J.R. Johnson

Negro Committee Asks Jobs for 100 Bus Drivers

(31 March 1941)

The Negro’s Fight, Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 13, 31 March 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Harlem has opened a drive to picket the bus companies until “one day a black boy is going to roll a bus up Seventh Avenue.” Coming at this time, now that the bus strike is over and won, the move is one which focuses attention on what is another crying scandal in Roosevelt’s “democracy.”

Hundreds of thousands of Negroes live in Harlem and all over the city. All over the country white persons entrust themselves and their families to Negro chauffeurs. Negroes occupy responsible positions on many subways and Negro cops direct traffic. Yet there is not one Negro driver on the buses that run through Harlem every day. Negro workers are deprived of jobs and a slur is cast on the Negro people as a whole.

Now it is easy to point out that Negroes are discriminated against everywhere, by private employers and by the government. But one cannot fight everywhere at the same time, and this offers a splendid opportunity for all the Negroes, the white workers and the public in general to rally to the cause.

It is difficult to get the general public concerned about the fact that Negroes use telephones, but the Telephone Company does not employ them in any responsible position; that Negroes use electricity, but the utility companies are as viciously jim-crow as they can possibly be.

But the case of the buses is simple. First, it concerns workers, and the large majority of the Negroes are workers. One hundred Negroes, members of the bus union, are of infinitely more importance for the Harlem people and the workers’ struggle in general than the same number of white collar jobs – useful and necessary though these are. Secondly, owing to the recent bus strike and the fact that everyone is conscious of the situation in transport, the fact that everybody who travels in a bus is brought immediately up against the pickets and forced to do something, or at least think about the question – all this makes this question, at this time, something that should concentrate effort and attention.

Erred During Bus Strike

One point, however, must be made. During the recent bus strike, Negroes chose that moment to raise their demands for the employment of Negro bus drivers. At that time, the demands, if raised at all, should have been in active solidarity with the strikers against the company. For the company is responsible for the fact that Negroes are not employed. However, the leaflet issued by the Negro committee did not make that clear. It complained against discrimination in general and did not at all make clear whom it was attacking. It did not make clear that it was 100 per cent with the strikers.

Now, quite often we find unions which oppose Negro members and thereby exclude them from employment. That, however, is a matter between worker and worker. There must be no pussyfooting in the struggle of the Negro workers and progressive white workers against reactionary union rules. But in this case there was no attempt to establish the fact that the union was responsible for the non-employment of Negroes, And even, if this were so, the struggle against reactionary union discrimination must stop at once if the union gets into a conflict with the boss.

Negro workers can win nothing by joining the boss against the white workers, or by hampering the white workers in their fight against the boss. The boss loves that. How he loves it! He keeps race prejudice going in American society as a whole. He uses the white workers against the black; then when he is in trouble with the white workers he tries to use the black workers against them; then casts aside the black worker, and so on and so forth.

The thing to do is to make a concentrated effort to win the union’s assistance in getting Negro bus drivers jobs and in admitting them to union membership. The press states that the Harlem Committee has invited the cooperation of the Transport Workers Union, and the union has pledged its aid. Good! But there are going to be scores and scores of cases in which the union will try to exclude Negroes. They must be put on the spot, but by the workers, before the working: class and by pressure brought to bear on them from different sections of the working class.

The Lackawanna Negro strikers were a model in this respect. They suffered from the discrimination inside the steel plants. Yet they were in the forefront of the recent battles, at the same time raising their demand in the union that the union take steps to stop discrimination by the bosses. That is the way, and the only way!

It is stated far and near that big battles are ahead in the transport services. The workers everywhere and the public are interested, for it touches them in both a personal and social way. Therefore a big blow can be struck by the Harlem Committee, determinedly pursuing its task, by seeking and showing solidarity with the union against the bosses, by getting the transport union itself to take up the demands of the Harlem people. It will not only be valuable in itself but will be a dramatic illustration of labor solidarity which will give a good example to the whole country.

Last updated on 4.12.2012