Wants Negroes In Union Left to the Direction of White Union Men, Says Statement to Gompers
Jackson, Miss., Feb. 2.—Trouble is brewing in the union labor organizations in Mississippi, and withdrawal of membership from the American Federation of Labor it is said is in prospect because of the activity of the latter body in forming labor unions among Negroes in this state.
When the Mississippi branch of the Federation of Labor held its annual convention here, a goodly number of delegates were astonished to find twenty or more Negro delegates in attendance, duly accredited from local unions of carpenters, plasterers, brick layers, etc., in the principal cities of the state.
It is said that these labor unions formed by national organizers from other states, representing the American Federation of Labor, who were working in Mississippi without the knowledge or consent of the state organization.
What took place in the secret or executive sessions of the Federation has not been made public, but from reliable sources, it is learned that some very salty speeches were made on the subject, and some of the delegates threatened to withdraw their unions from affiliation with the American Federation of Labor.
A resolution was adopted and sent to President Gompers, requesting that in the future Southern labor leaders be allowed to handle Southern questions in their own way, and that organizers who are not familiar with problems in the South be kept away from this section.
The Birmingham Reporter, February 7, 1920.
Montreal, June 10.—The American Federation of Labor in its annual convention here today wiped out the “color line,” and warned its affiliated international unions that Negro workers must be given full and equal membership with white men.
The federation’s action came at the end of a stormy session, which nearly resulted in a “race war” between delegates from the southern states and the Negroes and their sympathizers.
Rejecting the recommendations of its organization committee the federation for the first time in its history threatened the autonomy of an affiliated union by requesting the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks to give the Negro freight handlers, express and station employees full membership, and eliminate from its constitution the words “white only.”
The committee’s report of “non-concurrence” on the ground that the federation has no power to interfere with the constitution of an affiliated union immediately drew the fire of the Negro delegates and those of several northern states, chiefly Illinois and New York.
There was a voluminous exchange of oratory, in which the Negroes charged “taxation without representation,” and “discrimination,” to which their opponents replied with accusations and betrayal by Negro workers of the whites in past labor disputes.
Indignation of the Negro delegates was aroused several times during the debate when speakers referred to them as “nigger” freight handlers, and their objection to such remarks was sustained by the acting chairman, James Duncan.66 They charged that the use of the word “nigger” was a slander to the race.
Frank Morrison, secretary of the American Federation of Labor, made an unsuccessful attempt to halt the debate by explaining that arrangements were under way to get all unions to take in Negro members.67
Representatives of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks declared they were taking care of the Negro question and give just attention to Negro grievances. They asked the convention to leave the matter in their hands for definite disposal.
Several motions were made on the floor to demand that the railway clerks abolish the “color line” in their constitution or forfeit their charter in the federation. One of these was later modified to “request” the brotherhood to give the Negro full membership. It was accepted by an overwhelming majority.
“This, I believe, will settle the Negro problem in our organization for all time,” said Chairman Duncan, following the adoption of the motion. “Our affiliated unions must now understand that the color line is abolished.”
Other resolutions adopted by the convention provided for the formation of an international policemen’s union as soon as membership of local unions reach 6,000; sending of representatives to Colorado, Utah and Wyoming to aid the state federation in organization work; sending of assistance to the Detroit, Mich., central body for the purpose of organizing all non-union workers in that city; an organization campaign among office workers and the granting of a charter to the International Union of Office Workers as soon as membership totals 10,000, and urged all affiliated international unions to send organizers out to unionize the laundry workers of the country.
The Birmingham Reporter, June 19, 1920.
The color line, so generously discussed in matters purely American, is but the shadow and abstract feeling of one group of American citizens expressed against another group of American citizens. No divididual or class of distinction wishes to associate with an individual or thing when such an individual or thing is represented as inferior. There has been too much teaching on the part of men and institutions of superior races, societies, leadership and other factor interests to ever believe that the actions of the Federation of Labor will be of any material consequence as it regards protection and fair dealing for and with the Negro, especially when editors of papers and public speakers are persuading their people otherwise. There is no such thing as wiping out the color line; there is no such thing as destroying race feeling; there is no such thing as social equality with races. These cannot exist where races are distinct in appearance, intellectual and political advancement. This is not to argue, infer or state that equal protection is not possible or a fair measure of justice unobtainable.
