ORGANIZED LABOR AND THE BLACK WORKER DURING WORLD WAR I AND READJUSTMENT
The immediacy of the “Negro Problem” forced its way onto the floor at various American Federation of Labor conventions, but the delegates either ignored or gave short shrift to most of the resolutions pertaining to the issue. At the 1917 convention, for example, one resolution called for the organization of black workers, but went on to enumerate the injustices heaped against blacks in the South. The resolution was rejected, however, and even its sponsor apologized for offending the southern delegates. Similarly, even as the AFL unions refused to organize Negroes, at the 1918 and 1919 meetings, the same unions rejected on technical jurisdictional grounds a series of resolutions calling for the organization of blacks into their own unions (Doc. 1–3).
The problem of exclusion was aggravated in the North, however, by the Great Migration. The black worker confronted a new dilemma: he could live in the South “where most of his manhood and civil rights were denied him, but when economically his condition was secure,” or he could live in the North where his rights were at least theoretically guaranteed by the law, “but where his economic condition was always precarious” (Doc. 18).
Ambivalence toward unions does not demonstrate that blacks were anti-union Although they resented the discrimination practices by the white unions, Afro-Americans did not necessarily disapprove of the concept itself. In fact, the workers’ need for collective power was even more poignant for that large majority of blacks at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Thus, as their consciousness was raised, black locals began to spring up throughout the North. Negro publications, such as The Messenger, The Crisis, and the New York Call, regular ly announced the desirability of working-class unity, and denounced any backward step away from this ideal by either black or white workers. As The Messenger put it, “if the employers can keep the white and black dogs, on account of race prejudice, fighting over a bone,” then the capitalists will be able to steal the bone (profits) for themselves (Doc. 22, 24, 29).
Not all white labor organizations restricted blacks. Even in the South white members of the Moulders’ union became avid supporters of an open policy after the organization had educated them to their economic interests (Doc. 8). The Chicago Labor News admitted that there were unions which “discriminated shamefully” against the Negro, but noted that many did not, and contended that the movement should “open all the labor unions to colored” workers (Doc. 15). Commendable acts of racial unity were exhibited as well. In Norfolk, Virginia “thousands of white and colored laboring men all lined up in one great parade, and afterward played a baseball game in the park (Doc. 11).
One of the most remarkable symbolic examples of cross-racial labor unity occurred in Bogalusa, Louisiana, when four white local unionists were murdered in 1919 as they protected a Negro organizer from a mob of vigilantes. The International Timber Workers’ Union had launched an organizational drive at the Great Southern Lumber Company, where Sol Dacus, a black vice president of the local, had his life threatened. Dacus sought refuge in the swamps, and when he emerged protected by four white union men, the whites were murdered by the mob. The black press hailed the display of racial brotherhood, but generaly recognized that it was an isolated case of compassion (Doc. 35–40).
Still, most blacks rejected membership in labor unions which practiced discrimination. Many followed the council of such leaders as the black minist in Birmingham, Alabama, who advised his flock that “the white labor union is inimical to the Negro laborer.” The fact that union leaders in Birmingham wer “moving heaven and earth to organize the Negro workers in the steel and iron and coal mines in this district while they were counseling the white laborers to murder Negro laborers in other sections of the country,” was sufficient evidence to prove the point. If the Negro must organize, “let the organization be purely a Negro” union (Doc. 9). Some black leaders accepted this premise and organized all-Negro unions. In July 1917, for example, the Associated Colored Employees of America was founded, three days before the East St. Louis riots. Founded in New York, its aim was to foster working-class unity along racial lines, and to organize both skilled and unskilled Negroes into “one big union” (Doc. 10). Similarly, in 1918 the Washington Bee called for an Afro-American confederation of labor patterned after the AFL. The call was answered the following year when the National Brotherhood Workers of America was founded in Washington, D.C. (Doc. 20, 27).
Resolution No. 36—By Delegate Daniel C. Murphy of the San Francisco Labor Council, San Francisco, Cal.:
WHEREAS, Representatives of the International Negro League have presented to the San Francisco Labor Council for its endorsement, and for endorsement by the American Federation of Labor, certain resolutions, hereinafter fully set forth, dealing with the racial problem occasioned by the presence of thirteen million negroes in the United States; and
WHEREAS, It is the intent and purpose of the sponsors of said resolutions to secure the cooperation of the American people and the national government in an endeavor to have the nations participating in the coming world’s peace conference agree upon a plan to turn over the African continent or parts thereof to the African race and those descendants of said race who live in America and desire to return to Africa, and thus enable the black race to work out its own destiny on an equality with other peoples of the earth; and
WHEREAS, This proposal seems to be one of great importance and worthy of consideration, though one not to be adopted and encouraged or carried into execution except after fullest investigation as to its practicability and desirability as a means to solve the negro problem of the United States; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the Thirty-seventh Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor hereby recommends and directs the Executive Council to promptly and diligently investigate and take such steps as may seem advisable and proper to influence the President and Congress to carry into effect, should they so decide, the intents and purposes of the following resolutions submitted for the consideration of organized labor by the International Negro League, to-wit:
“WHEREAS, President Woodrow Wilson, in his historic war speech, has declared that ‘the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things we have always carried nearest our hearts; for democracy; for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government; for the rights and liberties of small nations; for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free; and92
“WHEREAS, There are upward of 12,000,000 American citizens of negro blood who are compelled to submit to taxation without their having a representative or a voice in the law-making bodies of the nation, millions of whom, in the Southern States, are openly disfranchised and have no voice in their state or local affairs, and are deprived of their civil and property rights by humiliating and jim-crow and segregation laws: and
“WHEREAS, Men, women, and children are put to death, oftimes by torture and fire, for slight offenses and for no offense at all, while white men can openly commit crimes, against colored women with impunity, which if commited by colored men against white women would mean death by torture. Various other grievances too numerous to mention here could be recorded; and
“WHEREAS, This nation is now at war and as a result great and unusual powers have been given the President which, if he will, can be exercised to abolish many of the wrongs to which American negroes are subjected; and
“WHEREAS, The nation has entered the war for the purpose of protecting the rights of small peoples; therefore, be it
“RESOLVED, That we American citizens and others respectfully appeal to President Woodrow Wilson to use, now and immediately and to their fullest extent, all the power and influence at his command, to the end that all the political, civil and economic disabilities, so offensive and destructive to the rights of negroes as human beings and American citizens be removed; and, be it further
Your committee can assume no responsibility for statements contained in the resolution, but inasmuch as portions of it refer to the organization of negro workers we recommend that that portion be referred to the Executive Council.
It was moved and seconded that the report of the committee be adopted.
Delegate Gorman, of the Order of Railroad Telegraphers, spoke at some length on the subject and took exception to that part of the resolution referring to the treatment of the negroes in the South. He expressed a desire to amend the resolution and was informed by the chair that the subject matter before the house was the report of the committee.
Delegate Murphy, of the San Francisco Labor Council, the introducer of the resolution, explained his position and expressed regret that certain parts of the resolution were framed in language offensive to any delegate.
The question was further discussed by Delegates Connors, Switchmen’s Union; Bowen of the Bricklayers, Berry of the Printing Pressmen, and others. The principal point of contention was the language in the resolution that was objectionable particularly to the delegates from the South.
Delegates James Duncan and Frey, on behalf of the committee, explained that they appreciated the danger resting in the language contained in the resolution, but that since it was a part of the official proceedings they had no alternative than to submit a report and that they felt all that was necessary was to disclaim all responsibility for the statements contained in the resolution.
Delegate Frey suggested the following as an amendment to the report of the committee; That the committee cannot be responsible for and rejects the statements contained in the resolution, and inasmuch as portions of it refer to organization we refer that portion to the Executive Council.
A motion by Delegate Lennon that the resolution, together with the report of the committee, be laid on the table, was lost.
Delegate Bowen, of the Birmingham, Alabama, Trades Council, asked Delegate Murphy who was responsible for the introduction of the resolution?
Delegate Murphy responded and said that neither he nor the San Francisco Labor Council had any particular interest in the negro workers, but that out of a certain measure of appreciation of support given by the negro workers in a recent strike in San Francisco, the resolution had been introduced at the request of the representatives of the International Negro League.
When Delegate DeNedrey asked a question of Delegate Bowen concerning the organizing of the negro workers Delegate Woll raised the point of order that cross-questioning of delegates in the convention was not permissible. President Gompers declared the point of order well taken.
The matter was further discussed by Delegates Ogletree, John H. Walker, Secretary Frey, Bowen (Wm. J.) and others.
President Gompers then read Section 6 of Article XI, of the Constitution of the American Federation of Labor, which is as follows:
“Separate charters may be issued to Central Labor Unions, Local Unions, or Federal Labor Unions, composed exclusively of colored members, where, in the judgment of the Executive Council, it appears advisable and to the best interests of the trade union movement to do so.”
Secretary Frey then read the amended report of the committee, which was as follows: “Your committee cannot be responsible for and rejects the statements contained in the resolution, but inasmuch as portions of it refer to the organization of negro workers the committee recommends that that portion be referred to the Executive Council.”
The convention adopted the amended report of the committee. . . .
Resolution No. 58—By Delegates Walter Green, T. B. Henry, James E. Cousins, John L. Price and William N. Chavis:
WHEREAS, The colored delegates representing the local unions affiliated directly with the American Federation of Labor in the State of Virginia, having thoroughly examined the situation of organized labor and the elements that must go into the workings, so as to place its benefits within the reach of all its members without regard to race or color, and feeling that the interest of the cause would be greatly improved if colored organizers were given a place in the workings of the American Federation of Labor, of organizing additional local unions; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That we, the colored delegates of directly affiliated local unions of the State of Virginia do hereby request this convention to grant and recommend that colored organizers be appointed or elected, according to the convention’s rulings, and placed especially in Virginia at the following cities where organizing is greatly needed: Roanoke, Richmond, Rocky Mount, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Suffolk, Va., Raleigh, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., or any city where organizers may be needed. These cities named are working at a low rate of wages per diem and need the services and advantages of American Federation of Labor organizers.
Your committee refers this resolution to the Executive Council for action if the funds of the Federation will permit.
The report of the committee was adopted.
Resolution No. 63—By Delegates Dennis Lane, John F. Hart and John Kennedy of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America:
WHEREAS, At the last convention of the American Federation of Labor held in Baltimore, Md., one year ago, the Executive Council was requested to render such assistance in organizing the butcher workmen as its finances would permit; and
WHEREAS, In compliance with that request the work has been earnestly carried on since, with the result that our membership has been greatly increased, and at the present time we are meeting with success in organizing the large packing centers; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, In order that this work be continued to a successful termination that we may make secure our gain, resulting from the assistance already given by the American Federation of Labor, that the Executive Council be requested to continue its assistance to the Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen as far as its finances will permit.
Your committee reports concurrence in this resolution.
The report of the committee was adopted.
Vice-President Duncan, on behalf of the delegates representing Helpers and Laborers’ Union No. 15566, and with the unanimous consent of the convention, introduced the following resolution, identified as Resolution No. 166;
Resolution No. 166—By Delegate Sidney Burt, of Helpers’ and Laborers’ Union No. 15566 (Committee: C. M. Battle, Hubert Fitts, Sidney Burt, E. D. Thomas):
WHEREAS, The American Federation of Labor stands for strength and protection by concentrating its power through organized forces into unionized labor, and since more effectual work might be accomplished through certain agencies by reason of intimate and social relations; and
WHEREAS, The colored laborers and helpers throughout the southeastern district are not familiar with the labor movement as they should be, especially upon the different railroads of the southeastern territory; and
WHEREAS, There are fifteen (15) different railroads in the district; and
WHEREAS, There are only four colored locals on these fifteen roads, two on the Seaboard, one on the Atlantic Coast Line, and one on the Norfolk & Western; and
WHEREAS, We feel and believe that a colored organizer, because of his racial and social relations among his people, could accomplish much in organizing the forces into unions; and
WHEREAS, There is a union in our city known as the Transportation Working Men’s Association of Virginia, with a membership of eighteen hundred (1,800), meeting in the same hall as we, and since so many of our men are falling in line with them; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That it be the sense of the National Convention to recommend the appointment of a railroad man (colored) as organizer for the territory as above mentioned.
Referred to Committee on Organization.
The subject matter is referred to the Executive Council with the recommendation that an organizer be appointed as soon as possible, if the funds of the Federation will permit.
Delegates Battle and Burt spoke in support of the resolution and told briefly of the work that had already been done by the colored men in the South and of the opportunities for further organizing the class of workmen mentioned in the resolution.
The motion to adopt the report of the committee was carried.
Report of Proceedings of the Thirty-Seventh Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor (Washington, D.C., 1917), pp. 176–77, 349–50, 182, 278–79.
Colored Workers—Organization Of
Several resolutions were brought before the Buffalo Convention having for their object the better organization of the colored workers. One of the earliest declarations of the American Federation of Labor was, “That it is the duty of the working people of the United States to organize and cooperate for the protection and the promotion of the rights and interests of all the workers and without regard to nationality, sex, politics, color or religion.”
The constitution provides for the organization of separate unions of colored workers when that course is deemed desirable and most advantageous and for the formation of central labor unions representing local unions of these workers. At every convention of the A. F. of L. for the past thirty years there have been colored delegates and they have received the same treatment of cordiality, courtesy and fraternity as any white man could expect.
At our meeting in February, the first meeting at headquarters after the Buffalo Convention, we notified the following of our meeting and invited them to confer with us regarding plans for the organization of colored wage-earners:
R. R. Moton, Principal, Tuskegee Institute
John R. Shillady, Secretary, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Fred R. Moore, Editor, New York Age93
Archibald Grimke, Washington Association for the Advancement of Colored People94
Emmet J. Scott, Special Assistant to the Secretary of War
Eugene Kinckle Jones, Executive Secretary, National League
Thomas Jesse Jones, Educational Director, Phelps Stokes Fund
These representatives of the colored workers asked that when organizing their race, there should be included skilled as well as unskilled workmen, those from the North as well as from the South, employes of the government together with civilian employes, women as well as men.
We referred the subject to President Gompers with authority to appoint a committee representing the A. F. of L. to meet with a like committee representing the colored workers for further consideration of plans and policies.
The committees thus appointed met in joint conferences at headquarters Aprill 22 and the subject was comprehensively discussed.
The whole plan, work and desires of the A. F. of L. in regard to the organization of colored workers were laid before the representatives of the colored people at the conference. They were greatly impressed, so that they finally declared that they would issue a statement addressed jointly to the A. F. of L. and to the colored workers, calling upon the latter to organize into bona fide unions of labor and to become part of the existing trade unions, or to organize into purely colored workers’ unions in full affiliation in spirit and fact with the A. F. of L.
Up to this time the declaration has not been received. . . .
Secretary Morrison read the following communication from a committee representing various organizations of colored people:
New York, June 6th, 1918
Hon. Samuel Gompers, President American Federation of Labor, Washington, D.C. My Dear Mr. Gompers:
We write to present suggestions for further cooperation between our committee and the American Federation of Labor as growing out of our recent conference in Washington:
First, we wish to place before you our understanding of your statement to us at the conclusion of the meeting. We quote you as follows, and will be glad for you to make any changes in the text as will make the statement more nearly conform to the ideas which you have in mind relative to the connections that should be established between white and Negro workingmen:
“We, the American Federation of Labor, welcome Negro workingmen to the ranks of organized labor. We should like to see more of them join us. The interests of workingmen, white and black, are common. Together we must fight unfair wages, unfair hours and bad conditions of labor. At times it is difficult for the national organization to control the actions of local unions in difficulties arising within the trades in any particular community, inasmuch as the National body is made possible by the delegates appointed by the locals; but we can and will use our influence to break down prejudice, on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude, and hope that you will use your influence to show Negro workingmen the advantages of collective bargaining and the value of affiliation with the American Federation of Labor. But few people who are not thoroughly acquainted with the rapid growth of the Federation of Labor know of the large numbers of colored people who are already members of our organization. The unpleasant incidents in connection with efforts of colored men to get recognition in trades controlled by the American Federation of Labor have been aired and the good effects of wholesome and healthy relationship have not been given publicity; and for that reason, a general attitude of suspicion has been developed towards union labor on the part of colored working people; but I hope that out of this conference will spring a more cordial feeling of confidence in each other on the part of men who must work for a living.”
We are willing to cooperate with the American Federation of Labor in bringing about the results of the recent conference, and would make the following suggestions and recommendations which, with your approval, we shall proceed to carry out to the best of our ability.
First, we suggest that you prepare a statement, along the lines of the quotation from you given above, and send it to us for approval and then to be given to the Negro press throughout the country as expressing your position on matters connected with the relationship between Negro and white workingmen.
This statement in our judgment, should contain a clear exposition of the reasons why certain internationals may exclude colored men as they do by constitutional provision and still be affiliated with the A. F. of L. whose declared principles are opposed to such discrimination. This we think necessary because the stated facts above alluded to will be familiar to the leaders among the colored people, particularly to editors and ministers whose cooperation it is essential to secure if the best results are to be obtained.
We would suggest further that you consider the expediency of recommending to such Internationals as still exclude colored men that their constitutions be revised in this respect.
Second, that a qualified colored man to handle men and organize them be selected for employment as an organizer of the American Federation of Labor, his salary and expenses, of course, to be paid by the American Federation of Labor.
Third, that for the present we meet at least once a quarter to check up on the results of our cooperative activities and to plan for further extension of the work, if satisfactorily conducted.
Fourth, that you carry out your agreement to have your Executive Council voice an advanced position in its attitude towards the organization of Negro workingmen and have these sentiments endorsed by your St. Paul convention in June, and this action be given the widest possible publicity throughout the country.
We should be glad to hear from you at your earliest convenience as to the action taken by your Council on these recommendations with such other suggestions or recommendations as may occur to you.
EUGENE KINCKLE JONES
FRED R. MOORE
For the following committee:
Dr. R. R. Moton, principal of Tuskegee Institute
Mr. John R. Shillady, secretary of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Mr. Archibald Grimke, Washington Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Mr. Emmett J. Scott, special assistant to the Secretary of War.
Mr. Eugene Kinckle Jones, executive director Phelps Stokes Fund.
Mr. Thomas Jesse Jones, educational director Phelps Stokes Fund.
Dr. James H. Dillard, president of Jeanes Fund.
Dr. George C. Hall, vice president of the executive board, Chicago Urban League.
(P. S. Please address all communications care of E. K. Jones, 200 Fifth Avenue, Room 1120, New York City, N.Y.).
Referred to Committee on Organization. . . .
REPORT OF COMMITTEE ON ORGANIZATION
Delegate Conboy, Secretary of the Committee, submitted the following report:
Colored Workers—Organization of.
Upon that portion of the report of the Executive Council under the above caption the committee reported as follows:
This part of the Executive Council’s report deals with conferences of leading men of the colored race with President Gompers and the Executive Council relative to the organizing of the colored workers, both skilled and unskilled, under the jurisdiction of the American Federation of Labor, and their promise to assist and cooperate in that work.
It is with pleasure we learn that leaders of the colored race realize the necessity of organizing the workers of that race into unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, and your committee recommends that the President of the American Federation of Labor and its Executive Council give special attention to organizing the colored wage workers in the future. We wish it understood, however, that in doing so no fault is or can be found with the work done in the past, but we believe that with the cooperation of the leaders of that race much better results can be accomplished.
The report of the committee was adopted unanimously.
The committee recommends that the communication signed by a number of representatives of associations of colored people, read in the convention and printed in the third day’s proceedings (page 198), be referred to the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor for such action as they deem necessary.
The report of the committee was concurred in. . . .
REPORT OF COMMITTEE ON ORGANIZATION
Delegate Conboy, Secretary of the Committee, reported as follows:
Resolution No. 18—By Delegate Thomas F. Burns, of the Central Labor Council of Tacoma, Wash.:
A resolution to be presented for endorsement by the Central Labor Council of Tacoma, Washington, whereby the American Federation of Labor will be petitioned to give a square deal to colored labor and favorably consider an application for an international charter to organize colored railway men by colored men.
WHEREAS, The influence of world affairs on the present and future condition of the masses of laborers is such as to make necessary a closer and more kindred feeling of sympathy and purpose on the part of all who labor; and
WHEREAS, This spirit of oneness of purpose can and will only be most completely achieved when the benefits derived by the efforts of organized labor are not predicated on race, or creed, or sex, or color, but rather shall be the common lot and heritage of all; and
WHEREAS, In the past, because of a lack of realization on the part of the organized white laborer, that to keep the unorganized colored laborer out of the fold of organization, has only made it easily possible for the unscrupulous employer to exploit the one against the other, to the mutual disadvantage of each, resulting always in creating that undemoncratic and un-Christian thing—race prejudice—and its foul by-products, riot and mob rule, as during the mine troubles in the Pacific Northwest in the early 90’s; as more recently on the Puget Sound during the Longshoremen’s strike; in Pennsylvania and at East St. Louis, Illinois; and
WHEREAS, It is the duty and should be the privilege of every man or woman to labor under such conditions and at such terms, free from restraint because of sex or color or race or creed, as will be conducive to his or her contributing such strength as to effectively aid our common country to sucessfully wage the battles of war, and to meet the problems of peace; be it
RESOLVED, That we, the undersigned colored railway employes being typical colored laborers, do hereby petition the Central Labor Council of Tacoma, Wash., to give its endorsement to the plea for a plain, square deal for the colored American laborer; and be it further
RESOLVED, That the Central Labor Council of Tacoma, Washington, be and is hereby petitioned to instruct its delegate to the forthcoming convention of the American Federation of Labor to give his support to such, and any application for an international charter to organize colored railway employes as might be made by said employes, if presented either during the session of the convention, or if presented to the properly constituted committee or body after adjournment of the convention.
A lengthy hearing was held on the subject matter of this resolution at which the introducer of the resolution appeared in support of the demands for an international charter for colored men working on railways. Mr. Robert L. Mays, representing the Railroad Men’s International Benevolent Association, also appeared before the committee in support of the same demand, claiming that the following list of workers should compose the proposed international union: Pullman Porters, Dining Car Cooks and Waiters, Colored Brakemen, Colored Train Porters, Colored Firemen, Colored Switchmen, Colored Yard Engine Men, Colored Shop Workers, Colored Boilermakers and Assistants, Colored Machinists and Helpers, Colored Headlight Tinkers, Colored Coach Cleaners, Colored Laundry Workers, Colored Shop and Track Laborers and Colored Section Men.
The representatives of the Hodcarriers Building and Common Laborers and the representative of the Boilermakers also appeared in opposition to this resolution.
This claim of jurisdiction is a trespass upon the jurisdictional claims of several organizations affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, and until such time as an adjustment is reached with these organizations your committee cannot do otherwise than recommend that the charter asked for be denied.
It is not the policy of the American Federation of Labor to grant charters along racial lines. We know that many international organizations affiliated with the American Federation of Labor admit colored workers to membership, and in these organizations their interests can best be protected and taken care of. There are other organizations that have not as yet opened their doors to colored workers, but we hope to see the day in the near future when these organizations will take a broader view of this matter. Until that time we urge the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor to organize the colored workers under charters of the American Federation of Labor.
Delegate Burns discussed at some length conditions on the Pacific coast where colored men are employed in various occupations, the prejudice that is displayed toward them by some organizations and urged that action be taken as suggested by the resolution rather than by the report of the committee.
Delegate D’Alessandro, Hodcarriers and Building Laborers, stated that colored laborers were admitted to that organization, that two colored men were members of the executive board and that no discrimination against them is allowed in the organization he represents.
Delegate McGowan, Boilermakers, spoke in favor of the report of the committee. He stated that while the Boilermakers’ organization does not accept colored men to membership there is a strong sentiment growing in favor of admitting them, and that the Boilermakers had not at any time objected to the organization of colored men into federal labor unions.
Chairman Duffy, in discussing the question said in part: “There are a number of international organizations represented here today that admit colored men to membership. The Plasterers, the Hodcarriers and Building Laborers, the Cigar Makers, Cooks and Waiters, Textile Workers, Miners and other organizations have them, the miners by the thousands. There are international organizations that have not admitted them up to the present time. I hope that state of affairs will soon pass away. In the meantime we want the colored men organized, and if international organizations will not admit them we recommend that the American Federation of Labor organize them under charters of the American Federation of Labor.”
Delegate Friedman, Ladies Garment Workers, stated that Negroes were admitted to the organization she represented, and that they were admitted and treated exactly as were the white workers. She stated further that two colored girls were serving on the executive board of Local 15, Philadelphia.
The motion to adopt the report of the committee was adopted.
Resolution No. 69—By Delegates B. S. Lancaster, of the Shipyard Labor Union; F. T. Chinn, Jr., Central Labor Union, New Orleans; Geo. W. Millner, Coal Trimmers No. 15277; Thos. P. Woodland, Central Labor Union, New Orleans; J. B. Clinedinst, Virginia Federation of Labor:
WHEREAS, We, the colored delegates representing Local Unions in Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans, La., affiliated directly with the American Federation of Labor, and being familiar with the strong sentiment in favor of organized labor now prevailing among the colored people in and around Mobile, Ala., due mainly to the establishment of new shipbuilding industries by the Government at this and other points along the East, together with a deal of encouragement from our white brethren; and
WHEREAS, There is quite a large number of our people in this district unorganized, and the time and conditions make it very necessary that they be organized and educated in the labor movement; and
WHEREAS, We believe that if a colored brother, familiar with above named facts be appointed as organizer to work among our people in the Mobile District, will bring satisfactory results to all concerned; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That we the delegates of the Shipyard Laborers’ Union, Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans, La., do hereby request this convention to grant and so recommend that a colored organizer be appointed for Mobile District, or territory prescribed by the Executive Council, including Mobile; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the same conditions apply to all southern States and that colored organizers be placed in each State. . . .
Report of Proceedings of the Thirty-Eighth Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor (Washington, D.C., 1918), pp. 130–31, 160, 198–99,205, 208, 263–64.
Delegate Duffy, Chairman of the Committee: Your Committee had before it Resolutions Nos. 76, 101, 118, 120 and 122. One resolution deals with requests of colored men for an international charter for colored workers. One resolution asks for the services of organizers from the American Federation of Labor, another that a colored organizer be appointed in every state in the Union where necessary; another makes complaint against the international unions of the metal trades for refusing to admit to membership colored workers, and one asks that a man be stationed at Washington, preferably a colored man, to look after the interests of colored workers.
The resolutions are as follows:
Resolution No. 76—By Delegate Harry A. Badgett, of Federal Labor Union No. 16321.
RESOLVED, That, as the man working in the day has the best part of the working day allotted him, a good night’s sleep and the best part of the afternoon and evening for recreation, and as the night man has to fight sleep in summer time, inhale the fumes of a torch, stand the noise of the daily routine of business, we therefore request the Executive Council to present this resolution to Congress and have Congress enact a law to equalize these conditions by giving the night man more pay.
We, the undersigned, brothers of American Federation of Labor, do hereby resolve that as white organizers in the South have trouble in getting among the colored workmen that the American Federation of Labor appoint a colored organizer in every state where one is needed, and be it further resolved that the American Federation of Labor appoint a laboring man from the craft to represent us at Washington in any business to the benefit of the craft.
WM. E. McKINNON, Ship Yard Labor, No. 15980
ROBERT J. LANE, Ship Yard Labor, No. 15922
MILLER L. CAMPBELL, Railroad Employees, No. 164486
WILLIE E. VAUGHN, No. 15392
HARRY BADGETT, La Junita, Colo., No. 16821
0. L. LEONARD, Local No. 16417
EDMUND TURNE, Local No. 16199
JAMES W. FITTS, Oyster Shuckers, LOcal No. 16117
MATT LEWIS, H. H. U. No. 16406
JOHN A. LACEY, Rec. Sec. Colored C. L. U., Norfolk, Va.
