J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

Balance Sheet of the War

(June 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 23, 4 June 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

During recent weeks, in connection with the celebration of May Day, labor’s day, there has been much thought given to the position of labor.

How have the Negroes fared during this period? How do they stand today as compared, for instance, with their position in May of 1940. The answer can be unequivocally given: unmistakable progress has been made. There has been substantial progress in the integration of Negroes into industry. True, it has been the result of the needs of the capitalist war machine. But the fact is that Negroes are a part of the labor force as never before. They have had steady wages. They have been able to learn skills. Despite the handicap of late entry and the prejudices of white workers, Negroes have been up-graded in many plants. Thus their claims to equality in production have received token recognition.

Education in Industry

The mere presence of so many hundreds of thousands of Negroes in industry has resulted in a great education of the Negroes themselves. They have been forced to recognize mare clearly than ever the solidarity of labor, black and white, Jew and Gentile. Hundreds of thousands of Negroes and their families have been helped to think in terms, not of black and white, but of employer and laborer, in terms of class and not of race.

As the climax to this process, they have had the inestimable benefit of union education. Despite the strikes against employment and upgrading of Negroes, the record of the CIO, in particular, on the Negro question in the unions is undoubtedly the brightest page in the history of race relations in this country.

The penetration of large numbers of Negroes into industry and the unions, the experiences gained, the publicity in the Negro press, have resulted in a great increase of pro-CIO sentiment, among Negroes whether [they] are members of unions or not. This social and political consequence of the mass entry into production is a gain whose full significance will appear as the political life of the country sharpens and clarifies itself.

With this must be coupled the education of the white workers too. Under the stress of the class struggle in the process of production, guided by the firm leadership of, for example, the UAW, white workers have been compelled to face the Negro question in the factories and to take a position on it.

The progress made can be gauged by the fact that during the fighting and rioting in Detroit the workers in the factories stood firm. They recognized the threat to the union arid with them, black and white, the union came first. This was not only of first importance for the unions. It was of the first importance for the Negroes as well. Because if the unions had divided on this question, then the floodgates would have been loosened and the immediate consequences for all Negroes in Detroit would have been much worse than even what actually took place.

At the same time, the last five years have seen an intensification of the struggle between American capitalist society as a whole and the oppressed Negro people. The strains and stresses of the war have intensified all the antagonisms of capitalist society. The result has been a sharpening of racial tensions and of racial conflict. It is not necessary to recapitulate incidents here and now. It is sufficient to say that the vigorous offensive of the Negroes has resulted in nationwide concern with the position of the Negro people in the United States.

Roosevelt gave the first official response when the threat of a march on Washington was countered by the formation of the ineffectual FEFC. Since then the process has continued.

Negro Struggles

Its highest point has been the Ives-Quinn bill, which aims at abolishing discrimination on account of race in New York State. No bill can abolish racial discrimination in capitalist society. Yet the overwhelming support given to the bill is evidence of the recognition on all sides that the claims of the Negro people for equality can no longer be ignored. Foremost among those who were roused to action in New York were the local CIO and AFL unions.

(To be continued)

Last updated on 8 June 2016