J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

CIO’s Drive to Organize the South

(22 April 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 16, 22 April 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

This column has discussed the coming CIO drive in the South from various points of view.

First of all this column is a column on the Negro question in the United States – one-tenth of the nation. The greater part of the Negroes of the nation live in the South. If the CIO is going into the South it is going to have to tackle not only the organization of labor but the political and social enslavement of the Negro.

But that is only the beginning. Politically, the South is represented or rather misrepresented by the Southern reactionaries in Congress. They control the South as absolutely as they do because of their manipulation of the Negro question in every sphere. Organize Southern labor, particularly the Negroes, and the empire of these gentlemen will begin to rock.

The CIO can burn a fire under them. But for the CIO to do this it must face the possibility of a wide- open split in the Democratic Party.

An Important Task

Thus the Negro question in the South is not confined to the South but is a matter of first-class political importance to the whole nation. The CIO can begin the second reconstruction of the South. In the nation organized as it is today, the CIO alone can do the job. Unless the CIO is prepared to live forever under the political whip and threats of the Southerners, it will have to break them in their own stronghold.

Murray says that the CIO aims to break the poll-tax as well as to organize labor. Good. But Murray (as in the struggle over wages and prices) says one thing and does another. The organized labor movement and the Negroes must demand from Murray an uncompromising, ruthless struggle that will not stop until the back of the Southern plantocracy is broken. Maybe we cannot do that in a week or a month or a year. But these people have persecuted poor whites and degraded Negroes for over a century.

Their arrogance, dishonesty and impudence in Congress pass all bounds. They must go. That is the task of the CIO. For if and when these Southern anachronisms are put where they belong – in the historical dust-bin – then labor, from California to New York, from Michigan to Louisiana, will have the Democratic and Republican Parties at its mercy.

There is more to be said about this perspective, much more, but for the time being that will do.

The System Must Go

So far, however, we have left out one element in the situation. This is the people of the South, the millions of Negroes, the poor whites, the people whom the Southern reactionaries enslave and whom the CIO proposes to organize:

Murray says the CIO will do in the South in 1946 what it did in the North in 1936. Will it? We sincerely hope so. In 1936 the workers broke racial barriers, united for struggle, fought employers and police, arms in hand seized the factories. The CIO leaders, now that they are national figures and “statesmen,” are apt to forget those bloody days. It is time to remember them again, to remember the bitter die-hard, fight-to-the-end resistance of the capitalist class.

The Southern bourbons will repeat it. They will foment race riots. They will disregard the laws of the land. They will organize goon squads. We know these fascist-minded defenders of property and privilege. We have seen them at work all over the world these last years. We have seen these methods of intimidation and violence covered over with legality and erected into a social system under the name of fascism. We have sometimes forgotten that in the South, under the democratic label, violence and intimidation formed for years the very sinews of the social order.

To carry out the assault on that system will not be easy. But the workers, we are sure, will be ready to meet violence with violence, intimidation with intimidation. The CIO leadership will have to face this. In 1936 it was the workers ready to go to the end who insured victory. This spirit exists in the South. Murray will have to bring it out, not suppress it. All of us above the Mason and Dixon line must awaken a realization of the issues and a body of public opinion in support of their proletarian solution.

Last updated on 19 January 2019