J. W. RICHARDSON, Suffolk, Va., Local No. 15859, Peanut Workers
Resolution No. 101—By Delegate William Boncer, of the Virginia State Federation of Labor:
WHEREAS, It is impossible for colored men to obtain a charter from the Metal Trades Headquarters of any craft; and
WHEREAS, Similar trades locals refuse them entrance; therefore be it
RESOLVED, That the Thirty-ninth Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor go on record as endorsing the colored brother as being entitled to any charter according to his trade.
Resolution No. 118—By Delegate Robt. E. Burford, of the Freight Handlers’ Union, No. 16220, of Richmond, Va.:
RESOLVED, Owing to the peculiar position of the Colored Freight Handlers and Station Employees on the C. & O., S. A. L., and R. F. & P. Ry. systems and on the American Ry. Express Co., being under the jurisdiction of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks and chartered direct from the American Federation of Labor and having no representative or grievance man in the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, we are receiving little or no assistance from them.
RESOLVED, That this body appoint a system organizer for the above mentioned railroads and express companies to organize the Freight Handlers and Station Employees into a system organization. Our purpose for a system organization is to affiliate ourselves together for our mutual protection and benefit. We appeal to the Executive Council for their support and immediate action also for instructions about appointing a grievance committee to help us get an agreement and a contract with our various railroads and the American Ry. Express Company. We understand that the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks on the C. & 0. system have an agreement with their officials, that covers the Freight Handlers on the C. & 0. system, but the Freight Agent at Richmond, Va., told our committee that it does not cover the Colored Freight Handlers, as to Saturday afternoons, Sundays and Holidays, and they being unable to get any information from their clerks we desire to bring this matter to your attention, asking your help and instructions.
Resolution No. 120—By Delegate Jordan W. Chambers, of the Railway Coach Cleaners, No. 16088, of St. Louis, Mo.
WHEREAS, The American Federation of Labor will petition to give a square deal to colored skilled and unskilled laborers, favorably consider an application for an International Charter of organized colored labor, or use its influence to have them chartered from the International Organization having jurisdiction over them.
WHEREAS, The influence of the world of affairs on the present and future conditions of the masses of laborers is such as to make necessary a closer and more kindred feeling or sympathy and purpose on the part of all who labor; and
WHEREAS, This spirit of oneness of purpose can and will only be most completely achieved when the benefits derived by the efforts of Organized Labor are not predicated on creed, or sex or color, but rather shall be the common lot and heritage of all; and
WHEREAS, In the past because of a lack of realization on the part of Organized White Laborers that to keep the organized Colored Laborers out of the fold of organization, has only made it easily possible for the unscrupulous employer to exploit the one against the other to mutual disadvantage of each; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That this the thirty-ninth annual convention go on record as endorsing such petition from colored organized labor.
Respectfully submitted by delegates approved: W. E. Vaughan, Jr., Shipyard Helpers and Laborers, Berkley, Va.; Robert J. Lane, Shipyard Labor Union, No. 15980; W. M. Watson, Federal Labor Union, No. 15681; J. W. Richardson, Suffolk, Va., Local No. 15856, Peanut Workers; James W. Fitts, Oyster Shuckers, Local No. 16117; John A. Lacy, Rec. Sec. C. L. U., Norfolk, Va.; 0. L. Leonard, Memphis, Tenn., Union No. 16407, F. H. H.; Edmund Turner, Local No. 16199, A.F.L.; Robt. E. Buford, Freight Handlers’, No. 16220, Richmond, Va.; Garrett Rice, R. Coach Station Cleaners, Local No. 16351; Matt Lewis, Freight Handlers’, No. 16406, Little Rock, Ark.; William Carter, Station Employees, Freight Handlers’, Local No. 16381, Baltimore, Md.; J. W. Worthey, Freight H. U., Local No. 16395, Salisbury, N. C.; Oscar Williams, Freight Handlers’ Local No. 16413, St. Lou’s Mo., and East St. Louis, Ill.
Resolution No. 122—By Delegate Edmund Turner of the Boilermakers, Blacksmiths and Machinists’ Union, No. 16199, of Mobile, Alabama:
WHEREAS, There is a vast field to organize colored men, skilled and unskilled, among the colored men to get in touch with the unorganized class; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the annual convention of the A.F. of L. give the Executive Board authority to appoint a colored organizer for the Southern District of Alabama. This colored organizer shall work in the interest of labor at all times. His salary shall be paid monthly.
Chairman Duffy: A lengthy hearing was had on these resolutions, at which everybody interested appeared and discussed the subject matter contained therein from all viewpoints, especially the granting of an international charter to colored workers. The term “colored labor, skilled and unskilled” is so broad that it is a trespass upon the jurisdictional rights and claims of several organizations affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Under these conditions your Committee cannot do otherwise than non-concur in the request for an international charter for colored workers.
Many international unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor admit colored workers to membership, and in so doing protect their rights and interests. Other organizations affiliated with the American Federation of Labor refuse admittance to colored workers, which brings about the present complaints. In such cases your Committee recommends that the American Federation of Labor organize these colored workers under charters from the American Federation of Labor.
We further recommend that the Executive Council give particular attention to the organizing of colored workers everywhere, and to assign organizers for that purpose wherever possible.
The following organizations admit colored members: United Mine Workers of America, Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, Longshoremen, Carpenters, Textile Workers, Seamen, Cigarmakers, Teamsters, Plasterers, Bricklayers, Maintenance of Way Employees, Laundry Workers, Cooks and Waiters, Tailors, Brewery Workers, Upholsterers.
Chairman Duffy asked if there were other organizations represented in the convention which accepted colored workers to membership. Delegates announced that the following organizations admit colored workers to membership:
International Ladies’ Garment Workers, Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen, Tunnel and Subway Workers, Amalgamated Associations of Street and Electric Railway Employees, International Typographical Union, Brick and Clay Workers, Hod Carriers and Building Laborers, Leather Workers, Blacksmiths, Motion Picture Players’ Union, American Federation of Musicians, Bakers, Postal Employees, American Federation of Teachers, Steam and Operating Engineers, Painters, Decorators and Paperhangers, Hotel and Restaurant Employees, Glass Bottle Blowers, National Association of Federal Employees, Barbers’ International Union, Metal Polishers, Stereotypers and Electrotypers, Boot and Shoe Workers, Molders, Quarry Workers, Letter Carriers, International Fur Workers, Civil Engineers’ Association of Boston, Firemen and Oilers.
A motion was made and seconded to adopt the recommendation of the Committee. The question was discussed by Delegate Lacey, Colored C. L. U., Norfolk, Va.; Delegate Burford, Freight Handlers’ Union, Richmond, Va.; Delegate Chambers, Railway Coach Cleaners, St. Louis, Mo.; Delegate Chlopek, Longshoremen; Delegate Forrester, Brotherhood of Railway Clerks; Delegate Mason, Freight Handlers’ Union No. 16410, Louisville.
The motion to adopt the recommendation of the Committee was carried.
President Gompers: The Chair was instructed by the convention to appoint a special committee to proceed to Washington in connection with the Electrical Workers’ matter and in connection with the Employment Service of the Department of Labor, referred to by the delegate from the Detroit Central body.
The following special committee was announced:
Delegate C. L. Baine, Boot and Shoe Workers; Delegate P. H. McCarthy, Brotherhood of Carpenters; Delegate M. F. Ryan, Brotherhood of Railway Carmen.
The appointment was confirmed by the convention. . . .
On Resolution No. 131, the Committee reported as follows:
While heartily endorsing the substance of the resolution, the Committee realizes that no section of the country has a clean record with regard to mob violence, and deprecates the introduction of sectionalism into this convention. Therefore, without condoning lawlessness in any section, it amends—with the approval of the introducer of the resolution—by striking out the concluding portion of the second preamble, commencing “and this very much predominates in southern states, etc.”, the amended resolution then reading:
Resolution No. 131—By Delegate William F. Kavanaugh, of the State Federation of Labor of New Jersey.
WHEREAS, President Woodrow Wilson issued from the capital city of our nation on July 26th, 1918, a personal statement addressed to his fellow countrymen, defining mob-spirit action, called upon the nation to show the world that while it fights for Democracy on foreign fields, it is not destroying democracy at home; and
WHEREAS, While the President referred not alone to mob action against those suspected of being enemy aliens or enemy sympathizers, he denounced most emphatically mob action of all sorts, especially lynchings, and
WHEREAS, In all wars, where our country and its interests were at stake the colored race with their white brothers, fought, shed their blood and died in defense of Old Glory and over there gave their all that others may live in peace and happiness ever after; and
WHEREAS, Lynchings, cowardly and unjust, is also a blow at the heart of ordered law and human justice; and
WHEREAS, The colored people, their workers, their breadwinners, throughout the nation look with hope and anxiety in their hearts to those in the struggle for better conditions, for better homes and for the good things of life, as well as protection from mob rule and for a surging popular opinion behind them that will not tolerate a laxity in upholding the laws of our land; and
WHEREAS, The hope of civilization is in democracy; the hope of democracy is in justice; the only hope of justice is in the tribunals through which justice can be secured, and the only hope of the functioning of these tribunals is in the sentiment which demands that they, within their departments, shall be supreme and that any effort to incite mob violence shall be regarded as an attack upon the very foundations of society itself; and
WHEREAS, The American labor movement, A.F. of L., knows no race, color or creed in its stand for the toiling masses to get justice; and
WHEREAS, Through its representatives in convention assembled, at Perth Amboy, N.J., week of August 19th, 1919, the New Jersey State Federation of Labor, with a membership of over 90,000, endorsed this resolution; and
WHEREAS, The great American Labor movement through its conventions, city, state and national, is the very medium through which popular and public sentiment can best be expressed against mob rule and for proper enforcement of the laws of our land; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That we, the representatives of the 39th Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, go on record as endorsing the above as our sentiments in opposition to mob rule and lynchings; and be it further
RESOLVED, That a copy of the same be sent to our Representatives of Congress and United States Senate and Speakers of both Houses, to the press and to the President of our nation, Honorable Woodrow Wilson.
The Committee concurs in the resolution as amended, and recommends its adoption.
The report of the Committee was adopted. . . .
Report of Proceedings of the Thirty-ninth Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor (Washington, D.C., 1919), pp. 227–28, 304–06, 321.
As was pointed out in the discussion of the nature of the work of the migrants, a very small percentage are engaged in skilled labor, and unionization is scarcely an issue with the Negro labor force at present. In fact, a pitifully small number of unionized Negroes were found, although there is undoubtedly a steady movement toward organization.
In Chicago there were more labor organizations among the Negroes—strong locals of hodcarriers, plasterers, and molders, and a general mixed union of janitors were already in existence—than is the case in eastern cities. In that city able Negro leadership may help the white union heads to organize the blacks in the abnormal labor situation of the war crisis. In the W. & H. Cane Construction Works in Newark, N. J., 80 out of every 200 Negro employees were in the union and worked an eight-hour day for $3.60. Here also there was reported to be a plasterers’ local. In Cincinnati locals represented plasterers, teamsters, and tar roofers, and a common-laborers’ union with 600 colored members was reported. No information could be obtained about this unskilled workers’ union.
Since the fearful East St. Louis race riots of July, 1917, the press of the country has been filled with controversy concerning the problems of the colored race in the North. Editors, employers, and even “prominent statesmen” have laid the blame of the wholesale slaughter of women and children at the door of the labor unions. On the other hand, labor leaders have placed the responsibility for the riots upon the industrial leaders, who, they charge, brought the Negroes as a tool to break up the labor movement. The recriminations on both sides are in error. The more or less definite charges made by certain sections of the Negro press that the riots were traceable to the action of organized labor and its leaders is the result of misunderstanding of the Negro labor situation. That individual labor leaders may be guilty of bigotry and race prejudice is true, and it may be that some feared for the future of their unions, but for the most part their interests as leaders of organized labor did not bring them into direct opposition to the new Negro labor group. As the district organizer of the American Federation of Labor pointed out before the congressional committee investigating the July riots, unionism in East St. Louis was confined to the control of the skilled laborers, into whose ranks the Negroes cannot or do not gain admittance, are ineligible, or excluded In the North, the two groups, organized craftsmen and unskilled workers, white or Negro do not overlap, or only in such rare cases that the correlation is negligible.
For instance, the conflict which, uncontrolled, resulted in the fearful tragedy of East St. Louis was not a struggle between organized and unorganized labor, but between the white and black unorganized workers crowding for a place on the lowest rung of the industrial ladder. There seems to have been a temporary oversupply of unskilled labor, due to the large migratory population passing through East St. Louis. The American Federation of Labor was not connected with the strike at the Aluminum Ore Works—which was more or less directly concerned with the July riots—where the men were trying to organize a separate association not connected with a national body. Not until August was an attempt made to form a federal labor union of unskilled workers, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.
Again, in the Chester riots later in the month, a careful search failed entirely to reveal any labor cause of the trouble whatever. The riot here seemed to have had its basis entirely in saloon politics and to have taken its rise from the friction between the vicious elements in both groups.
Until recently, as we have seen, very few colored people in the North were working in trades where the whites were organized. The great mass of Negroes were largely doing work of a personal-service character, such as porters, janitors, elevator men, etc. This class of workers it has been impossible to organize, even among the whites. Of course it must be admitted that any hostile attitude of the local unions is probably based upon the fear that Negro labor may ultimately be used to batter down the standards of the labor movement, and may be grounded in the deduction that if unskilled Negroes can be used to fight the organization of unskilled whites, skilled Negroes may be used to break down the craft unions. As we have shown, the number of skilled Negroes employed in the North seems as yet to be so small that this is a groundless fear.
In only one instance in our survey of the Pittsburgh trade-unions was a complaint lodged against colored people taking the places of striking white workers. This was in a waiters’ strike, which was own just the same, because the patrons of these eating places protested against the substitution of Negro waiters; in all the others there were no such occurrences. Indeed, the number of Negroes taking the places of striking whites and of skilled white workers is so small that it can hardly be noticed. They are, as we have seen, largely taking the places that were left vacant by the unskilled foreign laborers since the beginning of the war, and the new places created by the present industrial boom. These unskilled people, whose places are now being taken by the Negro, worked under no American standard of labor. The fear of these unskilled laborers breaking down labor standards which did not exist is obviously largely unfounded.
In two cases in Philadelphia Negroes were brought in to break strikes in which unorganized unskilled laborers were attempting to establish the right to organize and gain a higher wage. At a large oil-refining company the policy of the company regarding employment of Negro labor had changed when a spontaneous strike for an eight-hour day and a higher wage involved almost 70 per cent of the 4,000 foreign workers at the plant August 23 to September 14. With the importation of Negroes the strike had been broken and the men returned to work; a fourth of the force subsequently became colored. The agent employed, a professional strikebreaker, transported the Negroes at the expense of the company, bringing a first batch of 90 on September 13. This group, called the “North Carolina gang,” had been housed and fed by the company in an old building until the trouble was past and the men could find places in the community. Five or six of this first group were still with the company. Afterwards further transportation of the workers from the South was engaged in on the usual basis. The assistant superintendent said the company had decided to continue the use of Negro labor as it was the only sort available. The employment manager complained that the Negroes had been unsatisfactory, because they “soldiered” and were unable to stand the strain of extremes of heat and cold which the workers in the plant had to endure. They were compared unfavorably with the foreign workers, as they did not make good still cleaners at piece rates.
An even more violently contested strike occurred at a Philadelphia sugar refinery. The general superintendent of this company made the following statement:
At the time of the strike of the white workers at the plant February 1, 1917, Negroes had been employed to replace and “equalize” the foreign laborers. The strike had been organized by the I.W.W. among the foreign workers of the plant and the stevedores already in that organization had been called out in sympathy. After a six weeks’ strike in which there had been considerable violence, the strike had been broken and the demands of the workers for 30 cents an hour and organization had been lost. In the plant a 25-cent-per-hour rate had been raised after the strike to a 27-cent rate, which is increased by a 10 per cent bonus for steady work for two months to 29.7 cents an hour. The stevedore rate of wages is 40 cents. The plant works continuously, two 12-hour shifts, stevedores working a 10-hour day. The turnover in May and June was from 30 to 50 per cent.
At present this manager had from 250 to 300 Negroes in the plant and from 400 to 500 working as stevedores. On the whole, his experience with Negroes had been satisfactory. They had worked well, even on the docks in winter, though many had been eliminated by illness. A steady group of good workers had been selected. There had been no race trouble on the docks where whites and blacks had worked side by side. In the plant there has been developing a strong undercurrent of prejudice among the foreign workers, particularly the Slavs. There are no skilled Negro workers at the refinery, though some in the warehouse make a high-tonnage wage.
The Negro dock foreman who had been responsible for gathering the Negro workers and was proud of the record of his stevedores, complained bitterly, however, that although the company had promised to keep all the colored workers, the assistant superintendents, who were southern men, were now replacing them with foreign laborers. “This week they fired 30 Negroes and hired 15 Polacks,” he said. “These men dislike to work beside the colored men, and are going to make trouble for us.”
The attitude of the superintendent of this plant, who believed in “welfare work” but was unalterably opposed to unionism, may be indicative of a generally favorable disposition of some groups of northern employers toward the southern migrants. They may see in these colored workers the effective means of staving off or preventing the movement toward organization and the attainment of the eight-hour day, which is now spreading among the foreign workers. For instance, the employment manager of a Pittsburgh plant, which had a big strike about two years ago, pointed out also that one of the chief advantages of the Negro migration lay in the fact that it gives him a chance to “mix up” his labor force and so secure “a balance of power.” “The Negro,” he claimed, “is more individualistic—does not form a group and follow a leader as readily as many foreigners do.”
Perhaps the generalization should not be made that the colored people are difficult to organize, for from our Pittsburgh survey we have found only one union, the waiters’ local, that has made any attempt to organize the colored people, and this was unsuccessful. An official of this union explains it because the colored waiters “are more timid, listen to their bosses, and also have a kind of distrust of the white unions.” The same official also admitted that while he himself would have no objection to working with colored people, the rank and file of his union would not work on the same floor with a colored waiter. None of the other unions made any effort to organize the colored workers in their respective trades, and they cannot therefore claim there is difficulty of organizing the Negroes.
In the two trade organizations which admit Negroes to membership the colored man has proved to be as good a unionist as his white fellows. In Pittsburgh a single local of the hod carriers’ union, a strong labor organization, has over 400 Negroes among its 600 members, and has proved how easy it is to organize even the new migrants by enlisting over 150 southern hod carriers within the past year.
The other union which admits Negroes—the hoisting engineers’ union—has a number of colored people in its ranks. Several of these are charter members, and a number have been connected with the organization for a considerable time. Judging from the strength of these unions—the only ones in the city which have a considerable number of blacks amongst them—the Negroes have proved good union men.
U.S. Department of Labor, Negro Migration in 1916–1917 (Washington, D.C.,: Government Printing Office, 1919), pp. 134–38.
The daily newspapers of Washington have given more than usual attention to the formation, January 4, last, and growth of the Woman Wage-Earners’ Association, of which Miss Jeannette Carter is president; Dr. Julia P. H. Coleman, secretary; Mrs. Mary Church Terrell, treasurer. This attention has been given by the daily newspapers of Washington because there is a live demand for an organization that will be helpful to the colored women wage-earners of the country, by showing them how to help themselves. This is, perhaps, one of the vital principles in uplift work, that those who know what should be done should organize to show those who do not know.96
The Woman Wage-Earners’ Association of Washington has just issued a leaflet, a copy of which we have before us, stating the objects of the association, as follows:
1. While it is the main object of the Association to better the working hours and the housing and wage-earning conditions of our women in all lines of work, and to secure as many of them as possible as members of the organization, we very well understand that the main work of the Association must be promoted and done by public spirited women of the race who have homes of their own and resources independent of service for others for wages. It is that way in most of the charitable and benevolent work here and elsewhere. We earnestly desire the membership and active help of our women. It behooves us all who are in a position and able to do so to do what we can to help those who need help and are unable to help themselves.
2. To create better and more sympathetic and helpful relations between employers and employees.
3. To promote in every way more efficient and faithful service.
4. To provide a home where domestic science may be taught, and where employers can find workers on request, and where such workers can always find a home when out of employment, and a place where they can spend an hour reading or writing, with gymnasium privileges and the like, when they are not working.
5. To maintain a lecture course, when persons of large information and experience will appear at stated intervals, and give of their abundance of wisdom and experience to those who need it and will profit by it.
We invite our women generally to join our association and to help us improve the condition of our women in all lines of useful work they may be engaged. In a multitude of counsel there is much wisdom in the concert of many women for any given purpose there is great strength.
The headquarters of the Washington association is 609 F street, Northwest. No woman reader of The Journal and Guide who has at heart the welfare of the women of the race will hesitate a moment to approve the objects of the Woman Wage-Earners’ Association, and especially those of them in such large cities of the South as Norfolk. A half dozen of our women in Norfolk could begin such an organization and extend its influence, in connection with the parent association at Washington, so that they could soon have a State organization. The work is one needed to be done, and our women who have the education, the time and means and the inclination to help their less fortunate sisters must take hold and do it or it will not be done.
The Woman Wage-Earners’ Association is nothing new under the sun. White women in all of our large cities are engaged in like uplift work. Here and there our own women are doing such work. What is needed is that the doing of the work shall be more general, and that there shall be a central, moving purpose in the work. This can only be possible by the cooperation of the thinking, public-spirited women of the race, who are willing to take hold of the work, white women take hold of it for their own, and make it possible. God helps those who help themselves. Those who do not help themselves, who do not try to do so, they have troubles of their own and often with the police.
Our women wage-earners are a large factor in the life of the race. They are becoming more so every day as the business interests of the race expand and the demand for intelligent workers grows with the expansion. And besides these there are millions in unskilled work who need the assistance of those more fortunately circumstanced than they are.
Women of women of Norfolk, think it over.
Norfolk Journal and Guide, March 3, 1917.
DECLARE STRIKE WHEN “BOSS” ASSAULTED ONE OF THEIR NUMBER IN KNITTING MILL
Superintendent Discharged Offending Foreman And Girls Returned To Work With No Loss Of Time—Mill Owned By White People Of Rocky Mount
Rocky Mount, N.C.—Declaring that they would not work under the manager, every one of the female colored operatives at the knitting mill here left their work at eleven o’clock last Thursday morning. The trouble arose when the white floor manager cursed one of the girls and attempted to otherwise abuse her. When the superintendent learned of the trouble later in the day he immediately began to visit the homes of the operatives asking them to return to work. The offending white manager was discharged and the girls returned to their work with no loss of time.
This mill is owned and managed entirely by white people. They employ colored girls from some of the best families in the city. They have made good and the management has expressed its determination to see that they are treated with respect.
Norfolk Journal and Guide, March 3, 1917.
The determination of the Railroad Brotherhoods to go on general strike, and thus tie up the freight and passenger service of the country, was the sensation, at home, the past week, as the Russian Revolution was abroad. The sensation was all the more impressive not only because of the imminence of war with Germany, but as well on account of the scarcity of foodstuffs that would result, with consequent scarcity and increased cost of such. Prices are high enough now; a railroad tie-up would not only make them higher but foodstuffs scarcer.
President Wilson voiced the national protest against the Railroad Brotherhood strike when he said:
“A general interruption of the railway traffic of the country at this time would entail a danger to the nation against which I have the right to enter my most solemn protest. It is now the duty of every patriotic man to bring matters of this sort to immediate accommodation. The safety of the country against manifest perils affecting its own peace and the peace of the whole world makes accommodation absolutely imperative and seems to me to render any other choice or action inconceivable.”
There is something radically wrong in our system of government when the differences of employers and wage-earners cannot be settled without upsetting the orderly course of everyday affairs, and with utter disregard of the rights and needs of the general public, the patrons of the interests concerned, without whom they could not exist at all, and from whom they derive their franchises to do business. It constitutes the most dangerous and menacing problem in the life of the Nation today—the defiant attitude of capital and labor towards the laws and public opinion of the Nation. It spells bloody revolution unless there shall be a change of attitude, and revolution always threatens the life of the Nation.
Norfolk Journal and Guide, March 24, 1917.
During the past few years there has been a shifting of Negro labor from the South to the North and an increased competition between the white and colored worker. Recently there has been strife in the labor ranks because the white workers refused to work with the Negroes. The following editorial comment from the International Molders’ Journal throws light on the Molders’ efforts to organize the Negro and make him a fellow unionist rather than an economic enemy.
Perhaps the International Molders’ Union has had more experience in endeavoring to organize the Negroes than has any other metal working trade union organization.
Originally because of the strong sentiment which existed in the South where the Negro was principally employed, it was impossible to bring about that view of the problem in its industrial and economic aspect which was necessary before the white man in the South could see the necessity of organizing the Negro.
The first efforts made by officers of the Molders’ Union to organize the Negro in the Southern territory met with the strongest opposition on the part of our members, and this was not surprising in view of the sentiment which existed in the South. But time and the hard unyielding logic of circumstances finally led to a change in opinion, some of the most prominent members of our organization in the South becoming open advocates of the policy of taking the Negroes into the organization whenever he became qualified to work as a mechanic.
New York Call, July 1, 1917.
Race Workers Advised To Form Their Own Organizations For Better Conditions
Birmingham, Ala.—-The fact that union leaders in Birmingham were moving heaven and earth to organize the Negro workers in the steel and iron and coal mines in this district while they were counseling the white laborers to murder Negro laborers in other sections of the country led Dr. A. C. Williams during his sermon Sunday at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to advise strongly against affiliation with the labor unions. “There is nothing for the Negro in white labor unions,” said Dr. Williams. Continuing, he said:
“In its province the white labor union is inimical to the Negro laborer. We have our problems which we must work out for ourselves and by ourselves. If the Negro laborer must organize, let him organize himself, and then not to antagonize capital, but to work out his own peculiar problems, to promote efficiency, and to secure more benefits for himself and his family through co-operation and sympathy of the employer.
“The Negro will never gain anything through the white labor union. He will soon find that in them he can go so far and no further. If the Negro must organize, let the organization be purely a Negro one, officered by Negroes and working only to promote the Negro’s efficiency and welfare. Every Negro endeavor should be centralized and the time will come when it will be, but it must be through a leadership that in one community stands the Negro and not through a court and in another counsels his murder. The Negro will never accomplish much trying to follow a leadership that he neither loves nor respects, and in which he has has no confidence. Under the nature of things there is nothing in common between the Negro laborer and the white union leaders [document garbled].”
Norfolk Journal and Guide, July 28, 1917.
First American Union of Colored Toilers Establishes Special Employment Bureau
The first step has been taken to organize the large number of Negro working men and women of New York and vicinity into an effective labor organization. The Associated Colored Employees of America, which began its work on July 1, three days before the East St. Louis riots, is the first Negro labor union in this country, and, although its aim primarily is to bring about a sense of solidarity among its own people, it seeks also to spread the feeling of class consciousness.97
A bulletin already has been issued by the Associated Colored Employees, the purpose of which is to give “facts concerning conditions in the North compiled for the benefit of those who some day expect or desire to be actually free.” The booklet is called “A Message From the North for Negroes.”
The association is conducting a survey and census of all Negro workers in the city and vicinity. It already has collected a mass of information regarding the trades in which Negroes are to be found, and in what numbers. These facts it will use as a first-hand source of information for colored workers eager to come here from the South. In this work it is functioning as an employment bureau, making no charge to union members, who pay $1 to enter the union, and advising the members where their particular work is to be found.
Although the survey is yet far from completed, the union has found an amazing number of instances of misfit workers. It has found graduate engineers and electricians and experienced carpenters, painters and shipbuilders doing the work of porters, elevator men and janitors. To find the work which these men should really be doing, is one of the aims of the employment bureau of the union.
