From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 42, 18 October 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.
This business of the Fair Employment Practices Committee and the hearings on racial discrimination on the railroads may soon have far greater significance then appears at present.
We pointed out last week that both the government and the rail companies are laying the chief blame on the railroad unions. The government took advantage of the situation to put itself in a fairly strong position. It can say: “Look. The government committee brought the question out into the open and exposed it.”
Now Negroes themselves are looking to the government to take steps on their behalf. Says the Pittsburgh Courier (December 25):
“One thing seems clear: that the FEPC is only a small part of the government machinery which must be brought into play to win for Negroes equal rights in the railroad industry.”
This sounds innocent and reasonable enough. But the Courier then goes on to say that the fight will be a terrific one against the combined power of “poll-tax congressmen, the powerful railroad unions, with a million and a half members, the powerful railroad combines, with money and power.” These, says the Courier, will do all in their power to make the FEPC and the President “back down on the issue.”
This is the general attitude of the Negro press. Labor, organized labor, must see to it that it does not continue. It must bring pressure to bear on the railroad unions to separate themselves from the railroad combines on this question and to do it now.
All labor is concerned. We repeat: ALL OF LABOR! Philip Randolph has demanded more funds for the FEPC and has also asked that the National Labor Relations Act be amended to give the National Labor Relations Board the power to act in cases of discrimination. This means direct interference by the government in the affairs of unions. It is a sentiment that is growing, and it must be fought on all fronts.
Let the capitalist government deal with the capitalist railroad combines. The relations between workers, Negro and white, in a union, are the concern of labor, Negro and white. All labor must unite to keep the government from interfering with the union movement. But to do this most effectively, labor must set its own house in order.
It is asserted in the Negro press (the Atlanta Daily World of September 21) that the government is actually preparing a bill to establish a Court of Fair Practices to carry on in peacetime the work done by the FEPC in wartime. The employers will be prohibited from refusing employment or discriminating in conditions of employment against persons on account of creed, race or color. But “Unions would be called to book if they deny membership, expel from membership or discriminate in any way against an individual for similar reasons.”
There is not question at all that such a bill can be turned into an instrument against labor. First, such a bill dealing with railroads will discredit labor. Next, it will make the Negroes think that the government, and not labor, is their friend; and, finally, it will bring the labor unions more closely under government supervision.
If such a bill is passed, every employer in the country will use it at the first sign of any dissatisfaction among backward elements with the promotion of Negroes in the plant or with complete equality of working conditions, etc. We may be sure that the bill will be drawn in such a way as to give the government far more powers than will appear in the press reports. The bill will also have loopholes enough for all of Wall Street to crawl in and out of as it suits them.
Labor must see this question in sound perspective. It is not only a matter of the rights of Negroes in the unions. It is that, but today it is more than that. It is a question of whether the capitalist government and the capitalist railroad combines will continue to persecute Negroes, shift, dodge, promise and not perform, and then, as now, seek to pass the buck. It is a question of whether this will continue or whether labor will boldly announce that the capitalist class cannot and will not solve the Negro problem, but that labor will solve it.
It is in labor’s total interest to do so, and, as this latest maneuver of the bosses shows, it is in labor’s immediate interest as well. Above all, it it must be recognized that this projected bill is the concern not only of railroad unions, but of all labor as well.
No one can correct errors in union policy except the great mass of our union rank and file. lt is, after all, our job and n0t the job of a bunch of professional politicians in league with big business.
Last updated on 10 July 2015