J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

(29 January 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 5, 29 January 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

Last week it was Justice Murphy belaboring the Railroad Brotherhoods, for discriminating, against Negroes. Almost, in places, he sounded like a revolutionary.

This week it is Paul V. McNutt.

This same McNutt, you remember, did his best to stifle the FEPC about a year ago. Today, however, he is writing a series of articles in The Chicago Defender, the Negro weekly.

Says McNutt:

“Negro Americans, traditionally ‘the last hired, the first fired,’ have been given their greatest job opportunity since the Reconstruction period.”

Credit Where It Is Not Due

Note that phrase, “have been given.” McNutt wants to say that the Roosevelt government GAVE greater opportunities to Negroes. The truth is that the Negroes FORCED Roosevelt to issue the executive order which resulted in the FEPC.

That executive order came directly from the projected March on Washington sponsored by the March on Washington Committee.

When Roosevelt recognized that the Negroes were serious he summoned A. Philip Randolph, the MOW leader, to Washington. Randolph found himself facing the President, LaGuardia, the Secretary of the Navy, the Secretary of the Army, Knudsen (then in charge of war production), and Hillman. They were mobilized for one purpose: to get Randolph to call off the march. Randolph capitulated and was given the executive order to take home.

Now today the Roosevelt government behaves as if it were the greatest protector and advocate of Negro rights in the country.

McNutt crows:

“In 1941, Negro workers made up about three per cent of war labor; by September 1942, the percentage was approximately five per cent, and in January 1943, about 7.4 per cent. Today it is approximately 8.4 per cent.”

So far so good. Now comes the payoff: “These percentages are a graph of economic democracy in action.”

Economic democracy indeed! First of all, the capitalist war machine needed workers for its own capitalist purposes – imperialist war. But despite this Negroes had to hammer at the doors to get in. The CIO can say with pride that it helped. But Negroes and the labor movement should greet McNutt’s smug self-satisfaction with jeers and laughter.

But McNutt is filled with pious sentiments, some of them true. Thus he says:

“The industrial progress the Negro has made can only be guaranteed by an America in which there will be jobs for all Americans who want jobs.”

True. Absolutely correct.

“Today,” he goes on, “seventy per cent of the Negroes in war production are in ... mushroom industries such as shipbuilding, aircraft production, munitions ... When military victory reduces our war production requirements, the Negroes will be among the munitions workers who face job discrimination.”

Still very true. So what? And then we see what this propagandist is after: “The federal and states governments” and the country’s ablest industrialists and economists are planning a “sixty-million-job America.”

Some Self-Praise

You remember Roosevelt’s Chicago speech before the election? McNutt indulges in a little rhapsody: “Is this the American dream?” etc., and then goes to town.

He tells us that considerable numbers of Negro veterans and Negro workers have come, looking for jobs, to the United States Employment Service of the War Manpower Commission. This, we need hardly say, is McNutt’s own department.

Hear him boost himself:

“We in the USES and the WMC are committed to making job referrals without discrimination as to race, color or creed.”

Hear him again:

“The War Manpower Commission through the USES today in ALL communities, provides ...”

(He should send a copy of this to Senator Rankin of Mississippi.)

“The employment needs of the Negro worker have been and are today of great concern to the WMC Bureau of Placement.”

And once more:

“The Administration’s plans for a ‘sixty-million job America’ are shared by most in the ranks of industry and labor.”

Then follows a grandiloquent compliment of labor’s attitude to Negroes in which he places the CIO and AFL on much the same level.

What’s Behind It?

Now what is behind all this? Whoever was interested in such things knows that round about election time the Roosevelt Administration had a bad scare about the Negro vote. Even Walter White confessed in public that the political outlook for Negroes was miserable enough – there seemed little to choose between the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party and the hypocrisy of the Republican Party.

Roosevelt finally got the majority of the Negro vote. But for a time it looked as if Willkie, who had courted this vote for four years, might take it with him to the Republican camp if he went there. The Roosevelt politicians are on the alert to correct this weakness.

We can now look for a stream of high-flown sentiments and promises from these glib-tongued gentlemen addressed to the Negro people. Whatever the masses force from them, they will turn round and blandly say: “Look what we did for you.” And just as they have invaded all union conventions and meetings with their lying propaganda, so now one of the highest Roosevelt officials has invaded the Negro press.

The Negro reply should be a sample for all readers of Labor Action. It should be this:

“We have listened to your promises for seventy years. We shall listen no longer. We shall make our own party – a Labor Party.”

Last updated on 19 April 2016