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Detroit Elections

Ben Hall

A Summary of the Detroit Elections

(November 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 48 (should be 47), 22 November 1943, p. 3
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT – The complete bankruptcy of the CIO policy of supporting so-called “friends of labor” and the urgent necessity for the immediate formation of an independent Labor Party, with a fighting program were demonstrated by the recent mayoralty campaign in Detroit and by the whole course: of the election campaign itself from the primaries on October 5 to the final balloting on November 2.

Mayor Jeffries, running for re-election, was backed by all three local daily papers, by the Detroit Board of Commerce and by an undercover campaign of the Ku Klux Klan. His election bid was marked by vicious attacks against the Negro population of the city and slanderous charges against the CIO.

Frank FitzGerald, supported by the Democratic Party, the CIO and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and proclaimed as a “scholar, athlete, soldier, lawyer, professor and judge,” went down to defeat.

The final returns show that Jeffries nosed out his opponent by a vote of 207,799 [1] to 175,817, a majority of some 32,000 votes.

From the viewpoint of the labor movement on a national scale, these elections are of great significance. The startling feature of the election campaign was the ability of Jeffries to turn almost certain defeat into victory.

Victory of FitzGerald in Primaries

In the primaries, on October 5, Fitzgerald received 98,583 votes to 60,360 for Jeffries. This impressive victory came as a surprise to all the local newspapers and political commentators. It proved conclusively that labor was in a fighting mood and -desired “a voice in politics, and that the Negro people, thousands of them members of the CIO, were weary of the toleration and whitewash of Klanist activities by the police department. They were convinced of the need to back a candidate supported by the CIO. This does not: mean that FitzGerald was a REAL labor candidate. But support by the CIO made this Democrat appear to be a spokesman tor labor. As a result, the entire campaign was a farce.

Betting odds after the primaries were overwhelmingly for FitzGerald. It seemed as though he would win a decisive victory.

But between October 5 and November 2, Jeffries, the daily press and the Klanists were able to take the offensive, to raise those issues which they wished to discuss, to mobilize thousands of voters who stayed away from the primaries, and to put Jeffries back in office.

In the final returns, FitzGerald received forty-five per cent of the votes cast. In the primaries he had received sixty-two per cent of the total vote cast for himself and Jeffries.

The facts therefore demonstrate that even if FitzGerald had finally nosed out Jeffries by a small margin, the whole course of the election campaign was a tremendous increase in the influence of the enemies of labor in contradistinction to their poor showing in the primaries. It is this fact, not the simple matter of FitzGerald’s defeat, that demands the attention of the labor movement.

Labor Movement versus Capitalists

The real contenders for power were the organized labor movement on the one hand and the big capitalists, ably represented by the daily press and the Klanists, on the other. But neither side came out openly under its own banner and program.

While labor appointed as its spokesman the Democratic politician, FitzGerald, who remained silent on all the main issues confronting labor and who conducted a vacillating, defensive and empty campaign, big business had an able and vocal champion for its interests in Jeffries, the self-styled liberal and “non-partisan” respectable Mayor. It soon became clear that FitzGerald’s victory in the primaries would be nullified. Two issues dominated the campaign, both aggressively raised by Jeffries and both sidetracked by FitzGerald – the CIO and the June riots against the Negroes, together with associated problems of race relations.

One of a series of provocative and anonymous little cards which bear the unmistakable stamp of the Ku Klux Klan and which were distributed secretly by the thousands in the streets and in the shops stated:

“Your ballot is secret. Will you let a few power-hungry labor leaders order YOU how to vote? Use your God-given American right to vote as you choose. It’s all up to you.”

FitzGerald and the CIO

What was FitzGerald’s reply? Nowhere did he state openly or even by implication that we need a labor government, that labor, not big business, constitutes the majority of the population and is entitled to rule; that it was labor which produces the goods of life for all and deserves to run a government really in the interests of the people.

