Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

David Coolidge

“Operation Dixie” – CIO Begins
Labor’s Great March to the South

(29 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 17, 29 April 1946, p. 1-M.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Operation Dixie!” This is the phrase which has been coined to describe the new CIO organizing campaign in the South. This operation has also been described by the watchword: “We Are Marching South!” A million-dollar fund has been contributed by CIO internationals. An organizing staff under the direction of Van Bittner has been appointed. The organizing attack will be directed chiefly at the rubber, textile, furniture and clothing industries. In time other sections of Southern industry will be brought within the orbit of this organizing campaign.

This is the second great drive into the South within a period of a hundred years, the second march into the South, the second “Operation Dixie.” The first was the Civil War, which struck the shackles from 4½ million black chattel slaves. This drive gave citizenship to these millions and to one-half million free Negroes. It gave them democratic rights, so far as the constitution and law could give democratic rights.

Operation Dixie” – Then and Now

By constitutional amendment and law, the first “Operation Dixie” gave the Negro people political and economic equality. They had the right to vote and be voted for, the right to a job just like other people, the right to be free from proscription, discrimination, segregation, Jim Crow and insult. However, the first “Operation Dixie” was not carried through to completion, either in relation to the interests of the freed black black slaves or the interests of the free white workers. The leaders of the new Northern industrial capitalism, who organized the war against the Southern slave owners and cotton planters, knew what THEY wanted and how to get it. They got what THEY wanted. They got a vast territory with unlimited natural resources and a working class of millions to exploit as they went about their business of the capitalist development of the country.

The labor movement of the days following the Civil War did not know how to get what it vaguely conceived to be “the workingman’s share.” It did not understand the real meaning of the Civil War: “The Second American Revolution.” This early labor movement did not understand that it must have an “Operation Dixie,” that it must march into the South, that Sherman’s March to the Sea was only a small part of what was necessary to give real freedom to the chattel slaves and opportunity to the white wage slaves. Because the early labor movement did not understand these complex social, political and economic problems, the emancipated slaves were left stranded, at the mercy of their former masters and without the protection of the organized working class, of which they had the right to be a part and from which they had the right to claim protection.

The result of this indifference, ignorance, prejudice and lack of understanding on the part of the labor movement of the period following the Civil War, is in no small way responsible for the situation which the organized labor movement is confronted with in the South today. I do not speak only of the situation in which the Negro toilers find themselves but the no less miserable state of the white workers. Disfranchisement of Negroes directly by law and indirectly by the poll-tax. The disfranchisement of millions of white toilers by the poll tax. The lowest wages in the land, the longest hours and the worst working conditions for all workers, white and black. Peonage, intimidation, terror and lynching. The clubbing arid mobbing of union organizers. Bilbo, Rankin and Eastland. Ignorance, savagery and brutality. Hovels, disease and hatred. Government by “Rope and Faggot.” Ranting and itinerant Bible pounders, black and white, calling emaciated textile workers and cotton pickers to repentance!

This is the South. The South, 86 years after the first “Operation Dixie,” after the “Second American Revolution,” after the first March into the South.

The Second March to the South

Negro and white workers participated in the first “Operation Dixie.” We marched together in 1860 for freedom and we will march together in 1946 for a higher freedom. This means that there is a difference in the two Operations Dixie. In 1860 just one year after Governor Wise of Virginia had hanged old John Brown, the troops of the North were marching South singing: John Brown’s Body Lies A-Mouldering in the Grave, but His Soul Goes Marching On. Today, the working class armies of the North prepare to march South in the spirit of Working Class Solidarity Forever.

John Brown knew what Gov. Wise did not know and what Lincoln may not have known in the beginning: that the problem of chattel slavery could not be resolved by peaceful means. John Brown was hanged for carrying this sound conviction into action. The leaders of the slave rebellions knew this also. Gabriel and Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner understood this far too well for the comfort of the slave barons of the South, the copperheads of the North and the emerging industrial capitalists of the North. Harriet Tubman understood this too, as she carried on her “Operation Dixie,” by going into the South with her shotgun to bring black slaves to the North and to freedom.

The first march into the South was welcomed by the black slaves who described it as “The Coming of the Lord.” What they really meant by the “Lord” was freedom; freedom from misery, hunger and nakedness. Freedom for the body and the mind. Freedom to be a real human being, freedom from fear and freedom of opportunity. The black, freed men did not get what they had fought for, prayed for and suffered for. The “Lord” turned out to be a northern capitalist with his exploitation for the white toilers and his super-exploitation for the black toilers. This capitalist with his textile factories, mines, steel mills, cotton acres, turpentine swamps and lumber camps, only wanted and took his pound of flesh from black and white worker alike.

The “Lord” turned out to be Bilbo, Smith, Rankin and Eastland: the men of “Rope and Faggot,” organizers of the mob to lynch Negroes and club the organizers of the working class. This “Lord” was a divider of the masses; who came not to bring peace, happiness and plenty to the masses but division, hatreds and misery.

This Operation Dixie Can Be Successful

The white and black masses of the South will welcome the second “Operation Dixie” today just as they did the first “Operation Dixie” 86 years ago. The present march to the South is long overdue. The masses have been ready and were ready long ago. Those of the labor movement, in the North, were not ready. Now they have begun. They can be successful. They have the money, the men and the strength. They know how to do the job. If they fail, it will be the failure of the labor movement in the North. The leaders of the CIO know what the job is and they do know how to do it so far as the organizational problems are concerned. They know too, to some degree, that this “Operation Dixie” is not merely a trade union organization task. It is a political task, requiring not only the most painstaking economic organizational procedures but independent working class political organization. This is true today for the working class of the country no less than it was true for the young capitalist ruling class of the 60’s. The capitalists of the 60’s understood this. It remains to be seen just to what extent the leaders of labor understood their task today.

The first “Operation Dixie” has been called by the Beards, the historians, the “Second American Revolution.” The second “Operation Dixie” can and may become a part of the Third American Revolution: the final mighty effort of all the workers and toilers: black and white, male and female, native and those born in other lands, to free themselves and all mankind. We know that this great consummation, this goal is not a part of the thinking, in any concrete way, of the leaders of the CIO drive into the South. But history, even labor or working class history, is not made by labor leaders only. Often they only begin what others more enlightened, more courageous must complete and make permanent.

The toiling workers and agricultural laborers of the South can make history too. They must be organized and led. But it is only to the degree that they participate, in a most democratic way, in their own organization that they can make their own history and settle the problems of their own liberation and the liberation of the whole of mankind.

We Hail This New Development

On this May Day the Workers Party welcomes and hails “Operation Dixie” of the CIO. The black and white exploited of South will welcome again their liberators from the North. They expect you to carry on. All the martyrs of the labor movement, black and white, in every land, would expect you to carry on. But we of the Workers Party, we of the revolutionary socialist movement, say that we too have a place in this struggle. We have a big place in this struggle, not a subordinate place. As “Operation Dixie” proceeds, some of the leaders of labor may learn this. Thousands and thousands of the toilers surely will. You of the trade union movement cannot complete this job alone and the oppressed and exploited of the South and of the whole country will learn this. And in that day they will turn “Operation Dixie” into the real Third American Revolution.

Ernest Rice McKinney Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 24 January 2019