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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

AFL Convention Coming

(4 October 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 40, 4 October 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The American Federation of Labor will hold another annual convention next week in Seattle. Negro workers will look forward to the occasion with interest, if not much hope of anything important happening there.

They know pretty well what to expect, under present conditions and with the kind of leadership AFL has today. On all union matters, of course, the convention will take its usual conservative position. On the war, it will come out 100% for the Roosevelt war program.

And on the question of Negro rights in the labor movement, the craft union convention will make its usual evasions.

They will permit A. Philip Randolph, Negro leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and a few others to make some speeches demanding an end to Negro discrimination in the AFL, and they will permit the introduction of resolutions advocating steps to provide equal rights for Negro workers – but the Negro will still be Jim Crowed by a large section of the AFL after the convention is over.

They may pass a resolution deploring discrimination in industry, as the recent New York State Federation of Labor convention did, but they themselves won’t take a single step to help Negroes to get into factories or unions where they are now barred.

For the truth is that the fat, well-paid heads of the AFL have no interest in the Negro workers; any more than they have in most unskilled workers. And they will refuse to do anything that would bring a protest from the lily-white leaders of the southern unions – just as Roosevelt refuses to do anything that would bring a protest from the lily-white poll tax politicians who run the Democratic party and everything else in the South.

An interesting thing to note about this is that the craft union heads use the same excuses that Roosevelt does in ignoring and fostering Jim Crowism. The poll taxers screech about “local autonomy” and “states rights” in fighting against anti-lynch bills and anti-poll tax legislation. And the white supremacy gang in the AFL also cries out about “local autonomy” and “the rights of the individual internationals in opposing, all resolutions and constitutional proposals to wipe out Jim Crowism in the AFL.

These aristocrats of the working class will not change the sections of their constitution providing for equal treatment of all workers regardless of race or color, which have been on the books for decades, but neither they will change anything else to put meaning and life info those words.

The Latest “Solution”

After Private Ned Turman was murdered by a southern white MP at Fort Bragg on August 6, an angry protest arose against the brutal treatment of Negroes in the Army. Action was promised in Washington, especially by the Negro aide to the Secretary of War, Judge William H. Hastie. Last week, the action was finally taken, and announced by Hastie himself in the course of a speech made at the dedication of a new Army recreation camp for Negroes at Anacostia, D.C.

From now on, says Hastie, there will be Negro MPs, or to be more accurate, there will be more Negro MPs. Only this and nothing more!

By this I do not mean that we, who stand for equality for the Negroes, are opposed to having Negro MPs in the Army. Of course we want to see Negroes have the right to hold any job from which they are barred. We have no use for the Democratic or Republican party which both betray the Negro people every chance they get. But we stand for the right of Negroes within those parties to hold any post or office.

Similarly with Negro MPs. We do not support the boss war nor do we support the boss army. But we insist that every Negro in the army have the same rights as white soldiers.

We do not oppose the appointment of Negroes as MPs, but when anyone comes around and says that the appointment of Negroes as MPs is the solution of the problem of brutal, discriminatory treatment of the Negroes in the Army, then we can only say that he is a liar or a fool. And we would add that such a person is in favor of appointing Negros MPs not because he is interested in getting equal rights for Negroes to serve as MPs just as white soldiers do, but because he is interested in covering up and hiding and excusing the brutal discrimination of Negro soldiers.

In the first place, we will ask, will the Negro soldiers be any better off if they are beaten up and driven around by Negro MPs acting on the instructions and orders of Negro-hating white officers than if they are ill-treated by white MPs?

Will those white MPs who like to mistreat Negro soldiers act any differently toward them just because there are more Negro MPs?

The truth is that the MPs are not the forces primarily responsible for this brutality toward the Negro soldiers. They are only a small part of a big system of Jim Crowism in the armed forces fostered by the war administration.

As long as Roosevelt segregates the Negroes in the Army, backward white soldiers will be encouraged, even where they are not specifically advised, to look down on the Negroes and consider them “inferior.” That is what segregation leads to inevitably.

When you stop to think of it, you can see that Hastie advises the use of Negro MPs for the same reason that he himself is used in the War Department. In this Department, he acts as the “Negro front” and gives a protective coloration to its Jim Crow policies. Now he wants Negro MPs to play the same role for the Army itself.

The answer to Jim Crow brutality is the fight for mixed regiments and an end to all forms of segregation. This means a fight not only against Roosevelt but against Judases like Judge Hastie.

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