Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

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

(11 January 1941)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 5 No. 2, 11 January 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Struggle Against Jim Crow

Two of the most important questions facing the masses of Negroes today are:

  1. winning equal rights in the armed forces of the nation, where they are being Jim Crowed by the government, and
  2. getting jobs in the rapidly expanding war industries, from which they have been generally excluded by the bosses.

The first is as important as the second, if only because what is involved here is governmental endorsement of the principles of Jim Crow-ism, which can then be pointed to by the advocates of “white supremacy” as a pattern for all spheres of American life. But in an immediate sense, immediate sense, the second is more important in that today this question is agitating more of the Negro people.

And after all, look at what is going on, The whole economy of the nation is being shifted to a war basis. Production of all the great and important industries is being reorganized and expanded. The factories and machinery which the bosses kept idle for over ten years when people were starving are now being opened and put to use to produce the instruments of war. The bosses and their corporations are rolling in profits. The cost of living is going up for everyone, but so far most of the unions have managed to boost wages along accordingly, so that the standard of living of many of the white workers is no worse than it was before.

But where are the Negroes in this busy picture?

One industry after another bars them altogether from jobs that pay even a half-decent wage. They occupy only two kinds of jobs in the vast majority of the war industries that do hire them: in the menial, non-productive positions, or at the hardest and worst-paid laboring jobs. The cost of living is going up for them as well as others, but because they are excluded from the better-paying jobs in the strategic industries, their income isn’t able to keep up with it. The hullabaloo about the “end of unemployment” is being used as a good pretext in each state to slash the relief budget and the relief rolls far more sharply than ever before. Negroes who want to work and can’t get jobs suffer from this more than white workers, because at least some of the white workers are able to escape from the need of getting relief for the time being.

In short, the Negroes are being left out in the cold. The old saying about “the last to be hired” is still true.

A Correct Understanding Necessary

There are many obstacles that must be faced and overcome if this situation is to be corrected and the doors of the war industries thrown open to the Negro workers.

First of all, there is the opposition of the bosses, of the ruling class that owns and controls industry, who want to keep the workers divided along racial lines: “divide and rule.” Included as part of this is the government; acting in the interests of the bosses, it does nothing to interfere with their exclusion of Negroes from the important industries, but endorses it by its own treatment of the Negroes in the armed forces and civil service.

Secondly, there is the antagonism on the part of some, some, not all, white workers, who have been badly miseducated and have fallen for the propaganda of the bosses, and have thus permitted themselves to be used to weaken the strength of labor as a whole, including themselves.

And thirdly, there is the misunderstanding among many Negro workers themselves, expressed in an incorrect attitude toward the trade unions. We intend, in coming issues, to devote ourselves to a discussion of the entire problem. But here we want to touch briefly on one aspect of the third question, about which we have been asked to comment by some comrades who have run into in the course of their distribution of the Appeal to Negro workers.

Especially in the smaller industrial cities, some Negroes have come to feel a hostility toward the entire labor movement. We say to them:

“The unions belong to the working class, they belong to you; true, they must be reformed, and the scissorbill leadership of some of the unions must give way to a truly representative, progressive, rank-and-file leadership – but the unions belong to the workers and they themselves must make these changes.”

But these Negroes reply as follows:

“We don’t see how the trade unions are our organizations. They ignore us and in some cases they even kick us out of our jobs. Why should we even try to reform something that is so harmful to us? What reason have we to believe any good can come out of them for us?”

It is very difficult to convince these workers that they must be in the union movement, and must even fight to get into it. As Horace Cayton, the prominent Negro labor expert said recently, it is hard for a Negro worker to assume the role of a “lily white angel,” “making sacrifices for a principle which allows him nothing but unemployment and starvation.”

Before these Negroes can be convinced, they must be shown in action and through experience that they need unions to improve their conditions. Abstract arguments are not enough.

Already there exists some literature on the events of recent years showing the gains made by Negro labor on all fronts: their improved working conditions, the improved relations inside the unions between white and colored workers. Outstanding among these is the book dealing with the CIO, Black Workers In The New Unions by Horace R. Cayton and George S. Mitchell. We recommend its study and use by our distributors of the Appeal who reach workers interested in this question./p>

Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 14 November 2020