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Ria Stone

An Analysis

The Program of the March
on Washington Committee

(July 1942)

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

The New York March on Washington Committee convened on Wednesday, June 24, to take stock with regard to the successful Madison Square Garden rally and its future perspectives in view of the militancy demonstrated by the Negro masses at the rally. At this meeting of the committee, the main question raised was: “Where do we go from here? The people in Madison Square Garden were waiting for a definite program of action and we have to give it to them.”

Although every speaker referred to the skit (which called for a march on Washington) as the high point of the rally, only one asserted that the leaders at the rally should have promised a March on Washington within ninety days if a substantial portion of the Negroes’ demands were not granted.

It is clear that the March on Washington Committee intends to keep the idea of an actual march on ice. Yet such a militant mass march is the one-Immediate action which would arouse all America to the grievances of the Negroes. To the Jim Crow employers and the government it would symbolize the rise of the new Negro who will not longer tolerate discrimination. And it would enlighten white workers as to their responsibilities in supporting a fight against the exploitation of the most oppressed group of workers in America.

The national March on Washington Committee has also held a mass demonstration in Chicago’s Coliseum and is planning a similar demonstration in Washington. In Washington, however, they have found the government unwilling even to grant them a meeting place. As President Ervin of the New York committee said: “We are going: down to Washington to fight everybody for a place to hold a meeting.” But why should only a few people go down to Washington? Negroes from all over the country should assemble in Washington to fight for this democratic right and all the other rights demanded by the eight-point program of the movement.

Democratic Rights Demanded

The eight-point program of the March on Washington movement demands that the government take the following steps:

  1. End discriminatory laws now on the statute books.
  2. Protect the lives of Negroes against lynching.
  3. Eliminate poll-tax restrictions on voting.
  4. End Jim Crow in the armed forces and in national defense.
  5. End Jim Crow in jobs and in job training. Put teeth into the FEPC.
  6. Stop feeding federal funds into Jim Crow federal agencies.
  7. Give Negroes representation on administrative agencies.
  8. Give Negroes representation at the peace conference.

Most of these demands ask for Negroes and other minority groups nothing more than their elementary democratic rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of the U.S. That Negroes now find it necessary to make these demands when America is presumably fighting a “war for democracy” abroad is sufficient proof that American “democracy” is, as A. Philip Randolph has said, “a miserable failure.”

Make Discrimination a Criminal Offense!

The eight-point program also proposes certain measures to enforce the demands for elementary democratic rights. In order to end discrimination in industry, it demands that teeth be put into the FEPC. To put teeth into the FEPC, why not make all discrimination in industry a criminal offense?

Fines for discrimination are not enough. The bosses’ pockets, bulging with war profits, can afford to pay fines. New York state has already passed a law making discrimination in industry a criminal offense. It remains to be seen whether this law will be enforced ... and there are still forty-seven other states in the Union.

The eight-point program also demands that Negroes be given representation on administrative bodies. It is comprehensible that Negroes, as a large minority group, could demand proportional representation as their democratic right. The Negroes naturally feel that only a Negro can really understand Jim Crow. They therefore expect men of their own race in the government to respond more quickly to their needs and demands as a race.

Negro Unionist Protests Half-Truths

However, Negroes must be wary of representation which is identified with them only in terms of color and not from the point of view of class interests. Especially is this caution necessary when such representation is achieved by appointment from above rather than through election by the Negroes themselves. All too often such appointments are made by the government only to pacify the resentment of the Negro masses by simply placing a colored face among the white faces which have been practicing Jim Crow.

