J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

Negroes Watch “Operation Dixie”

(20 May 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 20, 20 May 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“Operation Dixie” is getting under way and we have not only to follow its development but to enter actively into what is potentially one of the most significant campaigns ever entered upon by the labor movement in this country.

The CIO is establishing headquarters at Birmingham, Ala. Van A. Bittner, veteran of many organizing campaigns, is director. The list of his assistants is significant in its associations. From the Rubber Workers Union is Sherman Dalrymple. From the Textile Workers Union comes George Baldanzi, vice-president. From the Amalgamated Clothing Workers comes Jack Kroll, vice-president. From the Auto Workers will come another assistant director. Rubber, textile, clothing, auto and, at the head, Van Bittner of the steel industry. The labor movement in its most significant sections is challenging the Southern system. The aim of the CIO drive is a million and a half members.

The AFL has already established headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. Their Southern representative is George L. Googe. On May 11 and 12 there will be a conference of 8,600 AFL locals in Asheville, N. C., which will formally launch the AFL drive. The goal is one million members.

If the AFL is launching its drive with a conference representing its 8.600 locals, the CIO, beginning with the UAW conference at Atlantic City has made it clear to all its members and sympathizers that the next important stage in its development is the successful carrying out of this drive.

Simultaneously the Political Action Committee has declared that it is ready to launch a drive against certain of the Southern congressmen.

Negroes See Significance

Meanwhile, on Sunday last in Harlem, thousands of people attended a great rally at the Golden Gate Ballroom. True the Stalinists around People’s Voice were its inspirers. But the Negroes who attended did so, not because they were interested in Stalinist maneuvers, but because they for the most part felt that labor was undertaking a task of vital importance to Negroes not only in the South, but everywhere. The Negroes all over the country have made great strides toward recognizing that a victory for the CIO anywhere is a victory for the Negro people as a whole. Even Father Divine spoke and his followers (who are much more important than he is) turned out in great numbers.

“Operation Dixie” has caught the imagination of the Negro people. That in itself is political progress – the fact that their minds have been turned from the President and from Congress and telegrams to Wallace and Eleanor Roosevelt to the most powerful social force in the country – the organized labor movement.

This column, from the very beginning of this drive, has recognized its significance for the Negroes, for organized labor, and for the country as a whole. I have traced the political relation between the conflict in the Democratic Party and this drive to spread the doctrine and organization of collective bargaining in the South. I think, however, that at this stage, it is necessary to restate a few things and to say some that have not been said.

Only a Beginning

  1. The present drive can only be a beginning. True, it is a beginning in a fundamental, basic sphere – the organization of Southern workers. But in relation to the problems of the South, it is only a beginning. Its political significance is that the country being where it is today, it will be impossible to organize the South on any serious scale without coming face to face with the deep-rooted racial segregation and anti-democratic practices characteristic of the area.
  2. Once this is recognized, it follows that at this stage, one cannot expect the CIO and AFL drives to overturn the social organization of the South. Passing of a permanent FEPC Bill for the nation, abolition of the poll-tax, important and progressive as these measures would be, could not seriously alter the barbarous social regime of the Southern states. It took a desperate civil war to abolish slavery and, if history is any guide, it will take equally conscious determination to make the South into a truly democratic community.
  3. The labor leaders, both of the CIO and the AFL, are not people who are ready to risk all for the sake of liberty and justice in the South. They are ready enough to capitulate to the ruling class in the North, as soon as the struggle becomes fierce, far more so in the South, where the situation is packed with dynamite. They know, however, that it is packed with dynamite. Yet they propose these drives. They are serious and, as far as is possible within their timid, narrow conceptions of social development, they will push hard to organize the Southern workers.
  4. But the Southern employers of labor and the plantation owners are not going to allow labor organizers to sow the seeds of their overthrow without fighting back. They are mobilizing in opposition already. They are not made more “democratic” by the moderation of Murray and Green. They know that this drive can set off currents of social and political opposition among the workers far beyond what is contemplated by Murray and Green and their lieutenants.
  5. From this flows the task of the revolutionaries, the militant CIO workers, the Negro workers and those elements among the Negro people who are ready to sacrifice all for the emancipation of their race. We have to bring the national significance of “Operation Dixie” to the attention of the nation. We have to mobilize such political and moral support for it as to strike terror into the minds of the Southern reactionaries and stiffen the CIO leadership.

Let us remember how the CIO was built in Detroit, in Flint, in Akron and in Chicago. It will be ten times as hard in the South. But 1946 is not 1936. Organized labor can lead the nation. This is one critical sphere in the life of the American people where it can begin.

Last updated on 19 January 2019