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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.

(3 May 1941)

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

Hillman Writes a Letter

After many months of receiving complaints from Negro and labor organizations about the Jim Crow bars that keep Negroes from getting jobs in the vital industries, Sidney Hillman, labor front for the Office of Production Management, finally has written a letter. In this letter, sent to all manufacturers receiving contracts from the government, Hillman follows his usual practice of subordinating every other consideration to that of “national defense.”

He is not interested in Jim Crowism in plants financed and in many cases built by the government because of the effect it has on the Negro people, who are largely confined to menial jobs as a result, but because of the effect it will have on the war plans of the capitalist government he is serving.

First he points out that current reports “indicate skilled labor shortage in a number of fields vital to defense production.” This situation has been aggravated because “in many localities, qualified and available Negro workers are either being restricted to unskilled jobs, or barred from defense employment entirely.” Then he goes on with his complaint:

“Such practices are extremely wasteful of our human resources and, prevent a total effort for national defense. They result in unnecessary migration of labor, in high rates of labor turnover, and they increase our present and future housing needs and social problems for defense workers.”

Then follows his suggestions for correcting this situation:

“All holders of defense contracts are urged to examine their employment and training policies at once to determine whether or not these policies make ample provision for the full utilization of Negro workers. Every available source of labor capable of producing defense materials must be tapped in the present emergency.”

What the Letter Means

Two things stand out in this letter.

First, Hillman is interested in Negroes being employed only because he doesn’t want the war plans of the government disrupted. Second, his letter is not going to change the present situation at all.

It should be noted that the letter does not emphasize the need for hiring Negroes where there is no shortage of labor. This can be interpreted to mean that employers should take them where they can’t get anyone else. The employers do just that anyhow. The most rabid Negro-hating employer will hire Negroes when he can’t get anyone else, because his main interest is in making profit; and to make it, he needs workers, regardless of their race or color.

Hillman wants the employers to determine whether their policies make ample provision for the full utilization of Negro workers. Very well, an employer will say, I will examine my policies and see whether they make provision for, etc.

Even assuming that Hillman really wants Negroes to get jobs, and that his letter is not just a face-saving device, what does it amount to? Little more than nothing. Because the letter does not provide a single hint of a measure to do something about those plants that refuse to “examine” their policies, and worse yet, refuse to hire Negro labor as long as they can get other workers.

An employer can toss the letter into the waste-basket, as probably most of them have done, and Hillman does not propose to do anything about it.

And so, because of the weakness of the letter and its lack of threat to take action against the employers who disregard it, we can confidently predict that nothing will come of it, any more than came of the no-discrimination statement issued several months ago by Knudsen, Hillman’s partner. Not a Negro will get a job as the result of it.

The OPM Could Take Action

As the Chicago Defender put it: “His letter has all the earmarks of a theatrical stunt intended only for the gallery.”

It is intended to draw away from the OPM criticism about its failure to do anything about the situation, while it continues to do nothing.

This does not mean that the OPM is powerless in the situation and is only trying to cover up its helplessness. Far from it.

Along with the President, the OPM has the power to veto any proposal of the War or Navy Department for expanding or building facilities for expediting production. Appropriation acts carrying funds for new facilities, according to Undersecretary of War Patterson, give them that authority.

This means that the OPM, by simply using its veto power, could at the very least refuse contracts to Jim Crow companies asking for funds to add to their building and equipment.

The fact that they don’t use this power, but resort instead to weak and meaningless letters, is only additional proof that they don’t want to do anything about the industrial Jim Crow bars against Negroes.

Negroes have to recognize this and to realize that they can expect no help from this direction until they are organized and strong enough to force it from them.

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Last updated: 2 November 2015