The Federation of Labor, in its Montreal, Canada, meeting, declaration is to be congratulated; it certainly creates some sentiment that will encourage Negro labor to become more definitely associated with white labor and advises a more religious consideration on the part of whites to Negroes.
It is not the opinion of this publication that Negroes are generally protected by union labor organizations; they are always misunderstood by the laborers and not quite understood by corporations; thus, when they are in the union there has been, in the past, an expressed unsafety and a criticism from both interests, that of the union and corporations.
The Negro race is a 95 per cent laboring class; it produces by the sweat of its brow; it labors with its hands; it is the endurable kind, the uncomplaining and unantagonistic kind. The Negro knows he must work, steal, rob or go hungry. The latter three are not so appealing and result in more trouble than pleasure; they degrade the entire race and set at naught its civil and moral growth. The whole thing boils itself down to the one fact: that the colored man ought to be left alone; he should be allowed to organize, if he desires, among his own people, unmolested by other organizations and protected by the concerns for which he works as well as protected by the Government of which he is a citizen or subject. There is a great deal of feeling in this country against the Negro and he had well know it, and there is a great deal of feeling on the part of the Negro against mean and malicious people who always oppose and set up hindrances that limit his progress, his comfort and well-being in America. The Negro can live happily under the law. It would be like a new emancipation if he could believe that there is such a thing as giving him protection under the law. The Federation might have had one or more things in mind; first, to wrench the Negro from the hands of protected interests, take from him his main support, snatching from capital its conservative labor, and because of that take charge of the country politically and otherwise and finally do for the Negro what other such organizations have done—get rid of him, make him subject to their beck and call, wishes and demands. It is a rather pleasing expression, even to the intelligent Negro, that there will be no “color line” in labor unions. The Negro man would do well to know every movement made by white unions and use common sense in all of his actions.
We are using here some excerpts from an editorial in The Birmingham News of June 12th. The News is not pleased with the action of the Federation of Labor in its meeting at Montreal, Canada, and makes this statement, and here hangs the trouble:
“It is exceedingly regrettable that the American Federation of Labor has deemed it either the wise or the politic thing to make a declaration on the ‘color line.’ For no matter how the scheme may work in other sections of the United States, it is unthinkable that Southern union locals, from time imme-memorial governed by white men and women, can be brayed or prayed into the union co-operation provided for at the Montreal convention.”
The above paragraph is the milk in the cocoanut, and expresses largely the sentiment and true feeling of the South. The News is not a Negro-hating paper; it is rather charitable and encouraging in its columns respecting Negro people. The South is not going to accept the doctrine preached in Canada, it is against Southern policy. It is not a question as to whether it is right or wrong, such a thing is undebatable if it affects the rule and procedures of Southern policy, and that policy being changed with a proposition to advance the cause of the Negro, however wicked it might be.
The Birmingham Reporter, June 19, 1920.
The recent convention of the American Federation of Labor held in Denver, Colorado, was colorless except for a fight for the presidency between Gompers and John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers of America. The Convention opposed trade with Russia; refused to condemn the unspeakable Ku Klux Klan; ratified Gomper’s withdrawal from the Amsterdam Labor International; closed the door in the faces of Negroes and women; re-elected its archaic pilots; then adjourned.68
The only hopeful sign was the fight on Gompers; not that Lewis was a whit better but because now the organization is still, dead—and if once you can get it to move, to revive, there is a chance of getting it to move in the right direction.
The American labor movement still lags.
The Messenger, 3 (August, 1921): 226.
By Samuel Gompers
With the Negro becoming a more and more important factor in the industrial life of the nation, it is of increasing importance that he be organized trade into unions, not only for his own benefit but for the benefit of all labor as well.
