J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

On Organizing the South

(1 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 13, 1 April 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Two political developments are taking place at the present time of great significance for the Negro people in the United States. One of them is taking place in the government and in Congress. That is to say, in the stronghold and executive committee of the capitalist class as a whole. The other is taking place in the labor movement.

In Truman’s Congress

Over the last few months in Congress, the Southern Democrats have been acting in the closest alliance with the most conservative Republicans. Of course, they have always worked together. But under the pressure of the class conflicts in the country as a whole and the militancy of the labor movement, they have reached the stage where they are thinking of forming some kind of organization to fight against the advancing claims of the working class.

On account of this, President Truman and particularly Hannegan, the boss of the Democratic Party, find themselves in a serious spot. Previously, they tried to follow in the tradition of President Roosevelt and maneuver between the labor movement, on the one hand, and the Southern Democrats on the other. But little by little in the U.S. today, the space for maneuvering between conflicting classes is getting less and less. And recently Hannegan has taken steps and made speeches which show that this situation is causing an unbearable strain among the leaders of the Democratic Party.

Politicians are able to point in one direction today and reverse themselves the next day with the greatest facility. But it seems fairly clear that Hannegan and Truman are warning the Southern Democrats that this situation cannot continue indefinitely. Elections are coming near and to win the elections the Democratic Party will have to align itself clearly and unmistakably with the labor movement against the Southern reactionaries. What they will do after the election, that is something else.

In the Labor Movement

So far, Congress. Now for the labor movement. Philip Murray has announced a great organizational drive in the South to bring the millions of unorganized workers there within the ranks of the CIO. Any organizational drive in the South that is serious means the organization of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Negro workers.

But this is no mere trade union question. We know what the social situation of Negroes in the South is today. Any serious attempt to organize them on a large scale means automatically raising the basic question of social segregation and political discrimination.

There is no political party of labor in the United States. That is unfortunate. But precisely because of this, the CIO performs many functions which ordinarily would be performed by an independent Labor Party. Murray may think what he pleases. But industrial organization of the South on a large scale means raising the question, for example, of the poll-tax, of the anti-lynching bill, of the permanent FEPC. And it means raising them not in Congress where senators can filibuster, but raising them among the masses of the people themselves in the form of action by organized labor.

In the CIO News of March 25 there is an article demanding action now on the poll-tax. A reading of the article, however, shows that it is concerned solely with the poll-tax in so far as it is a matter of Congressional action. The article states that Senator Homer Ferguson and Senator James Mead called upon the American people to make a special effort during poll-tax week. The article, points out that there is support for the bill by Senator Claude Pepper and by Barry Bingham, Kentucky newspaper publisher. Isn’t that wonderful?

A Job for the CIO

At its recent board meeting, the CIO Council issued a blast against Democratic Congressmen who join hands with the representatives of the Republicans and thwart the wishes of the majority.

Now this is the same game that has been going on in Congress for years. And the leadership of the CIO is playing it. Organized labor has its own decisive methods of struggle. The place where the decisive struggle for the abolition of the poll-tax will be fought is not in Congress, by slippery senators, or in the pages of Kentucky newspapers. If the CIO proposes to organize the South, then a fundamental part of this campaign must be not merely industrial organization, but abolition of the political discrimination against the Negroes in the South.

There is no organization in the United States today which can more easily point out to white workers in the South the consequences not only to Negroes but to themselves of the continuance of the poll-tax in the Southern states. The CIO has enormous prestige in the South. White workers are the ones who for familiar reasons are most subject to the social prejudices imposed upon the South by the reactionaries. If an organization with the prestige and the power of the CIO seriously sets itself to break down these prejudices, it can do so. Instead, however, while on the one hand, its leaders announce a great organizing campaign, they continue to direct the attention of the organized workers and of the Negroes to the maneuvers in Congress.

Two important conclusions can now be drawn. I am not interested in what is in the heads of Philip Murray and of the other leaders of the CIO. But this much is obvious. The present situation in the Democratic Party being what it is, if Philip Murray and the CIO leadership seriously set out to mobilize the power of organized labor in the South against the poll-tax, they will make the already tense situation in the

Democratic Party an impossible one. The Southern Democrats could not for a single moment tolerate a serious assault upon their social position in the South by the masses of the people educated, organized and led by the CIO. Murray and Co. are faced with this situation. Build a powerful labor movement in the South. Organize the workers and lead these workers to the smashing of the reactionary Southern domination. Just begin seriously to do this and as sure as day that will break up the Democratic Party as it is constituted today.

Or. Try to organize as many workers as possible and keep such issues as the poll-tax in Congress, writing articles against Senator Pepper and Senator Mead and so on and so forth. The same old maneuvering which has brought no results for the last twenty-five years.

Time To Do Something

That is the first conclusion. The second conclusion is one of action. So far organized labor, progressives and the Negro organizations have sent innumerable telegrams, held mass meetings, overflowed Madison Square Garden and filled the air with protests against the fakers in Congress and the Southern Senators. Now is the time to do something else.

The CIO leadership must be made to face its own responsibilities squarely. What do you propose to do about the poll-tax? Do you propose to go into the South and organize black and white workers? Do you intend to confine your campaign to the question of wages and trade union demands, or do you propose to organize mass pressure from the South itself, pressure by the masses of the’ people against the state and federal governments? If not, why not? Is it because you are afraid that by doing so, you will break up the Democratic Party? And to take the question one step further, if you break up the Democratic Party, but at the same time gain the masses of the people in the South, why shouldn’t you, having now organized labor in the North, and the great masses of the people in the South, why shouldn’t you then be able to form a new political party which would be strong enough to seize the power and rule the country?

The Southern senators are reactionary. Congress is dishonest. Good. We know that. But what does the CIO leadership propose? This is the question that should be hammered at it from all who are pledged to work for the abolition of the poll-tax. We do not propose to run Murray’s campaign for him. We want a political declaration.

Those are the issues involved. Murray must know the power that the CIO can exercise in the South if it wants to. Murray must know also the consequences which would follow the exercise by the CIO of this power. The public must know what Murray thinks. I shall return to this subject next week.

Last updated on 19 January 2019