From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 38, 20 September 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.
Beginning on Wednesday, September 15, and continuing until September 18, the Fair Employment Practice Committee held public hearings on discrimination against Negroes and Mexicans by twenty-three railroad companies and fourteen railroad workers’ unions. The hearings have aroused nation-wide interest.
The Pittsburgh Courier, well known Negro weekly, reports that within recent days in the New York area, five thousand freight cars, loaded with munitions, could not be moved because the carriers were short 1,600 men a day. In another terminal, thirty-three trains were delayed during a twenty-four-hour period owing to the inexperience of new white employees, while skilled Negro railroad men with twenty to thirty years of experience were not permitted to touch the engines. It is claimed that in a long list of railroads Negroes cannot be promoted.
Doubtless these and similar crimes against Negro labor will be exposed The question is, what will the committee do? We feel safe to say that it will do nothing substantial. Evidence? There is its past history. The new committee itself is not prepared to take any more serious steps than its predecessor.
Last week there appeared in Collier’s magazine an article entitled Race Riots Coming, by Walter Davenport, the political editor, the writer says that the article is based on “considerable research,” and the content of the many thousands of words shows that this is true. We shall refer to this article again on another occasion. For the time being, it is sufficient to note what it has to say about the FEPC.
The old committee, says Collier’s, was absorbed by the War Manpower Board, “quickly losing. its identity.” The old committee was “not only smothered by the regulations and red tape of the parent organization, the War Manpower Commission, but was almost trampled to death in the first wild stampede of the conversion of industry from peace to war production.”
Some of a war-production agencies, says Collier’s, were probably convinced that the old committee “was a nuisance.” Yes, just that, “a nuisance.” Some of them, the article continues, have been quoted as “cursing” the committee as “a bunch of interfering pinkos trying to run the war like the New Deal.”
We remember that Mark Etheridge, the first chairman of the committee, was that distinguished Southern liberal and “friend” of the Negro who resigned from the committee and made a public declaration that the South would never stand for Negro equality. Even this harmless committee was “revolutionary” to the men who rule Washington. Between Roosevelt and McNutt, the committee was buried.
They have now brought it out again. Collier’s tells us that the new committee has no greater powers than the old one. And the chairman? He is Father Haas. Here are his views, according to the article we are quoting:
“Coercion of employers won’t work and it should not be tolerated ... Although government contracts, at the direction of Mr. Roosevelt, include clauses forbidding the holder to discriminate, we may not revoke these contracts without great harm to production.”
The reverend chairman says point-blank that the committee will not fight to accord Negroes their equality. Profits come first.
Labor Action has insisted from the beginning that Roosevelt, the government, the old committee; the new committee are all deceiving the Negro people. We have said and say again that it was the militant action of the Negroes which compelled the government to do something to quiet them, to make them feel that they should wait a bit and see. That was and still is the aim of the FEPC.
Are we going to sit and watch this new committee carry on the same old tricks? The militant initiative of the Negroes in demanding their rights forced the formation of the committee. Roosevelt only took the step to quiet the deep dissatisfaction of one-tenth of the population. But the committee was buried as soon as possible and only the rising tension in the country caused Roosevelt to resuscitate it.
The Negroes and the Mexicans must not leave matters to the committee. Every Negro organization in the country must mobilize itself and by resolutions and. action show that they will no longer tolerate Jim Crow discrimination and a committee which accomplishes nothing.
But far more important than any action by Negroes is action by the labor unions. A labor union may hesitate about taking steps to stop discrimination against Negroes in the armed forces. The average worker may feel that it is a shame but that he doesn’t know exactly what to do about it. Here he is wrong, but we can understand his hesitation. But every labor man must recognize how shameful and how dangerous it is for railroad companies and railroad unions to stand in the dock before the bar of public and world opinion, both of them charged with discrimination on account of race.
The strength of labor, the solidarity of labor, the future of labor, demand that all such stains and corruptions, which are the influence of the bosses, must be abolished by labor itself.
The labor organizations of the country should let the offending railroad unions know, in no uncertain manner, what their duty is in regard to Negro labor.
Last updated on 12 June 2015