Branches of the union are to be established in all cities with a Negro population of 5,000. In all of the Northern cities the Negro workers are being taught that they have within their hands the power of the ballot and they are being instructed in that use of the ballot which will bid best for the interests of the working masses. To do this educational work in an efficient manner, the union has decided to issue the Industrial Bulletin, a journal of information and comment. F. Harrison Hough is the editor of the new magazine.
New York Call, August 9, 1917.
Thousands of White and Colored Laborers Paraded Streets of City.
HARMONY BETWEEN RACES
Day Ended With Big Celebration at League Park And Baseball Game.
If carrying the stars and stripes is a demonstrative evidence of patriotism and loyalty to the United States, the Norfolk colored labor organizations can be styled as true friends to their country. The organizations were out very strong on Labor day. Several thousands together with the white Labor unions marched the streets of Norfolk in celebration of the day designated as their day throughout the country.
Many of the large industries in and around the city closed down to give their employers a day to celebrate and this was done in great style. Citizens of this city expressed themselves surprisingly at the great number of labor unions among the colored people. That the Negro is awakening to the necessity of organization for protection was clearly shown as well as the fact that white unions and industries in this section are beginning to recognize the Negro as an important factor in the industrial world. It was indeed the first time in the history of Norfolk that colored and white unionists combined in one parade.
Perhaps no other city in the south witnessed a similar demonstration, which was in evidence in Norfolk. Monday, thousands of white and colored laboring men all lined in one great parade all with the same object in view, minds centered upon one great central fact: That organization alone can produce the effectuality of standardizing labor in this country. The whites led the parade. Following close behind them were the various Negro unions. Among them were the Carpenters and Joiners, Coal Trimmers, Stokers, Working Women’s union and many others. The colored aggregation, numbering more than a thousand, were escorted by three bands.
The great parade Monday clearly showed the prevailing harmony which exists among the white and colored working classes of this community and is an indication of a better understanding and more harmonious racial relationship in the future.
All day long the principal streets were crowded with surging masses. Many cheers went up when the various unions would pass, each man bearing proudly “Old Glory.” In many places the sidewalks were impassable on both sides. The streets were filled with curious people eager to see the greatest labor parade of the city.
After marching down the various business streets the whites disbanded on Main street and the colored marched back to Chapel street and some disbanded but the Coal Trimmers Local and the company of soldiers with the two bands marched down Church street to the League Baseball park where Field Day sports were indulged in until four o’clock when the baseball game was called.
Fine Ball Game
About 5,000 persons were within the enclosure of the park. Long before the game the grand stand was packed. It was a beautiful game and some very pretty plays were made by both the A.F. and L. Giants and Titus Town Red Stockings. It was anybody’s game from the start to finish. The Titus Town boys made the first score in the second inning and again another in the fourth, but the Giants made two also in the fourth. The Red Stockings made one in the sixth but failed to cross the rubber again, while the A.F. and L. boys made two in their half of the eighth thereby winning the game 4 to 3.
The Coal Trimmers ended up the day’s pleasure by having a Grand Ball at Midway Park which was crowded to capacity.
The Longshoremen’s Union took the afternoon for their parade. This is one of the strongest local Negro organizations and they made a formidable appearance.
Norfolk Journal and Guide, September 8, 1917.
Women Employed In Hosiery Mills of Elizabeth City
DUE TO SCARCITY OF LABOR
Opening of Labor Opportunity Heretofore Closed to Members of the Race
The Hosiery Mills of the city that have heretofore employed white help on the account of the scarcity of labor have opened their doors to Negro women, boys and girls, as a result about 12 young women went to work at the Parsonage Hosiery and about 14 at the Lawrence St. Mill Monday. We also received an application for several boys to go to work at Road St. Mill.
Norfolk Journal and Guide, September 15, 1917.
Railroad Did Not Include Them In Raise Ordered By Government
WOMEN ASK FOR MORE PAY
Tobacco Stemmers Declare They Are Not receiving A Living Wage
Rocky Mount, N.C.—The colored laborers of the American Federation of Labor who have been working at the Atlantic Coast Line shops, but recently walked out, five hundred in a body, because the company gave 6-1/2 per cent increase of wages to everybody except the Negroes, are still insisting that the railroad company must consider them as entitled to the increase of wages ordered by the government to all railroad employees.
They cannot understand why it is that the Swede, Pole, Jew, Italian and all save the Negro get the increase and the Negro must meet the advanced cost of living just like the others, give a harder day’s work and yet must not be benefited by the increase of wages.
It is only through such papers like the “Journal and Guide” that we can circulate the true facts in the case of these men. Had they stolen chickens every white paper would have stamped it on the minds of the nation. But since they are demanding justice and showing that they have rights that must be respected the news is suppressed. However, their bold stand for better conditions for Negro laborers is a song that must be sung by the Negro race.
Rev. Talley said in his special sermon to the men, “God wants men with their heads perpendicular to heaven with a divine will and rights that must be respected and any creature ceases to be a man when he crawls around horizontally indifferent to wrongs committed against him.”
We pray that these men will get their rights.
Tobacco Stemmers Quit
About three hundred women employed as stemmers by the American Cigar Co., at their Norfolk factory went on a strike several days ago when the management refused to accede to their demands for an increased wage scale and shorter hours. The women have organized under the Transportation Workers Association of Virginia and declare that they will not return to work until their demands are met. Mr. J. J. Long, manager of the Norfolk factory was willing to deal with the women but declined to negotiate with the union and on that account no agreement has been reached. The factory is closed down there, being no labor to operate it.
Efforts on the part of citizens to mediate the troubles between the women and their employer failed.
Norfolk Journal and Guide, September 22, 1917.
There has been much speculation as to how the American Negro will be affected by the outcome of the war. Many indulge the hope that America’s entry in the conflict to “make the world safe for democracy,” will result in giving a new meaning to democracy in America. All of which remains a matter of speculation as the war progresses. There are however, some practical and tangible benefits that are already accruing to the Negro as a result of the war. Benefits that the race is reaping as a result of circumstances the making of which seem to be providential. There is the labor situation. Nothing has occurred in fifty years to so modify the attitude of union labor toward the race as have the conditions brought on as a result of the war. The agents of the American Federation of Labor were never so active among Negroes of the South as they now are, and never before, in this section at least, have Negro labor organizations been invited to participate in a Labor Day parade with the white organizations as they were on September 3rd. On the surface interest upon the part of white labor in the affairs of colored labor does not seem important, but to the far-seeing it portends the eradication of the double-standard of wages and working conditions in the South. For years it has been customary in the South to pay white and colored unequal wages for performing equal tasks, upon the assumption that a Negro was not worth as much as a white man, even if he performed the same amount of work. This policy not only made the Negro’s economic standards lower than the whiteman’s but kept them so. The present tendency among leaders of organized labor is toward standardized wages. And at the rate that labor is being unionized there will be a very little non-union labor available in the South in a short while.
Another significant change in conditions that will greatly improve the economic status of the race is the willingness of factory and mill owners to use colored labor in places where it has never been used before. Our Elizabeth City correspondent noed last week the action of several knitting mills in that city, that on account of the scarcity of white labor opened their doors to Negro young women and boys. Such an opening would hardly have occurred if it had not been for the war.
Not the least of the benefits that the race will derive from the war will come as a result of having white officers in Negro regiments, most of whom will come from the South. This will occur to some as a blessing in disguise. It is practically certain that no Southern white man can go to the front with a Negro regiment and come back without a changed viewpoint on all questions affecting the race. Every such officer that returns and takes up his residence in the South may be counted upon as being a safe friend of the Negro after the war.
“Making the world safe for democracy” has reference to doing away with kaisers, czars and princes; to the disillusion of Kaiser Wilhelm of his world-empire dream. But in attaining this fundamental desire the by-products of the conflict will go a long way toward lifting the burden of social and economic oppression under which the negro labors.98
Norfolk Journal and Guide, September 24, 1917.
National Labor Organ Sees Solution of Labor Troubles In Such Action
WILL AVOID RACE FRICTION
Admits That Many of the Unions Have Discriminated Against Negro Workers
Chicago, Ill.,—”Let us open all unions to the Negro,” says the Chicago Labor News, in commenting on a report of the East St. Louis race riots in which discrimination of unions against the Negro was criticized. The labor paper admits that “many of the unions have discriminated shamefully against the Negro.” It adds, “And we condemn them heartily for so doing.”
The News continues, “It is ridiculous to say that the I.W.W. is the only labor organization that welcomes the Negro. In the United Mine Workers alone, at the present time, there are more Negroes than the I.W.W. has had all told in its ranks since it was founded. And this takes no account of the thousands of Negroes in scores of other trade unions. The Asphalt Pavers Union of Chicago, one Union of Chicago, one of the best in the city, is composed entirely of Negroes. So is local No. 208 of the musicians. And of the Chicago Flat Janitors Union, which ranks high among the most powerful and militant organizations in this country, fully 25 per cent of the 7,000 members are colored. Various other similar examples could be cited.”
Norfolk Journal and Guide, September 29, 1917.
For three weeks three hundred colored women have conducted a strike which has been so effective that it closed entirely the operations of one of Norfolk’s largest industries, the American Cigar Company’s local stemmery. The women quit work because, as they affirm, they were not earning a living wage, and that certain overhead conditions in the plant were not satisfactory. At the time of our going to press, officials of the company had agreed to meet practically all of the demands of the women with two exceptions; the granting of a wage of $1.25 a day to women floor laborers and the recognition of the union to which the women belong.
The factory management questions the justice of the wage demand. They say that $1.25 per day is an excessive wage for an unskilled working woman. They have been paid heretofore an average of 70 cents per day, for a ten-hour day, 55 hours a week for house rent, food, fuel, clothing, insurance, church dues, lodge dues and incidentals. The items will run about as follows:
In view of the present living conditions The Journal and Guide is of the opinion that there are justice and reason in the demand of the women. We do not believe that under present conditions any adult laborer, man or woman, can subsist upon much less than the factory women are asking. The average woman who works in the factory of the American Cigar Company has to provide every week for house rent, food, fuel, clothing, insurance, Church dues, lodge dues and incidentals. The items will run about as follows:
At $1.25 a day the women would earn $6.87 a week, as the working time at the factory is 5-1/2 days.
Every item mentioned above is absolutely essential to the existence of a working woman. Insurance, church dues and lodge dues are just as essential as bread and meat. Were it not for these three things every working woman of the tobacco factory element that got sick would most likely die from lack of attention and be buried as a pauper.
Even if a woman is married or has other working members in her family her prorata of house rent cannot fall below $1.00 per week, nor fuel allowance less than 75₵ with slab wood selling at $8 per cord and coal at $9.50 per ton. It sounds almost ridiculous to estimate the cost of clothing a woman at the present time at $1.00 per week. It would take a five weeks’ allowance to buy one pair of shoes that would be at all serviceable. And with white pork selling at 30₵ a pound, flour at 10₵, meal at 7₵, peas 30₵ a quart, beans 40₵ a quart and pork steak 45₵ a pound a woman that undertook to live on less than $3 worth of provisions a week would not be able to work at all. So in view of these conditions it appears to us that there are both justice and reason in the demands that the striking tobacco stemmers are making for a living wage.
If this labor is so non-productive that it will not warrant a living wage the factory should so reorganize its operations as to eliminate such non-productive time.
Norfolk Journal and Guide, September 29, 1917.
Commenting upon a recent editorial in the Journal and Guide in which reference was made to the recent activities of the American Federation of Labor among colored people the New York Age says:
“Any movement that promises to bring about a square deal for Negro labor in the South, or at the North for that matter, is to be welcomed. It would be well for those concerned, however, to be cautious in their dealings with the leaders of organized labor, and test well the good faith of any overtures made before surrending any advantage already gained.” The Age mentions several instances, including the Rocky Mount affair, in which Negro unionists were unfairly dealt with by white unionists. There is really nothing in the situation at Rocky Mount to encourage Negro workmen to have anything to do with the American Federation of Labor. We understand that when Negro union machinists’ helpers walked out for higher wages white union men were put in their places because there was a growing sentiment on the part of the union against Negroes holding these places. We do not comprehend the ethics of a labor union that would permit one member to take such an unfair advantage of another, and agree with the Age that Negroes should exercise care and discretion in identifying themselves with any branch of the American Federation of Labor. In Virginia the transportation workers have formed an organization under a state charter which in our judgment in the thing that all classes of colored laborers should do.
Norfolk Journal and Guide, October 13, 1917.
James Weldon Johnson, Field Secretary, National Association for the99 Advancement of Colored People, New York
The present war set in motion a great many blind forces; that is, forces whose course was not foreseen when they were first unloosed and whose effect cannot now be controlled. These forces are at work all over the world, and many of them are operating directly upon the American Negro.
The most striking example of how some of these forces are operating upon the Negro is shown in the “exodus” from the South. As we know, when the war came it took thousands of men out of the industrial and labor fields in the North back to the colors of their native lands in Europe, and cut off the supply normally furnished by immigration, thus creating what might be called a vacuum in the industrial world. This resulted in a steadily increasing stream of Negroes from the South rushing into the North to fill the vacuum that had been produced. They have gone up by the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands, until today the number is roughly estimated to be anywhere between half a million and seven hundred and fifty thousand.
At first there were many complaints about the shiftlessness of Negro labor; and it is true that a number of Northern employers, accustomed to steady workmen, had good cause for complaint. And there was a reason: the rush of Negroes northward was started by the railroads sending labor recruiting agents South and having them spread the news that they had free transportation for as many men as wanted to go north to work at so much per day; these notices gave only a day or two to those who wished to take advantage of the offer. As a result, many of the most shiftless and unreliable of the race, attracted by the prospect of a trip North, were gathered in. The steady, reliable class would demand more time and more definite information before they would be willing to pull up and leave. However, by a natural process, this condition is being rectified. Since the first great rush, the people coming North are more and more largely of the steady, reliable class. This is due to the fact that agents are no longer recruiting wholesale in the South. The people who have come North and secured jobs are writing back to their relatives and friends to come on. This is by far the better method, for in most cases, those who write have their eyes on a job for those who come. This process is selective, and is already producing a steady flow northward of the best element of colored working people, who become adjusted economically and socially as soon as they arrive.
They are being engaged in many lines of industry, especially in the steel and allied industries, where large numbers from the southern iron districts are finding work in which they are already skilled. The demand is so great that notices of jobs for wages ranging from $3.00 to $6.00 a day are frequently read in the colored churches of northern cities. The opinion regarding Negro labor is constantly rising, and many employers are testifying that it_is as good as any they ever had. And so the Negro has this chance, the first in his history, to get his hand upon the thing by which men live, to become for the first time a real factor in the world of labor. He has at last come into what is rightfully his own, the opportunity that has heretofore been denied him and given to the stranger.
But the Negro comes up against a problem he has never had to face before, and that is union labor. In the North, in almost every field the unions shut him out, and he finds himself in the position of an independent or a scab. Many colored men skilled in their trades have had to turn to common labor because they were not allowed to join the unions. So after all, this thing we call the Negro problem and which we have thought of as a problem of the South is today coming before the North; and it is going to be curious to see just how the North will meet it.
Heretofore the Negro has had two choices—that of living in the South where most of his manhood and civil rights were denied him, but where economically his condition was secure; or that of living in the North where his rights were guaranteed him, but where his economic condition was always precarious. In this attitude toward the Negro, the North has been almost as cruel as the South; for although the South, to use a figure of speech, denied him life, it offered him bread; while the North offered him life, but refused him that whereby he might live. Many problems connected with the shifting of Negro labor from the South to the North are to be met, and if they are met in a spirit of fairness and helpfulness the movement will exert a strong influence on the status of the race than anything that has happened in its history since the adoption of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments; it will mark the beginning of a great advancement not only in the economic status of the race, but also in its intellectual and political status.100
Proceedings, National Conference of Social Work, 1918, pp. 383–85.
I am among the few colored men who have tried conscientiously to bring about understanding and co-operation between American Negroes and the Labor Unions. I have sought to look upon the Sons of Freedom as simply a part of the great mass of the earth’s Disinherited, and to realize that world movements which have lifted the lowly in the past and are opening the gates of opportunity to them today are of equal value for all men, white and black, then and now.
I carry on the title page, for instance, of this magazine the Union label, and yet I know, and everyone of my Negro readers knows, that the very fact that this label is there is an advertisement that no Negro’s hand is engaged in the printing of this magazine, since the International Typographical Union systematically and deliberately excludes every Negro that it dares from membership, no matter what his qualifications.
Even here, however, and beyond the hurt of mine own, I have always striven to recognize the real cogency of the Union argument. Collective bargaining has, undoubtedly, raised modern labor from something like chattel slavery to the threshold of industrial freedom, and in this advance of labor white and black have shared.
I have tried, therefore, to see a vision of vast union between the laboring forces, particularly in the South, and hoped for no distant day when the black laborer and the white laborer, instead of being used against each other as helpless pawns, should unite to bring real democracy in the South.
On the other hand, the whole scheme of settling the Negro problem, inaugurated by philathropists and carried out during the last twenty years, has been based upon the idea of playing off black workers against white. That it is essentially a mischievous and dangerous program no sane thinker can deny, but it is peculiarly disheartening to realize that it is the Labor unions themselves that have given this movement its greatest impulse and that today, at last, in East St. Louis have brought the most unwilling of us to acknowledge that in the present Union movement, as represented by the American Federation of Labor, there is absolutely no hope of justice for an American of Negro descent.
Personally, I have come to this decision reluctantly and in the past have written and spoken little of the closed door of opportunity, shut impudently in the faces of black men by organized white workingmen. I realize that by heredity and century-long lack of opportunity one cannot expect in the laborer that larger sense of justice and duty which we ought to demand of the privileged classes. I have, therefore, inveighed against color discrimination by employers and by the rich and well-to-do, knowing at the same time in silence that it is practically impossible for any colored man or woman to become a boilermaker or bookbinder, an electrical worker or glass maker, a worker in jewelry or leather, a machinist or metal polisher, a papermaker or piano builder, a plumber or a potter, a printer or a pressman, a telegrapher or a railway trackman, an electrotyper or stove mounter, a textile worker or tile layer, a trunk maker, upholsterer, carpenter, locomotive engineer, switchman, stone cutter, baker, blacksmith, boot and shoemaker, tailor, or any of a dozen other important well-paid employments, without encountering the open determination and unscrupulous opposition of the whole united labor movement of America. That further than this, if he should want to become a painter, mason, carpenter, plasterer, brickmaker or fireman he would be subject to humiliating discriminations by his fellow Union workers and be deprived of work at every possible opportunity, even in defiance of their own Union laws. If, braving this outrageous attitude of the Unions, he succeeds in some small establishment or at some exceptional time at gaining employment, he must be labeled as a “scab” throughout the length and breadth of the land and written down as one who, for his selfish advantage, seeks to overthrow the labor uplift of a century.
The Crisis, 16 (March, 1918): 216–17.
The question whether at this time colored labor in the United States should join the American Federation of Labor, i.e., affiliated with the white labor unions, is a question of far-reaching importance. The Bee has already advised caution in reaching a conclusion. The decision by colored labor should be preceded by more reflection, more conference, and perhaps more experience.
Here are a few fundamental facts bearing on the problem:
(1) The principle of organized labor may be safely accepted as sound. (2) The white labor unions do not embody the majority of laborers in the United States. (3) There is no compulsion, or seldom any, for any laborer to join a now-existing union. (4) Colored labor now enjoys its most remunerative employment from those capitalists who have dared to defy labor unionism; hence, colored labor is under some moral obligation to those capitalists. (5) The non-union colored laborer is a competitor of the white union laborer; and he now enjoys not only the opportunity to compete in certain lines (an opportunity not before enjoyed), but also enjoys the countenance (practically the friendship) of those capitalists who now employ him. (6) White organized labor has heretofore been unfriendly to colored labor—whether organized or not—and we have noted no evidence that that unfriendliness has ceased.
If colored labor has taken the initiative and knocked at the door of the white labor union, what is the motive? If, on the other hand, the first suggestion came from the white labor union, what is the motive?
At this stage of the problem we are inclined to advise:
First. Let colored labor endeavor to maintain amicable relations with those capitalists who in the last few years have given him remunerative employment.
Second. Let colored labor organize itself into a separate confederation of labor, but holding its doors open to all races.
Third. Let the colored and white confederations next endeavor to establish a harmonious working basis, and carefully note the result of this effort.
Fourth. Eventually, if experience seem to warrant, let the colored and white confederations unite on terms mutually advantageous and mutually self-respecting.
The chief resource of the American colored man today is his labor. He must not sell it for a mess of pottage, nor let his hands be tied in a blind and hasty bargain. He must reserve at all times the prerogative of self-determination.
Washington Bee, March 9, 1918.
The Detroit Free Press asks the question: “How can we demand equality for other peoples, while denying the right to live to certain of our own people because of their complexion?” In the South the Negro is still in slavery, and in the North while there exists a greater amount of social freedom, in industry, only a few jobs are open to colored people. They can be laborers, porters or waiters, sometimes barbers, but they may not be factory workers, store clerks, merchants or railway conductors.
Organized labor is as much to blame for its prejudice against the colored people as organized capital. The unions refuse to take in colored people unless there are enough of them to form a separate unit by themselves. Capital takes advantage of this and holds over the heads of dissatisfied or striking workers always this one thing as a threat: “If you do not admit to our terms, we will employ colored men.” The local government is using this argument effectively against the laborers who clean Baltimore’s streets. These laborers say: “With prices so high, and everybody expected to buy War Savings Stamps and Liberty Bonds, our services are worth $3 per day rather than $2.76. The city says: “We can’t afford the increase. Either go to work, or get out and let colored men have your place.”
A similar incident took place at the Belvedere Hotel when President Wilson and a large crowd of guests were expected in the city. The waiters’ union regarded this an opportune time to demand higher wages. The hotel managers threatened them in the usual way. The threat did not work because the waiters thought the manager would not dare to hold out and embarrass the President. The manager did hold out and in addition made good his threat. The report has been given out that colored waiters will be permanently employed. Thus thru a quarrel of capital and labor, colored waiters get jobs.
But the question that is becoming insistent since our government went across the sea to establish equality of nations and races, why should capable colored workers have to wait until capital and union labor fall out before they can get jobs? Why have efficient colored men always got to be strikebreakers and “scabs” in order to get decent employment?
In Massachusetts the other day a Tuskegee graduate and capable mechanic was discharged from a factory because of his color. He returned with a gun and wounded the man who was accountable for his discharge. Arrested, he claimed to have been discriminated against several times and forced out of jobs merely because he was not white, and commented bitterly on the injustice of sending men to Europe to fight for liberty while sustaining at home a democracy that denies men a right to do any but menial tasks.
There is only one reason why colored men cannot become conductors and motormen on our street cars. They are honest and efficient enough—but they are colored. In Washington, any man who can handle a saw and drive a nail can get a job at $6 per day of eight hours, putting up temporary office buildings for the United States Government. Colored carpenters have applied in large numbers, but they were not taken on. Only union men can be employed and of course colored men may not join the union.
Belgians have the right to live in their own country on their own labor. Serbians ought to be free from Austrian domination. Poles ought to have every human right. These are the things for which the United States has entered the war. But it is necessary to point out with the Free Press that with “80,000 black troops cooperating in the endeavor to win this war and colored women as busy in Red Cross activities as the white, it is unpatriotic for employers to discriminate against or for men to refuse association in labor with colored folk.”
Baltimore Afro-American, April 19, 1918.
Stimulated by the rally the Negroes are making for political and industrial security and the strong appeals made last week at the convention in St. Paul of the American Federation of Labor, local unions of Negro workers are springing up in all sections of the country.
The need of strong types of unskilled labor in the shipyards has brought to the vicinity of New York within the last twelve months at least 15,000 colored men, who need only a helping hand to organize into a union. They recommend to join the International Building, Hodcarriers and Common Laborers union, but since this organization is almost exclusively composed of Italian workers, who heretofore have been predominant in the rough work, the lack of understanding between the different races is a drawback.
A number of organizers who have special ability to reach the black man are expected to go on the road for the American Federation of Labor very soon to do this vital work. Hubert Harrison, a powerful Socialist speaker and organizer, is on the road now for the hotel workers, and is active in Philadelphia, Washington and Atlantic City, where practically all the cooking is done by Negro labor.101
It is reported that the Pullman porters have started a local in New York. Recently they held a meeting which was addressed by William Collins, general organizer of the American Federation of Labor; Hubert Harrison and the Rev. George Frazier Miller, a radical preacher, and the enthusiasm to form a union was intense. . . . 102
The agitation among these men is being carried from New York to all parts of the country. They are being assured of the protection of the government in their desire to organize.
Appeals for a general organizer for Negroes has been very insistent from the Southern ports of Mobile, New Orleans, Hampton Roads, Atlanta. In many cases the black workers have been forced into strong independent unions because they were made to feel that they were not wanted in the A.F. of L. This is a mistaken impression, and the remedies are being applied now.
New York Call, June 24, 1918.
First, as workers, black and white, we all have one common interest, viz., the getting of more wages, shorter hours and better working conditions.
Black and white workers dhould combine for no other reason than that for which individual workers should combine, viz., to increase their bargaining power, which will enable them to get their demands.
Second, the history of the labor movement in America proves that the employing class recognize no race lines. They will exploit a white man as readily as a black man. They will exploit women as readily as men. They will even go to the extent of coining the labor, blood and suffering of children into dollars. The introduction of women and children into the factories proves that capitalists are only concerned with profits and that they will exploit any race or class in order to make profits, whether they be black or white men, black or white women, or black or white children.
Third, it is apparent that every Negro worker or non-union man is potential scab upon white union men and black union men.
Fourth, self-interest is the only principle upon which individuals or groups will act if they are sane. Thus, it is idle and vain to hope or expect Negro workers out of work and who receive less wages when at work than white workers, to refuse to scab upon white workers when an opportunity presents itself.
Men will always seek to improve their conditions. When colored workers, as scabs, accept the wages against which white workers strike, they (the Negro workers) have definitely improved their conditions.
That is the only reason why colored workers scab upon white workers or why non-union men scab upon white union men.
A scab who is ignorant of his class interests does not realize that it is necessary to sacrifice a temporary gain in order to secure a greater future gain which can only be secured through collective action.
Every member which is a part of the industrial machinery, must be organized, if labor would win its demands. Organized labor cannot afford to ignore any labor factor of production which organized capital does not ignore.
Fifth, if the employers can keep the white and black dogs, on account of race prejudice, fighting over a bone; the yellow capitalist dog will get away with the bone—the bone, to which we refer, is profits. No union man’s standard of living is safe as long as there is one man or woman who may be used as a scab.
The Messenger, 1 (July, 1918): 14.
E. J. Scott Proposes Organization of Workers as Remedy
Organization of colored labor in the United States will do much to remove the causes of industrial unrest and afford greater efficiency for the Government.
Emmett J. Scott, special assistant to the Secretary of War, presented this opinion before a conference of colored labor and educational leaders and officials of the American Federation of Labor, at Federation Headquarters, 9th Street and Massachusetts Avenue, Tuesday.
The conference was called to consider the admission of colored labor unions to the national labor organization. A resolution looking to this end was passed at the recent convention of the American Federation of Labor at Buffalo.
Among those taking part in the conferences were Dr. Robert R. Moten, principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute; Emmett J. Scott, special assistant to the Secretary of War, and George W. Harris, editor of the New York News.103
Washington Bee, December 9, 1918.
New Orleans, La.—May 28.—Joe Dennis, a Negro, has been found guilty in the United States District Court of violating the Espionage law by urging a strike on the Texas and Pacific Railroad, near here, September 14, 1918. It is stated that this is the first conviction of its kind in the United States.
Dennis, while employed as foreman of a section gang, was charged with interference with the movement of troops because he urged workers to strike for better conditions. Attorneys for the defendant will appeal the case.
