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Harry Allen

Job Freezing Order Double Menace for Negro Workers

(January 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 1, 4 January 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Perilous and hazardous as is the situation for the mass of workers under the government decree “freezing labor” (that is, under the dictatorial powers given to Paul McNutt, through Roosevelt’s order, to transfer and place workers wherever he sees fit), the situation and prospects facing the mass of Negroes are triply menacing.

Of the workers still unemployed, despite the increase in employment in war industries, an overwhelming number are Negroes. The fact that such unemployment still exists is in itself evidence that the need for freezing labor does not flow from a labor shortage.

“Frozen” at Lowest Jobs

Nearly three million Negroes are today employed at work and skills tar below their qualifications, declares a statement recently issued by the United States Employment Service.

The “freezing” order can be used as an additional excuse for keeping the Negro workers in their lowly and low-paid jobs. It can therefore have the effect of “freezing” inequality and low living standards for the duration.

Now, concretely, how do these effects of “freezing,” actual or potential, exhibit themselves in the day-to-day life of the Negroes?

1. On the urban transportation lines (street car, elevated, etc.) in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington and other cities, Negro workers have vainly endeavored “to obtain skilled jobs as conductors, motormen, etc.

FEPC remedial rulings – for example, in Washington, D.C. – have been rejected by the companies. (FEPC is today under McNutt’s jurisdiction.) The companies, standing pat on their Jim Crow policies, may now claim that the “frozen labor” ruling allows no “tampering” with the present job status of the Negroes. Are their unskilled jobs “frozen” for the duration?

2. Skilled Negro riveters, chippers and caulkers (war industry work) have been advised by Birmingham, Ala., officials of the USES to take jobs as cooks on sugar cane plantations.

The USES not only proposes freezing these skilled workers into another (lower paid) trade, but tells them to move from their city homes to plantations. Thus the USES (also under McNutt’s jurisdiction), in proposing that these skilled workers be transferred – “frozen” – into another, lower paid trade, reflects the Jim Crow pressure of the Southern ruling class on the government agency.

3. Pullman porters, well educated and equipped, today remain classed as porters and are not given the opportunity to advance to the rating, pay or class of conductors. Moreover, Negro workers are held to the lowest jobs and pay throughout the railroad industry, certainly a war industry today.

While Negro organizations for a long time have been making demands on the railroads (today, also through FEPC) for improvement in the status of Negro rail workers, the question still stands: Are porters and Negro railroad workers in general now to be frozen for the period of the war?

Trained – But Refused Jobs

4. Negro men and women trained for jobs in Detroit plants – such as Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Chrysler, Hudson, Briggs Mfg., Fisher Body and others – have been refused work. Those refused include men and women who had received their training in the very plants that denied them work! A survey reveals that no less than 170 major Detroit war factories decline to employ Negroes.

Note that Detroit is the first major city where McNutt proposes workers shall stay put at their present jobs. This makes “strike three!” against Negro men and women who are refused work in a city where, according to the government and employ – ers, there is a shortage of labor! Further, it is particularly worth noting that of 57,500 women at present working in Detroit war plants, less than 100 are Negro women!

In view of the direct statements of officials of Locals 400 and 600, United Automobile Workers, CIO, that: the “UAW Welcomes Negro workers into its ranks and today has 60,000 Negro members, many of whom hold official positions in their unions,” the responsibility for refusing to employ additional thousands of Negro men and women in Detroit clearly lies with the Jim Crow employers and the government.

Training Also Barred

5. With millions of Negroes ready to be trained for jobs or for better jobs, what has actually happened? They are even being deprived, in important instances, of the opportunity for training.

The War Shipping Administration, under the’direction of Admiral Emory S. (”Shoot Organizers”) Land, has been barring Negroes from the Gallups Island Radio School, which trains officers for the Merchant Marine in Boston harbor.

In Washington, D.C. the War Manpower Commission (of which McNutt has been chairman from its inception) through its Service Center refuses on racial grounds to accept Negro women into its training classes for work in an aircraft manufacturing company.

In the South, discrimination is direct, as is indicated by the closing down of many government training centers in Sputhern citiey on the ground that Negroes are barred from skilled jobs in Southern industries anyhow. In the North, discrimination on racial grounds is often more

subtle in withholding skilled jobs: sometimes the training is even given; but no: jobs are provided. In either case the results for the Negroes are the same: ZERO!

1A for Asking Better Job

6. The fear and threat of draft re-classification is very real to Negro workers who want to be “upgraded” to better jobs. Note, as an example, the case of Leonard D. Smith, Oklahoma City, Okla., classified as a laborer and employed at the Oklahoma City Air Depot.

He applied for a job as an electrical helper. Instead of receiving promotion, he was fired. Three days later he was reclassified by his draft board from 3A to 1A!

At the office of his job, the air depot, he had previously been advised that he could continue as a laborer for the duration, but should remember: “air base authorities worked in close cooperation with the draft board.”

For every blow struck at white workers by the bosses, the Negro worker receives at least two, and often more. Hence, even as the threat of draft reclassification is held in general against workers who demand their rights, so too it is used against the Negro worker, only with less compunction or reservation.

Thus the masses of Negro workers find themselves in danger from every conceivable direction: no jobs at all; poor jobs out of which they cannot be “upgraded,” but must remain rooted or “frozen”; training for which they cannot receive commensurate jobs, if at all; danger of draft reclassification if they try to “upgrade” their jobs; loss of jobs through employer and government Jim Crow, etc.

Let no one be deceived by “token hirings” and “upgradings” in various plants to cover up gross discrimination against Negroes. The truth is that, apart from jobs created for Negroes through sheer necessity for more thorough prosecution of the war, the Negro masses have achieved no fundamental improvement in their status during the war. Such breaks as they have received, they will have to struggle to keep. What they nave not obtained they must continue to struggle for.

In fighting against “stabilization” of jobs or wages – or “freezing” of the status quo of any kind at the point where they work or seek work, Negroes are fighting for the very right to continue their struggles against degradation, oppression and exploitation.

The freezing of jobs is a measure that hits all workers, but most blatantly and particularly affects and concerns the Negro masses. Therefore both working class solidarity and necessity imperatively demand greater and more militant intervention by the unions to compel employers to hire and utilize Negroes on an equal basis.

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