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Harry Allen

Jim Crow Still Rules Industry

(February 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 7, 15 February 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

More jobs have been opened to Negroes because of the need for labor. Nevertheless, job bias – racial discrimination, – on jobs open to Negroes persists strongly.

Even where job discrimination is itself weakened, segregation continues in the communities and frequently in the factories – in fact, it is sometimes aggravated. There are, for example, plants opened on a Jim Crow basis, such as Sun Shipbuilding in Philadelphia. On the labor front, the formation of Jim Crow unions (such as the boiler makers in Portland, Ore.) likewise fosters the spirit of Jim Crow.

However, a better perspective on the struggles ahead can be obtained from figures on Negro and white occupations up to March 1940. The vast extent of Jim Crow stands out glaringly.

Hardest Work for Negroes

Farmers, farm laborers and other laborers made up 62.2 per cent of all employed Negro men, according to the Bureau of the Census, Department of Commerce. White workers, however, in these occupations were only 28.5 per cent of all white employed workers. These figures reveal that the Negroes performed the hardest and heaviest unskilled work, far out of proportion to their numbers as compared; with; whites.

However, the opposite proportions are shown in the figures for professional, managerial and white collar jobs. For example, Negroes in these fields constituted a mere 5 per cent of all Negroes employed, as against 20 per cent of all employed whites.

Moreover, discrimination carried over into the skilled trades, where the “aristocracy of labor” in the AFL building trades, etc., aped the white bosses, and excluded Negroes from the craft. unions. Hence, while 15.6 per cent of all employed white workers held the skilled and higher paid jobs in these trades, only 4.4 per cent of all employed Negroes held such jobs.

Differences of even greater degree showed themselves between the occupations of Negro and white women. For example, 70 per cent of all employed Negro women were engaged in the service occupations, whereas the percentage for white women was only 22.4 per cent.

Further, of all the employed white women, 33 per cent held clerical and sales jobs, but only 1 per cent of employed Negro women held such jobs! Similar extreme divergences are shown in the figures of white and Negro women workers on the farms, in the factories, and so forth.

Bitter Struggle to Achieve Rights

Thus, clearly, the Negro people have always been restricted either in obtaining jobs at all, or in getting jobs commensurate with their skills, knowledge and ability.

There have been important changes since the war. However, the major task for Negroes remains: to achieve equal opportunities and equal rights in all fields of endeavor. Toward this end, only the labor movement is capable of rendering the necessary effective assistance and pressure to break down the Jim Crow practices of the bosses.

The interests of the ruling bourgeoisie have always been in dividing white and Negro workers on color lines. Wherever the opportunity is open, they do so, to the detriment of both white and Negro workers. They will only make concessions when forced to. The same situation and problem hold true essentially with regard to the Jews, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and other racial minorities.

Widespread Discrimination Continues

Negroes correctly point to widespread discrimination in various parts of the country. They see the need of being on guard and girding themselves for future struggles. A few varied examples suffice to show the generally prevailing situation. Thus:

In the Sunny South

In the South, extreme discrimination continues. Where Negroes are given jobs, they receive the very poorest; or else do the same jobs as white workers at considerably less pay.

In Tennessee, for instance, the powder plant at Millington, near Memphis, the shell loading plant at Milan, the Fisher Body Aircraft plant and the Army Depot employ thousands of Negroes now. The wage differential between Negro and white workers, however; for both skilled and unskilled labor, is great. Doing the same work or more than the white workers, they receive less money.

Moreover, the fact that these are war industries having government contracts has not for one moment stopped this discrimination against Negroes. The Administration knows how to keep peace with the Southern Bourbons while at the same time making verbal or, minor concessions to the Negroes.

In Alabama, Negroes, are flagrantly discriminated against in industry – in the shipyards, army airports, etc. In the shipyards, the Negroes are not even promised up-grading. Again, either the Negroes are not given the skilled jobs; or where they are, they must work at less pay. Thus, the Black Despatch (Oklahoma City) cites many such instances in regard to boiler makers, electricians, caulkers and riveters, painters, welders, sheet metal workers, burners, lay-out crews, etc. Innumerable additional citations could be given for other trades.

Therefore, what the Negroes see in all this is the same old Jim Crow. The attitude that prevails toward the Negro in the South is summed up in the statement of the director of vocational training in Georgia, explaining why Negroes are not even given a training program: “The need for these men as workers has not been established. It would be a waste of public money to train them.”

Can Smash Jim Crow

Thus, the pattern of Jim Crow remains. It is the mold that must be destroyed, and a new pattern created. Again, the answer lies in the drawing together of white and black workers in mutual understanding and effort against the Jim Crow ruling class and exploiters. In the recognition of the special status and problem of the Negroes as a race, as well as in seeing the working class problem common to both white and black workers, is to be found the key to effective struggle against Jim Crow.

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