J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

The Negro and Political Action

(8 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 14, 8 April 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Labor and labor alone can tear open that tight political caucus which represents the South in Congress. A clique of cotton plantation owners and business men have held political sway in the South from 1776 to the present day. They were defeated in the Civil War, and for a few years afterward the poor whites and Negroes in the South were able to exercise some political power. They could do this only because they received the direct assistance of the Republican Party. That is the thing to be remembered today. The moment the Republican Party had come to terms with the ex-slave owners, these Southerners re-established their political domination.

These reactionaries have got a stranglehold on political life in the South. By means of unprecedented segregation, exploitation and degradation of the Negroes they keep ten million people from exercising the most elementary democratic rights. By this suppression of the Negroes they are enabled to keep the majority of the poorer whites in a similar misery.

North-South in League

The capitalist bankers in the North are the financial overlords of these Southern plantation owners and business men. They do not want to disrupt the Southern system from which they draw their interest and other profits. This is equally true of big business, whether it belongs to the Democratic Party or to the Republican. But the Democratic Party has a special reason for keeping the Southern system as it is. Success for the Democratic Party at the polls rests upon combining the labor and progressive vote in the North and West with the hand-picked candidates of the Southern reactionaries.

Thus, both capitalist parties have every reason to keep the Negroes in the South just where they are. And both of them wish this shame to continue because of their class interests, capitalist profit, capitalist political power and capitalist domination of the whole social order. That is why, when the Southern senators filibuster, both parties sit back and let them get away with it. But if it is to the interests of Capital to maintain the Southern set-up, it is to the interests of labor to break it up.

I ask Philip Murray, Sidney Hillman and Walter Reuther: Why do you allow the strength of labor to be used in maintaining the South, that stronghold of reaction in the United States?

Labor today has nearly four times as many organized workers as it had in 1932. Why should it not exercise this power in its own name? Why should it place this power at the disposal of as backward, as reactionary a set of scoundrels as you can find in any legislature today? Every labor man should know that men like Bilbo, Rankin and O’Daniel wield the power they wield because of the workingman’s vote.

How? If they didn’t have the Democratic Party to fall back on they would be prisoners of the Republican Party. It is because they can bargain with the Republican leaders that they are so strong. Whenever they see fit, they fall back on the rest of the Democratic Party, which is, substantially, organized labor. And what does labor get for it?

Treachery at every stage. Whatever legislation the Southern Democrats may have voted in between 1932 and 1936, today they are in the vanguard of every reactionary anti-labor, anti-Negro movement in Congress.

What is the way out? It is as broad as a four-lane highway. Labor in the South must organize itself and insist upon the right to vote for all citizens. Think what this would mean. The labor leaders in the North would have the labor vote in all parts of the country. A Labor Party would be absolutely invincible. The plain truth, however, is that today organized labor is allied with the Southern reactionaries. It has the chance of allying itself with Southern labor. WITH Southern labor it can afford to ignore the rest of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, even if both of these combined.

The Negroes should recognize what a vital question this is, not only for them, but for the whole nation. Murray should be made to answer.

“Brother Murray, you are going into the South to organize. We welcome it. That is a great step. But you are a supporter of the PAC. You are a Democrat. You believe in democratic rights for all. What are you going to do about the democratic rights of the segregated Negroes in the South and those whites who suffer only a little less than the Negroes?”

Murray cannot seriously organize the South without splitting the Democratic Party. Sooner or later he and the CIO will face that choice. Organized labor and the masses of the Negroes themselves can see to it that the CIO leadership from the very start declare along what lines it is going to work.

Last updated on 19 January 2019