The New Orleans Labor Advocate says that the responsibility for the conviction rests with Judge Foster, who charged the jury to bring in a verdict of “guilty if it found the facts bore out the contention of the government attorney, that the defendant had hampered the government in the operation of railroads.”
Invoking the Espionage law to convict the Negro appears far-fetched, says this paper, which declares that “the intent of that measure, as we understand it, was for a means of handling German spies during the war with Germany.
“To invoke it to convict an ignorant Negro worker because he asked his fellow workers to join him in a demand for living wages not only appears to be wholly inconsistent, but inhuman as well.
“We believe the judge, whether intentional or not, has taken a step that will stir up considerably more turmoil than he anticipated. To attempt to deny workers the right to strike is a decidely serious matter.”
New York Call, May 29, 1919.
The Negro Workers’ Advisory Committee, representing practically every Negro fraternal, welfare, religious and labor body in Chicago, and affiliated with like bodies in other districts, has wired the A.F. of L. convention to urge that all restrictions against Negro workers should be removed by labor unions. Just how widespread this discrimination is we do not know, but quite a number of unions of the North have removed them during the past 20 years.
The same papers that carried this news also reported that, because of the seating of W. C. Page, a Negro, as a member of the Virginia Federation of Labor at its recent convention, 2,000 union men of Richmond have withdrawn from that body. This action is not unusual in the South, where the exploiters cultivate race prejudice between whites and blacks, exploit both, and use each race against the other. But the fact that the Virginia organization seated a Negro indicates considerable progress. Those who voted in favor of seating him certainly knew that in doing so it would offend large numbers of white union members who know nothing of solidarity. The latter are union members, but not union men. They labor under a psychology that belongs to the old slave regime that was the peculiar product of slave owners.
The Negro worker is a part of the American working class, and imposing union restrictions on him by the white members is to foster a race aristocracy in the unions. In the end it must work against the white members who favor this, for if the Negro is not admitted to the unions on equal terms he certainly owes no obligations to labor aristocrats when the latter are engaged in a struggle with the capitalist class. The latter, too, will be only too eager to take advantage of the racial prejudices for their own purposes.
The slave owners were cunning enough to follow this same policy. By the side of Negro slaves there vegetated masses of poor whites whose standard of living was in many cases as low, and even lower, than the enslaved blacks. To reconcile these poor whites to their lot the exploiting whites indulcated pride in the workers’ white skins and made the latter feel that they were a part of the ruling whites because their skins were not black. Thus masses of poor whites dragged out a miserable existence in poverty, rags and ignorance. This still obtains in many parts of the South, for the racial antagonism is still fostered in that section by politicians and the capitalist press, and for the same reason.
Workingmen who indulge in any form of racial or national prejudices because of the color of other workers’ skins, or the language they speak, or the place where they were born, are playing a stupid game and one which makes them the playthings of the exploiters of all types.
New York Call, June 12, 1919.
Not since the abolition of chattel slavery, says the New York Age, Afro-American weekly, has any step been taken toward the industrial freedom of the race so important as that of the American Federation of Labor when it voted to open its doors unconditionally to the negro. This means, as the New York Times points out, that “all over the country the negro worker will have, as he has not had hitherto, a chance to enter all of the skilled, and therefore better-paid trades, and in them to be judged on his merits.” It wipes out “the part of the color-line which most impeded the progress of the black race,” says the New York World, which reminds us that colored wage-earners now constitute about one-seventh of our industrial population. The New York Tribune interpret this victory for the negro as “a by-product of the war.”
One of the colored delegates to the Federation of Labor Convention in Atlantic City, pleading for the resolution which was afterward adopted with onl one opposing vote, exclaimed:
“If you can take in immigrants who cannot speak the English language, why can’t you take in the negro, who has been loyal to you from Washington to the battle-fields of France?” And he went on to say:
“We ask for the same chance to earn bread for our families at the same salary our white brothers are getting. The negro is ready to live for you and to die for you, with all his dirty treatment in this country, if you give us equal rights the same as you have to earn bread for our families.”.
The connection between the Federation’s action and war and reconstruction conditions is emphasized by Mr. Fred R. Moore, editor and publisher of the New York Age, who is quoted by the New York Tribune as saying:
“The exodus of Italians and other southern Europeans from the United State the imminent restriction of immigration by Congress, and the great need of labo during the reconstruction period have combined to bring about this action.
“With the large influx of colored labor into the Northern States during the last three years there was danger of the Federation of Labor from colored strikebreakers. This danger was recognized by the Federation, and was one of the impelling causes leading to the Federation’s action. With equal opportunit and equal wages and membership in the Federation, the colored man will not lend himself to strike-breaking.”
In the editorial columns of his own paper Mr. Moore says that the action of the convention “was largely due to the progressive policy of Sam Gompers.” And he adds:
“The real extent of this forward movement on the part of organized labor can only be gauged by the spirit in which it is carried out. With good faith and fair dealing on both sides, the industrial progress of the race should now be assured.”
And in The Amsterdam News, another New York negro weekly, we read of the Federation’s action—
“It is one of the most far-reaching advantages that has come to Afro-Americans in recognition of their labors in essential industries during the world war. No one studied with closer interest the employment of Afro-American in war and essential industries than Mr. Samuel Gompers and the able men who surround him in the councils of the American Federation of Labor; and no one looked with more concern than they upon the considerable migration of large masses of Afro-American workers from the Southern to the Northern and Western labor vintage ground. This interest and study convinced Mr. Gompers and his associates that the only safe way to deal effectually with this labor force was to open wide for it the door of membership in the American Federation of Labor, qualified membership in which it has enjoyed for some time with more or less dissatisfaction to all concerned. This dissatisfaction has led to a concerted movement among Afro-Americans to affect labor organizations of their own, the most pretentious being the National Brotherhood Workers of America, with headquarters at Washington, of which Louis J. Brown is president and Miss Jeannette Carter is secretary. Mr. Gompers and his associates have taken, therefore, the wiser and more politic course in seeking the cooperation rather than the organized opposition of Afro-American labor.104
“It is of the greatest importance not to lose sight of the significant part the industrial educational policy of the late Booker T. Washington played in the preparedness of Afro-Americans to do the work during the war, and which has convinced the American Federation of Labor that it is the part of wisdom and policy to give it equal membership opportunity with white wage-workers rather than bar it out and make a ‘scab’ working force of it.”
Mr. John Mitchell, editor of The Planet, a negro paper published in Richmond, Va., also comments on the “far-sightedness” manifested by the American Federation of Labor. For—105
“The greatest menace to organized labor as opposed to organized capital is the black multitude that entered the industrial plants of the country and demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that they could execute and master the tasks assigned to respective members thereof. It was organized capital and not organized labor that gave to black labor the position that it now occupies. Will the colored men accept the invitation and join the white labor-unions or will they stand out as independent units under their own leaders and from their respective platforms deal directly with the moneyed interests of the country? On this decision will depend the fate of the white laboring interests of America as represented by the American Federation of Labor.
“It is also an interesting question as to whether the American Federation of Labor can hold in leash its own membership should the invitation be generally accepted by the colored men of this country. We see, or think we see, a changed condition of affairs, which must necessarily benefit the colored laboring elements of America.”
The Federation’s action “opens the gateway to real American life for the first time within the last half century,” says the Boston Guardian (negro), which continues:
“The decision may establish so great a hope within our youth that it may save even a greater exodus from this country, the land of colored people’s birth to any other country that might bid for them than any other favor.”
In still another negro paper, the Nashville Globe, we read:
“In a number of the Southern States the negro constitutes the greater factor in the agricultural, manufacturing, and mining industries, so to admit him into the trade-unions will not only vouchsafe to the negro a better opportunity for promotion and advancement along these industrial lines, but it will give to the manufacturer a higher degree of efficiency in labor. We hope that his admission into the union will mean his promotion as he fits himself for the work. Too long America has delayed justice to the negro along industrial lines, and the step now taken is welcomed by thirteen millions of real Americans.”
A “striking contrast” between the attitude of the American Federation of Labor and that of “the alleged Christian Churches of the United States” is dwelt upon by The Appeal, a negro paper published in St. Paul, Minn., which goes on to say:
“Some of these orthodox Christian churches asked the colored members to get out and form segregated bodies, and in some cases legislation was enacted to compel segregation. The action of America’s great labor body is a strong confirmation of the attitude The Appeal has always maintained, that the real advancement of the colored people will come through economic forces and never through hypocritical religious bodies.
“The American Federation of Labor has sensed the absolute necessity for organizing negro workingmen along with white workingmen in order to face capital with a solid front in working out the serious problems of the new era,” remarks Mr. Eugene Knickle Jones, executive secretary of the National Urban League, an organization for social service among negroes.
Labor-leaders, we are told in an Atlantic City dispatch to the New York Tribune, regard the Federation’s action in this matter as only surpassed in importance by its declaration of 1917 supporting the Administration in its conduct of the war. Mr. Gompers himself is quoted as saying:
“It is one of the most important steps taken by the Federation in many years. In the past it has been difficult to organize the colored man. Now he shows a desire to be organized and we meet him more than half-way.”
The Literary Digest, 61 (June 38, 1919): 12.
At its Convention in Atlantic City in June, the American Federation of Labor went on record as endorsing and planning to organize Negroes in the unions throughout the United States. Negro leaders all around are claiming to have had some influence in creating this decision. Such old fossils as Fred R. Moore, Robert Russa Moton, George W. Harris, Emmett J. Scott and George E. Haynes have the temerity to claim that they were able to bring force to bear to get this decision in the American Federation of Labor’s Convention. Of course, we hardly need to say to our readers that these old political fossils, mental manikins, intellectual lilliputians, who are bankrupt in ideas and poverty-striken in information, could have had nothing to do with any movement which tends toward progress, except to hold it back. What, then were the real causes of this quasi change of heart on the part of the Federation of Labor?
There are several reasons.
First: There are thousands and tens of thousands of Negroes in the unions who have been moved by the social unrest which is shaking the world. Instead of assuming the complacent, compromising, shifty, surrendering position advocated by the old political and social fossils enumerated above, these Negroes in the labor unions decided to assume the position of a threat and to hold the Sword of Damoclese dangling over the head of the Federation of Labor. In the convention, they threatened to withdraw, to secede entirely. Now, these Negroes pay in dues hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly to the Federation of Labor. They hold an economic power which cannot be ignored by that strong and powerful organization. But the withdrawal of immense sums of money looked menacing, and a blow in the pocketbook is always a blow which will be felt, noted and responded to if it is pressed with persistency.
Secondly: A large group of these Negroes in unions have formed the National Brotherhood Association which is itself a sort of Negro Federation of Labor. It has headquarters in Washington, D.C., and has called a convention for August the 25th, in the City of Washington. This organization threatens to pull the Negroes into a body which will fight both employers and the labor unions who discriminate against Negroes, very much in the way that the United Hebrew Trades operates among the Jews. The editors of the MESSENGER are members of the Board of Directors of this organization, and that means that the organization is built upon and is following sound, union principles and militant, revolutionary methods.106
Third: The MESSENGER magazine, the only magazine of scientific Radicalism in the world, published by Negroes, has been carrying on relentless and widespread propaganda among Negro workers in this country for nearly two years. It is being read this month by over thirty-three thousand Negro workers and a few thousand Radical whites. It has struck such alarm in the breasts of the reactionaries who dominate the American Federation of Labor’s machine, that the Union League Club asked the New York State Legislature to probe its agitation among Negroes in the United States. The Legislature of the State acted upon said resolution and the National Security League has been examining its issues and propaganda. This resolution of the Union League Club was passed March 13, 1919, and carried by the Associated Press. On March 25th, 1919, the National Civic Federation Review, an organ of the Wall Street plutocrats, and the millionaires and billionaires of the United States, carried a three-page article entitled, “New York State Probe of Bolshevism Asked.” “Union League Club Committee Declares Facts Warrant Full Inquiry—Especially as to Those Who Seek to Stir Negroes—Ultra Radicals Back New Union.” The article stated, “The propaganda of the Radicals in the U.S., is increasing. Every cause of complaint in any part of American society is used to increase the numbers of the Radical forces.107
“An attempt is being made to arouse a latent discontent among the Negro population in this country by circulating among them Bolsheviki doctrines. An excellent illustration of the character of this propaganda is the MESSENGER, a Negro paper which has been widely distributed among Negroes of New York City and elsewhere.
The comment of the Review continues: “In order to stimulate an interest in Socialist activities, an association has been formed which is known as The National Association for the Promotion of Labor Unionism Among Negroes108 with headquarters at 2305 Seventh Avenue, New York City. The significance of this movement may be gathered from an examination of the names upon its Advisory Board. Among these appear, Charles W. Ervin, editor of The New York Call, a Socialist organ; Julius Gerber, Sec’y of the N.Y. Socialists Local and a member of the Metal Workers Union; Morris Hilquit, the well-known Socialist; Jacob Panken, Socialist Judge of the Municipal Court, N.Y. City; James H. Maurer, Pres. of the Penn. State Federation of Labor; Max Pine, Organizer of the United Hebrew Trades; Joseph Schlossberg, Sec’y of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America; Abraham Shiplacoff, of the Jewish Forward and Rose Schneiderman, President of the Workers’ Trade Union League.109
“The President of the Association is Chandler Owen, a Negro and one of the editors of the Radical paper from which we have been quoting. The article of the Civic Federation Review quotes further THE MESSENGER of February, 1919, and calls the preamble of The National Association for the Promotion of Labor Unionism Among Negroes, insidious propaganda. It reproduces the following seal and carries by the side of it the following article:110
OUR REASON FOR BEING
First, as workers, black and white, we all have one common interest, viz., the getting of more wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions.
Black and white workers should combine for no other reason than that for which individual workers should combine, viz., to increase their bargaining power, which will enable them to get their demands.
Second, the history of the labor movement in America proves that the employing class recognize no race lines. They will exploit a white man as readily as a black man. They will exploit women as readily as men. They will even go to the extent of coining the labor, blood and suffering of children into dollars. The introduction of women and children into the factories proves that capitalists are only concerned with profits and that they will exploit any race or class in order to make profits, whether they be black or white men, black or white women or black or white children.
Third, it is apparent that every Negro worker or non-union man is a potential scab upon white union men and black union men.
Fourth, self-interest is the only principle upon which indivuals or groups will act if they are sane. Thus, it is idle, and vain to hope or expect Negro workers, out of work, and who receive less wages when at work than white workers, to refuse to scab upon white workers when an opportunity presents itself.
Men will always seek to improve their conditions. When colored workers, as scabs, accept the wages against which white workers strike, they (the Negro workers) have definitely improved their conditions.
That is the only reason why colored workers scab upon white workers or why non-union white men scab upon white union men.
Every member, which is a part of the industrial machinery, must be organized, if labor would win its demands. Organized labor cannot afford to ignore any labor factor of production which organized capital does not ignore.
Fifth, if the employers can keep the white and black dogs, on account of race prejudice, fighting over a bone, the yellow capitalist dog will get away with the bone—the bone of profits. No union man’s standard of living is safe so long as there is a group of men or women who may be used as scabs and whose standard of living is lower.
The combination of black and white workers will be a powerful lesson to the capitalists of the solidarity of labor. It will show that labor, black and white, is conscious of its interests and power. This will prove that unions are not based upon race lines, but upon class lines. This will serve to convert a class of workers, which has been used by the capitalist class to defeat organized labor, into an ardent, class-conscious, intelligent, militant group.”
This statement of the Negro’s labor problem, together with the presentation of the radical whites, who recognize no race or color line, brought to the attention of the Union League Club’s billionaires, and the Washington Chamber of Commerce, what the new Negro is thinking and Mr. Samuel Gompers, who is a member of the Chamber of Commerce himself, was no doubt promptly informed that the Negroes were getting unruly and from under control of the reactionaries and that some sop would have to be handed out or else the more radical unions would get control of them.
Sixth: The Industrial Workers of the World commonly termed, the I.W.W., draw no race, creed, color or sex line in their organization. They are making a desperate effort to get the colored men into the One Big Union. The Negroes are at least giving them an ear, and the prospects point to their soon giving them a hand. With the Industrial Workers Organization already numbering 800,000, to augment it with a million and a half or two million Negroes, would make it fairly rival the American Federation of Labor. This may still be done anyhow and the reactionaries of this country, together with Samuel Gompers, the reactionary President of the American Federation of Labor, desire to hold back this trend of Negro labor radicalism.
Seventh: The Providence Sunday Journal of June 1st, 1919, one of the chief plutocratic mouth pieces of the country, carries a whole half page on THE MESSENGER and its labor agitation, entitled, “Enrolling American Negroes Under Banners of Bolshevism.” In speaking of THE MESSENGER it says: “What is advocated by THE MESSENGER, is a policy of evolution—one that will bring the Negro workers of this country into closer relationship with the white unionists—one that will make a great combination of the white and black laboring vote of this country, and, therefore, one which if brought to a successful culmination would dominate the politics and policies of the entire country.
The Providence Journal continues, “The publication in the U.S., spreading this insidious propaganda among Negroes, is THE MESSENGER. It is published at 2305 Seventh Avenue, New York City, by two as well read, well educated and competent Negroes as there are in the United States. They are A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, and as a contributing editor, they have Dr. George Frazier Miller, one of the best known Negro divines in New York City. The publication is well gotten up, well printed and in every way put together in a manner which would appeal to the people that it is intended to reach.”111
After writing a whole half page on the propaganda being carried on by THE MESSENGER magazine and the National Association for the Promotion of Labor Unionism Among Negroes the Providence Journal also quotes the preamble of the National Association for the Promotion of Labor Unionism Among Negroes.
Eighth: The New York World, the mouthpiece of the present administration, and also a plutocratic mouthpiece, says in its issue of June 4, 1919, “The radical forces in New York City have recently embarked on a great new field of revolutionary endeavor, the education through agitation of the southern Negro into the mysteries and desirability of revolutionary Bolshevism. There are several different powerful forces in N. Y. City behind this move. The chief established propaganda is being distributed through THE MESSENGER, which styles itself—”The magazine of scientific radicalism in the world, published by Negroes.” Its editors are A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, with George Frazier Miller, contributing editor. This radical journal is published at 2305 Seventh Ave., New York City. With the exception of The Liberator, it is the most radical journal printed in the U.S.
In the issue of the New York World, June 8th, Sunday edition, a special article, almost a page long on “Methods Used by Radicals to Destroy the Influence of The American Federation of Labor,” the following quotation was taken from the MESSENGER:
“The dissolution of the American Federation of Labor would inure to the benefit of the Labor Movement in this country in particular, and to the International Labor Movement in general. Why? In the first place it is organized upon unsound principles. It holds that there can be a partnership between capital and labor. Think of it! A partnership between the exploiter and the exploited! Between the spider and the fly! Between the lion and the lamb! Between the cat and the mouse!”
The foregoing comments from such powerful organs as The Providence Sunday Journal, The New York Sunday World, The National Civic Federation Review and the Union League Club of New York, followed by action of the Legislature of the State of New York—demonstrates how powerful is the influence of a well-written, logical publication, fighting for the interests of twelve million Negroes in particular and the working masses in general. These are the real reasons why the American Federation of Labor decided to lay aside its infamous color line. There is no change of heart on the part of the Federation, but it is acting under the influence of fear. There is a new leadership for Negro workers. It is a leadership of uncompromising manhood. It is not asking for a half loaf but for the whole loaf. It is insistent upon the Negro workers exacting justice, both from the white labor unions and from the capitalists or employers.
The Negroes who will benefit from this decision are indebted first to themselves and their organized power, which made them dangerous. Second, to the radical agitation carried on by the MESSENGER; and third, to the fint spirit of welcome shown by the Industrial Workers of the World, whose rapid growth and increasing power the American Federation of Labor fears. These old line Negro political fossils know nothing of the Labor Movement, do not believe in labor unions at all, and have never taken any active steps to encourage such organizations. We make this statement calmly, cooly and with a reasonable reserve. The very thing which they are fighting is one of the chief factors in securing for Negroes their rights. That is Bolshevism. The capitalists of this country are so afraid that Negroes will become Bolshevists that they are willing to offer them almost anything to hold them away from the radical movement. Nobody buys pebbles which may be picked up on the beach, but diamonds sell high. The old line Negro leaders have no power to bargain, because it is known that they are Republican politically and job-hunting, me-to-boss-hat-in-hand-Negroes, industrially. Booker Washington and all of them have simply advocated that Negroes get more work. The editors of the MESSENGER are not interested in Negroes getting more work. Negroes have too much work already. What we want Negroes to get is less work and more wages, with more leisure for study and recreation.
Our type of agitation has really won for Negroes such concessions as were granted by the American Federation of Labor and we are by no means too sanguine over the possibilities of the sop which was granted. It may be like the Constitution of the United States—good in parts, but badly executed. We shall have to await the logic of events. In the meantime, we urge the Negro labor unions to increase their radicalism, to speed up their organization, to steer clear of the Negro leaders and to thank nobody but themselves for what they have gained. In organization there is strength, and whenever Negroes or anybody else make organized demands, their call will be heeded.
The Messenger, 2 (August, 1919): 10–12.
An N.A.A.C.P. Report
In his study of the “Negro Artisan,” Atlanta University, 1902, Dr. DuBois sums up the matter of the relation of the Negro to the labor union in the following statement:
“The rule of admission of Negroes to unions throughout the country is the sheer necessity of guarding work and wages. In those trades where large numbers of Negroes are skilled they find easy admittance in the parts of the country where their competition is felt. In all other trades they are barred from the unions save in exceptional cases, either by open or silent color discrimination. There are exceptions to this rule. There are cases where the whites have shown a real feeling of brotherhood; there are cases where the blacks, through incompetence and carelessness, have forfeited their right to the advantages of organization. But on the whole, a careful, unprejudiced survey of the facts leads one to believe that the above statement is true approximately all over the land.”
This view is as correct in 1919 as it was in 1902, but the position of the Negro artisan has, in the meantime, greatly changed. With the European War and its shortage of immigrant labor, the colored man has entered into the industry of the United States. North and South he no longer stands at the foot of the ladder, doing only the heaviest unskilled work; he still performs many of these tasks, but thousands have moved up the rungs and are competing with the white man in well-paid skilled labor. This makes his organization necessary to the labor movement of the United States, and it explains the extraordinary interest and even enthusiasm manifested for him at the recent annual conference of the American Federation of Labor.
The conference met in Atlantic City in June and on the thirteenth of that month the Negro members made themselves heard. They spoke in no uncertain terms. There were twenty-three of them, where the preceding year there had been only six. Among the group were the representatives from the Freight Handlers and Helpers, Memphis; the Shipbuilders’ Helpers, Tampa; the Janitors, Charleston; the Stationary men and Oilers, Denver. Men came from the Texas oil fields, from the railroads of Mississippi, and from the shipyards of Norfolk.
John A. Lacey, Secretary of the Labor Council of Norfolk, declared a serious condition existed in many cities where the labor organizations refused to take Negro laborers—that the Negro in the United States had received dirty treatment. “We don’t ask any favors,” he said, “we ask for a chance to live like men, with equal rights and democratic rule. The Negro can read now, and the man who can read can think.”
Complaints came from the Negro Freight Handlers and the International Longshoremen of discrimination on the part of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks throughout the South. The Chief Executive of the Brotherhood, aroused by this, admitted that his organization did not give full rights to the Negroes, but hoped that at their executive board meeting full rights would be allowed them.
The Committee on Resolutions then introduced a resolution that “the Executive Council give particular attention to the organization of colored workers everywhere and assign colored organizers wherever possible; and that in cases where International Unions affiliated with the A.F. of L. refuse admittance to colored workers, the A.F. of L. organize the workers under charters from the Federation.”
This resolution was followed by a demonstration such as made the onlooker believe that the Negro had at length come into his own in the labor world. Forty heads of International Unions arose and welcomed black men into their ranks.
Mollie Freedman, of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, was the first to speak, declaring that her union had six thousand colored girls in its membership and was proud of them; Seymour Hastings, of the Motion Picture Players’ Union of Los Angeles, declared, “We draw no distinction as to race or color;” and the Meat Cutters and Butchers Workmen’s Union announced large membership of Negroes employed in the packing plants and five Negro organizers on the road. Among others who arose to testify to their hearty welcome to the Negro were also the Carpenters, Plasterers, Bricklayers, Brick and Clay Workers; Hod-Carriers, Steel and Iron Workers of the Building Trades; the United Mine Workers; Mill, Mine and Smelter Workers; Textile Workers; Laundry Workers; Upholsterers, Leather Workers; Boot and Shoe Workers; Fur Workers; Tailors, Garment Workers; Brewery Workers and Cigarmakers; Teamsters, Firemen and Pilers, Street Railway Employees, Seamen and Maintenance-of-Way Men; Federal Employees, Postal Employees, Letter Carriers; Stage Employees; Motion Picture Operators; Car Builders; Molders, Quarry Workers; Printers, Stereotypers, Barbers; and the Professions of Music and Civil Engineering.
This was the demonstration. And since the American Federation of Labor always desires more power, more money and more men, it is likely to use pressure when necessary upon its local units to bring in the thousands of colored workers, whose dues will help swell its treasury and theirs. It knows, too, that the colored men have learned to organize and constitute a danger outside the Federation. It is not difficult to forget racial prejudice when a high wage is at stake.
What has the N.A.A.C.P. done on this matter?
In January, 1918, at the call of the Urban League, representatives from that body, the N.A.A.C.P., the Slater Fund, the Jeanes Fund, and Tuskegee presented the following memorandum to the A.F. of L.:
“We wish especially to address ourselves to the American Federation of Labor which at its recent convention in Buffalo, N.Y., voiced sound democratic principles in its attitude toward Negro labor.
“We would ask the American Federation of Labor, in organizing Negroes in the various trades, to include: (1) skilled as well as unskilled workmen; (2) northern as well as southern workmen; (3) government as well as civilian employees; (4) women as well as men workers.
“We would have Negro labor handled by the American Federation of Labor in the same manner as white labor; (1) when workmen are returning to work after a successful strike; (2) when shops are declared ‘open’ or ‘closed’; (3) when Union workers apply for jobs.
“We would have these assurances pledged not with words only, but by deeds pledged by an increasing number of examples of groups of Negro workmen given a ‘square deal.’
“With these things accomplished, we pledge ourselves to urge Negro workingmen to seek the advantages of sympathetic co-operation and understanding between men who work.”
This has been the stand of the N.A.A.C.P. for a year and a half. Mr. Shillady has appeared in committee before Mr. Gompers and his executives and now at last, through pressure from without and within, the A.F. of L. has made a good beginning at the “square deal.”
From the correspondence with our branches we realize that the choice between organization and non-organization is not always so simple as it seems. At Birmingham we learn that the employers treat their colored workmen fairly, but through agents urge them not to join the union. The President of the Branch adds: “Thus far the Negroes have found it profitable to stay out of the unions, for they have given him a cold deal.” A letter from Austin, Texas, says: “There seems to be general unrest between the races and it is thought that labor agitation, the admission of Negroes into the American Federation of Labor, is the cause.”
Especially interesting has been a long correspondence with a member at Balboa in the Canal Zone who is strongly in favor of union organization, but who has been telling us of the efforts of white union men in the Zone to prevent the organization of colored men. The A.F. of L. sent two men to Panama especially to organize colored labor. These men, shortly after their arrival, were informed that the white workers were against them, that they did not wish Negro laborers to have the permanent status organization would give them, and white union officials even went so far later as to ask the Governor to have the organizers deported. This was not done, and next an unsuccessful attempt was made to have them recalled from United States Headquarters. The organization of black men continued, however, and will continue, though at Atlantic City a white representative sent up from the Zone offered a resolution against the unionizing of Negro labor at Panama. The resolution was received and referred to the Executive Committee for investigation, where, it is believed, it will remain indefinitely. The A.F. of L. seems earnest in its desire to bring to American colored labor in the tropics a decent wage.
