the Chicago Teachers Union becomes more pronounced after years of opportunism. It's only three years since the infamous 2008 AFT convention in Chicago. At that convention, reported in Substance, the AFT proudly proclaimed that it was supporting such "reforms" as merit pay and co-managment — both of which were the programs of the Chicago Teachers Union under then President Mairlyn Stewart. By the time of the 2010 AFT convention in Seattle, Chicago had divorced itself from the merit pay and teacher-firing-teachers scams, but the AFT was still controlled by people who thought it was a great ideal to endorse the union busting of Bill Gates rather than the militant union and working class histories of Seattle itself and the Pacific Northwest.

On May 19, 2011,, New York's Norm Scott, who edits ICE, wrote: "Finally it is out. We've been hearing about this book for years. Clarence Taylor (the author) is Art and Design High School's Chapter Leader Larry Taylor's twin brother.

The press release from Columbia University Press follows:

"Columbia University Press is pleased to announce the publication of Reds at the Blackboard: Communism, Civil Rights, and the New York City Teachers Union, by Clarence Taylor. Taylor's history of the Teachers Union provides an important historical perspective on the current state of unions and the backlash confronting public school teachers today.

"No other book to date has exposed the climate of fear and surveillance that overtook public schooling in New York City in the 1950s. This book succeeds in dramatically revising the image of the Teachers Union, a union with thousands of members and great influence in the largest city in the United States. This is an important story, and Clarence Taylor succeeds in excavating the TU from political ridicule and marginalization. A powerful and important book." — Martha Biondi, Northwestern University

The New York City Teachers Union shares a deep history with the American left, having participated in some of its most explosive battles. Clarence Taylor recounts this pivotal relationship and the backlash it created, as the union threw its support behind controversial policies and rights movements.

Reds at the Blackboard showcases the rise of a unique type of unionism that would later dominate the organizational efforts behind civil rights, academic freedom, and the empowerment of blacks and Latinos. Through its affiliation with the Communist Party, the union pioneered what would later become social movement unionism, solidifying ties with labor groups, black and Latino parents, and civil rights organizations to acquire greater school and community resources. It also militantly fought to improve working conditions for teachers while championing broader social concerns. For the first time, Taylor reveals the union's early growth and the somewhat illegal attempts by the Board of Education to eradicate the group. He describes how the infamous Red Squad and other undercover agents worked with the board to bring down the union and how the union and its opponents wrestled with charges of anti-Semitism.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Philip Leventhal

Philip Leventhal, Editor, Web Marketing Manager, Columbia University Press, 61 W. 62nd Street

New York, NY 10023, 212.459.0600 ext. 7159,,


May 21, 2011 at 2:38 AM

By: John Kugler

Union Busting Endangers the Public

Just look at all the near misses in the last few months. I think two or three with our own president, his staff or family. It is outrageous and and criminal that these politicians continue to destroy the American workforce. For each death traced back to deregulation of an industry the voting politicians should be given a life sentence in prison.


Planes nearly collide at O'Hare

Despite a slew of bad publicity in recent weeks--from sleeping air traffic controllers to a near miss with the First Lady's plane

The union's president, Paul Rinaldi -- who wrapped up a listening tour earlier this month with Babbitt where they heard controllers' concerns and reinforced that sleeping on the job would not be tolerated -- said for years that the union has lobbied the FAA and Congress to address controller fatigue "before it's too late."


Deaths from deregulation

A comprehensive state report (pdf) on the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine catastrophe which occurred on April 5, 2010 has found “responsibility for the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine lies with the management of Massey Energy,” a company that operated “in a profoundly reckless manner.”

The strongly worded report added

The company broke faith with its workers by frequently and knowingly violating the law and blatantly disregarding known safety practices while creating a public perception that its operations exceeded industry safety standards.


Miners' union criticizes Alpha over Massey execs

May 20 (Reuters) - The miners' union blasted coal company Alpha Natural Resources (ANR.N) for giving senior management positions to executives of Massey Energy (MEE.N) when Alpha takes over the company blamed for the worst U.S. mine disaster in 40 years.

"The wisdom of putting these people into critical slots in Alpha must be called into serious question," United Mine Workers of America (UMW) International President Cecil Roberts said in a statement on Friday.


CPS has killed students with its deregulation schemes

Derrion Albert and do not forget Three Chicago High School Students Drown at School-Sponsored Leadership Retreat (never approved and properly administrated trip) by a charter school

May 21, 2011 at 6:58 AM

By: Nick Shafer


Dude, that last one is quite the stretch. Albert's death was not the consequence of any union busting by the city and saying it was makes me question your credibility as a journalist.

May 21, 2011 at 9:45 AM

By: John Kugler

Full Story Never Told

There is enough information on cases, the drownings and Albert’s murder, that shows negligence on the part of school administrators. In Albert’s death there is enough documentation that warned district administrators that violence will escalate if Fenger was turned around. There is also unsubstantiated reports of what happened that day at the school has never been made public due to fears of retaliation. The drowning is a clear cut case of negligence and cover up by district administrators so as to not put charter schools in a bad light. From my recollection of the drowning case, without going into my notes, no one was terminated as the result of this non-authorized over night water activities trip. As far as union busting, yes turnarounds have been and are currently being used as a union busting technique to demoralize staff and purge veteran union members. Marshall and Harper are turnaround schools that have have substantial staff cuts this year but the blacklisted teachers have said they do not want to file grievances even after being fired and blacklisted because they "do not want to start trouble."


-- Favoritism and division

-- Creating an illusion of progress

-- Creating favorable and unfavorable impressions

May 21, 2011 at 11:41 AM

By: Bob Busch

Derrion Albert

Poor Derrion Albert.

First let us all say a prayer for his departed soul. Then face the fact that Board policy

Did not slay the poor kid. What it did do was to replace an entire faculty six weeks before the murder. Any veteran teacher would have smelled trouble after the brawl which occurred

in the school that morning. I was not there but have been in so many similar situations

that I know some kids would be planning the riot, most would be trying to avoid trouble.

In both cases it would have leaked to teachers who should have told the administration.

The administration should have called the cops who would have smothered the neighborhood when school ended. One of the really alarming things about that crime is the fact that if it had not been recorded only a few who were directly involved would have cared.

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