For example, Dr. Robert C. Weaver’s position as Negro adviser in the Department of the Interior, the OPM, the WPB, the U.S. Housing Authority and most recently as director of a Negro division in the War Manpower Commission has been questioned by a Negro shop steward in the Colt Patent Firearms Co. of Hartford, Conn. This Negro unionist knows from personal experience that the Colt Co. not only continues to give its Negro employees the “hottest and dirtiest work” but also has refused pointblank to make the same provisions for training unskilled Negro workers as for white workers. Since Dr. Weaver has singled out the Colt company for applause, the shop steward correctly, concludes: “The good graces of Dr. Weaver’s office are being used to circulate half-truths and misinformation in order to turn the attention of the President’s FEPC and the public away from this area.” (Amsterdam Star-News, May 30)

Mass March Must Back Petition Campaign

One of the measures adopted by the March on Washington Committee to back up its demands is a petition campaign asking the President to use his war powers and issue a war proclamation incorporating the eight-point program. Everybody is to be asked to sign this petition, Jew and Gentile, white and black, leaders of labor, of education, of the church, of the government and of industry. The implied recognition that Jews and Gentiles, whites and blacks, can and will support the Negroes’ demands for democratic rights is significant. Even more desirable would be the March on Washington Committee’s calling upon the organizations of labor to support its campaign.

In calling upon the leaders of industry and of the government to sign this petition, however, the committee demonstrates that it is not fully conscious of the class origins of Jim Crow. It is not impossible that some industrialists and government spokesmen will sign this petition, for reasons of their own. Certainly, Eleanor Roosevelt can be expected to sign up. But will she not say, as she has said many times before, that the “national emergency” comes first and that the Negroes must wait until after the war to put pressure upon the government?

Protestations of sympathy from those who are part of the Jim Crow machinery of government are not enough; mere words and even signatures are cheap. The Jim Crow congressmen, the Southern bourbons and the employers who depend upon Jim Crow for their ability to continue exploitation need more than signatures and even monster petitions to frighten them into giving the Negro his democratic rights. Continued mass demonstrations culminating in a March on Washington must back up any petition campaign.

The plan of the New York March on Washington Committee is to maintain the organization by underwriting a headquarters for a year, establishing a four-page monthly paper and founding a forum next fall to discuss world events. These organizational plans of the MOWC, particularly the issuance of a regular publication and the establishment of a forum, are significant because they indicate that the movement is assuming a more permanent form.

Dissatisfaction with Leadership

There are signs, especially among the youth, of dissatisfaction, with certain undemocratic aspects of the leadership of the committee. One youth speaker protested against the censorship of the Madison Square Garden speeches by the program committee.

When Ervin, the chairman, announced that the next meeting would be July 29, more than a month away, so that the leaders could take vacations, there were murmurings of dissent in the crowd. A young man arose and said that July 29th was too long to wait, that he hadn’t had a vacation for years, and that JIM CROW NEVER TAKES A VACATION. He stated further that this was no time to hold back when the Negro people were waiting for a program of action. His remarks were greeted with applause and it was decided to have meetings regularly twice a month.

Another young man, a member of the speakers’ committee, arose at the end of the meeting and told how he had appointed himself special investigator of lily-white factories, demanding jobs for Negroes. His request for a committee to “march on these places and picket them” if they refused work to Negroes was accepted, not toy formal motion but by the signing up of many for this work. “If that is instigating,” he said, “I love instigating!”

The organizational plans of the March on Washington Committee and the militancy and eagerness for action among the youth, make this movement extremely significant. The leaders continue believing that pressure through petitions and periodic demonstrations will enlighten the government as to the demands of the Negro masses and bring about the required reforms. This pressure is necessary and must be maintained but it must be developed until it becomes a mass movement of militant Negroes marching upon Washington. However, in order to end Jim Crow and achieve their full democratic rights the Negro masses will have to take more fundamental measures which strike at the basic economic origins of race discrimination. They will have to understand first that Jim Crow discrimination arises from the efforts of the ruling capitalist class to maintain for itself a source of cheap labor.

They will have to understand that Washington is and will remain dominated by Jim Crow congressmen as long as the government serves the interests of this ruling class, which profits by exploiting labor and pitting one group of workers against another. They will then come to understand that their main allies against this ruling class are the workers of all colors and creeds who also must end the system of exploitation and competitive labor if they are to achieve security and happiness.

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