A press report from Chicago says that a committee of prominent Negroes, speaking on the riots, urges the colored men whenever possible to join the labor unions. We believe this is wise advice. When colored labor enters into competition with white labor, as it is doing increasingly today, it must demand the hours and wages of the white workers, or be counted a scab. To underbid for any length of time is to pull down the standard of living of the working class. The opposition of the white worker on racial lines becomes insignificant when the real issue, the issue “to give like men,” as John A. Lacy put it, is before him. For his selfish purposes he must admit America’s hundreds of thousands of black workers into his International Brotherhood.
The Labor Union is no panacea, but it has proved and is proving a force that in the end diminishes race prejudice. A democracy prospers when laborers of all races work together. Where a despotism is at its height, as in the old days of southern slavery, cracker and black are kept apart, hating one another, ignorant and ragged workers going about their unskilled, wasteful tasks.
It was an immense advance toward harmony between the races when for a half-hour at Atlantic City the Negro was invited into the full and equal privileges of organized labor. It is now his business to accept this invitation, to see that given in the heat of enthusiasm it is not withdrawn, to follow it up and to go hundreds strong to the next meeting of the Federation.
The Crisis, 18 (September, 1919): 239–41.
To strike is to stop work with a view to winning certain demands, such as, more wages, shorter hours or better conditions under which to work. It is not alone effective for the achievement of economic object, however, but it may be used also for securing favorable political action. For instance, the threat of the Brotherhood of Railway trainmen to strike in 1916, forced the adoption of the Adamson 8-hour Day Law by Congress.112
The strike is the chief weapon in the hands of labor in the class war, since by the use of it, labor is able to enforce a loss upon capital by arresting production. When production ceases, profits stop also. And since business is only run for profits, when it is no longer possible to get profits out of the enterprise, the reason for business is destroyed. This is why capitalists are terror-stricken at the use of the strike. “Big Business” knows how helpless it is when confronted with the strike.
Labor is gradually awakening to the necessity of striking at the source of production. Throughout the country in the ranks of all types of labor, strikes are being called to offset the rising cost of living. In Brooklyn, New York, The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Employees have virtually won their demands after having paralyzed transportation for several days. Transportation in Chicago is just assuming normal conditions in the wake of a bitter strike. The railway shopmen, cigar makers, workers in the building trades, longshoremen, etc., are striking, have struck, or are about to strike for a better wage. Even 12 theatres in New York City have been closed by a strike of actors. And it is rumored that the police in New York City and Boston are organizing themselves into a union. So it has finally dawned upon those who are charged with the enforcement of the law that they too are workingmen who receive wages with which they must purchase life—food, clothing and shelter. This is the beginning of the end. For when one part of the working class which is used to hold down the large masses of the workers, strikes—then truly the end of capitalism is at hand. Since without the police, the militia and the regular army, the ruling class is powerless and impotent.
The present order of strikes ought to impress the millions of Negro workers in the South. Cotton is used in every conceivable form of manufacture. It is the basis of the great clothing industry. The progress of science has been materially accelerated by King Cotton. Millions of bales are produced by Negro labor yearly out of which millions of dollars of profits are realized and yet, the large majority of Negro cotton plantation workers are in dire poverty on account of the starvation wages they receive. What is the remedy is the question coming from the mouths of millions of black workers.
The answer is contained in one word—”Strike!” Piteous appeals are of no avail. Positive demands enforced by the strike are the only things that count. If the Negro cotton workers were to strike, the great cotton mills of England that rely upon the cotton exported from the South would be forced to close down. Now since these cotton mills are owned by the capitalists of England, who, in turn, control Parliament, representations would be made immediately to America with a view to influencing the action of the Government with respect to the cotton strike. When the Negro understands his power to cripple the main industry of the South by arresting production, and thereby stopping the creation of profits, he shall have reached the point where he will be able to secure a respectful hearing in the high court of American public opinion in general, as well as an attentive audience from Southern cotton plantation owners in particular.
The exploiting class in all parts of the world can appreciate a blow in the pocketbook. Negroes must form cotton workers’ unions and present their demands to the masters of the cotton industry in the South. There is no need for fear. Not a sign of cotton can be raised without Negro labor. Southern white capitalists know that Negroes can bring the white bourbon South to its knees by one strike at the source of production. So, go to it!
The Messenger, 2 (September, 1919): 5–6.
Washington, D.C., November 4, 1919
To: The National Women’s Trade Union League of America
From: Representative Negro Women of the United States In behalf of Negro women laborers of the United States.
The importance of Negro women labor in Agriculture and Industry in the United States makes it reasonable, you will agree, that in any adjustment of interests between employers and wage-earners the interests of Negro women wage-earners should be considered and that they should have representation in the Council.
In 1910, there were in the United States 2,013,981 Negro women, ten years of age and over, in all occupations; in the manufacturing and mechanical industries there were 67,978. In the trades, there were 7,027. In Agriculture, Forestry and Animal Husbandry there were 1,051,137. In Domestic and Personal Service there were 853,357. In the clerical occupations there were 3,132. In transportation there were 1,286.
Negro women, as you well know, are very little organized in unions or other organizations. They have, therefore, very limited means of making their wishes known and of having their interests advanced through their own representatives.
It is frequently assumed or stated that Negro women are working for lower wages than other women, because they can live on less. They do often live on less because they are forced to do so. We wish to call your attention to the fact that, as shown in cases of other labor, such cheaply paid labor is, after all, dearer labor because lower wages produce lower standards of living and lower efficiency, and, thus, lower output.
The present generation of Negro women laborers like other women laborers, had little or no opportunity for training and education at childhood or since. The present prospect of the world demand for the products of American agriculture and industry makes it of fundamental importance to American production that the potential capacity of Negro women workers should be developed to its limit. As you will agree, it is up to the labor, commercial, industrial and agricultural leaders of America to see that this opportunity is given them.
THEREFORE, We, a group of Negro women, representing those two millions of Negro women wage-earners, respectfully ask for your active cooperation in organizing the Negro women workers of the United States into unions, that they may have a share in bringing about industrial democracy and social order in the world.
Any communication may be mailed to Mrs. Elizabeth Ross Haynes, c/o Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, Washington, D.C.
Proceedings of the First International Congress of Working Women, October 28 to November 5, 1919; November 4 Session, pp. 32–34. National Women’s Trade Union League Papers, Library of Congress.
Speaking before the Readjustment Congress held last week at Howard University, Eugene Kinkle Jones executive secretary of the Urban League, had the following to say:
“As a rule, Negroes are suspicious of unions, with but little sympathy towards other Negroes who advocate affiliation on the part of Negro workingmen with white unions. However, the unions will never be able to muster their full strength in their fight with capital, without the recruiting of Negro workmen now constituting one-seventh of the labor supply of America. And Negroes will be unable to attain their position in the labor world without it in a large measure affiliating with organized labor groups.”
There is no sociologist who thinks more clearly, and speaks straighter on labor conditions among colored people than Mr. Jones. What he says above, he has preached in public addresses all over the country to employers and employees, white and colored. He makes just two points:
First, that the colored worker cannot get better working conditions, better hours and higher wages without organization;
Second, unions in the United States will never be able to control all of the workers until they include the Negro workers.
The first point is the more important. Without organization, without labor unions, the colored laborer is a scab and a makeshift, the average worker in the United States is the best paid workingman in the world. The worst paid laborers are the Chinese coolies, the Jamaica farm labor, and the South African miners.
In the United States, the average white laborer can earn $3.50 a day, in Jamaica, he earns 25 cents per day. The difference between them is in money —$3.25. The real difference lies in the fact that the average white laborer in the United States is organized and the average Jamaican is unorganized.
The difference is more than this—the Jamaican laborer is poorly housed, badly nourished and largely ignorant; the average white American lives well and sends his children to the public school. The only reason that colored workers in America are not getting the same wages paid in China and Jamaica is that they are competing with organized white laborers who are highly paid. But even so, unorganized Negro workers are receiving lower wages than white organized workers in every case. The only time both races are paid alike is when both belong to labor unions.
Colored workingmen can accept the word of Mr. Jones when he says:
“NEGROES WILL BE UNABLE TO ATTAIN THEIR POSITION IN THE LABOR WORLD WITHOUT IN LARGE MEASURE AFFILIATING WITH ORGANIZED LABOR GROUPS.”
Baltimore Afro-American, November 21, 1919.
Industry involves the continuous contact of more whites and Negroes than any other field. It therefore affords wide opportunity for the operation of racial misunderstanding and friction. It is also a field in which the lines of economic interest are so tightly drawn and so closely watched that any misunderstanding or friction is thereby greatly accentuated.
Irritation and clashes of interest have been conspicuous in the relations between labor unions and Negro workers. This friction has extended to the relations between white and Negroes generally. The efforts of union labor to promote its cause and gain adherents have built up a body of sentiment that cannot easily be opposed by non-union workers. The strike breaker is intolerable to the union man. Circumstances have frequently made Negroes strike breakers, thus centering upon them as a racial group all the bitterness which the unionist feels toward strike breakers as a class. This tends to increase any existing racial antipathy or to serve as concrete justification for it.
On the other hand, Negroes have often expressed themselves as distrustful of the unions because prejudice in the unions has denied them equal benefits of membership. They often find that their first opportunity in a new industry comes through the eagerness of a strike-bound employer to utilize their labor at wages more than they have previously earned, even if less than the union scale. This often tends to make them feel that they have more to gain through affiliation with such employers than by taking chances on what the unions offer them.
There is a gradually increasing sympathetic understanding by unionists of the struggle of Negroes to overcome their handicaps, and an increasing realization of the importance to the unions of organizing them. Negroes are themselves showing more interest in efforts toward organizations, but there is still much mutual suspicion and resentment in their relations.
To understand these relations it is necessary to know (1) the policy and attitude of organized labor toward the Negro and how its expressed policy is carried out in practice; and (2) what the Negro believes the facts to be and what his attitude is toward organized labor. In its investigation the Commission used the following methods of inquiry: Questionnaires were sent to all labor organizations; interviews were held with union officials and members, both white and Negro, with officers and members of Negro “protest” unions, with non-unions Negroes, and with persons who were not connected with unions but had certain special information. Ninety-one persons, of whom twenty-five were Negroes, were interviewed. Trade-union meetings were attended by the Commission’s investigator. Union constitutions, magazines, convention reports, etc., were collected and studied. Conferences were held by the Commission at which the following labor leaders and organizers presented their information and views:
George W. Perkins, president of the International Cigarmakers’ Union, and prominent in the affairs of the American Federation of Labor since its organization.113
Victor Olander, secretary-treasurer, Illinois State Federation of Labor, and vice-president of International Seaman’s Union.
John Fitzpatrick, president, Chicago Federation of Labor.
W. Z. Foster, organizer of the American Federation of Labor in the steel and packing industries.114
A. K. Foote, Negro, vice-president of Stock Yards Labor Council and secretary-treasurer, Local 651, Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of America.
I. H. Bratton, Negro organizer for Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of America.
John Riley, Negro organizer for the American Federation of Labor in the Stock Yards district.
Max Brodsky, secretary-treasurer, Local 100, International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union.
Agnes Nestor, president, Women’s Trade Union League.115
Elizabeth Maloney, treasurer and organizer, Chicago Waitresses’ Union.
Robert L. Mays, Negro, president of an independent Negro union, the Railway Men’s International Benevolent and Industrial Association.
II. POLICY OF THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR AND OTHER FEDERATIONS
From its beginning the American Federation of Labor has declared a uniform policy of no racial discrimination, although this policy has not been carried out in practice by all the constituent autonomous bodies. At its fortieth annual convention, held at Montreal, Canada, in June, 1920, a plan was presented to “use every means in its power to have the words ‘only white’ members stricken out of the constitution” of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, an organization which exercises jurisdiction over 100,000 colored employees, although barring them from membership, and “admit the colored workers to full membership in their Brotherhood or have them relinquish jurisdiction” over these Negro employees and allow them to establish a brotherhood of their own.
This failed to receive favorable action, but a resolution was passed reaffirming the position taken at the Atlantic City convention in 1919 that “where international unions refuse to admit colored workers to membership, the American Federation of Labor will be authorized to organize them under charters from the American Federation of Labor.” This means that in such cases the American Federation of Labor itself becomes the national or international union of such locals. According to the information given to the Commission by George W. Perkins, “the Federation of Labor has organized hundreds of local unions and thereby directly attached to the American Federation of Labor colored workers.” President Gompers states: “Of the 900 unions affiliated directly with the American Federation of Labor there are 169 composed exclusively of Negroes.”
A brief reference to the history of the national federations which preceded the American Federation of Labor shows that the foregoing policy has been followed since shortly after the Civil War.
The National Labor Union (1866–72), at its first convention in 1866, was the first national federation of labor unions to deal with the problem of meeting Negro competition after the Civil War. The formation of trades unions among colored people was favored. In 1869 Negro delegates were admitted to the annual convention. A separate national Negro Labor Union, formed in 1869, was short-lived. The unfriendly attitude of the unions toward the Negroes was the subject of bitter comment at the various sessions of the latter organization. The Knights of Labor, which rose to prominence after the decline of the National Labor Union, admitted all workers without regard to color. Many Negroes in the South joined the organization. When the leadership of organized labor shifted from the Knights of Labor to the American Federation of Labor in the late eighties, the Federation continued to express the policy of no racial discrimination and has stood for that policy to the present time. At the convention of the American Federation of Labor in Atlantic City, 1919, there were present about fifty Negro delegates, men and women. A large number of Negro delegates also attended the last convention of the Federation at Montreal.
The policy of the Illinois State Federation of Labor was outlined to the Commission by Victor Olander, secretary-treasurer, as follows:
The State Federation of Labor is under the jurisdiction of the American Federation of Labor, and the laws governing the national would necessarily govern the state federation, so that in respect to law they are the same. I might add that they are carrying out the law in much the same manner with respect to the Negro. There hasn’t been a convention of the Illinois State Federation of Labor held in many years that hasn’t had in attendance Negro delegates. That is the usual thing at every convention. There is no discrimination.
The Chicago Federation of Labor is the city central body of the various local unions in Chicago which are connected with the American Federation of Labor. Each of these local unions elects delegates to represent it at the semi-monthly meetings of the Chicago Federation. Negro delegates take an active part in these meetings, and are cordially received. The Federation and its president have been very active in all efforts to organize Negroes, especially in the Stock Yards, the steel industry, and the culinary trades.
III. POLICY OF NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL UNIONS
In considering the policy of national and international unions, that of the unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor will be discussed first, and following this the policy of six of the most important of the independent internationals.
The American Federation of Labor has consistently followed a policy of no racial discrimination. It has, however, no power to compel its constituent national and international unions to follow this policy. The question of race discrimination by an autonomous national or international union has been frequently the subject of spirited discussion at American Federation of Labor conventions, but the outcome has been merely a recommendation to the offending union that the discrimination be discontinued. Since strict autonomy of national and international unions is recognized in the constitution of the American Federation of Labor, no more effective action can be taken.
In order to learn the racial policy of the 11- nationals and internationals affiliated with the American Federation of Labor inquiries were sent to each, and direct responses were received from sixty-nine. The policy of twenty-five additional unions was learned through their district councils or locals in Chicago. Thus all but sixteen of the 110 national and international unions in the American Federation of Labor were covered. Of these, two were covered. Of these, two were suspended from the American Federation of Labor in 1919-20. Only three have locals in Chicago, and all have little significance for Chicago. Information concerning the racial policy of the sixteen unions not heard from was supplied by labor leaders in touch with the whole union situation and able to speak with authority on this subject.
Of the 110 national and international unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, eight expressly bar the Negro by their constitutions or rituals. These unions are: Brotherhood of Railway Carmen of America, International Association of Machinists, American Association of Masters, Mates, and Pilots, Railway Mail Association, Order of Railroad Telegraphers, the Commercial Telegraphers’ Union of America, American Wire Weavers’ Protective Association, and Brotherhood of Railway Mail Clerks.
Thus 102 of the 110 national and international unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor admit Negroes. Not all of these unions, however, have Negro members, notwithstanding the fact that Negroes are eligible to membership. In accounting for the absence of Negro members, twenty-eight national and international unions reported “no Negroes in the trade,” or “no applications ever received.” Certain of the 102 nationals and internationals reported a small Negro membership with the following explanations:
Eleven stated that employers discriminated against Negro members of the union—wanted white men if they had to pay the union scale of wages.
Seven internationals and five delegate bodies reported that special efforts were now being made to organize Negro workers.
Twelve internationals called attention to long periods of apprenticeship—four had a three-year period, six a four-year period, and two a five-year period—as a factor which accounted for the failure of Negroes to join.
In their comments, some of these union officials unconsciously express their prejudice, sometimes attributing traits to the Negro which they seem to take for granted as being characteristic. The following are some examples:
No Negroes have applied for membership in our union or did not have nerve enough to as it requires lots of climbing.
We do not have any Negroes in our organization, but there is nothing in the constitution which prevents them from becoming members after they have learned the trade. No one has ever made application for a Negro. I judge this is because they have to blow in the same pipe [in glass blowing].
I find nothing in our laws which bars Negroes from becoming member of this union, but in my thirteen years in this office I have never known one to make application for membership. This may be due to the hazardous nature of our work.
Ours is usually very hard work. Negroes as a whole do not like hard work. They instead very often prefer employment where they can get along at their own gait or in their own way, especially working in gangs.
National and international unions which had Negro members in appreciable numbers reported the following facts:
Sixteen had Negro officers or organizers.
Twenty-three reported that relations between the races in the unions were undisturbed by race prejudice.
Thirty-three stated that Negroes had belonged to the union for the following periods:
2. UNIONS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR
There are a number of unions not affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, of which the most important are: the four railway brotherhoods—Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, Order of Railway Conductors of America—Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, Industrial Workers of the World, (I.W.W.). The four railway brotherhoods exclude the Negro by constitutional provision. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and the Industrial Workers of the World admit the Negro and make special efforts to organize Negro workers. The I.W.W. has its main foothold in the lumber, mine, and textile industries and does not have any strong unions in Chicago.
Disregarding the classification of nationals and internationals based upon affiliation with the American Federation of Labor, a review of the figures presented above shows that 104 national and international unions admit the Negro and that twelve exclude the Negro by written provision.
The outstanding fact with reference to these twelve organizations is that, with the exception of the Wire Weavers, they are all connected with the transportation industry; seven are members of the American Federation of Labor Railway Department and the other four constitute the big “railway brotherhoods.” The latter are sometimes referred to by members of the unions as the “aristocrats in the labor movement.” All of these unions, except the Masters, Mates, and Pilots, have been organized more than twenty years. None of the unions formed within the last twenty years, except the Masters, Mates, and Pilots, excludes the Negro.
In these crafts, excepting such trades as carmen, machinists, clerks, and firemen, it may be that in general the Negro would not be much of a factor at present, because these trades demand an amount of education and skill not yet possessed by a large percentage of Negroes. But this by no means proves that the Negro would not acquire the necessary skill and education if opportunities in these trades were actually open to him.
The Railway Department of the American Federation of Labor is composed of fourteen craft unions, all but two of which exclude the Negro worker. The Stationary Firemen and Oil Men of the American Federation of Labor Railway Department are openly soliciting Negro members. The only other craft organization which admits Negroes is the Maintenance of Way Craft, which really means the common labor group. Negroes can get into this craft through an auxiliary charter to a Negro local. Regardless of how skilled or how intelligent the applicant may be, or how logically he falls into some other craft, he can only come in through one or the other of these two craft unions.
The attitude of the railway brotherhoods is typified in remarks made to an investigator for the Commission by a member of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks who is now serving on an important public commission. He was emphatic in upholding the brotherhood’s policy of excluding Negroes. “As long as the engineers have anything to say about it, they certainly will not get in.” He said that the modern locomotive was a highly complicated and scientific mechanism, and that the Negroes “did not have brains enough to run one.”
As showing the contrasting view of another trade-union man, an employee of the public commission mentioned said that he had been a member of the United Mine Workers since 1901, and in that organization no color line is drawn; that he had worked beside Negro miners and feels no prejudice. He pointed out that the national conventions of the miners always have a large representation of Negro delegates, and some of the ablest and best speakers come from the Negro race. He expressed the feeling that the policy of the railway brotherhoods is a mistake, and is a case of “swell-headedness.”
The general exclusion policy of the railway brotherhoods and certain of the unions in the Railway Department of the American Federation of Labor has created a feeling of bitterness among Negroes which spreads beyond these crafts and is directed against unions in general, notwithstanding the constructive and progressive policy of the many unions which admit Negroes: In the transportation crafts it has led to the formation of a “protest” Negro railway union.
The Railway Men’s International Benevolent Industrial Association.—This organization is a labor union open to Negro railway employees. It is a protest organization which has grown up because of the exclusion of Negroes by the railway brotherhoods and certain unions in the Railway Department of the American Federation of Labor.
The Association was organized May 12, 1915, and has seventeen locals in Chicago and a membership of about 1,200, all railway employees. The leaders of this group disclaimed any intention of building up “a rival American Federation of Labor among Negroes,” but stated that, as far as they were personally concerned, they would be willing to affiliate with the American Federation of Labor in its proper department, providing all forms of discrimination in national and international unions, both in constitution and practice, were done away with, and the Negro worker was assured of equal treatment and opportunity with the white worker. They realize that the highest welfare of both groups depends upon co-operation. But, as to what the membership would want to do when that time comes, they of course do not know.
Mr. Mays, the president of the organization, was asked by the Commission’s investigator what he would do in a situation where both Negroes and whites were organized separately, and the whites were going out on a strike and had requested the Negroes to come out also. He stated that several such local strike situations had arisen in the South, and that he had advised the Negro union in each of these cases to use its own judgment, but that if it decided to support the white unions, it should, before doing so, have a joint committee of both groups meet and make it understood absolutely that any agreement finally reached with the employers must include both groups on equal terms. In one case, after such an agreement had been reached and the men had gone back to work, the employer tried to keep out certain Negroes, but the white unionists insisted that the agreement must be lived up to.
The officials of this organization are exceptionally capable Negroes; its advisers are professional men, well educated and thoroughly familiar with the history and tactics of white labor unions.
A more definite statement of the purpose and policies of this protest organization was made before the Commission by R. L. Mays:
The Railway Men’s International Benevolent Industrial Association really protests as an organization against unfair and bad working conditions of the employer and against unfair practices on the part of the American Federation of Labor and the railway brotherhoods.
This is the crux of the problem as we see it. We agree with the policies and principles of the American Federation of Labor so long as they are American and in the interests of the workmen, but if their practices are against Negroes, then we are against the American Federation of Labor unflinchingly.
Question: To what extent have you found their practices unfair to the colored people?
Mr. Mays: There are fourteen unions in railway employment in the American Federation of Labor. The United Brotherhood of Railway Employees has been accepting Negroes in full membership, but the other thirteen organizations do not accept Negroes in membership. As a matter of fact, they are secured on contract, which is the greatest holdback for the Negroes and breeds more distrust on the part of the Negro in these places, so far as the American Federation of Labor is concerned.
Before the roads were under government control certain discriminatory practices were found in the South, but now you will find colored men in certain skilled positions. In the Brotherhood of Carmen, if a colored man is not organized into the local union, he cannot advance automatically from repair to car building. He might be a member of one of these local unions chartered by and affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. But under contract they say their members must be white, and they use only white men. In the South our men have enjoyed these jobs; under war conditions they were brought here, but under this contract no Negro can be employed as a carman, although he has all the experience in the world. They refuse to take the colored man but take the white man. No colored boy can go in as an apprentice and workup to a skilled mechanic’s position. Consequently they are reducing the Negro railway worker to a position of common laborer and automatically are keeping him down. If this is the condition in the railways in the North, I say it will prevail everywhere. I have said that it is a northern prejudice coming South.
IV. ATTITUDE AND POLICY OF LOCAL UNIONS IN CHICAGO
1. WHITE AND NEGRO MEMBERSHIP IN CHICAGO LOCAL UNIONS
Much effort was made to obtain statistics of white and Negro membership in local trade unions in Chicago. Information was sought through requests addressed to the national headquarters of all national and international unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor for data as to any local unions they might have in Chicago. Requests were also addressed directly to these local unions as listed in a directory published by the Chicago Trade Union Label League. Further requests were addressed to local unions in Chicago directly affiliated with the American Federation of Labor as listed in a directory of all such unions published by that organization.
It was difficult to ascertain the exact number of local unions in Chicago. Those covered embraced, however, as full a list as could be supplied by trade-union offices in Chicago. But the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor said that the number of local unions was changing so continually by reason of the organization of new ones and the consolidation of two or more into one, that no accurate list was available.
Data for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America and for the Railway Men’s International Industrial Benevolent Association were obtained directly from those organizations.
Reports were received from the railway brotherhoods saying that they exclude Negroes, but giving no data as to the number of white members.
The information which was obtained may be summarized as follows:
The total Negro membership reported for Chicago by the foregoing organization was 12,106. The number of locals through which this Negro membership was distributed cannot be stated with any approach to accuracy, due to the fact that in a number of cases the district council or the national body reported the membership for its Chicago locals jointly. In such cases it could not safely be assumed that each of the locals in question had Negro members. Disregarding all such cases, however, there still remains a total of at least eighty-five Chicago locals for which, individually, Negro members were reported.
It is interesting to note that, judging by the figures here shown as to white and Negro membership in local unions in Chicago, the proportion of Negro union members to the Negro population in Chicago is almost exactly the same as the proportion of white members to the white population in Chicago.
2. METHODS OF DEALING WITH NEGRO APPLICANTS
If the unions which bar the Negro are chosen as examples, organized labor might appear to be very unfair to Negro workers. On the other hand, if unions which admit them into the same locals and have Negro organizers and officers are chosen as examples, it might appear that there was no prejudice whatever against Negroes on the part of trade unions. Neither extreme would represent the facts. On the basis of policy toward the Negro, unions in Chicago may be divided into four classes or types. These classes are:
B. Unions admitting Negroes to separate co-ordinate locals.
C. Unions admitting Negroes to subordinate or auxiliary locals.
D. Unions excluding Negroes from membership.
The existence of these classes indicates the fact that the union attitude and policy toward the Negro cannot be summed up by any simple generalization. Each class or type has its own policy, and even within the class there are minor variations of attitude and policy.
A. UNIONS ADMITTING NEGROES TO WHITE LOCALS
Wherever and whenever Negroes are admitted on an equal basis and given a square deal, the feeling inside the union is nearly always harmonious. This is true in such unions as the Butcher Workmen’s, Hodcarriers’, Flat Janitors’, and Ladies’ Garment Workers’, which include important fields of Negro labor in Chicago.
Stock Yards’ unions.—The Stock Yards’ strike of 1904 was broken by the use of Negroes. This was the opening wedge for the admittance to the union of the large number of Negroes which followed. No organization thereafter could hope to amount to anything in the Yards unless it took in Negroes. From 1917 until the riot of 1919 Negroes in large numbers were joining the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen’s Union of North America. Forty locals were formed. The Negro was welcome to join any local he desired, whether it was predominantly Polish or Irish or Negro. However, the majority gravitated to Local 651, which was composed mainly of Negroes and had Negro officers and organizers and headquarters near the “Black Belt.”
This was not unnatural, since the headquarters of the various local unions are distributed over the city with a view to their convenience for the members. Most of the Negro members live within the “Black Belt.” The most active Negro organizer in the city is connected with this local. Negroes living outside this area belong to the locals nearest their homes.
