W.F. Carlton

On Comptroller Warren’s Ruling —

How He Strangled the FEPC

(8 November 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 45, 8 November 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

Last week Labor Action quoted a statement by a Negro newspaper to the effect that the resignation of Monsignor Haas as chairman of the Fair Employment Practices Committee had stunned official Washington. At the same time we reviewed the history of the FEPC and pointed out that its life had been punctuated by a series of shocks, stunning shocks, directed at it by the Roosevelt Administration. Now the FEPC has received another mighty blow, and from the same source.

Executive Order No. 9346 was issued by the President himself, not by one of his assistants. It stated emphatically that all contracting agencies of the government “shall include in all contracts hereafter negotiated or renegotiated by them a provision obligating the contractor not to discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color or national origin.” That is as plain as plain could be. Roosevelt, having written that, however, refused to give the FEPC legal authority to enforce any violations of the order. At any rate, that paragraph sounded good.

Bell Telephone Case

Some days ago, the Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. of Kansas City, Mo., refused to accept a federal contract for telephone service to national war agencies in Kansas City if the anti-discrimination clause remained in the contract. Note that the contract is for the highly important telephone service to national war industry. It involves the actual conduct of the war for which we are supposed to sacrifice our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

The Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. told the government it would not carry out the President’s directive. Whereupon, Comptroller-General Warren reread the President’s order and discovered that the word “shall” “ordinarily is construed in the imperative or mandatory sense.” This means that you have to. But he goes on: “In this particular case, inasmuch as the carrying out of the law “would do violence to the objects and purpose of the statute as a whole,” he will interpret, the word “shall” to mean – if you want to!

In other words, a company can discriminate or not discriminate, as it pleases. It can rest assured that the government will negotiate and renegotiate its contracts.

Now, if you listen carefully, you will hear the howls of wrath going up from PM, the New York Post and the liberal journals, and also from all the Negro “leaders.” Once more, all of these people are stunned and shocked. And being stunned and shocked, what do they do? They call urgently upon the President to save the FEPC!

Saving the FEPC

Now what we want to ask here is this: From whom is the President to save the FEPC? From his own appointees? True, he saved the FEPC once before. He saved it from the March on Washington which was prepared and then unfortunately called off by its leaders.

By calling off the march, these Negro misleaders enabled Roosevelt to get away with this powerless committee. The committee never had any power to enforce its regulations, We pointed out in Labor Action not so long ago that when Father Haas was appointed, he said openly that he did not intend to make any attempt to enforce the regulations of the committee. When he resigned, he admitted that nothing could be done.

Yet this latest development is a significant stage in the kicking around which the committee has steadily got from the Roosevelt Administration. The Negro press has recently pointed out that in certain industries mass layoffs have already begun and that Negroes are suffering. To what extent this is true, we do not know. But it is certain that plans are being made by the government and also by employers for re-conversion of war plants, etc., in the post-war period. The great question of unemployment is beginning to occupy all minds as the problem which will face the United States after the war.

Furthermore, as the war has continued, the Roosevelt government has become increasingly reactionary, striking at labor and the great mass of the working people, surrendering more and more to the claims of big business and the anti-labor Southern Democrats.

The Labor Movement Can Help

This blow against the FEPC is merely another stage in this development. The FEPC, we have insisted, never had any REAL power. Therefore, to ask Roosevelt to save the FEPC and to lead the Negro people to expect that this is the way to help themselves is merely to help the President to carry out a deception of the Negro masses.

The Negroes are the persons who in the first place forced the President to take note of the vexing problem. They forced him by the mere threat of organized action. This is what caused the President to take note officially of the discrimination. Nothing else will make him end this ridiculous passing of the buck, first to the committee, then to McNutt, then back to himself, and now to Comptroller Warren. As long as the masses of the Negro people do not demonstrate their determination in an organized manner, this tom-foolery will continue.

And finally, we say, as we have said repeatedly during the last few months: The Negro question, and now with it the Jewish question, have become sources of racial tension in the country. The signs of this are everywhere. Organized labor must recognize that the government does not take any serious measures to solve these problems. Yet the problem of racial discrimination has to be solved, not played with or patched up, but solved. There are only two major forces in the country – the capitalists, that is, the bosses and their government, and organized labor. The capitalists will not solve it, and therefore the responsibility falls to the labor movement.

Last updated on 10 July 2015