If the Negro is not organized, he will tend to hamper the onward march of his white brothers and be an influence in holding back the improvement of the condition of American toilers in every state. In the past, the Negro has only too frequently been used by the employers to break strikes and to beat down wages in our industrial centers. The Negro could not have been used in this way if he had been organized and infused with the point of view of the working people of the United States. Hence the vital importance of pushing organization work among the Negro workers of all trades and industries.
The American Federation of Labor is doing its best to advance organization work among the Negroes and it seeks the help of all forward-looking men and women in this task. The Federation is striving in every way to live up to the purpose repeatedly declared at its conventions, that of organizing all wage earners without regard to class, race, religion, sex or politics.
As I have pointed out before, Labor Day is the real Emancipation day for the Negro, for it signifies the dignity of labor and the organization of the working people, with their consequent ability to win freedom and happiness for themselves. As the Negro forms strong labor organizations, he will more and more win a real emancipation for himself and take his rightful place in the ranks of those who do the world’s useful work.
The Messenger, 5 (September, 1923): 809.
The Crisis, 28 (August, 1924): 153-54.
At the coming A.F. of L. Convention in El Paso, Texas, the Negro workers should begin again their drive to get the Federation to go on record for a vigorous campaign for the organization of the Negro workers into the trade union movement. Of course, they will have rough sledding down in Texas, of which one cynic said: “If he owned with Hell, he would rent out Texas and live in Hell.” Still “Ma” Ferguson routed the Ku Klux Klan there. Think of it! a woman in Texas has become the Governor by defeating that sinister gang of red-handed murderers, the Klan. The Negro workers can depend on support from the delegation from the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, the United Cloth Hat and Cap Makers’ Union, the International Fur Workers’ Union, the Bakers’ Union and Painters’ Unions of New York City and Brooklyn. But even if they don’t get any support from anybody, they should go to the bat and carry the fight to the floor for recognition as the industrial equals of their white brothers. It is not sufficient merely for Negroes to condemn the white workers for their economic ills, for they are not altogether guiltless themselves.69
The Messenger, 6 (December, 1924): 374.
By Esther Lowell
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.—Four Negro freight handlers, delegates to the 15th annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, have a serious problem for the federation’s attention. Their local unions, 4 out of 89 in a similar predicament, are chartered directly by the Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employes’ agreements with employers.
Union Maintains Color Ban
The Brotherhood’s constitution expressly states that all white persons employed in the lines of work under their jurisdiction are eligible to membership in the union. Negro workers are not admitted, altho they pay 50₵ to the Brotherhood in addition to the 25₵ per capita to the American Federation of Labor. Negroes are not permitted to participate in Brotherhood meetings or share in insurance and other Brotherhood benefits aside from equal conditions for white and colored freight handlers. Negroes are not allowed to become clerks.
Couldn’t Get Audience
Ben Oglesby, president Local No. 17769, and Albert C. Campbell, president Local no. 17775, both of Kansas City, Mo., two of the Negro delegates in Atlantic City, say they attempted to get an audience at the last convention of the Brotherhood but could not get beyond the door and found no delegate to present their resolution asking for removal of the color line in the Brotherhood constitution. William McGibney, president Local No. 16900, Greensboro, N.C., and Samuel Blockman of Cleveland, Ohio, are the two other delegates from colored freight handlers’ local unions to the American Federation of Labor convention.
All four Negro delegates signed the resolution presented to the convention, calling for the American Federation of Labor to approve their proposal that President Green and whoever else he chooses from the American Federation of Labor officials negotiate with the Grand Lodge of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks “for the full admission to membership for all classes under their jurisdiction as granted by the American Federation of Labor.” In the event negotiations should fail, the Negro freight handlers call upon the American Federation of Labor to “take the necessary actions to properly protect the welfare of that class of railway employes.”
