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Harry Allen

FEPC Accomplishes Little

Organized Mass Pressure Only Effective Way to Smash Jim Crow

(December 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 52, 28 December 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In June 1941, under the threat of a mass march on Washington by the Negroes, President Roosevelt set up the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). Great hopes were placed in it by Negro organizations who saw in its establishment evidence of the Roosevelt Administration’s good faith in seeking to break down Jim Crow. At the beginning, the FEPC carried through some investigations and publicized the problem to some extent; it exposed some of the many firms that flagrantly practice Jim Crow.

On July 30, 1942, President Roosevelt, despite protests from Negro and labor bodies, transferred and subordinated the FEPC to the War Manpower Commission. The excuse he gave, that the WMC offered greater administrative possibilities for suggesting the hiring of Negroes, could not disguise for one moment the fact that his action was a slap in the face of the Negroes.

When Roosevelt transferred the FEPC to the WMC, it became dependent on Congress for funds to carry but its work. The FEPC complains it has neither funds nor adequate personnel to pursue its work. The budget provides but small funds for this committee. The huge bloc of reactionary Southern congressmen – bitterly hostile to the Negro, and determined to prevent, in any way possible, open agitation or hearings in Southern cities on Negro discrimination – have stood resolute against any instrument (FEPC) or proposals (poll-tax abolition) aimed at breaking down Jim Crow in any degree.

FEPC Is Weak Sop

Roosevelt’s control of Congress (especially with today’s slim Democratic majority) depends largely on these Southern congressmen. Roosevelt, therefore, makes the necessary concessions – to the Southern congressmen, not to the Negro masses. Thus Roosevelt is directly responsible for the lifeless condition of even this very meager sop – the FEPC. The FEPC, according to a recent Washington dispatch, “for months has been virtually without power to investigate an avalanche of complaints of discrimination against Negroes” in obtaining jobs. Today it is making “a last-ditch fight for its existence.” (New York Post)

Negro organizations, such as the NAACP, National Urban League, March on Washington Committee, etc., which refuse to exert mass pressure on the government and on employers, since that would “embarrass” Roosevelt, have begged for “teeth” to be put into the FEPC. But they themselves are not clear as to what these “teeth” are. The fact is, incisive power for the FEPC depends on exposure, investigations, mass public opinion, etc., directed against Jim Crow.

Complaints and charges of Jim Crow have flooded the FEPC from all over the country. For the past several months large numbers of charges relating to the failure to employ Negroes on the railroads have reached the FEPC, forcing it to announce that it would hold hearings on December 7, 8 and 9. From New York City alone over 1,000 complaints charging discrimination against Negroes, Jews, Italians and others have been received. But the FEPC has continued helpless and floundering.

Organize Public Trials!

Negro organizations or groups must take open cognizance of these grievances in a direct and cumulative manner! Through the Negro and white press, through the action of the many Negro organizations, and through the issuance of special leaflets they must announce that PUBLIC HEARINGS ON DISCRIMINATION will be held by their organizations.

The March on Washington Committee, the NAACP and other Negro organizations ought, jointly or singly, to hire halls, and then call upon the Negro workers to come and state specifically how they have been Jim Crowed in trying to get jobs, or Jim Crowed on the job. Churches and other Negro institutions can be asked to give their halls for such public hearings and trials.

PUBLIC TRIALS must be held of those responsible for Jim Crow. Let juries, witnesses and judges be selected from those who will attend these gatherings. Let them sit and pass judgment on the iniquities of Jim Crow; and, more significantly, endeavor to examine the basic causes and cure for discrimination, segregation, etc.

Let the Negro organizations invite white workers and labor unions to these meetings and trials, and give them the opportunity to say what they are ready to do to aid the Negroes in smashing Jim Crow.

Let the proceedings of these assemblages be widely and dramatically publicized both before and after the meetings. Send reports of such proceedings to the LABOR UNION PRESS particularly.

Let elected representatives of these open trials and hearings be delegated to go to union meetings and request the opportunity to address the local unions and central bodies on what the Negroes are endeavoring to do to break down Jim Crow, to obtain jobs, and so on.

Develop Mass Pressure

Such PUBLIC HEARINGS by the Negro masses are only one form of the necessary mass pressure on the bosses and government. Out of them will follow other forms of mass pressure on a wider scale – such as mass marches on city halls and factories; mass picketing of Jim Crow factories, etc. These kinds of hearings and actions, initiated and stemming directly from the masses, will prove a hundred times more effective in the struggle against Jim Crow than occasional, arbitrary and limited hearings by the FEPC or other government agencies. Moreover, it will establish who is with the Negroes, and who is against them.

Such public hearings are one task which the Negro masses themselves can undertake and demand of the leaders in their organizations.

Moreover, the white workers too must now intervene more actively against Jim Crow. First, by forcing changes wherever necessary in their own unions (for example, the boilermakers and machinists in the AFL) to cease Jim Crow practices on membership rights and on jobs.

In the attitude reflected in the resolution on Jim Crow, adopted by the recent CIO convention, denouncing racial and religious discrimination, is provided an effective weapon in cracking Jim Crow, provided, of course, such resolutions are implemented by the unions and on the jobs by militant action whenever necessary to compel employers to hire and utilize Negroes on an equal basis.

Further, as the white workers entirely eliminate Jim Crow in their organizations and combat Jim Crow by the bosses, then the Negro masses will see in the labor movement their real ally against Jim Crow and all exploitation. Then there will be no looking to “white hope” Administrations or to feeble FEPCs. Only thus will the Negroes realize that the LABOR road is the road to victory against Jim Crow.

The magazine, Survey Graphic, in its study of the race issue in its November number, calls its article, The Unfinished Business of Democracy. But capitalist democracy is both unwilling and incapable of doing or finishing this job. For capitalism does not extend the basic economic and democratic rights of the masses in this epoch, but rigidly regulates, limits and, when necessary, does away with them. The race problem is labor’s problem – yes, “The Unfinished Business of Labor.”

Since the above was written, the FEPC has announced that, after long months of stagnation and inaction, it plans hearings on discrimination in Detroit, St. Louis, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

A flood of charges of discrimination against Negroes in war plants and industry generally has at last resulted in FEPC obtaining some funds, far short of its request, to reopen its work for a brief while in a few localities.

Note that the cities listed for hearings DO NOT INCLUDE SOUTHERN CITIES! Is this another deal of the Administration with the Southern Democrats?

At the same time it is announced that the hearings scheduled after long delay on Negro discrimination on the railroads have been postponed still further, from December 7 to January 25, 1943.

As to enforcement of past FEPC rulings, L.W. Cramer, executive secretary of the FEPC, stated that “no comprehensive picture was yet available.”

The delay and slowness in FEPC efforts, while hundreds of thousands of Negro men and women continue to be victims of Jim Crow, only lend emphasis to the imperative necessity for independent public hearings and militant mass actions by the Negroes themselves, aided by white workers, to smash Jim Crow.

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