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Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

“Labor with a White Skin Cannot Emancipate Itself Where Labor with a Black Skin Is Branded.” – Karl Marx.

(14 December 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 50, 14 December 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Hampton Institute Conference

To understand what happened at the much publicized Conference on the Participation of the Negro in National Defense, held last week at Hampton Institute, Va., it is necessary to understand the reason the conference was held and the things it set out to do.

As a full page advertisement of the Institute put it, “Defense Conference Marks New Era. Symbolic of a new era ahead for Hampton was the two-day conference ... Nationally known authorities, both Negro and white, concentrated their thoughts on specific programs of both immediate and long time value on how the Negro may best serve the country in the interests of total defense and national unity. Their discussions covered comprehensive subjects – Military and Naval Defense, Industry, Family Life, Labor. The Consumer, Youth, Education, Business, The Press, Morale and Mental Hygiene, Agriculture, Public Health, Housing, Recreation and Religion ...”

It should be clear from the above statement that these “nationally known authorities” were interested in “serving the country” – i.e., the bosses of this country – not in serving the interests. of the Negro people who get such a raw deal in this country.

That the government itself did not see in this body any serious threat to its publicly announced and carefully worked out policies of Jim Crowism in the armed forces was made clear in the statement of Roosevelt himself, the author and executor of these policies:

“It is heartening to know that in this time of stress and strain, when the whole nation is engaged in a mighty effort to gird itself against any challenge which a mad world may hurl at it, you ... are to hold a two-day conference on the participation of the Negro in national defense ... There could be no finer manifestation of the loyalty of the Negro, no more fitting rededication of himself to the cause of America, than the conference which you are holding.”

This is Roosevelt’s nice and flowery way of saying: Go ahead, hold your conference, it will be heartening to me because by and large what you will do will help to get the Negroes to support my war program.

Whitewashing the Bosses

The highlight of a speech by Aubrey Williams was an attempt to set the Negro against the trade union movement:

“Look at the Negro in the labor field. Negro youth is faced with the same difficulties that white youth faces, but added to these are the prejudiced barriers set up by many employees and the discriminatory practices set up by the labor and trade unions. What is the result? Only 2% get skilled jobs as against 8% for white youth – less than 10% get semi-skilled jobs against 20% for white youth. And when they do get full-time jobs, the Negro youth averages 49 hours a week for a wage of $8.75, while the white youth averages 44 hours for a wage of $15.71.”

Williams thus places the full blame for industrial discrimination against Negroes on the union movement as such, without bothering to indicate that this is not true of the CIO movement, and not true about many AFL unions. In this way, he whitewashes the forces chiefly responsible for discrimination in industry: the bosses who own and control the factories that Jim Crow or exclude colored workers. And he whitewashes the government which, if it wanted to, could easily have passed a law denying war contracts to those factories that discriminate against Negroes.

Yes, some trade union leaders are guilty of Jim Crowism, and we of the Socialist Workers Party have pointed out again and again that this can be corrected only by persistent and organized action of the progressive white and Negro members of the union movement.

Williams has a lot of nerve talking about someone else when he himself enforces a policy of segregation in the NYA, of which he is administrator, a policy which sets up “white projects” and “Negro projects” and does not permit mixing of the two races on any NYA project, even in the North where many of the white and Negro youth whom he separates used to attend school together.

“The Nationally Known Authorities”

As for the round-table sessions of the “authorities,” they were not much better.

As an example, consider the “authorities” scheduled to sit and solve the problems of the Negro on “Industry and Labor”:

One administrative assistant of the National Defense Advisory Commission; one superintendent of the Ford Industrial School; one director of the Department of Social Sciences, Fisk University; one representative of Hampton Institute; three officials of the Urban League; one race relations officer, Personnel Division, Federal Works Agency; and one representative of the Bureau of Employment Security.

That means: zero representatives of the trade union movement, and zero working men or women, present.

Yet, whatever else it might do or avoid doing, however much it might desire to curry favor with Roosevelt, there was one thing this conference could not avoid doing, and which served to expose Roosevelt: it had to adopt a resolution opposing Roosevelt’s anti-Negro policy in the armed forces and to ask for an end to certain phases of policy. It wasn’t a very strong resolution; on the contrary, it was weak, inadequate and vague – but it shows up Roosevelt because he will not end Jim Crow in the armed forces.

(Another article on the Hampton Conference will appear next week.)/p>

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