Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Albert Parker

Many Bills Introduced Against Discrimination

But Not All of Them Are Really for the Benefit of the Negro;
One Group of Them Is Really Bosses’ Weapon Against Unions

(29 March 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V. No. 13, 29 March 1941, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A considerable number of bills dealing with discrimination against Negroes in employment have been introduced in several state legislatures and in Congress. Negroes and trade unionists are quite naturally interested in learning what these bills are all about, which ones are worth supporting, which ones are harmful.

Most of the bills can be divided roughly into two categories: (1) Those which penalize employers who discriminate against Negroes in hiring; and (2) those which penalize trade unions which bar Negroes from membership.

In order for Negro workers to arrive at a correct approach toward these bills, it is necessary for them to think about them, not only as Negroes, but also as Negro workers.

To do that, they must be aware of the fundamental conflict between the bosses on one side, and the working class, including the Negro workers, on the other side.

The main interest of the bosses money. They can’t make it unless they have people working for them. These workers produce the material which the bosses can sell at a profit. Basically, the bosses don’t care who works for them. The ruling class as a whole would just as soon exploit and sweat a Negro worker as a white worker. It looks upon both in the same light: as sources of profit, as shoulders on which to place the burden of depressions created by the capitalist system as cannon fodder to be used in the wars for profit and privilege.

But the bosses who control industry have found it useful to exclude Negroes from almost all jobs but domestic service and agriculture. The bosses have done this because of their desire to find methods of keeping the working class divided, so that the workers will be less able to unite against their oppressors.

The bosses have poisoned the minds of large numbers of white workers with practices and theories of “white supremacy” and “Negro inferiority”. By their methods of propaganda, the schools, movies, newspapers, magazines, radio, etc., the bosses have sought to convince the white workers that they are not so badly off, because the Negroes have even less than they have. As a result of all these boss methods, many white workers have been taught to look down on the Negro people; as another result, Negro workers have been filled with suspicion of all white people, including white workers. All this is right up the bosses’ alley.

The Fight to Get Jobs for Negroes

In this situation, where the bosses are the exploiters and the Negroes are oppressed, it is correct to use every possible means to force the bosses to open the doors of industry to the Negro. It is correct to demand that the employers, who are getting billions through war controls, be refused such contracts if they refuse to hire Negroes.

This does not mean that we should place very much reliance on these bills as a means of winning jobs for Negroes. To do so and to forget about the method of mass action and mass demonstration to win concessions from the bosses, would be a great mistake. One good picket line is worth a dozen bills.

We must never forget that the government which is designated to carry out the provisions of these bills is a bosses’ government;. that it believes in the same things the bosses believe in: that it sets the example of “white superiority” in its army and navy and in civil service; and that already there are plenty, of anti-discrimination laws on the statute books which are not enforced.

Bills Against Unions Will Harm Negroes

The bills penalizing employer may do some good. But the bills penalizing unions can do no good at all and are certain to do harm both to Negro and white workers Both the white worker and the Negro worker are victims of the capitalist system. Each suffers from wage cuts, depressions, fascism and war. Each suffers from the bosses’ divide-and-rule policy, even though many white workers (like many Negro workers) don’t see this very plainly yet.

Both the white worker and the Negro worker want the same things: decent jobs and homes, the right to live freely and happily. They are both denied these things by the capitalist system of private property and profit. What they must do to unite their forces against their common enemy and take the things they have built and created end use them for the common good of all.

Unfortunately, the workers of both races don’t see things as clearly as that yet. They don’t fully understand that they have a common goal and that they must act together and for each other. Fortunately, large numbers of white workers in the CIO unions have begun to learn this through their own experiences of fighting side by side with Negro workers in strikes and on picket lines.

We can readily understand and sympathize with the resentment of the Negroes against the Jim Crow leadership of some of the AFL unions and the railroad brotherhoods. We of the Socialist Workers Party have always fought for full and unqualified equality for the Negro people. Our record shows that we have consistently fought William Green and Co. on this question.

Nevertheless we are forced to oppose passage of any bill penalizing unions. We oppose such bills because they will hurt the interests of the Negro and white workers alike.

The bosses could and would try to use such bills, in the name of “destroying discrimination,” to destroy the labor movement. We cannot delegate to the bosses or to the bosses’ government the job of destroying Jim Crowism in the unions, for the bosses are the friends of neither the Negroes nor the unions. They would try to destroy the unions, not to help one section of the working class, the Negroes, but to cut wages and lengthen hours of all workers including the Negroes.

We Can’t Let Enemies “Clean” Our House

We cannot depend on the boss government which Jim Crows the Negro in the army and navy to wipe out Jim Crowism in the labor movement. That job can be done only by the advanced workers of all races.

Passage of such bills against unions would not serve to educate the backward white workers in the unions. On the contrary, it would tend to arouse their antagonism to colored workers. The lily-white leaders in such unions would point to the bill and say that the Negroes are cooperating with the enemies of labor in destroying the unions, and would use that to incite the backward white workers still further against the Negroes.

The CIO Shows What Can Be Done

The only way to educate the backward rank-and-file unionists to the need of admitting Negroes on an equal basis to all unions is by showing them that unity is necessary to protect the unions gains, and that Negroes are good unionists who want to protect the unions.

This is often a hard job, we admit, but there is no other way to unite black and white? That it is not impossible is shown in the sample of the powerful CIO, where Negroes are admitted as members with full equality and play a leading role in the unions. The example of the CIO can be effectively used in the fight to expose the reactionary policy of the lily-white leaders like Green and Harrison.

Summed up, this means that bills penalizing unions will never accomplish the purposes hoped for by many sincere Negroes, and that instead of serving to integrate Negroes into the labor movement, such bills would tend to make that task more difficult.

“But,” some Negroes will say, “these bills are not aimed at all the unions, they are aimed only at some unions guilty of Jim Crowism. We believe in unionism, we want to be good union men. It is the enemies of the Negroes who are keeping us from becoming good and devoted unionists.”

There is truth in this argument, but still it is not enough to change the fundamental task. Opening “only some” unions to the attacks of the bosses and their government is a springboard for opening the union movement as a whole to such attacks. For once some unions can be smashed, the appetite of the bosses will be whetted, and they will not be satisfied to let it go at that. We cannot ask our enemies to clean our own house, for they will not do it in our interests.. And the labor movement is the house of the Negro people. As against the bosses, we must defend the unions, even when some of their leaders or members have done wrong against the working class. If in any way we help the bosses to weaken our own class organizing, we lay ourselves open, and the Negroes lay themselves open, to attacks that if successful will send us all back ten or 15 years.

Meanwhile, the advanced workers, the class conscious workers, the more far-seeing workers of all races, will work with us in educating all trade unionists. Widespread discussion of these bills can do much to awaken backward white workers to the necessity of admitting Negroes into all unions on an equal and comradely basis for the struggle to improve the conditions of workers of all races.

Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 3 October 2015