J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

(5 March 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 10, 5 March 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

Battle over N.Y. FEPC

Bills for preventing discrimination are now before two highly important legislative assemblies of the nation. There is a permanent FEPC bill before Congress and an anti-discrimination bill before the New York State Assembly.

Both bills are having large publicity. Both of them are sponsored by those who call themselves or are called by their friends “progressives.” Both of them are the subject of skillful maneuvers by those who are called “reactionaries” by their enemies and call themselves conservatives. I propose this week to have a look at what is taking place in Albany.

Labor Support

The bill is sponsored by Ives, the majority leader of the Assembly, and by Quinn, who is leader of the Senate minority. All the Negro organizations, the CIO, the AFL, the liberal Party and the American Labor Party are supporting it.

Now the bill proposes in itself nothing new. That must be understood. Everything the bill is introducing actually exists on the statute books in one form or another. The chief aim of the bill is to bring scattered legislation together and, more important, to set up a commission to enforce the bill.

Five members would form the commission. They would receive $10,000 a year. No employer could refuse to hire on account of race, religion or national origin. For doing so he could be fined $500 or be imprisoned for one year or both.

Let us look at the course of this bill so far.

About a year ago the question was raised in the Legislature. Dewey at that time was running for the presidency and wanted to get the electoral votes of certain doubtful border states. He could not afford to sponsor any such anti-discrimination bill. He therefore sabotaged the proposals by turning down the recommendations of one committee and appointing another committee.

With his election as President doomed, Dewey now turns his attention to his position in New York State. As the New York Times states:

“By taking a leading part in the drive to enact the legislation, the Governor hopes to spike any claim that the Democrats and Liberals forced it upon him next year.”

Isn’t that wonderful? The Governor watched the presidential elections in 1944 and now he is watching the state elections in 1946. The Negroes? The other minorities? You play politics with them! The Times adds:

“It may also provide a lever to bring Liberal and Negro support to the Republican state ticket next year.”

So there we are, my friends. That is the interest of Governor Dewey in the Negro question.

What we want to make clear is that Dewey’s support of the bill is phony. A number of Republican legislators are now opposing the bill. Dewey appears to be in conflict with them. He is more concerned with the all-over prospects of the Republican Party in 1946 than they are. That is all. He is more than anything else concerned with being re-elected to office. They are more specifically interested in their own seats.

The Negroes and the workers must bear this in mind for a particular reason. If the bill is passed, it is Dewey who will have to appoint the commissioners. It is Dewey’s administration which will have the whip hand in saying HOW the laws are to be enforced.

We predict with confidence. Once more we shall see that familiar sight in American society. Good legislation against discrimination; careful administration designed to obstruct or at least to modify, restrain and bypass the legislation.

Whom, then, are we to trust? The Democratic Party? To that there is only one reply. See the betrayal, the shameful stab in the back which came from Powell and about which I wrote last week. Why did he do it? He did it, not because he was a Negro, but because he was a Democratic politician.

No, between the two time-serving, treacherous, maneuvering political parties, the fighter against race discrimination has no choice. Yet the bill, as a whole, must be supported.

The way to do that is to rally around the AFL, the CIO and the mass Negro organizations which are pushing for its adoption. Of all the influences pushing for the bill, theirs is the cleanest, the least tainted with political dirt. It is through their vigilant agitation that the bill has the best chance of being passed. It is also through their vigilant agitation that the bill has the best chance of being administered satisfactorily.

Finally labor has a special interest in keeping its eye on everything connected with the bill. It contains clauses which aim at punishing labor unions for racial discrimination. We can be sure that unless there is a vigorous mass agitation and continued interest in this bill, the commissioners appointed by Dewey will be far more active and rigorous in trying to put labor on the spot than in penalizing the employers.

Last updated on 19 April 2016