J.R. Johnson

Labor Will Take Care of Its Own Union Problems

(29 July 1940)

The Negro’s Fight, Labor Action, vol. 4 No. 16, 29 July 1940, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On July 8, this column was guilty of an error. In the imaginary speech which unfortunately was not delivered by a delegate to the NAACP Convention, the orator called upon the President of the United States to do several things. Among them was the demand to summon William Green to the White House and inform him that any union which discriminated against Negroes would henceforth be dubbed Fifth Columnist and an enemy of democracy.

It was pointed out to me, and with truth, that we do not call upon the capitalist government to interfere in trade union affairs. That is very true. Also it has been pointed out that under the present circumstances to call a union Fifth Column and enemy of democracy on account of its discrimination against Negroes is, to say the least, unwise, if not politically dangerous. I accept both corrections.

Whose Job Is It?

First, let us get the political points clear.

There is racketeering in the unions, and every honest workers hates it. But when Westbrook Pegler writes article after article attacking the unions we mobilize all our forces against him even though what he says is true. Why? Because we know the capitalist class from long, long experience. wherever a capitalist or a writer in the capitalist press attacks racketeering in unions, he is hoping really to weaken the unions. We tell him, “Even if what you say is true this is our business not yours. We know what you are up to. We shall struggle against the racketeers, but without your help, thank you.”

The same with the Stalinists. They are the most dangerous force for corruption and betrayal that has ever been a part of the labor movement. But we do not want the capitalists to drive them out of the labor movement. The capitalist attack on the Stalinists means always an attack on the labor movement. We, the workers, must analyze the role of the Stalinists, point it out to their rank and file, and then gather as much support as possible to drive them out of all positions of influence and authority.

In the same way, discrimination in the unions is the business of the unions and of those Negroes who attack discrimination, not as enemies of unions, but because they wish to participate in the benefits of unionization as free and equal members of the working class.

It is true that the demand appears in a long list whose main object was to expose the hypocrisy and pretense of Roosevelt as a friend of democracy and of the Negroes. We know that Roosevelt would not carry out one of the demands. Yet we must make them in order to expose and keep on exposing the colossal fraud that American democracy is. But we must always be careful and keep the class line clear. The same in regard to William Green and the unions being called Fifth Columnists and enemies of democracy by the President. However, that does not close that matter, not by any means.

Answering Real “Fifth Columnists”

Today every capitalist, every member of the Government, all the war-mongers never open their mouths without shouting “Fifth Column” and calling all those who oppose their war “enemies of democracy.” They are preparing to drive millions into the slaughter to defend what they are pleased to call “the American way of life.” As every Negro knows, this way of life means economic discrimination, Jim Crow, lynch terror and all the other familiar features of Negro life in America. Negroes must be ready for these war-mongers. As soon as they begin their blah about fighting for democracy, Negroes should hurl back at them exactly what this democracy is.

Now William Green is one of those who has repeatedly helped to sabotage the struggle against discrimination in many unions of the AFL. But Mr. Green is one of the noisiest shouters for the necessity of defending our liberties and wants action taken against all Reds,

by which he means all revolutionaries who oppose the Government’s war preparations. Now we don’t want President Roosevelt interfering in this, but if William Green or any henchman of his stood on any platform and talked about the necessity of defending democracy by going to war against Hitler, every Negro in the hall would be perfectly justified in shouting at him, “What about democracy here, in your unions, Mr. Green?” And if Green called revolutionary workers Fifth Columnists, then a revolutionary worker is quite entitled to tell him, “If a Fifth Columnist is an enemy of democracy, then you are one, Brother Green.”

We do not want Roosevelt interfering but for that very reason we must be vigilant and spare no effort to make the unions examples of true workers’ democracy, in which all, Negroes and whites, will function as free and equal citizens.

In conclusion let me say that we would welcome letters addressed to this column expressing a point of view on the Negro’s fight. We are a party who welcome discussion, not necessarily expressing a party point of view, nor coming from party members. We hope to have in the future regular letters from our friends.

Last updated on 8.9.2012