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Thomas’ Program Goes Not Utilize Union Strength

UAW Should Organize Against Klan

(July 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 27, 5 July 1943, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

As an aftermath to the pogroms against the Negroes in Detroit, an eight-point program supposedly designed to make impossible its repetition has been proposed by R.J. Thomas, president of the UAW. The following is Thomas’ program:

  1. A special grand jury to investigate the cause of the riots and to return justifiable indictments.
  2. Construction of park and recreational facilities.
  3. Immediate and practical plans for the rehousing of Negro slum dwellers in federally financed housing projects.
  4. Recognition by management and workers of the rights of Negroes to jobs in accordance with their skill and seniority.
  5. A grand jury investigation of the conduct of the police during the riots.
  6. No discrimination by the courts between whites and Negroes arrested for the rioting.
  7. Creation of a fund by the city to make good losses suffered in personal injuries and property damage.
  8. Creation by the Mayor of a bi-racial committee of ten to make recommendations looking toward the elimination of racial friction.

It is the elementary duty of the leaders of the most powerful union in Detroit to offer some solution designed to prevent the terrorist attacks upon Negroes. The CIO derives its strength from the complete unity of all workers regardless of race, creed, color, or craft. The recent pogroms, in Detroit threaten to drive a wedge between the Negro and white workers in the shops and to weaken the unions thereby.

But in the face of the actual events, what can Thomas’ program accomplish?

The fighting, which began on Sunday, June 20, was the culmination of a well-planned and organized offensive against the Negro people. This is the FACT, regardless of who threw the first brick or which side first attacked a person of the opposite color. The precise incident or incidents which provided the initial impetus for the fighting are shrouded in rumor and will never be satisfactorily proved.

But the events which preceded the June 20 trouble and the very course of the fighting itself prove that the real force behind it all was the reviving fascist Ku Klux Klan!

Klan Organizes Attacks

The Sojourner Truth housing fight, the attacks by gangs on Negro neighborhoods in Ferndale, the West Side and elsewhere, the strike at the Arsenal against Negro guards and finally the outageous “strike” at Packard Motor Co., directly organized by the Klan against the upgrading of Negroes, all prove that the affair of June 27 was no spontaneous outbreak by “citizens” but a direct attempt by the followers of the Klan to bring their past work to a bloody conclusion.

In the course of the rioting, white gangs were organized on the outskirts of Negro neighborhoods and attempted to break through to beat and kill all Negroes in sight and reduce Negro homes to shambles. Negro groups formed in their own neighborhoods to beat off these attacks.

The police established barricades around the Negro areas to prevent attacks by white gangs under the leadership of the Klan elements. No such barricades were necessary around white neighborhoods because the Negroes did not threaten them.

The June 20 event was an anti-Negro pogrom organized by the Klan. The action of the Negroes in the fighting was primarily one of self-defense. And this FACT is in no way negated by the fact that Negroes under the direction of intensely nationalistic elements retaliated against the Klan offensive by beating all whites caught in Negro neighborhoods and looting white-owned stores.

By placing the issue on the basis of all whites against all Negroes, these elements among the Negro people play directly into the hands of the Klan and facilitate its work of playing on the reactionary prejudices of backward white workingmen. The very cause of the Negro people, and of white workers as well, depending as it does upon the unity of whites and Negroes in the labor movement, received a blow by these reactionary and nationalistic manifestations. Come what may, the Negroes will fight in self-defense. Only if the UNIONS organize and assist this defense will it be possible to cheek the development of a trend harmful to labor.

The whole labor movement has the elementary duty of preventing the reorganization of the Klan by smashing its anti-Negro attacks. This is a task which is of immediate importance, not only for the Negroes, but for white workers as well. The very existence of the union movement is at stake!

It is in the light of these facts – the reorganization of the fascist movement in Detroit, which is beginning by attacks on the Negroes – that we must consider Thomas’ program.

Thomas Omits Most Important Point

Thomas’ proposals fall under two main headings:

  1. Proposals which are supposed designed to get to the roots of race antagonisms by providing greater facilities (housing, jobs, recreation) for Negroes and whites; and
  2. Proposals designed to get fair treatment by the police and courts by rioters of both races.

We are one hundred per cent in favor of housing, recreational and job facilities for Negroes. But, on the one hand, Thomas’ program is completely inadequate for cutting off race antagonisms at the roots. For that a sweeping reorganization of society is necessary, a reorganization which will abolish the fear of post-war unemployment and end the fight of one worker against the other for jobs. Thomas merely scratches the surface.

On the other hand, Thomas overlooks the fact that the need NOW is for a program to smash the fascist Ku Klux Klan bands which will be stronger than ever after their recent victory and which will greet every new advance toward Negro-white amity with intensified activity. It will plan further violent anti-Negro outbreaks. Thomas’ general program hides the need for planning action now to combat the Klan.

Point two in Thomas’ program relating to the police and the courts serves to throw the workers off guard. How much can labor rely upon “good” police, “good” courts and jury investigations when the task of the moment is independent action by the workers themselves?

The role of the police during the affair should be clear enough to all.

They turned their backs while white gangs beat Negroes to death; yet in Negro neighborhoods they acted with an iron hand, shooting to kill on the slightest or no provocation. They permitted Klan gangs to carry weapons openly on the streets while they systematically invaded the Negro neighborhoods for the purpose of disarming the inhabitants.

Thomas wants no discrimination by the courts against Negroes arrested in the course of the fighting. Whites and Negroes should be treated alike, he says. But the discrimination exists in the fact that eighty-five per cent of those arrested by the police were Negroes. This is how the courts interpret “equal justice.”

The police and courts are proved to be stacked against the Negro people, just as they are stacked against the labor movement in any decisive contest. To advise labor to put all its faith in investigations which presumably are to lead to some modification in the attitude of the police and the courts is to advise working men to let themselves be trampled on by fascist Klan bands armed with clubs, Knives and guns.

The whole labor movement of Detroit must take warning. What is needed is defense against the developing and growing Klan.

If the police stand by silently while Negro workers are attacked by thugs, the Negroes have the right to defend their lives. The whole labor movement must be prepared to help its Negro brothers defend themselves, for the existence of the trade unions is based upon the unbroken solidarity of Negro and white workers.

The Jim Crow terrorists are scabs. Every worker must understand this and must put an end to scabbery.

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