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The Militant, 31 January 1949

Joseph Andrews

Negroes and the CIO

From The Militant, Vol. 13 No. 5, 31 January 1949, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A few weeks ago The Militant carried a small Item pointing out that an anti-discrimination committee set up by the United Steel Workers, CIO, has never been convened. It was a case of a mere gesture by Philip Murray to placate those who demanded a real fight for Negro equality in the steel industry.

The fate of this committee, which exists in name only, calls attention to the true condition of Negroes in the CIO.

A myth has grown in the labor movement that Negroes have found equality in the CIO. This myth is prevalent among trade union functionaries, rank and file white workers, liberals and even some revolutionists – but not among the Negro workers. The myth is based upon the fact that unlike most AFL unions, the CIO in the process of organizing on industrial lines, gave Negro workers full union membership in the formal sense. Millions of Negroes were recruited into the CIO. They vote as other members. They even hold office. They are rarely, if ever, segregated in separate locals, as in many AFL Unions.

In that limited sense the Negro workers have, moved forward. They are organized in large numbers in the CIO, and are therefore in a position to fight.

But there is no equality for Negroes, even in the CIO. They do not have full status as CIO members, in the basic sense of that word.

If Negroes were truly equal in the CIO, they would have job equality. This equality exists only in the rare CIO local union. In the CIO unions generally the Negro workers still are confined to the dirtiest, low paid and undesirable jobs. This discrimination persists despite. seniority provisions in local union contracts which, if enforced, would make it mandatory to give Negroes preference in job openings on the basis of length of company service. Almost everywhere, union leaders overlook this contract provision when it comes to Negroes.

One of the most democratic of CIO unions, the United Rubber Workers, is a case in point. A Negro has never built tires in the rubber industry. This is considered a preferred production job in rubber since it pays $2 an hour or more, well above rubber wage averages.

During World War II when a genuine shortage of tire builders developed, women were trained to build small passenger tires. But when Negroes attempted to learn this job, they were rebuffed by management and by the union leadership as well.

One Negro I know working for a rubber company, with almost 20 years seniority, is still picking up and cleaning spittoons. Three-fourths of the tire builders in that plant have less seniority than he.

Revolutionary militants must not allow the fact that Negroes are afforded membership in the CIO to close their eyes to the ugly facts. It is incumbent upon them to insist upon full equality, which must begin with job equality.

Philip Murray and other top CIO figures, who speak much about civil rights for Negroes, reveal the hollowness of their program by their failure to lead the fight in their own back yards.

Jim Crow flourishes not only in the South, and in the shadow of the White House in Washington, D.C.; he still moves freely on the home grounds of the labor bureaucracy.

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