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Albert Parker

Ford’s Anti-Union Game Is to Divide the Races

(15 February 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 7, 15 February 1941, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

For a long time it has been a. practice in this country for the bosses to refuse to hire Negro workers in their plants, placing the blame for this on the white workers: thus the bosses stored up a labor force among the Negroes that could be used for union-smashing and strike-breaking when the white workers began to organise. On certain occasions, employers have brazenly referred to this policy of creating resentment between black and white as “strike insurance.”

Henry Ford has played a shrewd variation of this same game. Realizing that the time would come when the unions would begin to make some headway in organizing his Empire; he began to employ Negroes in his plants, to build up the idea that he was a friend and benefactor of the Negro people and deserved their support in his bitter struggles against unionization.

He established a special division of employment of colored personnel and through this began to hire Negroes in large numbers. Today it is estimated that he has 10,000 Negro employees, representing about 10% of his labor force. As part of his plan Ford has also contributed to certain Negro churches, organizations and individuals.

Uncle Tom Banquet

A highlight in Fords’ anti-union campaign was a recent banquet for 300 people in Detroit by Donald J. Marshall, director of colored personnel for the Ford Motor Company.

In attendance was “nearly every colored minister in the city, who came at special invitation to get the free meal and to listen to Marshall’s harangue against the CIO. Those Negro ministers in Detroit who have expressed sympathy for the CIO were not invited; of them it was said, “The time has come to let our unfaithful leaders know we do not need them.”

“We are appealing to the ministers to try to help us keep our feet on the ground,” said Marshall.

He then launched an attack on the unions in which he blamed them because Negroes are not hired in great numbers in the other auto plants.

For instance, he showed that Knudsen, now head of the National Defense Commission, had refused to let Negroes hold skilled jobs in General Motors. What follows from that, according to Marshall? That the union which Knudsen fought so bitterly is responsible for this situation which existed long before the union was founded.

Ford Threatens Negroes

He finished this attack by making a not-too-veiled hint that if the Negro workers in Ford’s plants didn’t support him, they would be sorry:

“The open shop of Henry Ford has two Negroes out there to see that the Negroes get at least part of their rights (meaning himself and his assistant). The Negro will regret the day ir he helps to turn the Ford shop over to the CIO.”

By this he meant that if the CIO organizes the Ford plants, Ford will have no further use for Negroes and will try to get rid of them. “It will be a sad day for us if the Ford Company changes its policy,” moaned the Rev. Mr. Bradby, to emphasize the point.

Task of CIO

Horace R. Cayton, one of the authors of Black Workers in the New Unions, has in two articles in recent issues of the Pittsburgh Courier dealt with the subject in a way that could be of use to the CIO in tackling this problem.

After explaining how Ford by his financial contributions has “given substance to the myth that Ford had a sympathetic interest in the problems of the Negro,” and showing that “many Negro professional men and Negro leaders who lived on the back of these Ford employees, fearful of anything which might disrupt (even momentarily) their sources of income, are violently pro-Ford and anti-union.” Cayton goes on:

“Ford’s policy toward the Negroes, however, is one that had been born of self-interest and has not offered the Negro much except employment. That Ford has hired more Negroes than other companies is a matter of fact. He has done this, however, lo provide himself with ‘strike insurance.’
“It is the testimony of most persons familiar with the Ford plant that Negroes are definitely limited in their ability to be promoted within the Ford plant and are pretty largely confined to the lower wage income brackets.
“Likewise, all workers in the Ford plant, including Negro workers, suffered from the speed up, the possibility of brutal treatment from Ford’s service men, and enjoy a wage which is about ten cents au hour below that of workers in other automobile plants.”

Why Negroes Hesitate

Cayton explains clearly why Negro workers are hesitant about joining the union. First of all, they’re glad they’ve got jobs, and they’re not sure that Ford would keep them on if the union won out. Secondly, the Negro is under terrific pressure from Harry Bennett’s thugs and from Donald Marshall and the other “leaders.” Thirdly, they don’t know whether they can trust the unions, because many of them have had experiences of discrimination, or have heard of discrimination, by white workers even in the union movement.

In this situation, it is imperative that the CIO pay special attention to the Negro workers. True, R.J. Thomas, president of the UAW, has written a letter which has received some publicity, in -which he promises that, there will bo ne discrimination by thee union against Negro Ford workers. He urges that those who are interested should check in the other plants that have been organized and determine for themselves whether the Negro worker has been discriminated against. “They will find upon checking that in the Detroit plants Negroes now receive more money and have better jobs than they had prior to the advent of the union ...”

But when the scoundrels who call themselves leaders are so active in prejudicing the Negroes against the union, it is not enough to suggest that “anyone who is concerned about such rumors, (of discrimination) check in other automobile plants ...” Every one of the 10,000 Negro workers in Ford is very much concerned about these vicious rumors. To tell them to go and check in the other automobile plants is not very helpful. It is up to the UAW lo bring them the proofs that there will be no discrimination, and to spend a lot of time combating these rumors and spreading the truth that, as Cayton puts it, “the CIO has made a desperate effort to break down color barriers and it presents the greatest hope for Negro laborers since the Knights of Labor” and that “certainly Negro workers in the Ford plant will suffer greatly, both as workers and as Negroes, in the long run if they are instrumental in defeating unionism in Ford’s plants.”

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