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David Coolidge

FEPC Bill Contains Threat to Labor

(28 February 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 9, 28 February 1944, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The National Council for a Permanent Federal Employment Practices Committee is sponsoring House of Representatives Bill 3986 for a permanent FEPC. The bill was introduced by Representatives Thomas Scanlon (D., Pa.), Charles LaFollette (R., Ind.), William D. Dawson (D., Ill.), lone Negro members of Congress, and George H. Bender (R., Ohio),

The bill is described as “establishing the right of freedom from discrimination in employment and setting up a Fair Employment Practices Commission which will continue after the war.” A digest of the bill reads:

  1. The policy of the United States is to eliminate discrimination in all employment relations subject to the control of the government. Freedom from discrimination is a privilege of citizens which shall not be abridged by the United States or any state.
  2. It shall be an unfair employment practice for any employer or labor union to engage in job discrimination because of race, creed, color, national origin or ancestry.

If and when established, the commission will consist of a chairman and six others to be appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate. The commission will have the power to order the hiring or reinstatement with back pay if discrimination is found. The commission may use the federal courts to enforce its orders and have the power to subpoena witnesses and evidence. Interference with the commission will be punishable, on conviction, by a $5,000 fine, a year’s imprisonment or both.

Discrimination Far and Wide

We are for an act of Congress which makes any form of discrimination, segregation or Jim Crow illegal and punishable by fine, imprisonment or both. We prefer that such acts be made a federal criminal offense punishable by imprisonment alone. But this bill confines itself to “job discrimination.” It isn’t clear to us just how the federal government, with all its discriminatory and Jim Crow practices, will go about advocating or enforcing such a measure.

There is Jim Crow and discrimination in the federal government at Washington and elsewhere. There is political discrimination and Jim Crow in the South in direct violation of the Constitution, and the federal government has done nothing more than support this discrimination. The federal government sits by while there is Jim Crow in Army and Navy units and it tolerates the most vicious forms of discrimination throughout the military service.

The federal government builds housing projects and segregates Negro war workers in separate Jim Crow areas. Negro employees are discriminated against right in the government departments at Washington. In the District of Columbia, which is governed directly by appointees of the President and Congress, there is the grossest discrimination.

Despite all of this, we are for a bill which aims at the single object of job discrimination. We are willing to begin at the point where discrimination hurts most directly and painfully. If the Negro masses get more and better jobs, they will be able to improve their conditions and be in a far better position to fight against other forms of discrimination and Jim Crow.

The Bill Errs

There is one section of this bill against discrimination, however, that we are strongly against. We are against the inclusion of labor unions in the bill. That is, we are opposed to that part of the bill which gives CONGRESS the power and authority to control the practices of labor unions. We are unalterably opposed to the disgraceful, anti-working class and vicious practices of some unions in discriminating against Negroes.

These practices are the official policy of some AFL unions and the Railway Brotherhoods. They are not the policy of the CIO but, on the contrary, are distinctly forbidden in the CIO constitutions and by numerous resolutions and decisions of the CIO and its affiliated internationals. And so, no matter how or where the CIO may fall down here or there in the enforcement of its constitution and practice, the bill so far as unions are concerned, is aimed at the AFL and the railway brotherhoods.

We believe that the anti-Negro and anti-working class practices of the unions should be fought consistently and with irreconcilable anger and persistence. A thorough housecleaning is needed. But this housecleaning should and must be done by the labor movement itself. And we can say to the AFL, the railway unions and any other unions to whom it needs be said that if they do not purge themselves of these stinking practices, the unions will find a reactionary Congress willing and ready to seize on this situation in order to get their anti-labor hands on the unions.

It is very difficult to understand how this labor union section of the bill could get the support of trade union leaders. We notice the names of Wolchok of the United Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Employees (CIO) and Minkoff, Joint Board, ILGWU (AFL). Do these men and the other labor leaders supporting this bill believe that giving Congress the power to snoop around in the internal affairs of the unions will benefit Negro workers? Don’t these labor leaders know that the government already has the power and authority to force the employment of Negroes, no matter what the objecting unions may think?

Any employer in the United States can hire Negroes in any capacity and no union can stop it, no matter what the opinion of the union is about the hiring or promoting of Negro workers. This has been proved again and again, even before the federal government began financing and operating the plants.

We are for a bill which strikes at the real enemy of the Negro worker: the enemy that really has the power and that is the employer. We are not for permitting the powerful and reactionary capitalist employer to hide behind the skirts of some stupid, blind and ignorant union leaders. But we will not support any act or bill which in attempting to correct one evil institutes one far greater.

We will not support a bill which places a club in the hands of Congress with which to beat the whole labor movement. This will be of no certain benefit to the 500,000 Negroes now in trade unions.

If such a bill is passed, including the punitive provisions against labor unions, it would become a bill, not for the protection of Negroes in their rights to a job, but a bill for anti-union acts on the part of a capitalist government. Congress has no interest in forcing unions to admit Negroes or to cease from discriminatory practices against Negroes. Their anti-Negro practices are one of the very few things that Congress and the employers like about unions. If the white workers should put aside their prejudices and join hands with the Negro workers, Congress and the employers would be highly discomfited.

We say again, the breaking up of discrimination and Jim Crow in the labor movement are hot the business of Congress nor of any other section of the government. This is a matter predominantly for the white workers with the assistance, of course, of the Negro workers. We are a part of the labor movement and we have some responsibility for its welfare. Congress has no such responsibility and will not assume it. The trade unions should demand that the part relating to unions should be deleted from this bill.

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