J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

(18 December 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 51, 18 December 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

The question of discrimination against Negroes in employment in New York is now boiling. The State Legislation has held a series of investigations up-state and is now considering a bill to curb race, creed or color discrimination in industry.

In Washington, the House Labor Committee favorably reported a bill for a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee. The voting was nine to five. A similar bill has been reported by the Senate some weeks but is not likely to reach the floor of that body before adjournment.

Now in, principle and in practice Labor Action supports that type of legislation. It has to be scrutinized very carefully, because bills passed by capitalist politicians, ostensibly to help, workers, frequently turn out to have clauses which are aimed, against working people as a whole. What we wish to refer to here is the agitation which is being carried on around this proposed legislation.

The reason for the legislation is clear. Congress is scared, and the House Committee on Labor stated openly that unless the rights of minorities were safeguarded there was a possibility of post-war race riots. Furthermore, the labor movement as a whole, particularly the CIO, is concerned and active about this question. And, most important of all, the Negro people, however they may have voted in the recent election, have publicly declared their deep suspicion of the insincerity of both capitalist parties in regard to the Negro question.

This is why you get this kind of loud talk at the New York State hearing in Buffalo. Former Court of Appeals Justice Charles Sears, who gave evidence, wanted an order which would compel the employers to desist in the discrimination or to rehire workers fired for Jim Crow reasons, and give compensation for the time lost. This was to be immediately enforceable, “subject, of course, to court review.”

The whole business has a history, too. Governor Dewey, a candidate for the presidency, made a great gesture toward Negroes. He appointed a “non-partisan” committee to investigate and make proposals on discrimination. When the committee made its findings, the Governor blissfully ignored its evidence and proposals, postponing any action and asking for further investigations! There is also involved interstate politics, represented by the struggle between the Republican and the Democrats and their efforts to form blocs and counter-blocs with the Liberal Party and the ALP.

A Word of Warning

I wish to sound a note of warning. This can easily mean interference by the government in the affairs of labor, which can prove a very dangerous weapon against the labor, movement as a whole. Both the Negro people, and the labor movement must be on the alert and not be carried away by the avowed intentions of these bills. If a workers’ government were doing it, that is one thing. A capitalist government is something else.

For instance, A. Philip Randolph has just informed us that what we require is a new party. He has now issued a statement on behalf of the National Council for a Permanent FEPC in which he says:

“Recommendation of the bill for a permanent FEPC by the House Labor Committee soon after the election campaign is a reason for confidence in campaign pledges.”

Now this is nonsense and dangerous nonsense. Randolph, more than anyone else, knows why the present FEPC was formed at all. It was formed as the only means of checking a militant mass movement of Negroes. The present bills are aimed at nothing else. They have, nothing whatever, to do with faithful keeping, of campaign pledges by capitalist parties. To preach that doctrine. is to deceive the people.

The People’s Voice seizes the opportunity to boost the liberals. It writes an article entitled: Liberals Hail House Group Action on FEPC.

This is directed against the labor movement as a labor movement and is in harmony with the Stalinist line of teaching the workers to look to the Roosevelt government and the liberals instead of to the organized workers.

The Stalinists are in the same game. Councilman Benjamin J. Davis, Jr., notorious member of the Communist Party and notorious deceiver of the Negro people on behalf of the Stalinist bureaucracy, introduced a resolution last February in the New York City Council calling for a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee. Recently the New York City Council took over this resolution adopted last February and unanimously sponsors it.

What is the result of all this? Both the Negro people and the labor movement are being encouraged to believe that the FEPC will be their greatest guarantee for job rights and job equality in the post-war world.

That this is exactly what they are thinking is proved by the result of a poll which was carried out among a cross-section of Negro workers in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta. The poll was carried out by the National Non-Partisan League in cooperation with the Chicago Defenders and the workers were asked:

“Do you think that a strongly enforced FEPC can guarantee Negro job rights after the war?”

Eighty-five per cent of those, who replied said, yes.

They were asked another question:

“Do you think a permanent FEPC can eliminate race discrimination?”

Eighty per cent who replied said, yes.

Now, as we say, we are in favor of such bills, carefully scrutinized to rid them of clauses which will place anti-labor powers in the hands of the government. But we protest most strongly against any agitation which leads Negroes to believe that race discrimination can be abolished by any kind of government bill introduced by capitalist parties and administered by a capitalist government. Race discrimination has its deepest roots in the insecurity and unemployment inseparable from capitalist society.

If, after the War a great wave of unemployment strikes this country, no kind of FEPC can prevent the most savage racial tensions developing. Whatever bills the government may pass, the solution of discrimination in employment lies in the labor movement itself, in its handling of the race problem in the unions, and in its taking over the productive system and organizing it in such a way as to abolish unemployment.

Last updated on 17 February 2016