His platform stated that he was in favor of “a helpful and cooperative attitude toward labor.” He could not even take an unambiguous stand on the right to strike. When asked a point-blank question by the Detroit News: “’Do you believe a city employee has the right to strike?” he refused to give a clear reply. “This is a legal question,” he said, “... the question is of little bearing upon the immediate future, as practically all responsible unions are pledged not to strike during the period of the war emergency.”

But FitzGerald cannot dodge the fact that responsible unions have gone on strike and even now are in the midst of strike votes. Fitzgerald could not take a stand openly for the workingman and the unions because he is a supporter of the capitalistic Democratic Party.

The Negro Problem

The Negro issue and the June 21 riots played a prominent role in the campaign. Jeffries adopted a disgraceful, irreconcilable, anti-Negro line.

Money was spent like water to rush through the trial of two Negroes, Leo Tipton and Charles Lyons, who were accused of making inflammatory statements on the eve of the June riots..Every attempt was made to inflame the public by this stage-trial – reported in lurid headlines in the pro-Jeffries daily press. The trial was pushed through to conclusion, before the elections.

This trick was exposed by the Michigan CIO News for what it was, “... a well planned and executed maneuver by the Hidden Government that has this community in its grip and is seeking to perpetuate itself, to-re-elect. Jeffries as Mayor.”

Jeffries, speaking of the. riots, said: “Negro hoodlums started it; the conduct of the police department was magnificent.” The Klan thrived in the Jim Crow atmosphere established by Jeffries. Its tiny cards proclaimed “FitzGerald says the Negroes need protection. Protection against whom? What do you think?” and “26,245 Negroes voted for FjtzGerald. Only a few voted for Jeffries. How are you going to vote?”

FitzGerald’s reply? Asked by the News how he would prevent a recurrence of race riots, he replied: “A hoodlum is a hoodlum, whatever his color may be, and the moment he is caught violating the law he should be clamped into jail.”

FitzGerald thinks that hoodlums, Negro and white, were responsible for the riots. This is an absolute falsehood. The Klanist element bears the real responsibility for big anti-Negro strikes and street demonstrations and its activities on a nationwide scale are the real immediate cause of the riots in Detroit and elsewhere.

Housing in Detroit Elections

Mayor Jeffries came out squarely against the policy of allowing Negro and white occupancy of the same public housing projects. He denounced the idea that Negroes should be permitted to move into housing projects in hitherto white neighborhoods.

Labor has given up the right to strike, he said. No group should fight for social gains during wartime, he maintained. To the Negro this means that because we are supposed to be fighting a war for democracy he should surrender the fight for democracy right here at home and permit Klanists to run riot. A peculiar war for democracy! Jeffries was silent, on the social gains of big business, which is the only real gainer out of the war.

Where did FitzGerald stand? Not a single forthright statement in favor of the democratic rights of Negroes. At the beginning of the campaign he said that the demands of Negroes for mixed occupancy of public housing “must be considered.” Later in the campaign he issued a denial that he had ever taken a stand in favor of mixed housing. Some of his supporters tried to counteract Jeffries’s campaign by trying to prove that it was he who “forced a Negro housing project into a white neighborhood.”

This argumentation conceded everything to the Jim Crow campaign of the Klanists and put everything on the basis of who was REALLY more anti-Negro, Jeffries or FitzGerald. This criminal propaganda in his behalf was never repudiated by FitzGerald.

By his-anti-Negro campaign, Jeffries sought two objectives. In the first place, he wanted to divert labor from what should have been the main issue of the campaign, rule by big business versus, rule by labor, and in the second place, he sought to cover up the vicious part played by his own police department, headed by his own appointed police commissioner Witherspoon.

Because the labor movement supported FitzGerald, a supporter of a capitalist party, Jeffries was able to succeed completely in his strategy. The fact that the police shot Negroes on sight, at the slightest provocation, disarmed Negroes and threw them to the Klan-led mobs and at the same time adopted a kid-glove attitude toward the Klan gangs in the June riots ... all this was covered up and forgotten.

Note by ETOL

1. The printed version says “297,799” – but this is contradicted by figure for the majority given later in the same sentence.

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