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Susan Green

Race Bias Exposed at Government Hearing

CIO Representatives Take Firm Stand Against Discrimination

(23 February 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 8, 23 February 1942, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NEW YORK CITY, Feb. 17 – Not only do corporations with government contracts practice rank and rotten race discrimination in hiring workers, but. they are fully supported by government agencies such as employment bureaus and public training schools.

This smelly situation was officially aired before the Committee on Fair Employment Practices holding hearings in this city, February 16 and 17, on complaints in the metropolitan district. This committee was created by the President, who is Commander-in-Chief of an Army, Navy and Air Corps guilty of the grossest anti-Negro bias.

Every government war contract has a clause supposedly binding the corporation not to discriminate against workers because of race, color, religion or country of origin. This empty gesture was made by President Roosevelt in an attempt to placate the aroused Negro population after the threatened march on Washington last July – which was abandoned by its weak-kneed leaders. But, as was to be expected, the bosses do not: regard this clause of their contracts with the same seriousness as, for instance, those clauses which pertain to their rate of profit

The Wright Aeronautic Corp. of Paterson, one of the two largest builders of airplane motors, a subsidiary of Curtiss-Wright, was put on the carpet. Of the 18,000 workers it employs, a mere 121 are Negroes, and they are permitted to do only heavy or menial labor.

The Wright anti-Negro labor policy is also the policy of the Paterson Vocational Training School. Of 4,000 students not one is a Negro. The Wright Corp. controls the advisory board of the school and also its faculty. The New Jersey State Department of Education condones this domination of a state institution by a private corporation. The New Jersey State Employment Bureau cooperates by not sending Wright any Negro applicants.

A Typical Case

Robert Smith, Negro, a university graduate and expert electrician, testified against the Wright company. His story is typical of the “freedom” of employment enjoyed by the Negro worker. Mr. Smith answered an ad for an electrician, and his qualifications were so excellent that he received a special delivery letter to call at the Wright plant in Paterson. That was before the company knew the color of his skin. When he called he was told the company does not employ Negroes as electricians. If he wished, he could have a job in the foundry.

Having been out of work for three months, Mr. Smith took the job. The bulletin board in the foundry prominently displays a notice urging foundry workers to better themselves by taking the training course at the vocational schoo1. Nothing daunted, Mr. Smith presented himself for an application to the school. He was informed, not too politely, that the notice isn’t meant for Negroes.

The Sperry Gyroscope Co. of Brooklyn is another company practicing “democracy” according to its own lights. It employs 11,212 workers, of whom all of 21 are Negroes. The Sperry company discriminates against Negroes, Jews and foreign-born Americans. The private employment agency handling its business inserts ads calling for “white, Christian and Americah-born.” Jewish applicants interviewed at the agency are told they cannot be used because the “Sperry company does not want Jews.” The New York State Employment Bureau works hand-in-glove with Sperry and sends them only “white, Christian and American-born” workers.

The Ford Instrument Co. also withholds jobs from Negroes. Its handful of Negro workers are kept at the lowest jobs, as elevator boys, porters, etc. A Negro, no matter how highly qualified, cannot get a skilled job. One Negro worker having four years of high school to his credit, a thorough technical training and two years of actual experience in making precision instruments, was offered employment in what is euphemistically called the “maintenance department” – which means janitor’s work.

The company spokesmen tried very hard to pass the buck to the white workers and to the unions. In his speech at the hearing, Mayor LaGuardia – whose anti-union record in New York City qualifies him to attack labor – also laid great emphasis on so-called union discrimination against Negro workers.

However, all CIO representatives at the hearing declared themselves 100 per cent against racial discrimination. Irving Abramson of the New Jersey State Council, CIO, did so in connection with his testimony against Wright Aeronautic. The representative of Local 1217, AUW-CIO, reported that his local voted to accept all Negro workers employed by the Fairchild Aviation Co. The same is true of Local 428, UERW-CIO, which likewise voted to admit all Negro workers employed by Ford Instrument Co. John Brophy, sitting on the committee for CIO President Philip Murray, read into the record a statement of CIO policy regarding absolute equality of all races, creeds, colors and nationalities. Thus the correct principle of working class solidarity was unequivocally stated.

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