J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

Negroes and the Strike Wave

(4 February 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 5, 4 February 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The great strikes have shaken the thinking of the whole country and certainly the thinking of the Negro masses.

This can be seen in the new tone of the Negro press. As is usual with it, the conflict between capital and labor is viewed from the point of view of Negro interest. Their conclusions, however, go far beyond wage increases for Negroes.

The following is from an editorial in The Pittsburgh Courier of January 26:

Negroes are on the picket lines and around the conference tables, and every news photograph of massed workers shows a large number of black faces.

The implications of this development are terrific when viewed from the standpoint of race relations.

It means that the working masses, black and white, are comrades in a sense that they have never been before, with identical interests and equal participation and understanding.

Since economic considerations are always basic, it stands to reason that from the broader social aspect the antagonisms that have characterized relations between the two groups are bound to be undermined.

If it can be brought home to all workers, regardless of color or creed, that their interests are identical, a tremendous gain has been made which the most extreme anti-Negro propaganda will be unable to erase.

The method of argument is important. The editorial does not argue from any theoretical necessity of white and black unity. It is concerned with bettering the status of Negroes. There is a strike of national importance and the writer’s heart swells with pride to see Negroes on the picket lines and taking part in conferences at which great national decisions are being made. Seeing black faces in photographs of the American masses is of great significance for him.

From such a basis the enthusiastic recognition of white and black solidarity is completely genuine. We accept it on that basis. We do not criticize but welcome the editorial’s conclusion that this common action and common publicity are good for race relations.

Only in Labor’s Ranks Can Negroes Be Equal

But there are deeper implications even on the strictly Negro basis of the editorial.

Where else in American life have Negroes ever played, or will they ever play, a role among the ranks and in the leadership, the kind of role that they are playing today? In the army they are segregated by the government. Brigadier-General Davis, the highest ranking Negro officer, is a kind of show-piece. He goes round the world seeing after the welfare of Negro troops. In the U.S. government Negroes participate on the higher levels, and not too high either, as representatives of Negroes.

Ralph Bunche, the solitary Negro in the State Department, is paraded at international conferences by the U.S. government. “See,” they say, “we have a Negro to deal with Negro and colonial problems.” Judge Hastie is proposed as Governor of the Virgin Islands because of their predominantly Negro population. At all conferences of big business in the U.S., Negroes are conspicuously absent.

It is in organized labor and labor alone that the Negroes can play a full part either in the ranks or in the leadership. If today the Negroes do not get full and complete representation in labor activities, it is because the dominant class in society is the capitalist class which is anti-Negro. Where labor ruled and the working class was dominant, Negroes would at last be free and equal. A working class society would have to transfer to the new social and political relations that fundamental equality which, rooted in production, even today drives labor towards equality in race relations.

The Pittsburgh Courier likes to see Negroes in photographs of the masses and at conference tables. So do we. But the only society where this will be the rule and not the exception is the society of organized labor – Socialism. We do not wish merely to improve race relations. We wish to abolish the whole idea of race relations and substitute HUMAN RELATIONS. That’s what the Courier wants too. Experience and thought, but above all experience, will convince Negroes that the road to the achievement of equality in all spheres is the road to labor’s power, the road to Socialism.

Last updated on 6 August 2018