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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.

(28 June 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 26, 28 June 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The President’s Memorandum

President Roosevelt’s memorandum on the question of Negro exclusion from the war industries deserves more study than has been given it. For it must be remembered that this is the first time in the almost nine years that he has been in the White House that Roosevelt has ever spoken an the question of the Negroes’ problems at all.

Everyone with any political understanding at all knows why Roosevelt made the statement at this time. It was intended to get the leaders of the. March-On-Washington Committee to call off the July 1 demonstration in the capitol.

First of all, it should be repeated that Roosevelt did not do anything to end industrial Jim Crowism. In his statement, he only approved the action of the Office of Production Management in sending a letter to all employers two months ago, asking them to “examine whether or not” their employment policies “make ample provision for the full utilization of available and competent Negro workers.” Everyone knows that nothing has happened since that time. Employers may have examined their policies, or they may not; but certainly Negroes have not gotten jobs as a result.

Negro Press Swallows It

We make this point again because there has been so much confusion cast on the question by the major Negro newspapers. The Afro-American, for example, said: “President Orders Defense Jobs Open to All.” The Chicago Defender: “FDR Breaks Silence; Urges OPM to Smash Defense Job Race Ban; President, Stirred by Many Protests of Negroes, Takes Belated Action to End Employment Injustice.” The Pittsburgh Courier: “‘JOBS FOR ALL’ – ROOSEVELT; Nation’s Chief Executive Orders OPM to Halt Discrimination in All U.S. Defense Industries.” As though to clinch the matter, the Courier head on the continuation of the story says: “Roosevelt Ends Industrial Bias.”

The plain and simple fact, of course, is that none of these headlines are correct. They are only another example of that gullibility that characterizes the Negro press when it comes to half-hearted promises and evasive statements thrown to them as crumbs.

The editor of The Militant correctly wrote last week that Roosevelt did not even speak out, let alone act, against the whole system of discrimination in industry. “With careful intent, Roosevelt’s words are: ‘in defense industries’, ‘in this present emergency’, ‘in defense production’.” Roosevelt presents the question of job Jim Crow in a “reasonable” manner, and summed up he means this:

“There is going to be a labor shortage, and employers will have to use Negroes in the end anyhow. Besides, this is an emergency, and we must make sacrifices, even to the extent of hiring some Negroes. This will not hurt the system of Jim Crowism, because it will last only for the emergency, and because in order to defend our Jim Crow democracy, we must use all the forces at our disposal. In addition, giving the Negroes a few jobs will serve to remove from us the stigma of preaching one thing for Europe and practicing the opposite here. I am not taking any steps to force employers to hire Negroes, I am only showing them how reasonable it would be.”

Roosevelt’s “Moral Authority”

Nobody who reads his memorandum carefully can claim that Roosevelt does more than add his moral authority to the OPM’s request to relax a little the Jim Crow bars.

Whenever most employers are approached by Negro and labor organizations with the demand that they hire Negroes, they reply that they themselves have no objection to hiring them, but that their white employees do, and there would be “trouble” which might result in a reduction in production.

This is the bosses’ line. But what does the government, what does Roosevelt say?

In their treatment of the Negroes in that government department where the greatest number of Negroes are utilized, the armed forces, Roosevelt says the very same thing as the bosses! In the army and the navy, Negroes are segregated. In the army Negroes are all in separate regiments, there is no such thing as a mixed regiment where Negro and white soldiers march or work side by side. In the navy Negroes are permitted only in the mess department, and nowhere else. The continued maintenance of this Jim Crow system has been explained by Roosevelt and his Secretary of the Navy on the basis that “to make changes would produce situations destructive to morale and detrimental to the preparations for national defense.”

One can easily see from this how much Roosevelt’s moral authority on the question of Jim Crowism amounts to!

One can also judge Roosevelt’s memorandum as much by what it leaves out as by what it says. Roosevelt has many times been asked to put some teeth into the OPM’s letter. He could tell the War and Navy Departments to stop all government contracts to employers who discriminate in their employment policies. The result would be the immediate hiring of Negro workers by thousands of plants. These plants are run for one reason only: for private profit. If the government were in any way to threaten that private profit, the employers would drop their employment bars like pieces of hot iron.

But Roosevelt makes no such step. He is ready to send troops in to break strikes, but he isn’t willing to even threaten employers who refuse to hire Negroes.

The refrain may become monotonous, but it is none the less true: The bosses don’t “give” anything for nothing. Workers, Negro and white, win things that are worthwhile only by fighting for them.

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