Tom Kerry Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

C. Thomas

Negro Boilermakers in Los Angeles Fight
Against Jim-Crow Policy of Union Heads

(2 June 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 22, 2 June 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Negro boilermakers in the shipyards of San Pedro, California, have resorted to court action in an effort to compel the leaders of the AFL Boilermakers Union to end the practice of segregating colored workers in Jim Crow auxiliary locals. The Negro boilermakers are demanding and fighting for equal rights.

The struggle for equal membership rights in the Boilermakers Union has been going on for a number of years. The tremendous expansion of the wartime shipbuilding industry on the Pacific Coast caused an influx of large groups of workers previously shut out of the industry. The narrow-minded, case-hardened craft union bureaucrats feared this influx of workers drawn from the most oppressed sections of the population. They cast about for methods to preserve their positions and privileges which were based on the tight little “job trusts” which existed prior to the war.

One of these methods was the establishment of auxiliary, or “B” type locals, subordinate to the “regular” local. Those workers placed in auxiliary locals were relegated to the status of second-class citizens and deprived of full membership rights in the union. They included the most exploited sections of the working class – women, unskilled and semi-skilled workers. Adding insult to injury, the craft union bureaucrats further restricted the colored workers to all-Negro Jim Crow auxiliaries.

Their intentions were all too obvious. As war production was curtailed, as layoffs mounted and unemployment rose, the bureaucrats intended to rid themselves of an embarrassing problem by simply dissolving the auxiliaries. These callous labor skates play the game of the employers by pitting men against women, white against black, skilled against unskilled, employed against unemployed. It is to the great credit of the Negro workers that they have taken the lead in the fight against a policy which divides the working class against itself and for the unity of all workers in the struggle for job security and a decent standard of living.

Jim Crow Practices

The awakening Negro masses are engaged in this struggle all along the line. In the armed forces, in industry, in politics, the fight for equal rights is being pressed with great vigor by the Negro masses determined to end the pernicious system of Jim Crow with its injustice, its humiliation, its degradation. The advanced white workers, in the trade unions are on the side of their Negro brothers in this fight. They know that Jim Crow is among the most injurious weapons of reaction. Anyone within the labor movement who practices, encourages or even tolerates Jim Crow is playing the game of the worst enemies of labor.

While large sections of the labor movement, particularly in the CIO, have learned this lesson, there are still many unions, in the AFL and Railroad Brotherhoods, who bring shame and discredit on labor by indulging in Jim Crow practices. One of the worst offenders is the AFL Boilermakers Union. In the fight for full membership rights in the union, all class-conscious workers are on the side of the Negro boilermakers. However, we do not think that the courts, an institution of the class enemy which upholds the poll tax laws, which bolsters Jim Crow and lynch law in the South; which functions primarily as an instrument to preserve the present social system perpetuating race discrimination and capitalist class rule, can resolve the problem. Nor can any reliance be placed on a government which maintains Jim Crow in the armed forces and thereby encourages its extension to civilian life.

The reactionary officialdom of the Boilermakers Union have seized upon the California court action and are attempting to divert the issue by attacking the Negro boilermakers for resorting to the capitalist courts to resolve an “internal” union dispute. The demagogic labor skates are seeking to cover their own responsibility by appealing to the understandable hatred of the workers for the courts which stand on the side of the employers.

Bureaucrats Responsible

The appeal to the courts for a redress of their grievance was an act of desperation to which the Negro boilermakers were driven by the bureaucrats who allowed them no democratic means of conducting their struggle within the union. It is these miserable labor fakers who are guilty of breaching the class solidarity of the workers. It is they who have broken ranks and by their whole policy are undermining the unity of the working class and thereby weakening the labor movement. It is they who, by their actions, are inviting government-employer intervention into the internal affairs of the union. Such intervention, as union militants know, invariably leads to hamstringing the unions and reducing their effectiveness as organizations of working class defense.

Because it obscures the real issue and confuses many militants sympathetic to their cause, court action does not serve the best interests of the Negro workers. Their most effective appeal is to the court of labor. Deprived of the right to carry their fight within the particular union, the straggle should be extended to the broader arena of the entire labor movement.

The pressure of those unions which have abolished discrimination, of those militants within the union who recognize the reactionary character of Jim Crow, must be brought to bear against the Jim Crow bureaucrats from all sides. The public opinion of the labor movement must be mobilized against them. They must be made to feel the weight of this opinion and stand pilloried and exposed before the bar of labor. It is in and through the labor movement that this fight can and will be carried to a successful conclusion.

Tom Kerry Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 6 November 2018