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Mary Bell

Picketing Forces Conference
on Jobs for Negro Women

(27 July 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 30, 27 July 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

AKRON – After picketing a week and two days before the U.S. Employment Bureau, the group of Negro women fighting for jobs in industry was promised complete cooperation by W.D. Westenbarger, supervisor of the bureau.

Westenbarger told the group that a meeting of heads of unions, leaders of industry and government officials would be called within ten or fifteen days to thrash out the problems of Negro employment and those of various alien and age groups.

While picketing has ceased, pending the outcome of this conference, thousands of leaflets are being distributed to call further public attention to the universal discrimination against Negro women in industry. Petitions are being circulated and additional leaflets are being prepared for direct distribution to factory workers.

One mass meeting has been held, sponsored by various Negro organizations and at which a representative of the CIO Council labor supply committee appeared.

Boss Prejudice

While it took the militant action of Negro women pickets to force the government-labor-industry conference to recognize their grievance, the problem is really simple to solve. A huge demand for labor in the Akron war factories exists. Newspaper and industrial heads moan about a “labor shortage”in the face of people who are forced to picket, distribute leaflets and hold meetings, demanding the right to be trained and to work! The only thing which prevents these Negroes from being employed is the prejudice of bosses against the color of their skin.

While these Negro women have been admitted to the Hower Trade School (machine shops), this school pays no wage at all during the six weeks’ training period and guarantees no job after the training has been completed. Consequently, Negro women who registered there were forced to drop out of the school. Negro workers come from the lowest income group, and it is impossible for them to sustain themselves during a long training period, consequently they are forced back into domestic work with its near-starvation wages.

Demands for Conference

The demands which Negro representatives should make of the coming conference are clear:

  1. Open the trade schools – Goodyear Aircraft particularly, because the greatest demand for labor is there – to Negro women.
  2. A union rate of pay while attending the school. This will eliminate the widespread practice of keeping trainees in the school longer than necessary at lower wages than they would be paid on the actual job.
  3. Prompt transfer of trainees at the end of training period to an industrial job, in order of seniority, with no discrimination because of color or sex.

Circulate petition

The Negro people are elsewhere on the move in Akron. The following petition is being distributed by employees of the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.:

“We, the undersigned, say that the Negro Firestone employees be allowed to eat in the plant cafeterias, without being subjected to coercion and threats by the foremen. Under the deplorable conditions which now exist colored employees are forced to eat in locker rooms and in toilets, facilities which are intolerable to self-respecting citizens of a democracy. If a plant ruling exists which stipulates that Negroes must eat in separate quarters – although they may die together with whites on the same battlefield – it is unknown to us, but if it does exist, we protest it as a policy in opposition to the wishes of our President, in violation of our country’s laws and in direct contradiction to the purposes for which this war is being fought.”

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Last updated: 13 September 2014