Efforts to organize Negro workers in the Yards are commented upon in the Negro Year Book of 1918–19 in the following paragraph:
That the unions are doing much to organize Negro labor is indicated by the fact that of the more than ten thousand Negro workers in the Chicago packing houses, over 60 per cent are reported in the unions. The International Union of Butchers’ Workmen, which has jurisdiction over 90 per cent of the employees in the packing houses of the country, has three paid Negro organizers. In other lines of work there is equal activity in organizing Negro labor.
The unions succeeded in securing an agreement under which Judge Samuel Alschuler was mutually accepted by the packing companies and the unions as an arbitrator on matters affecting working conditions in the Yards, especially hours and wages. This agreement applies to all who work in the Yards, whether in or out of the union, but, according to labor leaders, union action and union money “put it across.” Consequently there was the feeling of all who benefited should join and help share in the expense, and a feeling of hostility toward such Negroes, and whites as well for that matter, who did not join because they found that they could get all the benefits of the arrangement without paying dues.
While the Commission’s investigator was interviewing the officials of one of the unions of the packing industry at their headquarters, a number of the white members dropped in to pay their dues. In conversation they showed, quite unsolicited, that considerable feeling existed because the Negro workers were not coming into the union. They felt that the Negroes were receiving all the benefits secured for the workers by the unions without paying their proportion of the expense of the organization. In fact, several used rather strong terms with the words “fink” and “scabs.”
The sentiment of the men present seemed to be that, while mistakes had been made on both sides in the 1904 strike and since, the antagonistic feeling had been pretty largely eliminated, as was shown by the large Negro membership prior to the riot, and they said that every effort was being made at that time and since to bring the Negro into the union. Conferences had been held with Negro ministers and other organizations explaining the position of the unions, literature had been distributed, and a great deal of money had been spent through Negro organizers, and yet the results were disappointingly small. These white union men contended that they were opposed by an effective combination of “packers;” influence hard to beat and intensively interested in keeping the races apart for its own purposes in opposing union organization.
The Hod Carriers have sixteen locals in Chicago with a large total membership. No racial record is kept, but Negroes are admitted without discrimination into all of the unions. A few years ago the Negro membership was between 1,200 and 1,400; at present with an increase of 300 to 500 from the South, the secretary of the executive council estimates the total Negro membership to be at least 1,700, most of whom have joined two locals. The president of the Evanston union and the vice-president of the Chicago Heights union are colored. No feeling of discrimination exists, all being treated alike as long as they pay their dues and live up to the rules. The Hod Carriers have joint arbitration agreements with the employing contractors’ associations in this industry, and no strikes have been called since 1900.
The International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union is another illustration of a union which accords Negroes the same treatment as white members, and where the relationship is entirely harmonious. This union has never drawn the race, creed, or color line and is trying to leave out the word “white” and “colored” from its minutes and reports. The Negro girls came into this industry as strike breakers within the last three years.
The officials of this union, in interviews and in testimony before the Commission, claimed that whenever any friction did arise it was due to the fact that the employers in this industry discriminated against Negro girls and paid them less than white girls. The agreement between the ladies’ garment manufacturers and the union provided a weekly wage of $37.40 for skirt and dress operators—85 cents per hour for a forty-four-hour week. Negro operators in non-union factories for the same work were being paid from $18.00 to $25.00 per week. Union skirt and dress finishers were being paid $26.40 per week—60 cents per hour for forty-four hours. Negro operators in non-union factories averaged $15.00 per week for the same work and frequently worked longer than forty-four hours.
The relations of whites and Negroes in the union were discussed before the Commission by Max Brodsky, a representative of the union, who said:
“As a result of the 1917 strike we have now about 450 colored women workers in our industry. We lost the strike, and this is how the colored women got into our industry. Now the union knew the object of the colored women coming into our industry, and we decided to have them organized just like the white women and girls, so we established this particular union. They are at present conscientious union girls and women. It was the policy of the union not to discriminate against the colored women who broke the strike in 1917. This helped us.”
At the same conference, Agnes Nestor, president of the Women’s Trade Union League, testified as follows:
Miss Nestor: In the ladies’ garments work, the unions have taken in colored girls on the same basis as the white girls. They made a colored girl a chairman of their shop meeting. There is no feeling there with them as far as I know. Miss McDowell: Didn’t they elect a colored girl as shop steward where they had both white and colored girls?
Miss Nestor: Yes.
As an illustration of employers’ discrimination against Negro workers, and of the efforts of the union to protect Negroes when they become members of the union, the case of a manufacturer was cited whose shop had only Negro workers. Shortly after the union had organized them they were locked out. Later the employer was willing to settle “providing you sent us a set of white workers.” The union refused to do this and called a strike.
The union claimed that in many recent cases where Negro girls were sent out on jobs the employers would refuse them when they found out that they had to pay them the same scale as white workers. During 1917–18, owing to the war, the manufacturers worked in harmony with the unions because they had to; since the war, and largely within the first few months of 1920, the manufacturers have opened many shops on the South Side employing only nonunion colored girls. In the various strikes in which this union has been engaged for this same period, the strike breakers have been Negro girls secured for the employers through a Negro minister acting as a labor agent or solicitor.
The Flat Janitors’ Union has a membership of approximately 5,000, of whom 1,000 are Negroes. It includes many nationalities with strong racial feelings, yet, as stated by Mr. Fitzpatrick, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, rarely is any complaint made against this union by Negroes.
Interviews with the president and other officials, attendance at a session of the Executive Board, and attendance at a crowded meeting of the union, where transaction of general business, nomination of candidates for the coming election, and initiation of new members occurred, gave the Commission’s investigator ample opportunity for observation of the attitude toward Negroes.
This union, organized in 1904, started out with a Negro as recording secretary and business agent. At the time of the interviews, the vice-president and three members of the Executive Board were Negroes. These had been elected for a three-year term. At the general meeting attended, the Negro officers were renominated unanimously to hold office for a period of five years. In addition, several more Negroes were nominated as stewards and as delegates to the Chicago Federation of Labor.
According to the members, discrimination in this craft is practiced by the flat and apartment owners. The experience of the union is that as soon as a Negro is taken into the union and demands the union scale the owner calls up the union and says, “If I have to pay these wages I’m going to get a good white man.”
The position taken by the union is that if a Negro has had the job he must be allowed to stay there and get the scale, and the union will back him up in the fight for it. The threat of a strike against a building is usually effective.
Inquiry among Negro janitors in the residence districts brought up a case in which one Negro claimed that Negroes were forced into the union and then usually found themselves discriminated against by the white members, especially by Belgians, and sooner or later, were squeezed out of the good jobs. However, this Negro admitted that he had not attended a union meeting since his initiation, except to stop in to pay his dues, and that he had never made a complaint to the Negro officer of the union. The officers of the union admitted that there was, in the many racial groups in this craft, strong racial feeling, especially among Austrians and Belgians, who seemed to feel that whenever a janitor died or left a job, or an assistant or helper was needed, such job should always be filled with members of their own nationality. However, the Negro officials claimed that with three Negroes on the Executive Board and a Negro vice-president, any complaint coming from a Negro would surely be fairly dealt with; but that unless their attention was called to unsatisfactory conditions the union could not be expected to know of them, and in such cases it was not the union that was to blame, but the member himself.
Frequently, in those unions in which the Negroes are not admitted into the same locals with the whites, the reasons given for putting them into separate locals or auxiliaries is that the white members object to the close physical contact or association in meetings, especially where there is some element of ritual in connection with the meetings. At the meeting of the Janitors’ Union attended by the investigator, new pass words were given out, and all members, white and Negro, had to come before the Negro vice-president, who whispered the words to each and they in turn repeated them to him. Not the slightest hesitancy was noted on the part of the white members, but rather a hearty handshake or a slap on the back seemed to be the rule. Again, in taking in nineteen new members, four of whom were Negroes, the major part of the ceremony was performed by the Negro vice-president. At this meeting, packed to standing-room and attended by well over a thousand members, Negroes were a large percentage of those present. These were not confined to a group by themselves, but were scattered in all parts of the hall and seemed to be in cordial conversation with the white members.
A number of interesting comments by members and officers of unions admitting Negroes on equal terms with whites were volunteered, either in interviews or in correspondence. In one union of 700 highly skilled workers receiving $1.50 an hour, or $12.00 a day, no Negroes were found to be members, although they are not barred by the constitution. It was suggested that the five-year apprenticeship period discouraged Negroes. It was further noted that admittance was by a two-thirds vote, a provision which could easily result in the exclusion of any race which two-thirds of the members did not like. The investigator’s report of his interview says:
The business representative of this union was strongly of the personal opinion that unions had made a mistake in ever admitting the Negro into any of the unions. He claimed that the employers’ only interest in them was as a lever to keep wages down for the workers.
Two other members of the League took a contrary position and held that Negro labor was in the field, and that while the employer’s interest in the Negro was simply to play one group against another to keep expense down as low as possible, it was really up to labor itself to solve the question and that the Negroes must be taken into unions. They admitted that undoubtedly prejudice existed, but that it was gradually being overcome.
Other comments are as follows:
From an officer of the Teamsters and Chauffeurs: “We have had one Negro holding office as trustee for several years. So feeling is brotherly.”
From an officer of a specialized mechanics’ union: “There has been no sign of race feeling or hatred since we have been organized. We have six officers (one colored). I myself, being colored, have no complaints whatever against my white brothers.”
From a Negro officer of the Mattress Makers: “Discrimination and race prejudice does not exist in this union. We are one happy family. It seems impossible to organize the other Negro mattress makers. Would appreciate some assistance.”
B. UNIONS ADMITTING NEGROES TO SEPARATE CO-ORDINATE LOCALS
Certain unions organize Negroes into separate locals which are in all respects co-ordinate with the white locals belonging to the same unions. The reason for maintaining separate Negro locals is either (1) preference of the Negro workers for locals of their own, or (2) unwillingness of white workers to admit Negroes to white locals. It often seemed that the second indicated the real situation, the first reason being given as an excuse for it.
The important factor is the reason for the existence of separate Negro locals rather than the fact of separation. This is illustrated by the experience of the Painters’ and Musicians’ unions on the one hand, and that of the Waiters’ Union on the other.
During July, 1920, twenty Negro painters applied to the Painters’ District Council for membership in the Painters’ Union. They passed the required examination but, instead of being placed in the existing Painters’ Union, were given temporary working permits which identified them as members of “South Side Colored Local.” They immediately suspected that some effort was being made to place them in a separate Negro local in which they could not get the full benefits of union membership. They then went to discuss the matter with the editor of a Negro paper which had expressed the point of view of many Negroes concerning labor unions in its editorial columns. This editor told them his belief that the Painters’ District Council was merely duplicating the practices of several other unions in the city, and was attempting to limit these men to a “Jim Crow” union. They returned to the president of the District Council, who explained that he had to keep track of all temporary permits issued, and inasmuch as the charter for their local was not yet issued he could not know the number until issued. He had to put the description on the cards to identify the men temporarily.
A charter for the local was given from national headquarters, and the new cards were issued, designating them simply as members of Local No. ____. The membership of this local, exclusively Negro, grew from twenty to seventy-five in two months. One of the Negro officials of the local stated that its members had been working in all parts of the Chicago District, including the North Side and Evanston, and that they had a representative on the District Council. The attitude of the white workers, he stated, was a little cool on the first day, but there is now no evidence of friction. He thought that the members of this local were well pleased and happy.
The Negro Musicians are organized into a strong separate local, chartered in 1902. It has a membership of approximately 325. It has held the Municipal Pier dance-hall contract for three years, and besides many other contracts in the city. It furnished players for various occasions for a considerable territory outside of Chicago. This group much prefers its own union, but works jointly with the large white union, the Chicago Federation of Musicians, whenever matters come up affecting both organizations. Both unions have the same wage scale.
Where Negro workers are permitted to join white locals but prefer to have their own colored local there is no feeling that they are discriminated against, occasional joint meetings with white locals being characterized by friendly interest and good fellowship. Where, however, a union closes the door of its white locals to Negroes and organizes them into separate locals because the white members object to contact with Negroes, a very difficult situation exists. This condition is illustrated by the methods of the Waiters’ Union in Chicago.
Negro waiters are not admitted into the white Waiters’ Union, but are placed in the Pullman Porters and Dining-Car Waiters’ Union, which is a local affiliated with the same international as the white Waiters’ Union. The makeshift of putting Negro waiters, although employed in city hotels, restaurants, and cafes, into this local is pointed to by Negroes as unmistakable evidence of discrimination.
The cullinary strike in Chicago, which started May 1, 1920, resulted in failure for the unions concerned largely because Negroes acted as strike breakers. This is easily accounted for by the fact that seventeen years ago Negro waiters lost their positions in many of the first-class hotels and restaurants in the business district through circumstances in which they felt that they had been “double-crossed” by the unions, of which they then were members.
The Negro strike breakers in 1920, however, found themselves again displaced, this time through the action of employers. A typical instance was found in the restaurant of a hotel patronized largely by people of German descent, the managers as well as many of the former waiters being of German extraction. These waiters, some of whom had been employed for many years in this restaurant, were members of the union and went out when the strike was called. The managers replaced them with Negroes. The latter filled the positions with apparent satisfaction for nearly a year, when suddenly they were all discharged and the old waiters taken back.
A regular patron of the restaurant, a man of German descent, expressed vigorous views upon the “injustice” with which the Negroes had been treated by the management, which should have appreciated their service through the period when the former waiters caused trouble. He said he had always found the Negroes efficient and willing, and many of them “very intelligent fellows.” Although of the same nationality as the managers and the former waiters, many of whom he had known for years, he did not let this national feeling blind him to what he considered most unfair treatment of the Negroes. He said that he had discussed the matter with one of the managers and had been told that the reason why the Negroes had been discharged and the old waiters taken back was because of complaints against the Negroes by patrons of the restaurant. He added, “I think that’s bunk.”
A change in the officers of the Waiters’ Union at the recent election has placed in power a group which recognizes that the entire policy of the culinary unions must be co-ordinated and proper provision made for the large Negro element in the field. If this is not done, it is felt that a rival Negro union may be organized, similar to that organized by the Negro railway workers. In fact, even now a beginning has been made toward such an organization by a few high-grade Negro waiters who have been in active charge of the waiters of several of the large hotel dining-rooms during the recent strike.
C. UNIONS ADMITTING NEGROES TO SUBORDINATE OR AUXILIARY LOCALS
The practice of admitting Negroes to subordinate locals appears to be very unusual in Chicago. The investigation disclosed only one instance where the policy of the union was to admit Negroes only to subordinate locals. The Commission is not at liberty to publish the name of this union, which makes the following provision for Negro locals in its constitution:
Where there are a sufficient number of colored helpers they may be organized as an auxiliary local and shall be under the jurisdiction of the white local union having jurisdiction over that locality, and must be submitted to duly authorized officers of said white local for their approval.
In shops where there is a grievance committee of the white local, grievances of members of said auxiliary local will be handled by that committee.
Members of auxiliary locals composed of colored helpers shall not transfer except to another auxiliary local composed of colored members, and colored helpers will not be promoted to . . . or helper apprentice; and will not be admitted to shops where white helpers are now employed.
Auxiliary locals will be represented in all conventions by the delegates elected from the white local in that locality.
The officials of this union stoutly maintain that the provisions above quoted are not discriminatory, and they are at a loss to explain why attempts to organize Negro workers in Chicago into auxiliary locals have not met with success.
D. UNIONS EXCLUDING NEGROES FROM MEMBERSHIP
Chicago locals which exclude the Negro do so either in conformity with the laws of their national unions or in the exercise of “local option.” Locals belonging to the national and international unions which bar the Negro by written provision in their constitutions or rituals are obliged to follow the same racial policy as their parent bodies. This number includes the Chicago locals belonging to the eight American Federation of Labor national unions which exclude the Negro, and the locals of the four railway brotherhoods which likewise exclude the Negro by constitutional provision.
In addition to the locals which are bound to follow the policy of their nationals, there are certain other locals which are known to reject Negro applicants. By allowing their locals to practice “local option” or to require a majority or two-thirds vote for election to membership, the progressive policy of certain American Federation of Labor national and international unions which admit the Negro is nullified.
The Machinists’ Union has frequently been referred to as a union which, although complying in its constitution with the American Federation of Labor policy of no racial discrimination, still effectually bars the Negro by a provision in its secret ritual. In effect, however, there is no real difference between such a policy on the part of the Machinists’ Union and that of the unions which apparently practice exclusion as an unwritten law. With the Machinists’ Union must then be grouped such unions as the Amalgamated Sheet Metal Workers’ International Alliance, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers of America, and United Association of Plumbers and Steam Fitters of United States and Canada. The Electricians’ Union has only one Negro member out of a total membership of 11,000 in Chicago.
V. ATTITUDE OF NEGROES TOWARD UNION ORGANIZATION
From its attitude toward labor unions the Negro population of Chicago may be considered in four groups: (1) racial leaders outside the labor movement—ministers, editors, politicians, etc.; (2) Negroes with a special interest in opposing unions; (3) Negro workers outside of the unions; (4) Negro workers within the ranks of the unions.
1. RACIAL LEADERS OUTSIDE OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT
Within this group are found many sincere workers for the welfare of the race. Their attitude is determined by the apparent practicability of courses of action for Negroes in relation to the unions. These attitudes again depend upon their familiarity with the principles and purposes of unionism. They recognize that the entrance of large numbers of Negroes in industry has been recent. The belief is that the employers rather than the labor unions provided this first opportunity, and since, under most frequent circumstances, the holding of these positions has been due to the kindly attitude of employers, they felt that first loyalty was due to them.
They have also been affected by experiences with labor unions which in the past have not been disposed to accept Negroes freely into membership with them.
Although the interest of employers in securing Negroes has not always been merely the granting of an opportunity for work, where Negroes hav entered as strike breakers they have usually remained. This recent entrance into industry has made them, for the first time, a considerable factor, and they feel that the unions, recognizing their importance to the accomplishment of union aims, are making appeals to them for membership, not out of a spirit of brotherhood, but merely to advance their purposes.
These considerations have largely determined the attitude of many Negro leaders, especially the ministers, some of whom have been requested by employers to recommend members of their congregations for jobs in various fields of industry. At a recent industrial convention of Negro organizations controlling the employment of thousands of Negro workers, it was decided that Negroes would not be sent as strike breakers to plants where the strikers’ unions accepted Negroes, and that they would advise Negroes to join the unions wherever possible, but that where Negroes are offered positions by employers in trades where Negroes are excluded from the unions, they would not be advised to forego the opportunity.
An intelligent Negro woman, who has been active in trying to acquaint ministers with union aims and methods, commented upon the fact that until recently Negro ministers knew very little about unionism, except that employers were opposed to it. This was enough to influence many ministers to urge Negro workers to stay out of labor unions and thus demonstrate their loyalty to employers who had given them a chance in industry.
A prominent Negro leader, a member of the Illinois legislature, stated his position respecting unions, at one of the industrial conferences held by the Commission, as follows:
I want to confess that I have never felt that I could intelligently advise the colored people who ask me whether laboring people should join the unions. It has been the opinion of the leaders of our race for years that employers of labor felt more kindly toward colored labor and were less concerned about the color of the workmen—were only concerned about the character of the service. We felt as leaders of the race that the labor employer was given a square deal much more than the employee himself. . . . We had a strike here of waiters several years ago when the Kohlsaat lunchroom waiters were involved. I was the president of a men’s Sunday club, and some labor agitators got the colored boys to join the white Waiters’ Union, and I remember when the matter came before the club I told them, “They raised your wages to the white man’s scale, and the white men are raising you out in the street,” and that is what they did too . . . I have been somewhat influenced by that experience.
2. NEGROES WITH A SPECIAL INTEREST IN OPPOSING UNIONS
The rift between employers and labor unions has provided a field of exloitation for certain less responsible Negroes. Their operations have occasioned bitter feeling between Negroes and labor unions and have accomplished little or nothing for the Negro workers. A Negro editor of a small and irresponsible paper advises Negro workers not to join the white man’s union, but instead to join a union which he has formed and of which he is president. He is looked upon with suspicion by representative Negroes of Chicago, who believe that he is willing to sacrifice the best interests of the race to serve his own purposes. A well-informed Negro outlined the method employed by the editor in question to represent himself to employers of labor, as one who controls large numbers of Negro laborers. In furtherance of this plan, which appears to have prospered, he organized a group which he called the “American Unity Labor Union.” The appeal on the one hand to Negroes was that white unions would not admit them on an equal basis and that white employers preferred Negro non-unionists to white unionists and would pay them the same wages while according them better treatment. To white employers he represented the Negroes as being opposed to unions because they were white men’s unions, and as such discriminated against Negroes, and that they belonged in large numbers to his organization, which was designed to improve the quality of Negro labor by increasing Negro pride in special and unmixed endeavors.
That certain employers did give money for this kind of service is apparent in several instances. A Negro ex-clergyman secured for a long period something like $2.00 per capita for every Negro supplied by him to any one of ten iron foundries in the Calumet district.
The following are typical of advertisements which appear regularly in the paper of the Negro editor referred to above:
Do not pay $33.50 to join a white man’s union, when you can join the black man’s union for $5.00 and work on any building in Chicago.
WAGE EARNERS CLUB
American Unity Labor Union was organized March 10th, 1917, Chicago Illinois.
GET A SQUARE DEAL WITH YOUR OWN RACE
Time has come for Negroes to do now or never. Get together and stick together is the call of the Negro. Like all other races, make your own way; other races have made their unions for themselves. They are not going to give it to you just because you join his union. Make a union of your own race; union is strength. Join the American Unity Packers Union of the Stock Yards, this will give you a card to work at any trade or a common laborer, as a steam fitter, electrician, fireman, merchants, engineers, carpenters, butchers, helpers, and chauffeurs to drive trucks down town, delivering meat as white chauffeurs do for Armour’s and Swift’s or other Packers. A card from this Union will let you work in Kansas City, Omaha and St. Louis, or any other city where the five Packers have packing houses.
This Union does not believe in strikes. We believe all differences between laborers and capitalists can be arbitrated. Strike is our last motive if any at all.
Get in line for a good job. You are next. Office, _______ Indiana Ave.
THE WORKING MEN’S CLUB
Join the American Unity Steel and Metal Union, a Union of your own race with officers of your own race with a President. A card from this Union will entitle you to work any place in the United States as a steel and iron workers, craneman, engineer, molders, rail straighteners, and any job that it takes brains and skill to do and common laborer. Join one big union and demand a square deal with your own strength. 8 hour day’s work.
Get in line for a good job. You are next. Office, ________ Indiana Ave.
All classes and kinds of work waiting for good people in our Association.
During the latter part of December, 1920, the editor in question visited the large daily newspapers in Chicago and presented an article which purported to tell of a large mass meeting of his union at which this group decided that they would work at the Stock Yards, steel mills, and all other plants in Chicago and the Calumet region and at all foundries and factories at a 15 per cent discount on wages previously paid for skilled labor, and 10 per cent on common labor wages. Although only one paper gave any attention to this statement, the opinion of some of the more responsible Negroes was expressed in a Negro newspaper in Chicago, which characterized the man as “a public nuisance” and his story as “bunk.”
3. NEGRO WORKERS OUTSIDE OF UNIONS
Negro workers outside of the union ranks often do not see any necessity for unionism or do not understand its aims and methods; many are frankly suspicious of the good intentions of white unionists toward Negroes; others condemn unions generally because of some bitter experience with a particular union, while still others are enthusiastic believers in unionism and expect to join a union at some time. Several shades of opinion are illustrated by the following quotations taken at random from interviews with a large number of Negro workers.
H__ G__, thirty-four years old, left a farm in Georgia to come to Chicago in October, 1919. Employed as a laborer in a paper-box manufacturing plant. He said he didn’t know much about unions but couldn’t see what good they were doing. They made prices go up, but wages didn’t go up with prices. If unions did any good he would join, but he can’t see that they do.
W__ W__ had spent nearly all of his life hauling logs to be made into ties for railroads. When he came here from the South he worked as a trucker in the Quartermaster’s Department of the army until the department closed. After loafing half a month, he got his present trucking at a box factory. Unions would be all right, in his opinion, if they let all of the men in who would do right, but when they don’t, they do more harm than good. He used to belong to the Butchers’ Union at the Stock Yards and “got along fine,” but he quit butchering. He intends to get back in a union if possible. Strikes are too hard on the man that “ain’t in the union; strike out here recently and now we can’t make overtime and we hardly make enough in regular time to live on. Unions are secret—I can’t remember all the bunk about them now, but you pay dues and go to meetings, something like a lodge I guess. If anything goes wrong on your job you tell it in meeting, and your branch of the union takes it up with the people. You don’t have any of that worry on yourself. They are allright if you are on the inside, but mighty hard if you ain’t.”
J__ McN__, forty-two years old, had been a farmer in the South all of his life until he came to Chicago in January, 1920, and went to work in the Yards as a meat trimmer. He has been asked to join the unions but hasn’t done it as yet—he isn’t quite sure they mean a square deal by the colored man, although he can’t see why they would ask him to join if they didn’t. Don’t know much about the “workings of ‘em” but they pull together, sort of “lodge like.” He thinks everybody who belongs is mighty “close mouthed” about what they do at the meetings. He knows that they pay dues and have assessments, that they look after sick members and have some sort of initiation.
J__ L__, fifty-two years old, is foreman over the truckers in a box factory. He said: “Unions ain’t no good for a colored man, I’ve seen too much of what they don’t do for him. I wouldn’t join for nothing—wanted me to join one at the Yards but I wouldn’t; no protection; if they had been, the colored men who belonged might have worked while the riot was going on; only thing allowed out there then was foreigners. If a thing can’t help you when you need help, why have it? That’s the way I feel about unions. I tell you they don’t mean nothing for me.”
H__ S__, twenty-four years old, had lived in Chicago only two months. He said: “Well I don’t know, you see these other folks been here longer than me; they ain’t joined, and I reckon they know more about it than me. No, they didn’t have no unions where I corned from—ain’t nothing there anyway but farmers. I reckon, though, if I had a chance I might join. They can’t do much harm here to a fellow.”
J__ H__, thirty-eight years old, came up from Alabama in 1917 with about thirty other men during the big rush from the South. They went to work almost immediately at the Stock Yards, where he worked as a laborer, stripping bacon. After he quit this he was out of work for nearly a month. He heard about the wool mills. They put him on the very first day and he has been there ever since.
He does not belong to a union. He “would join one if I had a chance and it meant anything to me materially.” He does not understand them, “can’t understand why they strike and keep men out of work.”
M__ L__, forty-two years old, came to Chicago from Tennessee in 1894. He said: “I tried every job under the sun since I came. My first job was porter in the Palmer House; made good tips here but not very much salary. Changed to bellboy; was finally made head bellboy; stayed there four years; boss made me mad and I quit. Along about this time I met my wife. I wanted to make her think I was a regular man, so got a job as a laborer in a foundry. Since then I’ve gone from one foundry to the other. Work got so hard I quit one time; went on the road; stayed there for about four years, then went back to the foundry work; worked for Illinois Malleable for three years first time; had trouble with straw boss; he fired me; went to McCormick’s but they didn’t pay so well, so I got back on my old job. Yes, unions are the best thing in the world for a working man. If I’d been in a union my boss couldn’t have fired me that time. I wish it was so you could join a union regardless of your color. We need protection on our jobs as well as the white man. I guess though that time is coming. I don’t know much about the workings of a union, but I do know it’s a protection to the man who belongs.”
F__ D__, twenty-eight years old, does not belong to a union because there are no unions in the car shops where he works. He says unions are the best things in the world if the right kind of people are at the head, and if all the fellows will join, but when half of them won’t join, unionism won’t do because it just means loss of your job.
