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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.

(28 December 1940)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 52, 28 December 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Courier Conference

The Pittsburgh Courier recognized, before the Hampton Institute conference was over, that nothing was going to come out of it that would be worth two beans in the struggle against Jim Crow in the army.

Evidently, then, at the last minute, the Courier, trying to salvage something out of the mess and to utilize the wide publicity the Hampton meeting got, decided to hold its own conference on the same subject, and there presumably take the steps rejected by Hampton. That was why this second conference, “called and sponsored” by the Courier, was called to order in Washington three days after the Hampton conference.

The overwhelming majority at Hampton seemed to be government job-holders and teachers or professors – what George Schuyler described as “soft-handed, well-groomed, cultured, income-tax-paying pillars-of-society.” This was a very fitting description – but it fits the composition of the Courier conference just as well.

The Who’s Who in the Courier lists 41 names, and gives information about 31. Of these 31, 19 are either government job-holders, or teachers or professors. All “soft-handed,” that is, not a worker in the crowd. In addition, most of them had also been at the Hampton conference.

Nor is the resolution of the second conference much better than that of the first. True, its language is sharper, more vigorous, more direct. Its position is less ambiguous, although it too does not name names or place the responsibility for the present state of things where it belongs. It also fails to take up the question of Roosevelt’s “separate regiment” policy by name, only hinting at it.

It certainly is not a revolutionary solution. And yet there is signed to it the name of George Schuyler who, in criticizing the Hampton Conference, said that only a revolutionary approach can solve the Negro’s problems. Instead of being revolutionary, as a matter of fact, it contains a section just as harmful to the Negro as anything pulled off at Hampton.

Not a Pro-Labor Resolution

That is the section dealing with labor, which calls on the government to investigate labor unions which by constitutional or ritualistic provisions bar Negroes from getting jobs. The Courier makes still clearer what is meant when it says, “we call upon the Attorney-General of the United States to prosecute these racketeering unions under the provisions of that (Sherman Anti-Trust) law.”

That is, the conference called on the government to end Jim Crowism in the unions, the very same government that shows its approval of Jim Crowism as a principle by its handling of the Negro in the armed forces!

Let us see what the Courier’s proposal would accomplish:

  1. It will give the government (which dislikes both the unions and the Negroes) a handle to enter and break up the unions. Will this be in the interests of the Negro people – or in the interests of the ruling capitalist class (“the very people who keep race prejudice alive”, as Schuyler put it)?
  2. It will give reactionary, lily white trade union leaders a handle to incite white workers against the Negroes, for they will be able to say, “Do you see now why we want to keep Negroes out of our unions? Because they are our enemies and are calling on the government to prosecute us and break us up.” Will this be in the interests of the Negro people – or in the interests of the reactionaries who want to keep Negroes out of the trade unions?

The one point that distinguished the Courier resolution at Hampton was the following:

“That Negroes in each community immediately proceed to the organization of a Defense Committee, composed of representatives of local organizations ... to cooperate with the central Committee in Washington, D.C., and with the local authorities.” Said the Courier: “Once these organizations have united it is proposed that they, hold huge defense mass meetings ... Representatives from these united organizations would be selected to attend” another conference planned for Washington in January shortly after the next Congress opens.”

This means that the Courier recognizes that action is necessary against the Jim Crow system in the army, and that action by the local organizations, that is, by the masses, is necessary. Insofar as the resolution draws attention to these things, it serves the interests of the Negro people.

But just because real action is necessary, the section of the resolution on the trade unions must be condemned, because it weakened if it didn’t destroy, the possibility of including the trade unions in the united front.

The main objection to be made against both the Courier and Hampton conferences, is that, while both ask for the correction of certain Jim Crow evils, they propose to leave the control of military training in the hands of the lily-white officer caste.

It is already a law that there shall be no discrimination in the armed forces – but since control of military training is in the hands of a military and governmental caste that wants to perpetuate Jim Crowism, discrimination goes on.

The National Defense Commission has already laid down the ruling that there must be no discrimination because of race or color in the factories getting war contracts, but because the bosses, who profit from racial division, control both the factories and the Defense Commission, discrimination goes on.

What is needed therefore is a system of trade union control of military training, to put control of it in the hands of the workers who have nothing to gain from discrimination. What is needed in addition is expropriation Of the war industries and their operation under workers’ control to put an end to discrimination in industry./p>

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