Only two Negro delegates attended the El Paso convention last year and none at the American Federation of Labor Portland convention in 1923. No other Negro unionists are represented at the Atlantic City convention.
The four Negro freight handlers are staying in the pleasure city’s north side, the district away from the oceanside which has long been claimed by whites. Negro workers are plentiful in Atlantic City, along the boardwalk, in hotels and restaurants, and colored nursemaids ride in the ever-present boardwalk wheel chair with their white wards and sometimes with their white mistresses. But when a white girl stops the colored delegates to the American Federation of Labor convention for an interview on the boardwalk the idle white population sitting on the piers or passing by, gape at the sight.
Daily Worker, October 10, 1925.
Not in years has the American Federation of Labor been so interested in the organization of colored workingmen as now. Undoubtedly the recent “left wing” Negro Labor Congress held in Chicago is mainly responsible for the new drive. In order to checkmate any movement to organize the negroes outside their body, A.F. of L. officials immediately took steps to encourage organization by their regular unions.
Advocates of admitting negro workers to membership in A.F. of L. unions allege that it is far safer to bring the great horde of unskilled and semiskilled negro labor into the trade union movement rather than to allow a vast pool of potential colored strike-breakers to form outside the confines of the regular movement. Northern building trades have for some time allowed colored men to enter the unions, and the color line is now being dropped in many other A.F. of L. unions where it was formerly a bar. This movement is largely a matter of self-protection, since in trades where negro labor is commonly employed all workingmen, regardless of their skins, have a community of interest in opposing open shop and anti-union drives and in preventing the formation of a great reserve of low-wage labor to menace the high wages and good working conditions enjoyed by the organized workers.
Locomotive Engineerings Journal, 59 (December, 1925): 908.
New York City
Mr. Hugh Frayne, General Organizer
American Federation of Labor
New York City
My dear Mr. Frayne:
It is a matter of common knowledge that the number of Negroes in the trades and industries has increased during the past fifteen years to the point where they constitute an important economic factor in many of the cities of the North. They have added a half million or more to the general movement from rural to urban communities, leaving the unorganized farming industry to compete with the workers in organized trades and industries. With immigration so greatly curtailed they are the one dependable labor supply for American manufacturers, for which they have already demonstrated remarkable fitness. Thus the migration from the South continues with indications of a very intake this spring and summer.
From 1910 to 1920 colored workers in the trades and mechanical industries increased fifty per cent and it is likely that the rate of increase since 1920 has been larger. Here then, is a fertile field for either capital or labor. The one that sows the seed, will reap the harvest.
Many of these men and women are already working for wages that are far below the standard set for the occupations in which they are engaged. They are thus endangering the health and happiness of their own families, but more than this, they are endangering the reforms which the labor movement has sacrificed to achieve in order to benefit wage-earners everywhere. If this state of affairs continues, the rapid strides made by Negroes in industry will break the hold of white men and ultimately lead to confusion and destruction within the ranks of organized labor. We are just as eager as the leaders of the A.F. of L. that communistic tendencies shall distort the minds of Negro workers. But we cannot ignore the probability of this unfortunate state when communists are taking initiative, with Negro leaders in the front, to annex Negro members to their numbers.
We are mindful of the resolutions of the American Federation of Labor declaring a liberal and democratic attitude toward all races, but the discriminatory practises of certain influential national organizations of the American Federation of Labor have had the effect of nullifying the good intentions which these resolutions avow. Nevertheless it is possible to get a sympathetic hearing among Negroes on the matter of participation in the trade union movement. At least a few of our leaders are willing to advocate the principle of collective action. The efforts at unionizing Negroes in the Pullman Porters’ Organization, the successful operations of the Brotherhood of Dining Car Employees, the Negro membership in the locals of the national organizations connected with the American Federation of Labor and the work of the Trade Union Committee for organizing Negroes—all these have produced a public sentiment among Negroes far more favorable than ever before to the acceptance of the American Federation of Labor and its component organizations.
