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Susan Green

Senate Upholds Poll Tax!

(30 November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 48, 30 November 1942, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Why didn’t President Roosevelt do something about the Pepper-Geyer anti-poll-tax bill?

Why did he allow it to be killed in the Senate by a sell-out agreement between the luke-warm proponents of the bill and the fascist-minded poll-tax senators?

Here is a capitulation President Roosevelt will have a harder time explaining than he had hemming and hawing about the deal between the “greatest democracy on earth” and Nazi stooge Darlan.

When freezing wages is the order of the day, the President knows how to talk turkey. He says to the Congress: “Either you do – or I will!” Not that Congress needed to be threatened to freeze wages.?

But when a bill involving the political rights of 10,000,000 disfranchised citizens is about to be tossed out the congressional window, the President has nothing to contribute but unbroken silence.

When asked for his opinion by the Washington correspondents – on the SEVENTH DAY of the filibustering antics of the poll-tax senators – the President had the unbounded nerve to plead ignorance of the whole thing.

This historic press conference at which the President of the USA used the flagrantly flimsy alibi of not knowing what had been going on in the Senate for a full week, was reported in the New York Times of November 21 as follows:

“The President said, at his press conference, that he knew nothing about the filibuster. Asked whether he thought the poll-tax repeal bill should pass, he reiterated that he knew nothing about it, had talked to no one about it, and therefore could not express an opinion.”

Read that again – and again!

Millions of American boys are and will be fighting for the capitalist brand of “democracy” in the four corners of the earth, while the President sees fit to express no opinion on whether the prohibitive poll-tax disfranchising 10,000,000 citizens should be repealed!

The President knew only too well what was going on in the Senate. You may be sure he knew without the direct appeal to him of the Committee to Abolish the Poll-Tax which represents seventy-five national organizations of labor, Negroes, women, etc. Yes, he knew without the direct protest to him by leaders of the CIO, AFL and Railroad Brotherhoods. But —

The filibustering poll-tax senators are all fellow Democrats. They are of the warp and woof of the President’s own political party. That would very well explain his lack of opinion. Besides the President shares with this political oligarchy of the South the fear of the voting power of the millions of disfranchised poor Negroes and whites. What a political overturn they could make! They could even vote for a party of their own class instead of for the reactionary politicians of one or the other of the capitalist parties.

It is true that Senator Barkley, also a Democrat and leader of the supporters of the bill – if you can call them that – declared, in the course of the shouting, that “if the only way the Democratic Party could survive was to tax the right of poor people to vote for federal officials, then the Democratic Party is built on sand.” He also said that the poll-tax is a “hangover from feudalism,” which means that the Democratic Party is built on political serfdom in the South. WORDS – ONLY WORDS!

For neither Barkley nor his chief in the White House nor anybody else was willing to fight to free the political serfs. Barkley and the other “champions” of the poor in the South made a deal with Bilbo, Connally, O’Daniel, McKellar and the other feudal lords of the South – as dirty a deal as was ever made. That deal has not only thrown the anti-poll-tax bill out of this session of Congress. Barkley also consented not to bring the bill before the NEW Senate. The arrogant anti-poll-tax bloc boasted that they expected to discourage “future congressional moves to outlaw the poll-tax.” Very obviously they succeeded.

Every one of the ardent “democrats” capitulated. Senator Norris, old-time “liberal,” assured the poll-taxers, “I’m not going to annoy yon by bringing the bill up again.” Senator Pepper, Democrat, who introduced the bill, agreed to the sell-out. Republican Leader McNary contributed his ignominious part.

This is how the politicians of both boss parties and of all shades of boss class opinion fight for democracy at home.

During the course of the eight-day jockeying, before the bill was killed by agreement, a beam of light was again thrown on the dark status of the Negroes in this “land of the free and home of the brave” – where racial discrimination is supposed to have been abolished by presidential decree.

In the course of a round between Senator Barkley, for the bill, and Senator McKellar, against, the latter argued that the passage of the bill was pointless because it would not grant “ANY ADDITIONAL PRIVILEGES” to the Southern Negroes. Do you know to what this bourbon referred? He referred to the fact that in Southern states there are means – official and unofficial – of preventing Negroes from voting – NO MATTER WHAT THE LAW IS.

McKellar had in mind the many ways used to intimidate the Southern Negro – including lynch law, which is still stronger than any other law in the South.

What do you think the “champion” of the anti-poll-tax bill replied? Was he perhaps indignant? Did he swear to fight such criminal intimidation of the Negro people? On the contrary, he as much as said that THAT part of the game is okay with him. Said Senator Barkley:

“That may be true, but this bill’s passage would enfranchise 200,000 white people – poor tenant farmers who may want to vote but will think a long time before paying $1.50 for that right when the money might be needed to put shoes on their barefoot children.”

The millions of Negroes in the eight poll-tax states are not the con-cern of great “democrats” like Senator Barkley. Lynch law “MAY BE TRUE” for these millions of dark-skinned poor people. But Barkley, Pepper, Norris, McNary – and Roosevelt – cooperate with the politicians whose power rests on poll-taxes and lynch law.

As a result the political interests of the 10,000,000 disfranchised poor are “represented” by such peerless specimens of political degradation as Senator Bilbo of Mississippi, whose own words characterize him much better than we can:

“Us Southerners don’t care if Nigras are on juries when niggers is bein’ tried. In fact, if Ah were prosecuting Ah’d prefer to have Nigras on the jury. There’s nothin’ one Nigra likes so much as convicting another nigger.”

This is the type of Negro-hating, worker-hating, low-grade politician to whom the whole Senate buckled under and whom President Roosevelt supported by his silence. The killing of the anti-poll-tax bill shows that capitalist society is no longer able to extend democracy. It is motivated by greedy fear for its entrenched privileges and day by day becomes more reactionary.

The anti-poll-tax fight is by no means ended. Since the poll tax is a prop under the powers that be, the working people cannot expect these powers to remove the prop – UNLESS THEY ARE MADE TO.

Labor has been delivered a resounding slap in the face by the action of the Senate. It must recognize this and fight back. Not by mild and mellow protests to the President as made by the Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax – and by the kowtowing Murray, Green & Co.

To win the anti-poll-tax fight every local in every union must voice its protest and demand that the 10,000,000 disfranchised be given their elementary political rights. Organized labor must take the lead in holding mass meetings and, demonstrations. The masses must make it known that they are not going to take pro-fascist capitulation as an answer.

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