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Ria Stone

Jim-Crow Menaces White as Well as Negro Labor

The Place of the Negro Worker Is in the Labor Movement –
All Workers, Black or White, Must Stand Against the Boss

(August 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 32, 10 August 1942, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In recent weeks there have been dramatic demonstrations almost daily of the race supremacy rule of the South which Negroes have for many decades experienced as part of the American capitalist way of life.

First, the legal murder of Odell Waller.

Then Willie Vinson, suspected of attacking a white woman, was lynched in Texas, because, as members of the lynch mob said:

This town’s been needing a good lynching for a long time. Guilty or not, any n——r ought to be lynched for even looking at a white woman.”

Next, a Negro soldier was brutally beaten by military police in the Southern Pacific railroad station of Houston, Texas, because he dared to enter the white waiting room.

The same week, in Flagstad, Arizona, another Negro soldier was shot to death. The mob responsible for the murder had been summoned by the local sheriff, who said:

We’ve got to work together to stop these n——rs from trying to drink and eat in our restaurants.”

All these atrocities are not “incidents” but part of the Hitlerite methods by which the ruling class in the South desperately seeks to perpetuate its “American way of life” – a way of life which depends upon the economic and social degradation of the Negro masses. Proof that the authorities not only sanction but encourage the perpetuation of this system is found in their own words.

Mayor Caldwell of Shreveport, La., recently refused a federal grant to build a much-needed public health project which required skilled Negro labor. His explanation:

The white people of the South will never be bribed by grants or otherwise into accepting the Negro as an equal upon any basis, and before the city of Shreveport will be high-pressured into using Negro labor, we will reject the proffered grant of $67,500.”

Governor Dixon of Alabama has similarly rejected a war contract for Alabama cotton mills because the contract specifies no discrimination in the hiring of workers. Dixon described the non-discriminatory clause as a technique “to break down the principle of segregation of races, to force Negroes and white people to work together, intermingle with each other and even to bring about a situation where white employees will have to work under Negroes!”

Moreover; it is rumored that the much-protested Higgins shipyard cancellation was due to the fact that 50 per cent of the employees were Negroes doing the same work and receiving the same pay as white workers – an equality repulsive to the Southern Bourbons, even though the workers were segregated into units which competed against one another.

The intentions of the Dardens (governor of Virginia, where Waller was killed), the Dixons, the Caldwells, the Higginses, are all cut from the same cloth: Don’t yield an inch to the Negroes. Don’t let Negro workers get decent wages; don’t let them work alongside of whites, where they learn working class solidarity.

Promises and Realities

In the face of such outspokenly vicious and constant discrimination and oppression, is there any wonder that Negro workers in the South are attracted to other parts of the country which appear to offer greater opportunities? But do they fare any better elsewhere?

In California, workers were imported from the South, 98 per cent of them Negroes, for work on the Southern Pacific tracks. No decent housing was provided for the workers, and excessive meal and housing payments were deducted from their wage of only 40 cents an hour.

In the East, Negro track workers are transported daily from New York to New Jersey by ferry and then herded into box cars for rides of 20 miles or more to their places of work. They ride fifty to a car with no toilet facilities and only one small window. When sixty of the workers, unable to endure the “Black Calcutta” conditions of the box car, sought to ride in the passenger trains, the supervisor issued an order to all foremen saying:

Anyone caught riding passenger trains, instead of the modoc (box car) will be dismissed from the service immediately. Get this across to these Negroes and make them understand they must stay off of passenger trains.”

To cities, where there is a shortage of domestic help, employers seek to lure Negro Southern women, promising them good homes, light work, and high wages. One Negro woman Worker who borrowed railroad fare for such a job in New York was put to work the same day she arrived, cooking, washing, cleaning and caring for two children from 6.00 a.m. to 10 p.m. She was not permitted even to leave the house, and was fired when she dared to do so, being paid off $2.50 for three days’ work (48 hours at five cents an hour!).

Given Worst Jobs

Today, to Northern rural areas, where there is a labor shortage-, landowners and farmers seek to lure Southern Negro workers, promising them wages of $8.00 to $10 a day, which obviously don’t materialize. An effort is apparently being made, through the U.S. Employment Services in the South and North alike to force Negro workers into migratory agricultural jobs. The method employed is denying them industrial jobs which are more stable and where they could learn the need of organization and working class solidarity much more quickly.

Throughout the country, North and South alike, the bosses continue to give the Negro workers the dirtiest and more insecure jobs. They try to keep them the most oppressed section of the working class, utilizing them to alleviate the shortage of domestic, unskilled and agricultural workers, regardless of their skills and previous training.

Unless all workers through their organizations make a determined effort to combat these methods of the ruling class by integrating Negro workers into the working class movement, they may find the same conditions of working class division confronting them after this war as after the last war.

At that time, Negro workers who had left the rural and urban districts of the South, hoping for decent industrial jobs elsewhere, found themselves confronted with Jim Crow conditions in the North as well (the dirtiest work, segregation into black ghettos, etc.). Is there any wonder, therefore, that there were race riots in 1919-21 as millions of demobilized soldiers came back from the war, competing even for these miserable jobs? Is there any wonder that employers found it possible to get Negro workers to act as strike-breakers against other workers who had made no effort to bring the Negroes into the labor movement on an equal basis?

Belong in Labor Movement

These are very real problems not only to Negro workers but to all workers, and the answer lies in the organized action of the labor movement and of all workers. The unions must undertake organization of the South so that all workers, Negro and white alike, can carry out militant action – supported by the organized workers of the whole country – against the Southern employers and officials who viciously refuse contracts rather than give the Negro workers skilled jobs.

Industrial workers of the North and South, through their unions, should act to force Jim Crow employers to let down the race barriers so that Negro workers can get industrial jobs. Negro industrial workers in their communities should join in and direct such movements as the March on Washington movement. This movement is engaged in fighting Jim Crow in industry but needs to be pressed to such militant actions as picketing the United States Employment Service offices and Jim Crow plants to force them to hire Negro industrial workers.

Organize Migratory Workers

Where Negro (and white) workers find themselves compelled to take insecure and transitory agricultural jobs, despite their preference for domestic work, the agricultural unions now in the field (UCAPAWA, STFU, etc.) should undertake responsibility to organize them immediately into unions on the job. By this means they will be able to provide the necessary wage standards and working conditions for these migratory workers. And they will prevent a lowering of the standards of the organized agricultural workers which would inevitably follow if the transitory workers remain unorganized.

The ability of the IWW in the days of the First World War to organize successfully the varieties of migratory labor, even for short periods, shows that this can be done. Also, the recent struggle of the sharecroppers in Southeast Missouri, who are likewise seasonal workers, demonstrate that great strides can be made by initiative, solidarity and determined methods.

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