To this end we submit the following recommendations;
1. That the American Federation of Labor officially endorse and support the work of the Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers.70
2. That the American Federation of Labor employ a capable colored executive, preferably a trade unionist, who will have the privilege of sitting with the council to handle the labor problems of the American Federation of Labor incident to Negro wage-earners. It is suggested that
(a) the duties of such an executive would include the establishment of organization in other cities patterned after the New York Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers;
(b) that the executive be allowed to assist in the adjustment of racial problems faced by the various National and International Organizations of the A.F. of L.;
(c) that the work of the executive have the counsel and review or a body of representatives from organizations interested in organizing Negroes, the same to be created for this purpose.
That the American Federation of Labor make every effort to secure the much-to-be-desired affiliation of the existing Negro Trade union organizations. That such an affiliation of the existing Negro Trade union organizations, and that such an affiliation will do much to promote mutual respect and confidence between non-union Negro workers and the A.F. of L. cannot be denied. It is our earnest hope that the American Federation of Labor will be able to bring this about.
Very truly yours,
A. Phillip Randolph, General Organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Rienzi B. Lemus, President, the Grand71 Council of the Brotherhood of Dining Car Employees
Henry Haummel, Treasurer, Professional Club
Frank R. Crosswaith, Secretary, Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers
Gertrude E. McDougald, Member of the Executive Board of the Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers
James Weldon Johnson, Secretary, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
T. Arnold Hill, Director, Department of Industrial Relations, National Urban League
Victor A. Olander Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Study Shows Internationals Are Inactive
While the American Federation of Labor still fails to interest itself actively in the plight of the Negro worker, many local unions and district councils continue to enlist Negro members.
T. Arnold Hill, research worker in the industrial relations department of the National Urban League, reaches this conclusion after an intensive study of this field. He declares sentiment favoring Negro membership in trade unions is growing.
In Atlanta, Ga., labor union officials have recorded their opinion that “The labor movement in Atlanta does not feel safe with Negroes out of the union,” writes Hill. They have expressed a desire to organize Negroes in auxiliary unions in certain trades.
Building Laborers Loyal
“In Philadelphia where 2,500 tobacco workers are employed, efforts are being made to secure their membership” in the union. “Ninety per cent of the hod carriers and building laborers in Kansas City, are Negroes. They remained loyal to the union during a carpenters’ strike in July.”
Hill mentions that colored motion picture operators have been admitted to the union in New York City; relates the progress of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; tells of colored workers in the New York cloakmakers’ and paper box strikes; and of colored women date workers striking in Chicago.
“In Columbia, S.C., the number of colored plumbers and electricians increased, these trades being those in which very rigid restrictions prevail against colored membership,” he recounts. “In Chicago an electrical workers’ union made concessions to colored electricians. . . . In Philadelphia and Harrisburg efforts were made to organize building trades workers and in Atlantic City colored waiters were sought for union membership.”
A.F. of L. Refuses to Act
“Against these favorable conditions there are a number of instances which show that considerable prejudice still exists against Negro membership in trade unions,” states Hill.
“An attempt to get the American Federation of Labor, through its executive council, to appoint a colored advisor and organizer failed. The metal lathers’ union denied a charter to colored men in Chicago. None of the international trade unions, which refused membership to Negroes at the beginning of the year changed its policy.”
The National Urban League is a Negro social welfare organization largely interested in helping Negro workers get into new and more skilled kinds of work.
Daily Worker, February 19, 1927.
The International Labor News Service is a propaganda medium of the American Federation of Labor. Joseph A. Wise, member of the Typographical Union No. 16 of Chicago, is one of its most active correspondents, specializing in malicious anti-Communist slanders.
This much needs to be understood in order to properly rate the vicious attack on an “inter-racial dance” given by the Young Workers (Communist) League in Chicago, written by Wise and sent out by the I.L.N.S., in which it is declared that:
“The male part of the crowd was largely made up of Negroes, with a sprinkling of Whites, Chinese, Filipinos, Mexican Indians and mongrels.”
