J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

Negroes and Full Employment

(24 September 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 39, 24 September 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The pattern of racial relationships is being hammered out by the basic economic and social forces in the country.

The leaders of Negro organizations are compelled to recognize that unemployment is fundamentally not a Negro but a national problem. Walter White, of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, gave evidence before the Senate Banking and Currency Committee on the Murray full employment bill. With a lot of rubbish about the “integrity of our war aims,” which we regretfully ignore for the time being, White made it clear that only a federal guarantee of unemployment can save Negroes from the full weight of the oppression and discrimination under which they suffer.

What is important is that this statement by the secretary of the NAACP will do much to concentrate the attention of thousands of Negroes upon their place in the economic system taken as a whole.

John Lewis’ Statement

The day after White came John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers Union. Lewis urged an amendment so that local prevailing wage scales should not be used as a weapon for the exploitation of Negroes in the South. John L. used some strong words:

“Contractors and employers in the South, notoriously anti-union and anti-labor ... continue their unwholesome and their vicious exploitation of the Negro race ... [The] standard of living in the South ... is unwholesome and vicious ... and should be abolished.”

Whenever the leader of the mine workers speaks with emphasis, he has something of importance in mind. Lewis is drawing attention to the fact that Southern opposition to the Murray bill is not only reactionary in general but is directed especially at keeping the Negroes in their present miserable position. This helps to keep down not only the Negroes but the whites. And as Lewis made clear, this is a threat to labor standards all over the country.

Thus within two days we see foreshadowed the alliance which must come ultimately in the United States, the alliance between the militant labor movement and the Negro organizations. The National Urban League takes much the same stand as White of the NAACP.

Already in the elections of 1943 in Detroit, there was an unorganized yet very significant united front between the labor movement and the Negroes to defeat Mayor Jeffries. The movement sprang out of the tension and passions which followed the riots in the summer of 1943. Thus out of the strictly racial conflicts, and again out of the more national problem of unemployment, there is the tendency of Negro organizations and organized labor to find themselves on the same side, moving against the common enemy.

Government Stress

This recognition by Negro leaders of the primacy of government in the unemployment question has implications far beyond what is evident to their short-sighted vision. Unemployment is today a political question. The unemployment, or unfair lack of employment, of Negroes is a political question.

Witness the agitation over a national FEPC. Thus Negroes as Negroes find their activity leading them to the government, to the state. The Negroes seek to compel the private employer to cease his discrimination – and they seek to do so through the government. Sooner or later Negroes will learn that only a workers’ government can do this.

The masses of Negroes will have far more voice and weight in a workers’ government, based on organizations of the workers, than in any Republican or Democratic Party government.

But the Negroes cannot form a workers’ government by themselves. Therefore the logical thing is for them to declare for a Labor Party and workers’ government to be formed by organized labor.

Well over a million Negroes will be in this from the start. It is the only hope for Negroes to attain their twentieth century emancipation.

Part of General Problem

And if, as White and the Urban League recognize, the special problems of Negroes can only be solved in the solution of the general problem of unemployment, then the Negro problem again points to a workers’ government and a Labor Party.

Now Walter White and even John L. Lewis may not see this. But that new generation of Negroes who are determined not to stand any more of what their parents had to endure must learn to read the signs of the times and think ahead and act accordingly.

They should recognize their responsibility not only to the Negro cause but to the country as a whole. In declaring now for a Labor Party and a workers’ government, they not only point a road for the whole country. They indicate the only solution for the Negroes’ problems which have beset them for over three centuries.

Last updated on 2 August 2018