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Segregation would immediately create a justly dissatisfied minority

that would be an easily pliable weapon in the hands of the employer.  

William Green

 

 

The Negro and Industrial Unionism

By Reginald T. Kennedy

 

The Negro has had little success in being admitted to craft unions and it is only logical that when another labor movement, industrial unionism appears, that he should be interested to know how it is to function and what it holds to him.  He has observed that while the leaders of the A. F. of L. have long denounced racial prejudice that they have been unable to make their views and opinions carry weight with their followers.

Mr. William Green, President of the A. F. of L., in a statement to the Interracial Review, pleads for the banishment of racial discrimination and urges laboring men and their sympathizers to look upon the labor movement as an integrated whole, effecting all workers.  The fact remains, however, that the individual unions comprising the A. F. of L. have been the worst offenders in refusing to treat the labor problem as a whole and the pleadings of Mr. Green and other liberal minded men, have been ruthlessly brushed aside.

In the field of organized labor discrimination against the Negro has been practiced in various ways.  Sometimes the membership of Negroes is forbidden by constitutional clauses and at other times by tacit agreement among the members not to propose a Negro to membership.  

Indeed there are other and more subtle means employed.  When the pressure for admittance becomes too great, the Negro is condescendingly admitted to separate locals or to Federal Unions, under the direct supervision of the A. F. of L.  In these unions the Negro has been treated as a backwash of the Labor movement, unable to obtain his full measure of justice, and tolerated as one of the unavoidable evils and not accepted as an equal.  

While this policy does not prevail in all unions, it has been sufficiently widespread as to discourage Negro membership in the majority of trade unions.  This has resulted in a grave injustice to the Negro and has created a huge labor reserve that the strike-breaking employer has been able to draw upon.

Before the outbreak of the warfare between the industrial and the craft unions, the position of the Negro in organized labor had reached a desperate state.  In the 1934 Convention a resolution was passed approving the appointment of a committee to study Negro labor and a ray of hope appeared.  But in the 1935 convention the Executive Committee issued a supplemental report that was much milder than the report of the original committee and it brought forth denunciations and warnings by such labor leaders as [A. Philip] Randolph and [Milton P.] Webster.  

The traditional argument that “trade autonomy” was sacred, and that it was the province of each international union to solve the problem of Negro membership individually, was effectively scotched.  If it was proper for the A. F. of L. to interfere in the Building Traders Unions dispute, was it not proper to take an aggressive hand in the issue of racial discrimination?  

As stated above it was the formation of the Committee for Industrial Organization that suddenly gave Negro labor a new lease on life.  

The Unions comprising this group had consistently given the colored man better treatment than he had been accorded in the other unions.  In particular, as John Brophy has pointed out in a letter to the Interracial Review, the Negro had taken an active part in the United Miners.  

But what was of greater importance was that the strife had placed the Negro in a middle position where both factions would eventually bargain for his aid and allegiance.  When the conflict becomes more intense it will be possible for William Green to override the reactionaries in organized labor and to institute his program.  Part of his statement is as follows:

It is pertinent at this point to call attention to the fact that the racial problem of this country, so far as the trade union movement is concerned, is not a Negro problem in particular.  It is a problem which equally effects large numbers of others; for the wage earners of our great country represent practically every nationality throughout the world.

The organized labor movement declares that wage earners cannot achieve and maintain American Standards of wages, hours and conditions of employment except through organized united economic effort.  The great need of the Negro workers is organization into trade unions with their fellow wage earners.  The door is open.  We ask them to come in.  

We do not ask them to give up their fraternal organizations, their social organizations, their insurance organizations, or whatever form of society or organization they may now enjoy, but for their own salvation as wage earners, for the maintenance of the high standard of wages, hours and conditions of employment of the American workmen, we do ask, plead and urge that each of them as an individual Negro worker make application for membership as a workman of whatever trade or calling to the union of that trade and calling in whose district they are employed.

The ideal painted in these paragraphs is the one that Negroes have long fought to attain:  to be treated as one with their fellow white workers, not to be relegated to a lower caste.  Industrial Unionism is the best exemplification of this goal.  It concerns itself with the organization of all workers in a particular industry into one union.  

Unlike craft unionism which seeks to organize laborers according to the process in which they are engaged, industrial unionism organize the workers according to the product manufactured.  As an example, all of the workers in the auto industry would belong to one union, not to many separate organizations.  Any attempt to segregate the Negro in this type of union would be suicidal.  

It also spells suicide to segregate in craft unionism, but there the effect is slow and protracted.  In industrial unionism dissolution would be rapid.  Segregation would immediately create a justly dissatisfied minority that would be an easily pliable weapon in the hands of the employer.  

Working shoulder to shoulder with white workers the Negro would be familiar with his work and in case of strikes by the majority workers he could remain at his machine thus nullifying the efforts of his co-workers to attain demands.  What incentive would be to have to fight for men who had forcibly placed him in a lower category, as a despised group, when he was their equal in efficiency and skill?

In its very essence, then, industrial unionism denies segregation and it is for this reason that leading Negro Labor men favor it.  That discrimination will entirely disappear in craft unionism is doubtful. 

 It will still be possible for the white craftsmen to shunt the Negro into separate locals and Federal unions.  But the strength of racial prejudice will be weakened and many of its potent arguments destroyed when industrial unionism the Negro shows that he is fully capable of combining with his fellow White workers in winning and holding those just rights to which every laborer is entitled.

Source: Interracial Review    May, 1936

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Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

By  Frank B. Wilderson III

Wilderson, a professor, writer and filmmaker from the Midwest, presents a gripping account of his role in the downfall of South African apartheid as one of only two black Americans in the African National Congress (ANC). After marrying a South African law student, Wilderson reluctantly returns with her to South Africa in the early 1990s, where he teaches Johannesburg and Soweto students, and soon joins the military wing of the ANC. Wilderson's stinging portrait of Nelson Mandela as a petulant elder eager to accommodate his white countrymen will jolt readers who've accepted the reverential treatment usually accorded him. After the assassination of Mandela's rival, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mandela's regime deems Wilderson's public questions a threat to national security; soon, having lost his stomach for the cause, he returns to America.

Wilderson has a distinct, powerful voice and a strong story that shuffles between the indignities of Johannesburg life and his early years in Minneapolis, the precocious child of academics who barely tolerate his emerging political consciousness. Wilderson's observations about love within and across the color line and cultural divides are as provocative as his politics; despite some distracting digressions, this is a riveting memoir of apartheid's last days.Publishers Weekly

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Becoming American Under Fire

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In Becoming American under Fire, Christian G. Samito provides a rich account of how African American and Irish American soldiers influenced the modern vision of national citizenship that developed during the Civil War era. By bearing arms for the Union, African Americans and Irish Americans exhibited their loyalty to the United States and their capacity to act as citizens; they strengthened their American identity in the process. . . . For African American soldiers, proving manhood in combat was only one aspect to their quest for acceptance as citizens. As Samito reveals, by participating in courts-martial and protesting against unequal treatment, African Americans gained access to legal and political processes from which they had previously been excluded. The experience of African Americans in the military helped shape a postwar political movement that successfully called for rights and protections regardless of race.

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Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher

By Leonard Harris  and Charles Molesworth

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 The heart of their narrative illuminates Locke’s heady years in 1920s New York City and his forty-year career at Howard University, where he helped spearhead the adult education movement of the 1930s and wrote on topics ranging from the philosophy of value to the theory of democracy.

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The White Masters of the World

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Ancient African Nations

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