The A.F. of L. propaganda that slanders the unity of the five races clearly explains the obstacle that the Green-Well regime is today in the effort to build the solidarity of the American working class that is constituted of all these races. The clipping that came to the Daily Worker was taken from the Colorado Labor Advocate, the official organ of the Colorado State Federation of Labor, also of the Denver Trades and Labor Assembly. It no doubt appeared in many other A.F. of L. organs. Two other interesting paragraphs are as follows:
“Two large banners bearing the following slogans conspicuously adorned the walls: ‘Full social equality for Negroes,’ and ‘Fight against race prejudice.’
“These slogans epitomize the inducement held out to men of the colored races to join the Communist Party.”
Since the A.F. of L. thus reveals itself as being opposed to the fight against race prejudice, it must be in favor of race prejudice, with its Jim Crow laws, the segregation of Negroes and really revealing the reason why the A.F. of L. takes no steps to organize Negro workers, in fact discriminates against them on every hand. It takes its stand with the lynchers, who hang and burn in the name of social inequality, for the preservation of so-called “white supremacy.”
The A.F. of L. news service indicates that it feels political and economic equality are sufficient. But these are the masks under which the A.F. of L. completely betrays the Negro working class. In this article the A.F. of L. has completely unmasked itself insofar as its real attitude toward the Negro is concerned. Here is enough to blast every hypocritical utterance on the Negro question that may ever come from the lips of President William Green or Vice President Matthew Wall.72
Daily Worker, April 9, 1929.
The policy of the A.F. of L. from the time of Sam Gompers (remember his infamous defense of mob rule against Negro workers?) has been one of open antagonism to the Negro workers. Prejudice, race hatred, discrimination in the union and on the job—all the forms of the ideology of race hatred of the white ruling class—mark the dealings of the A.F. of L. leadership with the Negro workers. The A.F. of L. leadership encourages Jim Crow unions. Most of the A.F. of L. unions have color bars! Where these racial bars have been removed such removal was effected by the left wing workers in those unions, who alone have agitated and fought against those color bars and other devices of barring Negro workers from the benefits of trade union organization.
Left Wing Unions Fight Jim Crowism
And now, again, the left wing workers lead the fight against the Jim Crow policies of the A.F. of L.—against the bosses’ ideology of Negro inferiority and race separation which the A.F. of L. leadership so faithfully defends! No longer content with merely carrying on inside the A.F. of L., the fight for working class solidarity (unity of all workers, black and white), and for the militant waging of the class struggle, the left wing workers are building new unions and a new labor center. Already affiliated with this new labor center are over half a million workers. The new left wing unions are easily differentiated from the A.F. of L. unions by the following facts:
1. The left wing unions seek to organize the black and white workers in the same unions and locals on a basis of absolute equality, full participation in leadership and equal opportunities on the job.
2. All the left wing unions have Negro workers on their executive committees. In addition, the vice-president of the National Miners’ Union is a Negro, the Needle Trades Workers’ Industrial Union has a Negro vice-president, Chas. Henry Rosemond.
3. The National Textile Union, which is leading the strike of textile workers in South Carolina, refused to retreat on its principle of race equality and in the face of the most vicious attacks of the capitalist press, which worked the race issue overtime in its efforts to turn the white strikers against the N.T.U., the union won its point and against the capitalist-injected prejudice of the Southern workers, won these strikers to its principle that the Negro textile workers must be organized side by side with the white textile workers and that there must be absolute equality within the union. And won them so completely that the white strikers were not only willing to accept a Negro organizer of the union, but learning that his wife was threatened by the ku kluxers and chamber of commerce, appointed a bodyguard to protect him. And, when, following the unprovoked attack by the police on the strikers’ meeting and the shooting of the chief of police, the mill bosses’ police and thugs tried to lynch this Negro organizer, the white strikers mobilized and spirited him out of town, putting him on a train for New York forty miles from Gastonia. This left wing union was denounced and attacked by the capitalist press of the South for its race equality policy. And, of course, the A.F. of L. joined to attack. But the N.T.N. stuck to its guns and achieved a notable victory against the bosses ideology of race separation and antagonism in the very center of reaction, in the South itself! As a result of its stand on the race issue, fourteen of its organizers are today menaced with the electric chair, following a frame-up by the mill bosses in connection with the shooting of the chief of police.
