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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

(9 August 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 32, 9 August 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Bosses Responsible for Jim Crow

Every thinking Negro worker who is conscious of the real cause of racial discrimination against Negroes in industry will agree with the recent charges of John T. Jones, director of Labor’s Non-Partisan League and legislative representative of the CIO, who told a congressional sub-committee that “a handful of rich and powerful corporations” were guilty of such discrimination, and that:

“The use of one racial group against another, one national group against another, in order to beat down the economic standards of all, is an old story to the labor movement. It is the ancient maxim of divide and rule – divide and exploit.”

It would of course be foolish for Jones, or any other representative of labor, to deny that some workers too are guilty of discrimination, and of falling into the trap laid by the bosses.

But the important thing is: Who, or what, is responsible for Jim Crowism? The answer to that question gives us the answer to the responsibility for some white workers practising racial prejudice:

The answer, as we know, is that the bosses, manufacturers, industrialists through their capitalist system, are responsible for Jim Crow, they are the ones who profit from it. When we wipe out their power to discriminate against Negroes, we will at the same time remove the possibility of white workers succumbing to their propaganda.

The Bosses’ Flimsy Alibi

The same week that Jones spoke on the question, a representative of another organization appeared before another congressional sub-committee, and spoke on the same question.

He was Noel Sargent, secretary of the National Association of Manufacturers.

Sargent spent some time declaring how sorry he and his organization were that discrimination should exist, and claiming that the N.A.M. was doing its share in eliminating discrimination.

To prove this point, Sargent referred to advice given by the N.A.M. to its members that there should be no “arbitrary prejudices in employment,” and declarations by the officers of the N.A.M. that, “manufacturers should employ Negroes wherever, and whenever possible, in keeping with their general ability and their ‘acceptability’ to white fellow-workers.”

What is meant by the dropping of “arbitrary” prejudices? Only this, that the bosses should not practice prejudice without good reason.

The N.A.M. is not really opposed to Jim Crowism; all it opposes is overdoing it; what it opposes is making its prejudices too obvious and flagrant: what it opposes are actions which will make it clear to the Negroes that the bosses are responsible; what it opposes are cases of prejudice where the bosses cannot make it appear that the. white workers are responsible for Negroes being denied employment.

The N.A.M. continues that “wherever employees themselves have not directly or indirectly put up bars against the hiring of persons because of race, color or creed” manufacturers generally are. ready, to employ them.

In other words, the N.A.M., if you would believe it, is ready to hire Negroes, but it doesn’t because of the white workers who put bars in the way.

It is strange that the N.A.M. is not so eager to comply with the wishes of its workers in other respects. For example, recognition of the right of workers to organize, higher wages, shorter hours, etc. When it comes, to these questions, the bosses fight the workers 24 hours a day, and no time off on Sundays. But when it comes to the alleged racial prejudices of the workers, the N.A.M. suddenly becomes very cooperative and gives in to every request and wish, real and fancied, of the workers.

It does not take a great thinker to see through the game of the N.A.M., and to understand that the bosses, who profit from Jim Crowism by dividing and ruling, prefer to place the responsibility for their maneuvers on the white workers, most of whom as children went to school alongside of Negro children and never entertained a single Jim Crow thought until it was introduced to them by the white supremacy propaganda of capitalism.

Boss Tells Truth About Roosevelt

At the same time that Sargent tried to present the question in an anti-labor light, he could not refrain from taking a crack at the government for its pious statements urging industry to hire Negroes.

Claiming that the government “has sought to concentrate the heat engendered in this issue on industry,” Sargent stated: “The fact is that both the Government as well as organized labor might well put their own houses in order.” He then went on to enumerate the different instances where the government itself was practicing Jim Crowism in the armed forces and governmental departments.

Sargent was paying Roosevelt back for daring to even hint that the employers were responsible. In effect, he said, what right has Roosevelt to preach to us when he doesn’t practice his own preaching?

He made a good arguing point, but of course it wasn’t made in the interests of the Negro people. It was simply made to remind Roosevelt to say in his own place, and not even pretend to interfere with industry’s handling of the problem. He made it to emphasize the ridiculousness of Roosevelt’s hypocritical position, something which Roosevelt has already done for himself in his executive order urging an end to discrimination, but naming no penalty for disregard of his order.

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