R__ R__, thirty-four years old, has been working in Chicago three months at his regular trade as a stove joiner. He learned to join stoves at a mill in Helena. He has never had a chance to join a union, but all the white men in the mill at Helena belonged, and they fared lots better than the Negro men. He wants to join one here the very first chance he gets. He is a skilled laborer, knows he can put out as much work as any man doing his line of work, feels he should be paid as much as anyone else, and knows the only way this can happen to him is to get in a union where he has some protection and backers. There is a union where he is, but he hasn’t been asked to join it yet. He says he has found out that the colored man, if he wants the same thing as a white man gets, has to get in things with them.
Mrs. N__ M__ found work as a maid in a Chicago hospital after she was deserted by her husband. She wants to save money enough to run her while she takes “nurse training.” She did not know anything about unions until she went to the hospital. The nurses there had a union, and she saw just how much they can mean to people. “They usually make the employers do the right thing by the people; unless the nurses asked too much they got what they wanted.” That was what made her decide she wanted to be a nurse; she saw how square they were with each other, and how the union made them pull together regardless of whether or not they liked each other. That is what she liked about the unions: “They make you treat the other fellow right regardless how you fell toward him.”
Nellie W__, age thirty, doing clerical work in a large mail-order establishment, said that “unions don’t mean anything to colored people. The only reason they let them in when they do is so they can’t become strike breakers.” She didn’t know how her husband felt about unions, as they had never talked about the matter, but she knew that she wouldn’t join one.
0 L__, thirty-eight years old, had migrated from Georgia in the summer of 1917. To him unions are “the best thing that ever came the colored man’s way. Out here [in a box factory] it doesn’t make quite so much difference whether I’m in one or not, but if I ever go back to my trade as a plasterer, that’s the first thing I intend to try and do. You get protection, you get more money, and then too the white man gets a chance to see that you are not all for yourself, for when you are in a union you work for everybody’s good.”
H__ has been a head waiter in a hotel. He believes the big reason why Negroes are not strongly enthusiastic for unions is because they feel they will not get square treatment. This he based upon continual references to the 1903 waiters’ strike.
The attitude of indifference or suspicion so frequently encountered among Negro workers outside of the unions is attributed by white and Negro labor leaders and union men to the following reasons: (a) traditional treatment of Negroes by white men; (b) influence of racial leaders who oppose unionism; and (c) influence of employers’ propaganda against unionism.
The traditional treatment of Negroes in the South, increasingly reflected in the North, has made the Negro suspicious of the white man’s sincerity. Negroes, therefore, naturally feel that they will not get a “square deal” in white unions. In support of this attitude the waiters’ strike of 1903 is still cited as an instance of “double-crossing” by white unions.
This strike was so often referred to by Negroes as a justification for their attitude toward labor-union policies that it seemed worth while to attempt to learn the facts, even though seventeen years had elapsed since the strike occurred.
Two organizers for the American Federation of Labor, a newspaper editor, an officer of the Negro local during the strike, the head waiter of one of the large hotels (all Negroes), and John Fitzpatrick, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, were asked to tell the facts.
Reports are conflicting in many instances. However, the explanations of circumstances as presented to the Commission are as follows:
The union of cooks and waiters involved in the strike of 1903, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, had a membership of 20,000 of whom over 2,000 were Negroes. The Negroes had only recently been taken into the union as a separate local under their own officers. The strike first centered on Kohlsaat’s chain of restaurants. This lasted seven weeks, during which time all of the union members were out. The strike terminated in circumstances on which there is general disagreement. Negroes state that the white unionists “double-crossed” them, and when Kohlsaat refused to take back the Negro waiters who had walked out with the whites the latter went back to work and left the Negroes without jobs. It is known that during the general excitement the charter of the Negro local was revoked, although no one appears to know how or by whom this was done. The white union leaders have frequently attempted to absolve the union of responsibility for this situation and place the blame on the Kohlsaat restaurants and the Chicago Herald, controlled by Kohlsaat. John Fitzpatrick, before the Commission, referred to the incident thus:
Commissioner: Concerning the waiters’ strike several years ago, the Kohlsaat strike, were they unionized under your direction in order to raise the scale of dinner men [they were known as dinner men] to the union scale? What was the success of it as far as the colored waiters were concerned?
Mr. Fitzpatrick: They weren’t organized for financial purposes. They were organized as workers. We felt they ought to have our co-operation, so we went out to organize them. The Kohlsaat newspaper was one of the instruments by which they perpetrated the conspiracy, and some other papers went into a scheme and tried to bring about an atmosphere of fear and suspicion between the colored and white workers.
It was Sunday, and the charter of the colored workers was in my possession. That night they met, and I was installing officers at Twenty-third Street and Washington Avenue. That morning the Herald ran a front-page story, first column, teeming with a set-up against organized labor and warning the colored workers to beware.
When I got up on the platform I read the story to them and said. “That sets up one side of the story, and there is a conspiracy to destroy your rights. What do you want to do about it?”
They said, “We will go ahead. We know what the employers want and you go ahead and install us.” They went ahead and got into that strike. The employers said: “We are going to supplant colored men with white union girls.” We told them we wouldn’t permit union girls to go on the job. The Kohlsatts begged of us to give them white union women, and we refused to do so.
Now then, while this was going on, the newspapers had different reports out, and they went out and had the charter of this local revoked. How they did it, I don’t know. But I have my own notions how a newspaper operates. I think that a newspaper has influence and money and other things, and that is the only way I can account for that thing happening. They went to the international organization to revoke the charter of this organization.
This whole situation was obscured by a mass of charges and countercharges, but the fact that the strike failed was evidence enough. Whatever the facts actually were, there is a widespread belief among Negro workers that the colored waiters were “double-crossed” by white unions in this strike. Since it is men’s belief about facts which determines behavior, it is not surprising to find that Negro strike breakers could be found in large numbers to take the place of waiters who went on strike in May, 1920.
The influence of some employers is also a factor in the attitude of Negroes toward labor unions. In many open shops the employers and unions are engaged in a continuous struggle. In such cases, if persuasion and argument fail, there is an effective instrument in strike breakers. For this purpose Negroes have frequently been used. Instances in Chicago are found in the strikes in the steel industry, the Stock Yards, and the culinary industry. Many labor leaders and union members believe that welfare clubs, company Y.M.C.A.’s glee clubs, and athletic clubs are encouraged and supported by employers as a substitute for a form of organization which they cannot control. The subsidizing of social movements and churches is regarded as one of the means employed by large employers to insure this reserve of strike breakers. The union organizer in the steel strike, W. Z. Foster, stated at one of the conferences at a church in Pittsburgh, the Negro preacher had said to him: “It nearly broke up the congregation, but we decided you were going to speak here in this church.” The organizer continued:
Then I got the underneath of all this thing and found that this church had lost a donation of $2,500.00 from the Steel Corporation for allowing me to speak. They had tried to block my speech to these colored workers in Pittsburgh. Whenever it’s a question of a donation to a poor, struggling church like that, we know what usually happens.
If you go to the root, you will find that economic reason; the employers, not all of them but many of them, in our industry as well as others, will divide the workers if they can. That is the history all along. They will divide them, not because they are black and white, but to keep them divided so they won’t unite in the organization.
Another labor leader, acting as an organizer in large industries in various cities, stated at another conference:
I want to tell you that a strike breaker is a very precious animal for the employer, and if he thinks he has a great body of colored workers in this country who are apt to learn trades with very little practice, as an inexhaustible well of strike breakers, he is not going to stop at a little thing like propaganda. He will find plenty of excuses to keep men out of the union. In the Stock Yards, in the steel industry, he will find arguments and he will carry on propaganda.
The difficulties inherent in the whole question of organizing Negroes were probably best brought out before the Commission by W. Z. Foster, who took a leading part in organizing Negroes in the Stock Yards, the most important industry in Chicago so far as Negroes are concerned:
We found in the steel industry that the colored worker was very unresponsive to organization. The same was true in the packing industry. Let me give you first what steps we took in the packing industry in Chicago in 1917, the big campaign which resulted in the organization of men. The first meeting we had we sat around a table and talked it over, and we realized that there were two big problems, the organization of the foreign worker and the organization of the colored worker. We shortly dismissed the problem of organizing the foreign worker, but we realized that to accomplish the organization of the colored worker was the real problem. When we went into the packing-house situation we were determined to organize the colored worker if it was humanly possible to do so, and I think I can safely say that the men who carried on that campaign realized fully the necessity for the organization of the colored worker, not wholly, or at least not only, from the white man’s point of view, but from his own point of view to a certain extent. In other words, we were not altogether materialistic. We like to think that we were a little bit altruistic in the situation. There was a total employment of twelve or fourteen thousand. We found that we had tremendous opposition to encounter.
First of all it took this attitude, that the colored man would not be allowed to join the unions at all. We met that broadcast with such circulars as those already shown. I wrote some of them up myself as secretary of the council, inviting these men in such a way that these colored men could not help but realize that there was nothing to this argument that they would not be allowed to join the union. . . . The next argument that developed was, “Sure, the white man will take you into his union because you are in the minority.” But we fought all of these arguments, and we organized a local union on State Street.
Then the argument was raised that it was a “Jim Crow” proposition. It was quite general along State Street that it was a “Jim Crow” proposition. It seemed to make no difference what move we made, there was always an argument against it, so we overcame the “Jim Crow” argument by combining the white locals and the black. We said to the boys: “This is not a colored local. This is a neighborhood local of miscellaneous locals. Any colored man can belong to this local.” We told the white men: “You are free to come in here and join this union.”
Well, we punctured that argument that there was discrimination in the Stock Yards, and I would challenge anyone to show where the unions in the Stock Yards campaign have discriminated against the colored man. There may have been isolated cases of an individual here and there, but I will say this, and I was on the organizing committee and probably in closer touch with the situation than anyone else here in the city with those four or five thousand colored workers that we organized, I dare say that 40 per cent of the total amount of grievances that were presented by all the workers in the Stock Yards came from these colored workers, and the standing instructions were to look after them very carefully . . . .
But the more we tried to help the colored worker the more intense the opposition was, because there was a force working against us, and we could not help but feel it. We got it from the colored people themselves, and it is a fact that some of the organizers were actually afraid to go around to some of these saloons and poolrooms where they congregated because of the agents of the packers, or whoever was responsible for that propaganda, and they felt that their lives were in danger. . . . Out in the Stock Yards we could not win their support. It could not be done. They were constitutionally opposed to unions, and all our forces could not break down that opposition. . . . We tried to make our appeal quite general in scope. We got the best organizers. A good colored organizer is very rare—a man who is thoroughly qualified to represent the trade-union point of view. We tried to find one and picked out a colored member of the Engineers’ Union, a man highly honored in all the trade unions of Chicago. . . . The reason the colored man gave for not joining you will find in the circular “Beware of the White Man’s Union,” and that the only way that they can ever make any headway in the industry is to stick in with the boss and then when there is a strike to step in and take the jobs that are left there. . . .
Race prejudice has everything to do with it. It lies at the bottom. The colored man as a blood race has been oppressed for hundreds of years. The white man has enslaved him, and they don’t feel confidence in the trade unions. But there is more real fraternal feeling among the black and white workers than in any other grade of society. . . . As soon as the colored man becomes a factor in industry, he is going to be organized, providing he does not become a victim to the line of tactics that are laid out by the employer. In the steel strike he lined up with the bosses.
4. NEGRO WORKERS WITHIN THE UNIONS
Negro workers inside the ranks of such unions as the Stock Yards’, Janitors’, and Hodcarriers’, types of the unions which accept Negroes with complete equality, feel, with very few exceptions, that they are being given a “square deal” by the unions. By coming into the unions they say they have been able to secure better working conditions and higher wages. They express satisfaction with the treatment accorded them by white unionists on the job and at meetings, where the grievances of Negro members are given the same attention as the complaints of white members. The situation in the unions mentioned has been so fully described already in this report that there is no need for further details on the friendly relationship which exists between white and colored members of these unions. Many Negro unionists look to labor organization as one of the most promising solutions of race problems.
VI. THE NEGRO AND STRIKES
The attitude of Negro workers during strikes is closely connected with the attitude of Negroes toward union organization. As stated before, there are many cross-currents at work, some tending to keep Negroes out of unions and others impelling them toward the unions. All the forces at work to prejudice the Negro against union organization are factors which help to explain his willingness to take the place of striking white workers. The loyalty of the Negro during strikes by white employees was referred to by a number of the representatives of large employers attending the industrial conferences held by the Commission.
Some of the most conspicuous cases coming to the attention of the Commission in which Negroes have taken the place of white strikers or have remained at work during strikes are the following:
The Stock Yards strike of 1904 lasted from July 4 to the middle of September. The general superintendent of one of the plants in the Yards, appearing before the Commission, said: “The strike was called at 12:00 o’clock. Every employee practically that we had went out. Within two or three days we had any number of colored employees return to work. . . . I’d say Negroes helped us to break the strike by coming to work. A number of Negroes that we understand belonged to the union did not remain out more than two or three days. Practically all the Negroes came back before the strike was called off.”
The strike in the Corn Products Refining Company plant at Argo, where, in the summer of 1919, before the strike, 300 Negroes were employed, during the strike 900, and when it was over about 500.
The steel strike of 1919. Representatives of several of the iron and steel plants stated that Negroes had helped to break this strike. The Inter-church World Movement Report on the Steel Strike of 1919 (p. 177) lists the “successful use of strike breakers, principally Negroes, by the steel companies” as the second cause of the failure of the steel strike. “Niggers did it, was a not uncommon remark among company officials.”
The waiters’ strike of 1920. Less important cases were the following:
A clothing shop where Negro women broke a strike in 1916 and continued in the employ thereafter. A wool warehouse and storage company which used Negroes at slightly higher wages to replace striking Polish laborers in 1916, and have since continued to employ Negroes.
The strike of Pullman-car cleaners about 1916. Negroes were used as strike breakers and have since been employed in large numbers, men cleaning the windows and outside of cars and Negro women doing most of the inside cleaning.
Many other instances where Negroes have been used as strike breakers could be cited.
During a strike, feeling runs high and the word “strike breaker” or “scab” carries with it a decided stigma among the strikers. White workers ordinarily do not try to understand why the Negro acts as he does. They do not reason that the Negro is often loyal to the employer because he feels that the employer, sometimes at considerable risk, has opened to him industrial opportunities which, translated into wages, mean better living conditions for himself and his family. If the white worker took into account the struggle of the Negro to gain entrance into the fields outside of personal service, the latter’s eagerness to take advantage of any opening, however created, might be better understood and regarded with more tolerant spirit.
What bearing this use of Negro labor has on the attitude of white workers toward Negroes depends upon whether the subject is approached from the point of view of the employer or of the trade unionist. Representatives of the packing companies emphasized the employers’ appreciation of the Negro’s loyalty and discounted the antagonism caused by Negroes serving as strike breakers, while trade-union leaders and others having the workers’ point of view emphasized the seeds of dissension that were sown by such action and contended that the good will of the employer gained at such a cost was in reality a handicap to the Negro. White workers feel that Negroes who serve as strike breakers are helping to earn for their race the stigma of being a “scab” race. This is especially serious in the case of Negroes, because color identification makes it easy to focus hatred for the “scab.”
Union leaders and social workers who participated in the conferences held by the Commission condemned the practice of some private employment agencies in sending Negroes to plants as strike breakers without informing them that a strike was in progress. Investigations in several states have disclosed such practices of some private employment agencies, “misrepresentation of terms and conditions of employment” being the most frequent abuse, according to the report of the Federal Commission on Industrial Relations: “Men are not informed about strikes that may be on at places to which they are sent, nor about other important facts which they ought to know.”
Private employment agencies following such practices try to do so against colored as well as white workers, although with probably less success because of the ability of the Negro to speak English. However, the part played by private employment agencies in supplying Negro strike breakers in Chicago appears to be of relatively little importance. Ordinarily agents of employers find Negro strike breakers directly by going into the Negro residence section with autos or trucks and recruiting the number of men desired. The industrial secretary of the Urban League made the following statement regarding Negro strike breakers:
According to all information available to the Chicago Urban League, it does not appear that any of the private employment agencies except the one conducted by R. G. Parker, editor of the Chicago Advocate, who advertised for cooks and waiters to break the strike of the Cooks and Waiters’ Alliance during the National Republican Convention in June, 1920, have been instrumental in strike breaking.
The method used in the organization of strike breakers among colored people is not well defined. Generally labor scouts work directly for companies affected by strikes. These scouts have frequently applied to our office for workers, but we have refused assistance. The men are usually gathered from the streets, poolrooms, or wherever they can be found. It is the policy of the Chicago Urban League not to interfere in strikes unless the striking unions have refused to admit colored workers to their membership. The League is not opposed to unionism, but is interested primarily in the welfare of colored workers.
VII. ATTITUDE AND OPINIONS OF LABOR LEADERS
From the eleven representative labor leaders attending the trade-union conferences held by the Commission, from the various interviews by the investigators with these and other union officials and members, and from letters received from labor officials from various parts of the United States, it was apparent that there were certain definite views held by most of these leaders as to the relationship of organized labor to the Negro. These views are summarized and set forth in the following pages:
1. GENERAL PUBLIC HAS RACE PREJUDICE
Race prejudice exists generally in all groups of the white race and only changes slowly. The worker is just as much subject to it in the beginning as are the members of all other groups.
2. UNIONS FAIRER TO NEGRO THAN ARE OTHER GROUPS
The unions have given the Negro a fairer deal than other social institutions or groups, such as department stores, clubs, churches, theaters, fraternal organizations, hotels, and railways.
3. UNIONS BLAMED FOR CONDITIONS THEY CANNOT CONTROL
Unions are many times blamed for situations in which Negroes are not admitted to an occupation or industry over which the unions have no control, the exclusion existing because the attitude of either the public or the employer prevents the entrance of Negroes into the industry. For example, Negroes are not employed in Chicago as motormen or conductors on surface or elevated transportation lines, as telephone operators by the telephone company, as sales clerks in department stores, as chauffeurs by taxicab companies, nor as upholsterers and drapers by firms sending such employees to work in private homes.
The position taken by the unions is that they cannot organize a miscellaneous public, but that they can only organize those that have the jobs, that as long as street and elevated lines do not employ Negroes as motormen and conductors the unions cannot take them in. True, there might be objection on the part of the members in these unions, but the question has never come up. Also the traction companies are not in business to reform public opinion and so, because the public might object, do not engage Negroes in these jobs. In this their position is similar to that of the large taxicab companies, which, however, employ non-union workers. They have Negroes in the garages but not as chauffeurs, probably because they believe that the general public would object if Negroes were employed as chauffeurs. In such cases the unions feel that they are not responsible, any more than they are accountable for the policy of the telephone company which engages no Negro operators. Among other large businesses must be listed the department stores, which have no Negroes as sales clerks.
Exclusion of Negroes from a trade or industry results in inability to join the unions in such trades. This fact is well illustrated by the Upholsterers’ Union, which has three branches—furniture upholsterers, drapers, and mattress makers. Upholsterers and drapers are frequently sent out by the large stores to residences of customers, and the stores will not risk offending customers by sending a Negro into their homes. Consequently there are no Negroes in these branches of the Union. The mattress makers’ local, on the other hand, has more Negro than white members, and the secretary of the union is a Negro. This situation would not be possible if Negroes were excluded from employment in mattress factories. In view of the fact that the Upholsterers’ Union freely admits Negroes into the mattress makers’ local, Negroes would also, no doubt, be admitted into the locals of the upholsterers and the drapers if employers hired Negroes for such work.
4. EXCLUSION POLICY CONDEMNED
The policy, wherever it exists, of excluding Negroes from unions, whether by direct or indirect means, is considered wrong and shortsighted by the great majority of labor leaders. They believe that the small group of “aristocratic and conservative” unions cannot long withstand the American Federation of Labor policy of organizing Negroes in local and federal unions, nor the policy of the more progressive national and international unions. As the number of Negroes increases in the unions now admitting them, as the number of Negro delegates to city centrals, like the Chicago Federation of Labor, increases, and as the number of delegates to conventions of the State Federation of Labor and to the American Federation of Labor increases each year, more and more pressure is being brought to bear on these unions from without and also by the progressive leaders from within, so that gradually all barriers will be swept aside. That a gradual change is taking place in the policy of many unions is evidenced by the following instances:
International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers.—”In 1902 a local union of Negro stationary firemen in Chicago could not be chartered because the white local union would not give its consent.” In 1920 the president of Local 7, Chicago, reported as follows:
The symbol of our organization is, “We shall not discriminate against creed, color or nationality.” The membership of our organization is open to the Negro as much as to any other man who earns his living by the sweat of his brow. I should say, offhand, that we have approximately about 100 Negroes who are members of our Chicago local and who take an active part in all of our deliberations. So far as has come under my observation the feeling towards these men has always been of the most cordial nature.
I am, however, free to say that we have found that a great many of the employers, who do not desire to play fair, use the Negro to offset any high standard of wages which the organization may deem proper and just, and I have found, in my experience, an endeavor on the part of some of the employers to only use the Negro when he would want to maintain a lower standard of wages, but when compelled by force of circumstances to pay a living rate of wages, immediately a request would be made on the organization that the Negro be removed and a white man furnished. This we emphatically refuse to do. If the Negro was efficient and competent to perform his duties prior to the establishment of a living wage he certainly should be competent enough to perform the same duties afterwards.
Metal Polishers’ International Union.—The general secretary informed the Commission:
At the last international convention held, the question of Negroes entering our trade was taken up, and the delegates anticipated that, at some future time, Negroes would be employed, and we felt that, if the manufacturerers were left under the impression that we would refuse to accept them into the organization, it would be an incentive to the Manufacturers’ Association to import Negroes or hire them, so a resolution was passed that any skilled polisher, buffer, or plater, even though a Negro, should be admitted to our organization.
International Association of Machinists.—Although at its convention at Rochester, New York, in 1920, this union again voted down the proposition to strike out the word “white” from its ritual, there was significance in the fact that seven resolutions were introduced at the convention to remove the excluding provision. These resolutions came from unions in the following cities: two from different locals in Chicago; one from Columbia, South Carolina; one from Akron, Ohio; one from New Haven, Connecticut; one from Tucson, Arizona. Resolutions opposing came from Bakersfield, California; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Whistler, Alabama; and Savannah, Georgia. As an instance of enthusiastic appreciation of the mutual advantage to whites and Negroes of joint effort in union organization with no discrimination the following comment from an office of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ National Alliance was received by the Commission:
We have one local union composed of white and colored workers—that union is located in the city of Boston, Massachusetts; roughly speaking, there are approximately 400 in a total membership of about 2,000; at our convention held at Providence, Rhode Island, last August, one of the delegates from that union was a colored man. Six years ago Boston colored waiters woke up, and so did the whites, to the fact that for decades they had been used one against the other by their employers; they got together, and they affirm with considerable emphasis that amalgamation has proved beneficial.
5. UNIONS INSTRUMENTAL IN REMOVING RACE PREJUDICE
Labor leaders emphasize the influence of contact in union meetings in promoting a friendly understanding between white and colored members. They point out the fact that the Negro ceases to be a stranger or an object of prejudice when once he has identified himself with the union. A common interest in common problems binds the members together, and a spirit of loyalty to the union develops in the effort to realize the aims of the group. White members come to have a more kindly feeling for a Negro within the Union group than they have toward a white man who remains outside the union ranks. Said one union leader:
Some day the white worker is going to coax the black man to line up with him; all that he needs is a crusader’s heart and a genuine desire to make the black man and himself free, and when he succeeds there won’t be, in the economic field at least, the differences which now exist, due to this pitting of one race against the other and both being walloped by the action.
The Chicago Commission on Race Relations, The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1922), pp. 403–35.
Herbert J. Seligmann
The world war helped to dispel the myth that the American Negro was at best an agricultural laborer only and that complicated industrial processes overtaxed his abilities. That myth was dispelled in the factories where colored workmen did white men’s work and did as well, and often better, than immigrants from Europe. In the course of the practical demonstration of their capacity as machinists and factory operatives, colored men not only established themselves in the North; their prosperity exerted a pull on their friends in the South, so that the immigration, even after the signing of the armistice, alarmed Southern communities whose labor supply was being depleted.
The immigration intensified many of the maladjustments of industrial society. Congestion and overcrowding occurred in the cities to which the colored workers came. Bitter antagonisms were brought about between white labor unions and unorganized colored workers. Many white people who had known color prejudice only in the off-hand way of contempt found their emotions feverishly active when their men and colored men competed for jobs or when, during a strike, places were filled with Negroes imported by hundreds from Alabama, Mississippi, or Georgia.
The increased tension between the races to which the northward movement contributed had two main determinants: First, recognition by northern industrialists that they must find some source of cheap labor to compensate the stoppage of immigration during the war and that Southern Negroes were available for their purposes. Second, a realization by white labor unionists that their unions were endangered by an influx of aliens, unorganized, distrustful of labor unions and therefore difficult and in many cases impossible, for the time, to unionize. What has been called “group protection” became a strong motive among white unionists. Independent as it was of racial antipathy—for hostility would have been directed against any laborers who threatened union standards—it speedily fastened on the color line. Thus from the industrial movements and readjustments incident to the war grew a new race conflict.
For the Negro wartime opportunity was especially significant in that it enabled him as never before to play with capital and with labor. In a short space of time Negroes found themselves preferred in many plants from which they had previously been excluded or where they had been employed in small numbers only. Their leaders urged them not to serve as strike breakers; just as the more intelligent of the white union leaders had warned against dividing labor by the color line. In practice, white unionists had discriminated against the Negro, had given him no jobs when the allotments were made or had given the most arduous and disagreeable work; had either discouraged his joining their unions or had made it virtually impossible for him to do so. In practice, the Negro, indoctrinated with the brotherhood of man and the common interests of all labor, irrespective of color, took advantage of the situation which presented itself. Colored workers in many instances saw no reason why, having always been made victims of white discrimination, they should fight the white unionists’ battles.
Trade Unions and the Negro
The Negro’s distrust of unionism, justified as it has been discrimination in the North, is based on the treatment of colored labor in the South. It has been the rule to exclude Negroes from white unions. In June of 1919, it was reported that two thousand white unionists of Richmond, Virginia, had withdrawn from the Virginia Federation of Labor because W. C. Page, a Negro of Newport News, had been seated as a delegate. Under the circumstances, the American Federation of Labor, at its spring meeting of 1919, indulged in a more or less empty gesture in voting with but one dissenting voice to admit Negroes to full membership. As is well known, the Federation exercises no power over its constituent international unions. At the same convention at which the vote was taken, a representative of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks justified the exclusion of Negroes from his union and announced that the color line would be drawn in the future as it had in the past. One of the colored delegates to the convention reported that in Virginia, from March to April, 1919, 43,000 Negro workmen had been obliged to join an independent labor union because they could not be received into those affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.
The influence of Southern delegates to the Federation had always prevented effective measures to organize Negroes. Even where the constitution of the union contained no express prohibition, it was not uncommon for white membership to double while no Negroes were added, in an industry giving employment to both white and colored men. It is recounted in Epstein’s The Negro Migrant in Pittsburgh that one labor leader reported a growth in membership of one hundred per cent in six months, in the Pittsburgh district. He said that there were no colored men in the union, although numbers had applied for membership and complaints had been made of discrimination.116
“His statement concerning efforts to organize Negro laborers,” the investigator comments, “would seem to have little meaning in view of his assertion that the growth of white membership during the past year was one hundred per cent, while that of Negro membership was zero.” This man’s attitude is found typical of the “complacent trade unionist.”
At the very time when it was claimed that the union was endeavoring to organize Negro workers, a white man who joined was reported to have been pledged as follows by the president of the union: “I pledge that I will not introduce for membership into this union anyone but a sober, industrious white person.” Among labor leaders, too, are men born in the South, convinced that the Negro is inferior and strongly adherent to the advantages of segregation and “Jim-crowing.” Through the influence of individual labor leaders and of delegates to the Federation, the Southern practice was made fairly general in the North, while Negroes were not in a position to constitute a menace to unionism.
