From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 3, 20 January 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Speaking before an audience of 100 Negroes recently on the burning issue of Negroes in aircraft, we summed up the whole situation in one phrase: jim-crowism.
And that’s about the size of it. A royal run-around, a kicking around, and an endless merry-go-round is all that Negroes have been getting when seeking employment in the aircraft industry.
There are a total of 8 Negroes employed in production, out of over 60.000 workers in this area. They work at Douglas. The company put them on after a pressure campaign by Negro organizations. This bread crumb is supposed to prove that Douglas doesn’t discriminate. But everyone is wise to that one.
Before we discuss what has happened to Negroes seeking work in aircraft, let us point out that they expect to get jobs just like anyone else for the very good reason that they have the same rights to work and live as anyone else. Besides, they know they’ll be called on to die during war, and they feel a country isn’t worth dying for unless they can live like men in it beforehand. The large Negro population in Los Angeles, numbering over 75,000, is very bitter about jim-crowism in general and even more so about the exclusion of Negroes from war industries. And they are most bitter about aircraft because of the lousy deal they get.
When young Negroes go to an aircraft plant, the management tells them that they would be very glad to hire them but they are inexperienced. “We don’t discriminate, but of course we must have trained men,” is the story.
So the Negroes go to the trade schools and apply for training in various aircraft jobs. At the schools they are told,
“We’d be very glad to teach you, but the aircraft companies don’t hire any Negroes so it would be a waste of time. We feel that under the circumstances we should not admit you to school.”
That’s what the more astute and polite bosses stooges tell the Negroes. Others tell them point blank, “You got to be a white man to handle that kind of work. You’re not smart enough.” And similar insults.
The Negroes have experienced so much of this that they had a hard time believing that a white man, myself, was willing to aid them in a campaign to place Negroes in aircraft. The chairman of the meeting carefully explained that I was not running for office or getting paid, but that I was just as hot and bothered about the injustice as they, because I believed in class solidarity as a step towards building socialism.
Not the least ticklish problem in connection with this situation is the attitude of the union movement.
Only one aircraft union has dared to face the issue, has had the courage lo lake a stand on it. This is the Vultee CIO union.
The Vultee union took a stand on the question of Negroes in aircraft, after a disgraceful incident at the Vultee strike victory dance. Some Negro unionists came to attend the dance and were asked to leave. They had to leave.
A resolution was introduced at the next union meeting at which speeches were given by militants and Stalinists explaining the disgrace this was to the best traditions of the CIO and showing the need for class solidarity.
The resolution, which called for an apology, passed. It also put the union on record against racial discrimination, affirmed the Negro’s right to work in aircraft, and pledged the union to assist in this struggle. The resolution passed by a substantial majority, not unanimously. As a matter of fact, its passage, to put the truth bluntly, hurt the CIO temporarily in the drive to organize aircraft, because so many of the aircraft workers are while chauvinists at present.
The white workers are easily duped by the bosses and their stooges who tell them that if Negroes are hired, white men will lose their jobs. The CIO is doing a good job of exposing this lie. Aircraft industry is still hiring hundreds of men weekly. New jobs are always being created. And Negroes should have their share of them.
One of the Negro organizations here which has taken up the struggle is the militant American Advancement League. The National Negro Congress, a CP controlled outfit, has also raised the issue.
Groups of Negroes are demanding training at least at their own trade school, which the NYC has set up. And they intend to go to the plants and demand jobs or else picket the employment office, we’ve been informed. This is going to be a long and hard struggle. It will first be necessary to teach the union movement why the white workers must unite with the Negroes in this fight. It won’t be a picnic to force the NYA to give classes to the applicants. Nor are the companies going to be convinced easily.
But, as we told the audience
“You know you never got a thing in life unless you fought bitterly for it. You have nothing lo lose. Your lives can’t become more miserable no matter how this thing ends up.”
“Soon we’ll have to fight and die for nothing in another phoney war to save democracy which we don’t have. Surely its better to fight and die for something worthwhile.”
The response was such that we have confidence in the future. Fighting jim-crowism in aircraft isn’t the only fight these splendid people are going to make.
Last updated: 22.11.2012