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David Coolidge

What Benefits Negro Labor, Benefits All Labor

We Are 100 Per Cent Behind the Negroes in Demanding Jobs
on New York Buses – But There Are More Important Demands

(14 April 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 15, 14 April 1941, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

An organization of Negroes in Harlem has instituted a campaign demanding that the bus companies of New York City supply jobs for 100 Negro workers. The campaign takes the form not only of a demand on the bus companies but also as an effort to have Negroes boycott the buses and refuse to ride them until Negroes are given the employment asked tor. Pickets are placed at bus stops in Harlem with signs and placards urging Negroes especially not to ride the buses.

The organizations in charge of the campaign have appealed to the Transport Workers Unions for assistance and to all organizations claiming to be friendly and sympathetic to the struggles of the Negro people.

We Go Further

The Workers Party is in full and complete agreement with the efforts of Negroes to get jobs; any and all jobs that they are qualified to hold, up to the very highest jobs in industry or government, elective or appointive, without any exception whatsoever. We go further than this.

We demand not only economic equality for Negroes but social and political equality also. SOCIAL, POLITICAL and ECONOMIC equality are inseparable, they are a unity, and one cannot be attained without the other. We are opposed to jim-crow at any point and in any way whatsoever. We are opposed to, and fight against jim-crow in industry, government or in the trade union movement.

Reduced to practice this means that the Workers Party is for Negroes having jobs, any jobs, with the bus companies or other industries. It is correct for Negroes to fight for these jobs; and fight in any way that will produce results. The Workers Party stands ready to fight at the side of the Negroes to obtain these results.

We would, however, like to see the Negroes of New York broaden their campaign to include the mass production war industries. In fact It is our opinion that it is these industries that should be the focal point of their campaign and not relatively small and unimportant industries like the bus companies.

Furthermore, 100 jobs are only a drop in the bucket. There are thousands and thousands of unemployed Negroes in New York City. There are thousands and thousands more working at menial jobs at very small pay. All of these are entitled to jobs and to jobs at far better wages.

There are vast war industries in New York and its environs. There are: the Brewster Aircraft Co. in Queens; three Bethlehem shipbuilding plants; Consolidated Shipbuilding Corporation in the Bronx; the federal Navy Yard in Brooklyn: numerous companies making radio equipment; thousands of large and small metal and machine industries working on war orders for the federal government. These are really the important industries. They employ hundreds of thousands of workers of all kinds. All of them are expanding and increasing their working forces daily. There are jobs for common labor, the semi-skilled, skilled, technicians and scientific workers.

There are Negroes by the thousands who can fill these jobs and they should demand them and fight for them. It is on these industries that the fight should be concentrated. There are vast opportunities in industry today not only for the skilled and semi-skilled, but all the important industries have made provisions for the training of their employees through company schools and apprentice courses. It is in these industries that Negroes can acquire the training that will fit them for a permanent place in industry.

Governor Lehman has recently appointed a committee to work with the State Defense Council to end discrimination in employment for “defense industries.” Two Negroes in close contact with Negro labor are members of this committee: Lester Granger of the Urban League and A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Prominent labor leaders and industrialists are also on the committee. The labor leaders and the industrialists can begin at home immediately; the labor leaders fighting against discrimination in their own unions, and the industrialists by giving Negroes jobs immediately.

Negroes must not fall into the trap of demanding jobs simply because they spend money with this or that corporation. This means that if Negroes don’t buy airplanes or ships, Negroes must demand jobs for the same reason that they are demanded by white workers. This is especially true of the jobs in the so-called “defense” industries. Negroes should test out this business of making the United States “the arsenal of democracy.” And they should test it out by the thousands; not merely with some puny demand for 100 jobs from an insignificant bus company.

There is one final point that needs to be discussed; this is the problem of the Negro worker and the unions. This has been and remains a sore spot. Many unions, particularly the AFL unions, have most vicious jim-crow policies and practices. This interferes with Negroes getting and holding jobs. This policy and practice must be smashed and Negroes are 100 per cent correct in their opposition to jim-crow in the labor movement as elsewhere.

Furthermore, it is correct for Negroes to demand that unions not only cease their jim-crow practices so far as membership in the union is concerned, but they are correct too in demanding that unions initiate a campaign against the jim-crow employment policies of the industrialists. The unions themselves must initiate a struggle for the employment of Negroes in industry.

The Negroes, on their part, however, must be prepared at all times to support the organized trade union movement. concretely this means that Negro workers, primarily as workers, must join the unions, be active in them, help to build them and participate in all struggles of the unions against the bosses. Negro workers must not be led astray by Negroes or whites who are confused on this point or who display any anti-union bias in the slightest.

Support ALL Labor Gains

Supporting the labor movement concretely means also to be prepared to support all the practical gains that have been made by the trade unions. For instance, the seniority rule sometimes might work against the employment of Negroes at a certain time. This is not only true for Negroas but for white workers as well. As a general practice it would be incorrect for Negroes to demand of the union that it violate the seniority rule even for Negroes to get jobs. This would be no victory for Negro workers. Without seniority the Negroes could be fired at the whim of the boss the same as a white worker. No practice that is detrimental to workers as a whole will prove beneficial to Negro workers.

For all the reasons given above and others that could be given, it is important that Negroes concentrate on the war industries in their fight for jobs. Here the level of production is being constantly raised and therefore the demand for workers is so great that the question of seniority cannot arise at the point of hiring. Where it does arise after employment it works in the interest of the Negro and white worker alike.

The majority of the organized mas production plants are in the CIO. This organization is founded on the .principle of industrial or vertical unionism: taking in all the workers in the plant irrespective of race, color or type of work. The CIO has made remarkable progress in breaking down trade union and industrial jim-crow. There is plenty yet to be achieved, but Negroes all over the country are learning rapidly that the place to do it is inside the unions and particularly inside the CIO unions. Negroes must not judge the trade union movement today by the past or by the present practices of the AFL.

All over the country today Negro workers are standing shoulder to shoulder with the white workers. This was especially noticeable in the recent Bethlehem and International Harvester strikes. This is as it should be.

Negro workers must not be influenced by Negroes or whites who do not understand the labor movement or whose primary interests are outside the working class, as a class. The overwhelming majority of Negroes are workers. Their fundamental interests are identical with those of the white workers. The majority of white workers of course do not understand this; but neither do the majority of Negro workers. The place of the Negro as a group is with the working class in the organized labor movement. This is not just a theory but has tremendous practical importance. A. Philip Randolph understood this thoroughly when he was going through the long ten year struggle, against terrific odds, to organize the sleeping car porters. They are an international, affiliated to the AFL. Despite the fact of the jim-crow policy of the AFL, the sleeping car porters are in there. They have been recognized by the company, they have won victories; they have had wage increases and today they are accorded the dignity of a worker, and not, as it used to be, the insulting status of a menial.

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