With the demand for Negro labor to supply war-time and after-war needs, the scene changed. The Federation made its gesture of generosity. Unions whose strikers were being replaced suddenly discovered the brotherhood of man. The Negro found himself in a position of strategic importance.
Obstacles to Progress
Every sort of opposition was offered the Negro during his progress to industrial bargaining power. Mr. Roger Baldwin, who worked as a manual laborer in the Middle West during October and November of 1919, writes:
“Everywhere, of course, the Negroes had the hardest and most disagreeable jobs. Only the exceptional Negro had risen above the lowest paid day laborer rate. That’s the rate I was getting too! And it was these men I found really thinking, keenly conscious of the relation of their own problem to the race and to labor. Every one of the men was in favor of the unions, but every one of them complained of union discrimination against the Negro. They are ready for organization which they felt would be fair to them.
“On the other hand, there was a feeling of desperation because of the almost universal ignoring or contempt of the Negro. Every man I spoke to talked of warfare between the races. All of them were preparing to resist further invasion of what they regarded as their rights. They didn’t seem to have faith that white men, even in the unions, were going to make common cause with them. Even the scabs in the steel mill at Homestead, Pennsylvania, where Negroes have been imported by the thousand, were all for the union and all for a strike at the right time, but they felt that they owed nothing to white men who had so long ignored and oppressed them. Not a single organizer had been sent into the Pittsburgh steel district. . . . I couldn’t help but feel as I looked around at the forces lined up about me that the immediate future of American labor depends on what the unions will do with the Negro. It is the white man’s job if he is to make the solidarity of labor a living fact.”
Mr. Baldwin found no “theoretical radicalism” among the Negroes. “I found,” he says, “no trace of ‘red’ propaganda, but I found observations and conclusions expressed in as ‘red’ terms as I have ever heard them from a soapbox agitator. It is obvious that the conditions themselves produce radical thinking.”
The Negro and the Steel Strike
Discrimination against Negro labor bore fruit in the steel strike of 1919. The conditions which materially helped to produce the East St. Louis riots and the Chicago disorders were reproduced. Despite opposition in the South, where labor recruiters and agents risked death at the hands of a mob if their errand were made known, Negroes were brought North. Negro welfare workers were employed at the Homestead and Duquesne plants of the Carnegie Steel Company, at the Monessen plant of the Pittsburgh Steel Company; and by the Lockhart Iron and Steel Company. Three of the four basic mills of the United States Steel Corporation and the largest of the independent mills pursued the policy of encouraging employment of Negroes. During the first six weeks of the steel strike 6,000 Negroes, it was estimated, were brought to Allegheny County.
At Lackawanna, before the strike there were said to be 7,000 employees of whom 72 were Negroes. During the strike the mill was operated chiefly with Negro labor. Some of the steel mills employed Negro preachers. Early in November a representative of the Urban League said that Negroes in the steel works had remained at work during the strike almost to a man. There were, of course, exceptions, but in general, however favorably they were disposed to white labor unions, Negroes became effective instruments to be used against white unions.
A New Southern Alignment
If the vote of the American Federation of Labor to unionize Negroes was an anticipation and a recognition of the menace of division of labor along color lines, that state of mind found recognition in the South. For the first time to any marked extent white labor realized the necessity of making allies of colored workers. Any such general change of front by white workmen would menace the very foundations of the color line as it is drawn in the South. It is, therefore, significant to note what extraordinary measures were adopted to prevent a coalition of white and colored labor. As always, the advocates of the color line brought about violence to sustain the division. It is, therefore, a melodramatic episode which reveals the forces which were at work in the South.
In Bogalusa, Louisiana, on November 22, 1919, three white men were shot dead, and a number severely wounded. One of the men killed was district president of the American Federation of Labor; another was a union carpenter. The white men were killed because they had walked armed down the main street of Bogalusa protecting with their lives and guns the life of a colored labor organizer.117
“The black man,” says Miss Mary White Ovington, “had dared to organize in a district where organization meant at the least exile, at the most death by lunching.” In the town where his white protectors were shot dead for refusing to give him up, the controlling lumber company had in the fall of 1919 ordered 2,500 union men to destroy their union cards. “The company,” said Miss Ovington, “has at its command the Loyalty League, a state organization formed during the war, not of soldiers, but of men at home, part of whose business it was to see that every able-bodied man (Negro understood) should work at any task, at any wage, and for any hours that the employer might desire. They had back of them the state ‘work or fight’ law and might put to work men temporarily unemployed, save that the provision of the Act did not apply to ‘persons temporarily unemployed by reason of differences with their employers such as strikes or lockouts.’ Under this legislation it was small wonder that unionism was forbidden by the Lumber Company; or that, unionism continuing, despite the master’s mandate, the Loyalty League, though the war was ended, continued its work.” It was in the continuance of this “work” that the Negro organizer was hunted and the three white union men who protected him were shot down.
As early as June, 1919, the president of the New Orleans branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had reported the expulsion from Bogalusa of respectable colored men “among them a doctor owning about $50,000 worh of property,” because they had refused to advise colored people against joining the unions. The Committee which visited the colored citizens gave them twenty minutes, or an hour, or six hours to leave town, according to their circumstances.
Whatever the outcome of the investigation or neglect of this situation, one fact of major significance for race relations was uncovered there. As Miss Ovington said in comment:
“Not since the days of Populism has the South seen so dramatic an espousal by the white man of the black man’s cause.”
It indicated the beginning of the end of the exploitation of both white and colored workers by pitting their groups against one another and by fanning the animosities that left them hostile. White men, too poor to pay a poll tax, ignorant and disfranchised, have found a key to such industrial conditions as those in Bogalusa. When they join forces with colored labor, a political as well as an industrial system that is founded in misinformation, oppression, artificially-fostered hatreds and brutalities begins to totter.
As the color line is stretched and becomes a matter of national concern, it becomes more and more evident that colored labor cannot be treated as though it were a monstrosity or a rare specimen. Too much evidence is at hand which demonstrates that not only have colored men done their work as well as white, often increasing output in factories manned previously by white men; but also have worked in amity, without friction, among white workers. The elaborate plans made by the steel companies to obtain and to keep Negro labor tell their own story. The urban League of Pittsburgh found that the Negro laborer “can do anything the white worker can do.” If some Negroes are unsteady, on the other hand, there are “hundreds and hundreds and even thousands of Negroes who have not lost a single day and are counted upon by concerns as their most dependable men.”
It is not necessary to draw from the evidence presented any conclusions other than those written upon the fact of the facts; namely, that the Negro has enormously enlarged his sphere of opportunity in industry by doing satisfactorily the work allotted to him; that he has worked with white men amicably; and that the future of the American labor movement will be involved to some extent in the position which the Negro workman is given or takes. In the existing state of industrial organization, the Negro’s capabilities as they may be limited or determined by racial inheritance, play a small part. With few exceptions industries are not so thoroughly organized that slight individual and psychological differences make themselves felt in large-scale production. Meanwhile the test of practice has been applied. The results have shown industrial corporations eager to employ and to retain Negro labor. That is a fact which, regardless of racial prejudice, actual or alleged racial “inferiority,” it is necessary for any student of labor currents to take into account.
Not only the Negro’s position in industry but the orderliness with which new forms of society are devised, depends upon the Negro’s sense of his real share in the building of American civilization. He may be made a valuable source of power and inventiveness, or he may be driven to the self-defense which means destruction of the society which provokes it.
The Socialist Review, 8 (February, 1920): 169–72.
Bogalusa, La., Is Scene of a Pitched Battle Over A Negro Agitator
UNIONISTS SHIELDED NEGRO
Are Besieged and Shot Down by a Crowd Representing Local Business Interests
BOGALUSA, La., Nov. 22.—Three persons were killed and several wounded, one fatally, in a pitched battle here today between members of the local Loyalty League, and men said to be union labor agitators.
The dead are:
L. E. Williams, District President of the American Federation of Labor and editor of The Press, a union labor newspaper.
All three are union carpenters.
The wounded include J. O’Rourke, a leader in union labor circles, who is fatally hurt, and Jules Le Blanc, former army Captain and member of the Loyalty League.
Trouble between the Loyalty League, which includes ex-service men and representatives of the Great Southern Lumber Company, and other business interests on the one hand, and union labor, whose members assert that the Great Southern locked out about 2,500 employees because they would not “tear up their union cards,” on the other, began last night after about 500 armed members of the league held up a train half a mile from the railroad station and searched it for undesirables. After the search had failed to reveal anyone whose presence was unwelcome, the crowd started to find a negro who was said to have been active recently in trying to stir up bad feelings among his race against the whites. The search, continued until a late hour, was unsuccessful.
This morning, to the surprise of the Loyalty League men, the negro they sought emerged from his hiding place and walked boldly down the principal street of the town. On either side of him was an armed white man, one was O’Rourke, a leader in labor union circles, and the other a union sympathizer, whose identity has not been ascertained. The sight of the negro, protected by the white men, incensed the Loyalty Leaguers. They said the black man had been trying to cause race rioting and that they did not intend to permit him to stay here.
Rallying their forces quickly, the Loyalty Leaguers forced the three to retreat to an automobile garage. When called upon to surrender the negro the men in the garage refused, and firing began. The besieged drew first blood. Le Blanc was shot through the arm. That only increased the zeal of the besiegers, whose numbers constantly increased.
When the attackers finally silenced the fire, from the garage three dead men and one fatally injured were found within. The negro had escaped. Williams, Bouchillon, and Gaines sacrificed their lives in protecting the negro, whose name was not learned, and O’Rourke received fatal wounds.
Edward O’Brien, a former head lawyer of the Great Southern Lumber Company, was forced a few days ago to leave Bogalusa by a Vigilance Committee, of which Le Blanc was a member. He was accused of sympathy with the I.W.W., who killed ex-soldiers in Washington. In New Orleans on Friday O’Brien and another union labor man filed charges before the United States Commissioner against members of the committee, accusing them of wearing the uniform of the army contrary to the law.
New York Times, November 23, 1919.
NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 22.—William L. Donnels, General Organizer of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, telegraphed Attorney General Palmer tonight asking for an investigation into the killing of three union men in Bogalusa today in a battle with special policemen. Copies were sent to Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, and Secretary Wilson.118
The telegram follows:
“President of Central Trades Council of Bogalusa, La., and two other men murdered by thugs in employ of Great Southern Lumber Company. We have asked repeatedly that an investigation be made of conditions in Bogalusa without avail. If something is not done at once, we are going to take the law into our own hands.”
A late dispatch from Bogalusa says that the Chief of Police had sworn in forty-five special officers, who attempted to make the arrest of Saul Dechus, President of a negro union. W. C. Magee and Jules Le Blanc, with warrants for J. O’Rourke and A. Bouchillon, white labor union leaders and Dechus, started toward the garage, where they had taken refuge. As they entered a gate leading to the building the firing began, and Le Blanc was hit in the arm.
L. E. Williams, the President of the Trades Council, stepped into the doorway. The officers said he refused to give up the men and made an attempt to carry his shotgun to his shoulder. He was shot dead. The garage was rushed by the officers, and only the bodies of Bouchillon and Williams were found.
New York Times, November 23, 1919.
By James Weldon Johnson, Contributing Editor
THE OBVIOUS THING TO DO
The press a day or two ago carried a story which came up out of Louisiana. A story which sounded passing strange, but which was based on such obviously common sense action that the real strangeness comes in thinking of it as strange at all.
In Bogalusa, a town in Louisiana, they had trouble, serious trouble. As a result of this trouble, four men were killed and several others are wounded. The dead men are L. E. Williams, president of the local branch of the American Federation of Labor and editor of “The Press,” a union labor newspaper; A. Bouchillon and Thomas Gaines, union carpenter; and A. J. O’Rourke, a leader in union labor circles. Among the wounded are Jules Le Blanc, former army captain and member of the Loyalty League.
The trouble came about through a clash between the Loyalty League comprising representatives of the Great Southern Lumber Company and other important business interests of Bogalusa on the one hand and members of the labor unions on the other. The Great Southern Lumber Company, so the labor men assert, had locked out about 2,500 employees because they would not tear up their union cards.
The protests from the union labor men caused the Loyal Legion to get together some 500 armed members, who held up a train a half mile from the railroad station and searched it for “undesirables.” After the search of the train failed to reveal anyone they could “run out” of town, the crowd started out to find Saul Dechus, a Negro, alleged to have been active in “disturbing the relations” between the races. They did not find him, that night, but were dumbfounded the next day to see Dechus walking down the main street of the town, on either side of him an armed white man, one of them O’Rourke and the other a strong labor union man.
The Loyalty Leaguers made an attempt to take Dechus, charging that he had been trying to start race rioting. The white labor men stood by him. When the Leaguers were reinforced, the labor men retreated into a garage. The Leaguers stormed the garage in increasing strength with the result as stated above.
Here was an instance of white working men and black working men standing together. It gives promise that the day will come when the white working men of the South will see and understand that their interests and the interests of the black working men of the South are identical.
The white working man of the South ought to be able to see that it is impossible for him to get what he is fighting for unless he joins hands with the colored man. And he ought to be able to see that it is the plan of those who keep him out of what he is fighting for to do it by keeping him and Negro apart. When white and black working men get together in the South for their common economic advantage, there are going to be some might changes.
A comment worth making on this affair is that the New York “Tribune” headed the whole story as follows: “NEGRO CAUSES FATAL CLASH IN LOUISIANA.” Anyone reading only the Tribune’s heading would gain the impression that here was another clash instigated and initiated by Negroes. There was as much reason in the “Tribune’s” heading as there would be in the statement that the murderer’s victim caused the electrocution of the murderer.
New York Age, November 29, 1919.
Thirteen of Bogalusa Posse Held as Slayers of Unionists
FRANKLINTON, La., Dec. 7.—Thirteen policemen who were members of the posse which killed four labor leaders in Bogalusa on Nov. 22 in a battle over the attempted arrest of a negro labor leader, were arrested today on the charge of murder, brought here on a special train, kept in jail an hour and a half and released on bail of $40,000 each.
Affidavits charging them with murder were sworn out by James Williams, brother of Lum Williams, one of the labor leaders killed. Among those accused is Jules LeBlanc, a former United States army Captain, who while serving with the others as a special deputy was wounded in the arm.
More than a hundred citizens of Bogalusa accompanied the prisoners on the special train. Several rode through the country in automobiles, and many farmers came here to offer their names on the necessary bond. One hundred and thirty-three men signed the bail, which totaled $520,000.
Since the Grand Jury which investigated the riot last week adjourned without returning any bills, court officials say that the charges can hardly be taken up before the session of the next Grand Jury, at the May term of court. Regular Army troops are still in Bogalusa.
New York Times, December 8, 1919.
(Transmitted to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People by Frank Morrison, Secretary American Federation of Labor, in letter dated February 4, 1920.)
The Great Southern Lumber Company who own the lumber mills and the pulp and paper mills at Bogalusa, Louisiana, are perhaps the largest lumber producers in the United States. They claim that the sawmill located at Bogalusa is the largest mill in the world. They are also connected with several large enterprises; they are interested in the large mill located at Virginia, Minnesota, which they claim to be the next largest mill in the world.
About three years ago they put in a very large pulp and paper mill at the Bogalusa plant, and about that time the workmen at Bogalusa began to try to organize. They asked for organizers, and several attempts were made to help the people there. About this time a young man named Rodgers, an organizer for the carpenters and joiners, went to Bogalusa and while there was arrested as a suspicious character. He was released after getting the news to some of his friends in New Orleans; however, they claimed that he was a dangerous character and filed charges against him in the federal court, and while he was in jail at Bogalusa, the Bogalusa officers had put dynamite caps and fuse in his grip. This grip was produced in the federal court as evidence, but their case was so flimsy and so crude that the federal authorities dismissed it without trial. Later James Leonard, at that time vice president of the State Federation of Labor and an organizer of the A.F. of L., went to Bogalusa and was told by the authorities there that they would not permit any organizer to come there and organize the men. Mr. Leonard left Bogalusa and returned to New Orleans; however, this did not stop the desire of the workers at Bogalusa, who were in touch with the state federation; and later on W. M. Donnells was sent there as an organizer for the carpenters, and organized the carpenters of the place. Then, in rapid succession, the organization of all lines followed until we had seventeen local unions at the place with a splendid central union.
Seeing that the men had organized in spite of their efforts to thwart it, the company became furious and tried to intimidate the members of the locals; finding that this would not work they then started systematic system of discharging all white union men and putting non-union Negroes to work in their places and at the same time making a great deal of noise and trying to work up a spirit of antagonism to the organization of Negroes, even telling the farmers and planters that we were trying to organize the Negro farm laborers. This forced the hand of labor and a campaign of organization was then begun to organize the Negroes in the employ of the Great Southern Lumber Company. This brought on quite a little feeling. The company called a mass-meeting of the citizens, where several public men, among them a Congressman, made speeches opposing the organization of Negroes. Donnells spoke at that meeting and defended the right of labor to organize. Seeing that the men were determined the company then entered into an agreement to effect that they would stop discharging the union men if they would cease organizing Negroes. This arrangement was made with the understanding that no union man should be discriminated against or prejudiced in any way because of his membership in a union. This arrangement had not been made thirty days when the company immediately started discharging both white and colored union men, and issued an ultimatum from Mr. W. S. Sullivan, the vice president and general manager of the plant, that he would not recognize any union man and that he would not meet nor confer with anyone representing union labor and instructed his office to so inform Donnells and others.
This agreement was made in April of 1919, and from that time on things happened fast at Bogalusa. Mr. Sullivan, who is vice president of the Great Southern Lumber Company, is also mayor of the town of Bogalusa. He then placed about thirteen of his henchmen that had not joined labor on the police force of the town. They were augmented by a number of deputies appointed by the sheriff of the parish, and then began a reign of terror in the town.
They tried to get rid of all the leaders by terrorizing them and by offering them bribes to leave the place. Finding this would not work, they sent their employment man to Chicago and other cities to secure three thousand Negroes, with the intent of placing non-union Negroes in the industries there and forcing the union men to leave. They failed to get any men in Chicago; I was informed by reliable parties in Chicago that they did not offer sufficient wages and that the men were informed that no labor trouble existed. However, the men knew that they were wanted as strike breakers and would not go. On failing to get men, they immediately began arresting men, both black and white, on all kinds of trumped-up charges and taking them to the county seat about twelve miles away. The automobiles furnished the police and deputy sheriffs were used for the purpose of taking the men to the county seat, but the men when discharged for lack of evidence had to get back to Bogalusa any way they could. In addition to this, several men were beaten by these same gunmen; others were ordered to leave, while some of them were offered bribes to leave.
Previous to this, a committee had been appointed, two by the company and two by the men, to investigate wages and working conditions in the lumber industry throughout the state and east Texas and western Alabama and Mississippi. This committee reported that the Great Southern Lumber Company was paying less wages than any mill west of the Mississippi River. One of the men representing the company was a sawyer, who had at that time never joined the union. However, when he was selected by the company to represent, he accepted and when the report was made he was accused by the company of not making a fair report. He joined the Sawyers’ Union and was soon made president of the union. They then tried to induce him to leave. He owned his own home in the town, and also a small farm just outside of the city. He was told by the henchmen of the company that he had better sell his property and leave the place. He refused to do this, and while attending a meeting he was called from the hall, when seven of the gunmen attacked him, placed him in an automobile, and ran him five miles out of town, where they took him out of the car and there proceeded to beat him into an almost unconscious condition. They then dictated a letter which they compelled him to write to his wife, telling her to sell all their property and leave at once, as he was not coming back. This man, whose name is Ed. O’Bryan, was then taken to a station on the Northeastern Railroad and placed on the car bound for New Orleans, and was told by the gunmen that they were the Department of Justice agents, and that he was under arrest by the federal authorities as an I.W.W. agitator. They had, in the meantime, painted a sign on the man’s back which read “I am an I.W.W.,” and when placed on the train they found Brother Donnells on the same train. They also told him that both he and O’Bryan were under arrest by the federal authorities as I.W.W. agitators. They held guns on both of them, and would not allow them to speak to each other. At the first station out of New Orleans, two of the gunmen got off the car while one stayed on. On reaching the yards in the city, this man also got off and left O’Bryan and Donnells alone.
After having O’Bryan’s wounds treated, they went to the office of the Superintendent of the Department of Justice and filed complaints from which nothing has yet been heard.
The president of the Colored Timber Workers’ Union was another one they offered a small sum of money to leave and sell his property. He owned a home and some live stock in the place, all told valued at about thirty-five hundred. They offered him two thousand to sell this property and leave. He refused to do so. They went that night to his house and shot it to pieces, and searched for him. However, he had told the white labor people of the offer to leave and they had gotten him away. When they could not find him, they then blamed the white labor people for getting him away and then gave out a statement to the press that Lum Williams and another labor sympathizer had paraded the Negro Dacus up and down the street while they were heavily armed, and had defied the authorities to arrest him. I am informed by a number of people, who are not members of labor, that this is a false statement, as nothing of the kind was done, and the gunmen who claimed to have a warrant for the arrest of Dacus had nothing but a trumped-up charge. That was their excuse for going to Lum William’s place on the following day where they murdered Williams, who was president of the Central Trades Council, together with three others. The claim of the gunmen that the union men had arms in the building was untrue, as there was not a gun in the building. They drove up in their automobiles and without warning began to shoot. Williams was the first to appear at the door where he was shot dead, without a word being spoken by either side. Two other men, who were in his office at the time, were shot down, and the bodies of the three men fell one on top of the other in the doorway. The other men attempted to leave the building by the back door where two of them were shot down while coming out with their hands above their heads; the only shot fired by any man connected with the labor people in any way was fired by a young brother of Lum Williams who shot Captain LeBlanc in the shoulder with a .22-caliber rifle, after he had shot his brother to death. This Captain LeBlanc was a returned soldier and was placed in command of the gunmen in Bogalusa. One of the men wounded at the back door of the building where the killing occurred was taken to the sanitarium where he died three days later, but no one was allowed to see him while he was alive.
Young Williams was arrested immediately and charged with shooting with intent to kill, while the thirteen gunmen, who did the murder, were not arrested until three weeks later, when the grand jury took action and bound them over to await the final action of the regular session of the grand jury in May. They were immediately released on a bond of forty thousands dollars each and have returned to Bogalusa where they are still armed and defying the law of the state.
They have been continually arresting Negroes for vagrancy and placing them in the city jail. It seems that a raid is made each night in the section of the town where the Negroes live and all that can be found are rounded up and placed in jail charged with vagrancy. In the morning the employment manager of the Great Southern Lumber Company goes to the jail and takes them before the city court where they are fined as vagrants and turned over to the lumber company under the guard of the gunmen where they are made to work out this fine. There is now an old Negro in the hospital at New Orleans whom they went to see one night, and ordered to be at the mill at work next day. The old man was not able to work, and was also sick at the time. They went back the next night and beat the old man almost to death and broke both of his arms between the wrist and elbow. This old man was taken from the hospital and went to the county seat and appeared before the grand jury and the papers made a big thing of it and said we were trying to stir up race trouble. The State Federation has taken the matter up with labor throughout the state and we intend to fight the thing to a finish.
However, we are badly handicapped for funds to fight the combined forces of the entire lumber industry, as they have organized an organization to fight us and now have a man named Boyd, who was editor of The Lumbermen’s Journal, traveling through the Southern lumber states forming local organizations with the sole purpose of defending the Great Southern Lumber Company and fighting any attempt on the part of labor to organize the lumber industry in the South. I have it from reliable sources that they have succeeded in lining up the hardwood lumber people also in this anti-union organization. They are holding meetings in all the towns in the Southern lumber states.
We have employed the Hon. Amos L. Ponder as an attorney to defend young Williams for the shooting and to prosecute the thirteen gunmen. We are having some investigating done and hope to be able to bring them to justice along with those who are responsible for the many outrages against humanity and justice. However, they are still terrorizing the people that live in Bogalusa, and just last week Brother Donnelly was on his way, in company with Brother Donnells, to Bogalusa to hold a meeting. Brother Donnelly is now president of the central body at that place. On arriving at the depot in New Orleans one of the gunmen met them there and told Donnells that if he went to Bogalusa he would be murdered, and made several threats. They had him arrested on two charges—one for threatening to kill and one for carrying concealed weapons. He was released on bond in each case and, no doubt, no effort will ever be made to have him appear for trial in New Orleans.
The union men asked the Governor of the state to have federal troops sent to Bogalusa, which he did, and which no doubt prevented bloodshed, as it seemed that the Southern Lumber Company had determined to get rid of all members of labor. . . . Some of the citizens had become aroused over the matter, on one side or the other, till it looked as though a serious situation had been reached, and should the troops be taken away and the gunmen begin again their reign of terror, it is almost certain that the citizens will take a hand in the affair. Some of them are friendly to labor while some of them are aiding the gunmen in every way they can. The citizens of the parish have requested that marshall law [martial law] be declared, but at present under that authority of the constitution governing such matters, the Government cannot declare the parish under marshall law [martial law] as the authorities there are now keeping order. It seems this is being done to assist the lumber company in its effort to have the soldiers removed, as Sullivan is trying to get the soldiers away from there until such time as we are assured that the local civil authorities will see that the laws are enforced and justice can be had.
This report does not cover all details of the case, but will give you some idea of the conditions that prevail in Bogalusa, and in the entire Southern lumber belt. This will happen anywhere in the Southern belt if they get away with it at Bogalusa, for they are the one industry in this country that have always resisted organization to the finish.
[Signed] T. J. Greer,
President Louisiana State Federation of Labor
Herbert J. Seligman, The New Negro (New York, 1920), pp. 311–19.
A Negro labor organizer in Bogalusa, Louisiana, was rescued from a mob of white hoodlums of a so-called “loyalty league” bent upon lynching him by his white labor comrades. The Negro in question was active organizing Negro workers in the lumber industry, to enable them to get more wages, shorter hours and better working conditions. The lumber operators branded him as an agitator stirring up race riots. Three white workers were killed fighting for the life of the Negro.
This is, indeed, a hopeful sign. White workers in the South are beginning to recognize that their interests are identical with the interests of the black workers. It is interesting to note, also, how Bolshevism in the North, East and West, and race riots in the South are employed by the Northern and Southern white capitalists as an excuse for opposing all forms of labor organizations by white and black workers. This, too, is an evidence of the power of labor to stop lynching. It is a splendid lesson for Negro organizations. They have circularized Southern governors to no avail. Why? The reason is plain. Southern governors are elected by a political machine which is dominated by the lumber, railroad, and turpentine still operators, who profit from the division of the black and white workers. The Southern governor’s political life depends upon the perpetuation of lynching, race riots, jim-crowism, disfranchisement, anything that will serve to keep the black and white workers fighting. While they fight, the Southern white capitalists can rob both. The Vardamans, Bleases, Byrnes, and John Sharp Williamses, the political parasites and henchmen of the Southern Bourbon capitalists, can hold their seats in Congress, based upon notorious, political corruption and a flagrant disregard of the Federal Constitution. They can promulgate their sinister doctrines in the interest of a government by mob-law and lynch-law. They know that if the white workers of the South, who are in poverty and ignorance, wake up and join hands with their black brothers, the Southern white capitalists and their political prostitutes will no longer be able to exploit labor, by the old game of playing up the race question.
All hail to the white workers of Bogalusa! You are learning! You are on the right road. Your enemy is the Southern white employing class, not the Negroes. Your only weapon is the solidarity of the working class, black and white. Only class-conscious, militant labor can change the South. And when it is sufficiently educated, labor will change the South from a place of autocracy and lynching to a place of democracy and freedom. So, let us educate labor. Circularize white labor unions, not Southern white capitalist, anti-Negro governors.
The Messenger 3 (February, 1920): 2.