W.F. Carlton

Negroes Get Priority in Layoffs

(June 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 26, 25 June 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Two weeks ago ten thousand Negro workers were laid off in four cities of the Midwest, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Indianapolis. Other workers were laid off also, of course. Thus among 5,000 workers to be released from the Allison division of General Motors, only 400 are Negroes.

In Chicago at the Pressed Steel Car Co., of 1,800 workers released, 1,000 were Negroes. Ford Willow Run released 4,000. The Murray Co. of Detroit released all persons hired since 1943. The UAW-CIO has made certain that layoffs were made according to seniority. But most of the Negro workers who broke into war industries did so only after the war effort was well under way (1942 and 1943). Thus they are slated to be laid off first.

The Negro communities are hard hit. While unemployment among white workers is scattered in its geographical effects, the concentration of Negroes in Jim Crow areas brings home unemployment to them in a concentrated manner. Finally the industries in which most of them are employed are aircraft and other mushroom war industries. This is particularly true in California. These are the industries with the most uncertain future, which means an uncertain future for the Negroes more than for any other section of the population.

What Is to Be Done?

Two things must be established first. From all sides it is being hammered home into the heads of all workers that the problem of cutbacks, of layoffs, of unemployment, is a national problem. In the same way that the organization of production for the war was and is a national problem, so the organization of production to prevent unemployment is a national problem. This means also that it is a problem of government. In its broad outlines it has to be organized from one center.

Modern industry is too interdependent to he organized successfully in separate groupings. On the auto industry depends steel, coal, oil and transport. Disorganize one and you disorganize all. Whatever special difficulties the Negroes may suffer from, there is no special solution for them. In fact, the very uncertainties of their future in industry compel them to be more than all others concerned about a well planned, well organized industrial system in the United States. If there is no such planning then the weight of the chaotic economy will fall most heavily upon the most oppressed, the most discriminated against, i.e., among others, the Negroes.

The Negroes are concerned with the problem and are racking their brains to find a way out. The Labor Vanguard is a weekly paper which styles itself the official organ of the National Labor Council. Its avowed aim is equal rights for minority groups. It preoccupies itself with this very question of Negroes and unemployment. It claims, and this is very likely true, that it has been “virtually bombarded” with questions by colored workers as to what position organized labor will take on me retention of colored workers when the time for layoffs comes. It conducted a poll among labour leaders on this question and the result appears in a June issue.

Labor Leaders Speak

R.J. Thomas, William Green, K.C. Adams of the United Mine Workers (for John L. Lewis) sent replies. All stated that seniority was the foundation of the union. movement and that it was to be “respected and preserved,” in the words of William Green. R.J. Thomas, in a lengthy reply gave his positive solution of the problem.

“Rather, we join with the national CIO in subscribing to a program of full employment for all workers with adequate safeguards which will insure equality and full employment opportunity for all alike.”

The Labor Vanguard in its editorial of that issue was realistic and bitter. It more or less accepted the inevitability of the seniority rule being retained. But it poured scorn on the slogans of full employment and sixty million jobs. It pointed to the fact that in Harlem on V-E Day there was: no celebration.

“For, over and above the roar of guns, the peals of church bells and the screech of horns, the working masses heard the deafening clatter of empty larders. To them, V-E Day was the forerunner of hungry days.”

Sixty million jobs, full employment – this was talk and nothing more. All this is true. However, the editorial did put forward one suggestion. Labor and management must get together and devise a plan “to ameliorate the harshness of the cutback. President Truman’s unemployment compensation plan is a step in the right direction. But it is only a step – a government step. Labor and industry must devise a practical plan of their own to meet the situation.”

Positive Program Needed

Now here is a thoroughly defeatist, muddled and demoralizing attitude to an urgent problem affecting not only Negroes and other minorities, but the whole nation, it is particularly mischievous because it comes from an organization speaking in the name of labor minorities.

The Labor Vanguard just lies down, accepts the idea of mass unemployment and tells the Negro workers that they and their white brothers must organize a plan to mitigate it.

What Is Wrong?

Negro labor cannot accept any such program. Negro labor, more than any other labor, has the right and the duty to say and say loudly, that there must be a plan to prevent unemployment. Production was organized for war. It can be organized for peace. Such is the program Labor Vanguard should place before those who bombard it with queries.

Labor Vanguard should conduct polls among labor leaders, but the main purpose of the polls should be to find out: What do you propose to do about full employment?

Labor Vanguard should place most bitterly and realistically before them the evidence that Roosevelt’s slogans were not meant seriously.

Labor Vanguard should inform the labor leaders that even their labor plans (for full employment) are fakes unless they show that they mean business and are prepared to take steps to carry them out.

Finally Labor Vanguard should say that when it agitates on behalf of Negro and other minority workers it is only expressing the most acute form of what is a national problem.

Our Way Out

This is the approach of Labor Action to this problem. Naturally Labor Action flights for substantial compensation for unemployment. Labor Action welcomes the struggle of minority groups against their special disabilities. But when those who speak in the name of these groups propose a policy of capitulation – then they mislead their followers and instead of being in the vanguard find themselves at the tail of the labor movement.

The problem is a national problem. It is a problem of government – of the government planning production. What is required is a workers’ government, a government of labor backed by all the millions who fear the coming unemployment and do not know what to do. By accepting so pitifully the whole idea of unemployment, Labor Vanguard misleads the people who bombarded it with questions.

Last updated on 8 June 2016