J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

(22 January 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 4, 22 January 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

Listen to these noble sentiments. The quotation is long, but Negroes and the labor movement should digest it and think about it.

“The cloak of racism surrounding the action of the Brotherhood in refusing membership to Negroes and in entering into and enforcing agreements discriminating against them, all under, the guise of constitutional authority, still remains. No statutory interpretation can erase this ugly example of economic cruelty against colored citizens of the United States.

“Nothing can destroy the fact that the accident of birth has been used as the basis to abuse individual rights by an organization purporting to act in conformity with congressional mandate. Any attempt to interpret the act (Railway Labor Act) must take into account and must realize that the constitutionality of the statute in this respect depends upon the answer given.

“The Constitution voices its disapproval whenever economic discrimination is applied under authority of law against any race, creed or color. A sound democracy cannot allow such discrimination to go unchallenged.

“Racism is too virulent today to permit the slightest refusal, in the light of a Constitution that abhors it, to expose, and condemn it wherever it appears in the course of a statutory interpretation.”

The author of these truly democratic pronouncements is Mr. Justice Frank Murphy. He is not only a Supreme Court judge. He is a notorious New Dealer and member of the Roosevelt clique. Why all this heat, all this passion, from the Jim Crow Roosevelt government?

This is not the first time. The Railroad brotherhoods have now been under fire from the New Deal for over a year because of their discrimination against Negro workers. First of all, the FEPC held widely publicized investigations and New Deal representatives of the government took the opportunity to throw all the blame for the discrimination upon labor. The discrimination has continued. And two Negro locomotive firemen, Tom Tunstall and Buster William Steel filed suit against the Brotherhoods in a case which has just been concluded. They claimed that the agreement signed by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen & Engineers results in the sweeping of all Negro firemen from their jobs.

They claimed that the union contract covered all employees. But the union’s local refused to admit Negroes to membership. Negro firemen without union membership are classified as “non-promotable.” And this eventually meant loss of employment.

Labor Action on previous occasions has pointed out the energetic satisfaction with which the New Deal places the blame for discriminations upon the labor movement. This is no accident. It is a matter of policy. The New Deal in particular knows very well its criminal record on Jim Crow in the armed forces, in the federal government, in its timid handling of Negroes in industry, in its capitulation to the Southern plantocracy, in every field of American life. It knows that the basic challenge to American capitalistic handling of the Negro question can come only from the labor movement. It knows that within the Democratic Party, the CIO and particularly the PAC on the one side, – and the Southern plantocracy on the other, are at daggers drawn on this question.

The Administration therefore is only too glad to plant the stigma of racial discrimination upon labor and thereby escape some of the responsibility for its evasion of the Negro question.

The Railroad Brotherhoods are doing untold harm to themselves and to the cause of labor as a whole by their persistence in these practices, which fully deserve the condemnation expressed by Justice Murphy. But labor does not need this from Murphy. It must come from the labor movement itself. It is the business of labor to recognize its responsibility to the nation as a whole and to take upon itself the solution of problems which capitalism has proved itself unable to solve.

Example of the UAW

In this respect the UAW has once more given an example of the road which labor must follow toward the solution of the Negro question. President R.J. Thomas has recently announced the creation of a Fair Employment Practice Committee within the union to handle all problems of racial discrimination on the job. The chairman of the new organization is George F. Addes. That is the road.

The danger is that if the Railroad Brotherhoods continue their discriminatory practices, not only will they antagonize Negroes and progressive sections of labor, they may open the way for the government to interfere. Justice Murphy’s opinion laid heavy stress on the fact that the railroads are “an organization purporting to act in conformity with congressional mandate.” The Railway Brotherhoods function under the Railway Labor Act. Their own vital interests and the interests of labor should make them realize that they must set their own house in order.

Last updated on 19 April 2016