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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.

(18 January 1941)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 5 No. 3, 18 January 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

[Double Thanks]

The aircraft workers at Vultee (organized into Local 683 of the United Auto Workers Union, CIO) deserve double thanks from the workers of this country.

First of all they struck a blow which showed that it is not only desirable but possible to win higher wages and better working conditions in the war industries, even under a heavy barrage of attacks from the employers, their stooges and the government.

Secondly, they have taken another action which will be greeted with enthusiasm by the workers, especially those Negro workers who are almost 100% barred from many important industries such as aircraft.

Here is how it happened. At the dance celebrating the victorious strike, two Negro members were asked to leave by people acting as floor managers and making the request on their own initiative.

When the members of the union learned about it, there was a discussion of this action on the floor of a regular local meeting, resulting in the adoption of the following resolution:

“WHEREAS: At a public dance given by the Vultee unit of Local 683, two Negro union brothers and their guests were asked to leave, and

WHEREAS: This action is in direct contradiction to the national CIO policy of no discrimination because of race, color, creed, nationality or political affiliation, and

WHEREAS: The success of our drive to organize the aircraft industry depends upon the broadest possible public support, and

WHEREAS: The Negro people, who helped on our picket line with donations of food and money in our recent successful strike, are part of that public, and

WHEREAS: We recognize that discrimination of any kind is the weapon used by the employer and his organizations to split and divide us in our struggle for a higher standard of living, therefore be it

RESOLVED: That we apologize to the Negro people for this action, and that we give our complete assurance that this action will not be repeated, and be it further

RESOLVED: That this Local 683 of the United Auto Workers, CIO, do all in its power to break down the anti-labor, racial discrimination policy in the aircraft and national defense industries, recognizing that our national defense must rest on the maintenance of our democratic principles, foremost among which is the right of every citizen to an opportunity to earn his livelihood without discrimination.”

Another instance of gains in the field of labor against racial suspicion and division is to be seen in what happened in another CIO union, Local 486, of the Midland Steel plant in Cleveland.

Here in a union where 90% of the membership are white workers, Joseph Jackson, a Negro and former vice president, has been elected president. As one commentator in the area, Ted Cox, put it:

“They (the members) wanted the best leadership available in the shop. So, when President Mack Cheek resigned, they looked around. They didn’t give a damn what color or what religious or political opinions that leadership might have. They wanted ability.

“It happened that Joe Jackson, who is colored, had that ability. So now Joe is president of one of the biggest, most militant and most successful local unions in the Cleveland CIO.”

Here, therefore, are two good example of how trade unions, militant and democratically controlled by the rank-and-file, are educating white workers to the necessity for complete equality.

Much Still to Be Done

The editorial page of the latest issue of The Chicago Defender features a cartoon by Jay Jackson, entitled Back Of It All. It shows a factory entitled “National Defense Work,” bearing a sign “Help Wanted.” In front of it stands a Negro worker in overalls, labelled “Negro Labor,” and he is held up, prevented from entering it, by a huge hand extended in front of him, barring his entrance. This hand is labelled “A.F.L.”

The point of the cartoon is quite evidently that Negro labor could get jobs in the war industries if it were not for the AFL, which is “back of it all.”

Does such a cartoon help the struggle to open the doors of industry to colored workers? We think not.

Who owns and controls and runs the factories? The unions – or the bosses? To ask the question is to answer it. It is the bosses of course, and it is they and their managers who do the hiring. Who benefits from division of the races, who really profits from it, the unions or the bosses? The bosses, of course, because they can play one race against the other.

Plenty of factories in the war industries are not organized at all. How many of these hire Negroes any more than the factories that are organized?

It is incorrect and misleading to say that the main responsibility for discrimination in hiring in the war industries lies at the door of the AFL. To do so serves only to whitewash the role of bosses who are really responsible.

We do not seek in any way to minimize or excuse or cover up the stupid, reactionary and vicious part played by some union leaders in the AFL. We denounce them and we carry on a fight against their harmful policies.

After all, what is “back of it all” even in the case of AFL officials guilty of Jim Crow practices? Isn’t it the training they received from the capitalist system? Isn’t it the prejudices they inherited from the “respectable” captains of industry whom so many of them try to imitate?/p>

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