J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

(12 February 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 7, 12 February 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

How have Negroes fared in industry during the war years? The United States Department of Labor in the January issue of the Monthly Labor Review gives the latest data.

The Statistical Picture

There are today no fewer than five and a half million Negro workers in the United States. And there are 700,000 in the Army. Thus the war has caused an unprecedented social upheaval among the Negroes in the United States which must have had, indeed is already having, profound effects on their political future.

Meager as are the statistics offered by the Department of Labor, they indicate certain significant trends.

Between 1940 and 1944 the number of Negroes employed as skilled craftsmen, foremen and regular “operatives” in factories rose from 500,000 to 1,000,000. There seems to have been up-grading to some substantial degree, but the great masses who entered industry entered and have remained as unskilled laborers.

The miserable status of Negroes in the United States is shown by the fact that though the number of Negro men working as proprietors, managers and officials increased, during the war period, by fifty per cent, the total number in April 1944 had not yet reached 75,000.

Seven Negro women out of ten employed in 1940 were in domestic service. The proportion had changed little by 1944. Only instead of being domestic servants, more Negro women are beauticians, cooks, waitresses, etc. This may seem a small gain; in reality it means a change from that of personal dependence and personal subordination which has been characteristic of the social existence of Negroes and Negro women for so many decades.

For women also there have been noticeable shifts from farm labor to work in the factory. This, for Negro women, is like entry into a new world. A great process of social education is here taking place.

More Oppressed Workers

True, both men and women remain at the bottom of the industrial ladder. Of the clerical and sales forces of the country, ninety-eight per cent remains white. Of the professional, proprietary and managerial group, ninety-five per cent remain white.

A further breakdown would infallibly show that the Negroes are represented almost exclusively in the lowest of the lower brackets.

The greatest gains are the opening up of jobs to Negroes as semi-skilled workers, principally in factories.

That is the shameful truth. That is the “equality of opportunity” offered to Negroes in U.S. democracy at the highest peak of capitalist prosperity and capitalist need. But this very crime is one powerful source of the forces which will overthrow capitalism. The Negroes as a mass have little cause to love American capitalist society. Segregated and humiliated, they are thrust by capitalism into the masses of the unskilled and semiskilled.

These, however, form the most powerful concentration of forces in the country, whose objective position is such that they are bound, sooner or later, to come into mortal conflict with the system as a whole. In this category of workers the Negroes have found a place, educating themselves, learning and teaching class solidarity with white workers, through the discipline of capitalist production and the struggles of the unions.

In April, 1940, there were 3,000 Negro women in the metals, chemicals and rubber group of industries. In 1944 there were 150,000. In April 1940, there were 60,000 Negroes in government service. In 1944 there were 200,000. In each case there was an increase of nearly 150,000. The numbers are equal. But as a social force, as elements in the class struggle, as part of the great army which is being steadily welded together for the ultimate phases of the conflict between capital and labor, the 150,000 women in heavy industry are ten times as important as the government typists, petty bureaucrats, super-janitors, etc.

Capitalism Prepares Nemesis

Thus the very degradation of the Negroes in capitalist society places them in situations where their ingrained resentment can find expression, valuable not only to their own emancipation but to the emancipation of society as a whole.

Historical law works in contradictions. The anger which all socialists feel at statistical proof of the social status of Negroes should be accompanied by careful examination of the Nemesis which, here as in so many other fields, capitalism prepares for itself by its injustice and its crimes.

Last updated on 19 April 2016