J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

On Organizing the South

(15 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 15, 15 April 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Workers, take note; Negro workers especially. The conflict between the southern wing of the Democratic Party and the sections headed by organized labor in Congress is sharper than ever. The forces of organized labor and the masses of the Negroes must intervene. This is what is happening:

Truman and Hannegan cannot so far pacify the southern Democrats. They send 22 Senators and 103 Representatives to Congress.

“They come from the poorest and most underprivileged section of the country, but they represent only the upper economic crust which, with the aid of the poll tax, still rules the South.”

So says a writer in the New York Post today, Monday, April 8. That is what we are saying. If those underprivileged people were free to vote as they wished they would follow the lead of the CIO. But they are held in chains by means of the poll tax and Negro segregation.

Now, despite all its weaknesses, organized labor is hammering away at a solution of the Negro question in its own ranks. Anyone who followed the UAW Convention can see this. This means death for the Southern Negro-baiters. They are acting in Congress like a third party. They defy Truman and Hannegan who need the labor vote to keep in power. These Southern enemies of civilization oppose all pro-labor legislation and all pro-Negro legislation. They know that they must fight both labor and the Negro.

What Can Labor Do?

What does Truman do? He has capitulated to them. He said in Chicago that the Southern States must work out their poll tax problem for themselves. It is a peace offer to these enemies of labor and of the Negro people. He tells them that he will not fight any longer. They can settle it, that is, they can keep it as they have always had it, or fool around with it leaving it pretty much as it is.

Clark Forman of Atlanta says that this means Truman will not run in 1948. He is aware that he cannot get his program through Congress and is giving up. Maybe. When we have time we’ll send a telegram of congratulation to Truman and tell him that before he goes he should declare himself for an independent labor party. But whether he as an individual goes or stays causes no excitement among us. We are concerned with something else. How can labor intervene in this critical political situation?

That is exactly what this column has been talking about for the past two weeks. Philip Murray says the CIO is going into the South to organize labor. Good. In fact, wonderful. Now listen to him at the UAW Convention. This is from the account in the CIO News:

“There is a great gateway,” he said, “a gateway of opportunity lying wide open for this mighty movement ofours to go through.” When the CIO passes through that gateway, he added, it will do so “to bring about the economic and political emancipation of millions of people who are deprived of these opportunities today.

“There is no other instrumentality I know of anywhere in America that seems quite so capable of performing that task as the CIO. We have been reading about many things in the South for many years—poll tax, low wages and the inability of the average poorer wage earner to vote on election day.

“I have a notion there is only one way to cure that condition down there. It isn’t by confining our task exclusively in Washington to the Bilbos and the Rankins and their ilk. No, the CIO has got to go into the South and carry the message of America to the people down there.”

This is splendid, particularly where he says that the CIO will not confine itself exclusively to action against Bilbo and Rankin in Congress. That is exactly what Labor Action and the Workers Party think.

Fly in Ointment

But Labor Action and the Workers Party have no confidence in Philip Murray. And among other reasons this is why: Immediately after that good section of the speech he says, “We are not going into the South to violate the law; we are going into the South in the year 1946 like we went into the North 10 years ago to carry the message of the CIO.”

Now this is precisely the question. No one expects the leader of the CIO to say that he is going into the South “to break the law.” But if he is not going there among other things to help the people abolish the poll tax, then all his talk about political emancipation of the people is pure froth. For in the South the poll tax is the law. We want to break that law, to abolish it. Truman has said that he is not interfering. The CIO must interfere.

While not forgetting Truman and his friends, Bilbo and Rankin, organized labor and the Negroes must make their voices ring in Philip Murray’s ears. In the United States today, only the CIO can lead in the solution of this problem, and the CIO must do it. The telegrams and the resolutions should pour into Philip Murray’s office, not Truman’s.

Last updated on 19 January 2019