J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

(28 October 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 43, 28 October 1946, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Every major political move in this country affects the body of the Negro people in one way or another. They arc affected first as American citizens. War, depression, social revolution, price control, absence of price control, all these affect the nation. But the Negroes are in their majority poor and among the most oppressed, the most needy. On account of this they often are more sensitively affected by a great national catastrophe than the rest of the nation. Price controls are now off. It is reasonable to expect that wage controls will be off in the near future. Prices will continue to run away from wages. How does this affect Negroes as Negroes?

First of all, the Negro workers in the great industries are knit substantially into one department of the social fabric. Negroes in the unions are affected by these great political movements less than Negroes in any other sphere of American society. When the United Mine Workers move, the hundred thousand Negroes among them act as United States citizens and are affected as United States citizens. When John L. Lewis wins from the coal operators a percentage of the profits for the social good and welfare of the miners, the Negro workers in the UMW participate as miners, not as Negro miners.

In the UAW, the tens of thousands of Negro workers come out on strike, take part in the agitation around the slogan “Open the Books,” win their wage increases, and participate in such benefits in working conditions as the contract can force out of the monopolist vultures who own the means of production.

Negroes Doubly Gouged

But these Negro workers who are placed in industry are among the main stand-bys of the Negro community. It is through them and their wages and the union protection that some Negro women at least are removed from the necessity of domestic labor and the other humiliating drudgeries. These types of labor are not only humiliating for any kind of worker but are especially so in that for the most part they are reserved for the Negro women. Poor and miserable as the wages of the workers may be, the children of the Negro worker, in theory at any rate, and to some degree in practice, have at least the opportunity to live more or less on an equal level with the children of the great majority of wage earners in this country. Even the Negro middle classes, particularly the Negro doctors and the Negro small business men, beauticians, small grocers, etc., depend largely upon the wages brought into the Negro community by the Negro workers to maintain some level of business.

It is therefore necessary for all Negroes, whether actually workers or not, to recognize in simple, practical terms what the wages of Negro workers mean not only to the Negro workers themselves, but to the communities in which these Negro workers live. When the wages of the worker are subjected to inflation, to the unbridled prices of thieving capitalists, it is felt by all. But nowhere is it felt so much as among the Negro people where the Negro workers as a body represent so substantial a part of the local community.

But if the Negroes thus feel the full weight of a crisis such as the present crisis of wages and prices, there is another way in which they feel it far more than any other group in the country. Anyone who lives in or near a Negro neighborhood knows the unscrupulous, merciless gouging to which the Negroes are subjected. Their rents are higher than the rents of white workers of a corresponding status. The dollar of the Negro housewife can buy only eighty cents’ worth in the shops in the Negro communities. The canned goods, the fresh vegetables and all the daily staples are of inferior quality. Very often these supplies are the rejected and discarded produce of the bigger markets from white neighborhoods. When there are shortages, for instance, of certain brands of cigarettes, it is known that these are not sent to the Negro communities at all. The shares that should by rights go to them are sent elsewhere.

What Negroes Can Do

Thus in the critical period opening up before us the Negro people have two things to do:

  1. They must recognize that this crisis affects the whole nation and above all the working class. Whether they are workers or not, they must recognize that it is upon the actions of the working class as a whole that any solution depends. Under the circumstances therefore Negroes everywhere must make up their minds not to be distracted by stupid propaganda about “free enterprise” and “the excesses of labor unions” but to organize themselves to throw their full weight behind all militant measures taken by organized labor to break the wage-price crisis.
  2. At the same time the Negroes must realize that they themselves have to carry on the most serious struggles in their own communities against the local representatives of the capitalist monster which is pressing upon the American people in every sphere of life. In this struggle, every section of the population must be mobilized, in housewives’ committees, tenants’ committees, etc. Yet the leading role must be played by the Negro workers in the community. They are the ones most accustomed to struggle. They are the ones most closely knit by proletarian solidarity. They are the ones who can conduct these community struggles with the best possibility of local success and at the same time with the best opportunity to link them up with the great struggle of the proletariat on which we all depend.

With the abolition of all serious attempts at price control, the class struggle in the country moves into a new stage. Negroes have the best of reasons to recognize organized labor as the present leader of the nation out of the mess into which ’’free enterprise” has placed it.

Last updated on 8 July 2019