Social Unionism and the Popular Front: The Cambridge Union of University Teachers, 1935-1941


  • Nathan Godfried



Most studies of university faculty unions that formed during the interwar era argue that those bodies devoted themselves to a progressive social, economic, and political agenda (social unionism), rather than immediate workplace needs (bread-and-butter unionism).  The few scholarly works that mention the Cambridge Union of University Teachers (CUUT)—created in October 1935 by instructors from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—emphasize the union’s orientation toward social issues. An affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, the CUUT never attempted to engage in collective bargaining or to set wages, hours, or other work conditions.  But a careful examination of the CUUT’s early history reveals a more complicated legacy. The men, and a few women, who led the union embraced a multifaceted agenda: to link Local 431 to the larger community, including local teachers’ unions and other area labour groups; to support a national popular front social movement; and to secure fair employment and academic freedom for all college/university teachers in Cambridge.  This article describes and analyzes the CUUT’s ideology and policies during the years 1935-1941, the union’s most active period, and the obstacles that it encountered both from within its ranks and from the corporatized institutions of higher education.