The United Textile Workers Union, an A.F. of L. outfit, is also conducting strikes in the South. But the capitalist press, finds no necessity for attacking the U.T.W. on the race issue. Nor will the mill bosses and their police agents find any necessity for framing the U.T.W. organizers to stop their advocacy of race equality. The U.T. W. is not advocating race equality. It is not even trying to organize Negro workers. Its policy on the race issue is the same as the bosses’ policy.
The Trade Union Educational League is building a new trade union center for all the workers. Among the leaders of the T.U.E.L. are workers of all races, Negro, white, Japanese, Chinese, etc.73
The Trade Union Educational League is holding a national trade union unity convention in Cleveland on August 31. Already hundreds of delegates have been elected to this convention, among them a very large percentage of Negro workers.
The League invites you to send delegates to this convention. You should get your Brotherhood to send delegates, but you must realize that your leaders, who are now under the use every scheme and devise to deafeat your wishes in this respect, as control of Green and company, will in all others calling for the unity of the working class and a militant struggle against the exploiters.
Daily Worker, August 3, 1929.
By Walter White
The Nation, 128 (January 9, 1929): 42-3.
American Federation of Labor
January 10, 1929
Mr. William English Walling,76
Your letter with Walter White’s article in THE NATION, reached me yesterday. Not being certain of the address through which I could reach you immediately, I am sending this letter to your Greenwich, Conn. address and also the City Club.
I read what Mr. White wrote with utter amazement. Not only does the article thoroughly misrepresent, but it carries something with it of vital injury to both the negro and the American Federation of Labor.
In its misrepresentation it is similar to other articles relative to the Negro and our trade union movement which THE NATION has published in the past.
You may recall my reference sometime ago to an article by Doctor Du Bois in THE NATION which was so inaccurate and untruthful concerning the Molders’ Union, that I took up the matter with the editor of THE NATION and finally force a retraction.
I assume that Mr. Walter White attended the meeting at which I spoke. If I am correct, then I would not stoop to reply to him, for what he wrote in THE NATION places him beneath contempt. Fortunately there was a stenographer at the meeting, and I understand that I am to have a copy of my remarks. I may take these and find some means of reproducing the full address. That would be by far the most satisfactory way of dealing with the viciously inaccurate statement published by THE NATION.
I am enclosing condensed write-up of my remarks which our mutual friend Chester M. Wright prepared for the International Labor Press service.
I might add for your information that at the close of my remarks I called attention to the several appeals which I had made to representative leaders of the negro race, urging them to make some public statement advising negroes to become members of trade unions, and that up to the present time not a single one of these leaders had made any such public statement. I then expressed the hope that some of the leaders who were present would assist the American trade union movement in organizing negroes by publicly advising them to become trade unionists.
With kindest, personal regards
Sincerely and cordially yours,
William English Walling Papers, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
John P. Frey
Secretary, Metal Trades Department
The National Interracial Conference was held in Washington, in December, 1928, under the auspices of a number of organizations with social programs. Mary Van Kleeck was chairman. John P. Frey, representing the American Federation of Labor, spoke at an evening session. His address was extemporaneous and is published because of forthright statement of the problems involved in the organization of negro workers.—Editor.
It is a privilege at a conference such as this to discuss a question which is apparently not thoroughly understood, one that is surrounded with some conditions which guide people to speak delicately and gently as they discuss it.
I want to thank the previous speaker for making it easier for me when he expressed the thought in a very apt way a moment ago, that sometimes we make use of “highbrow reasons” to explain just why we do things.
I realize the fact that the subject which I want to present tonight must not be discussed in a high brow manner, or from a high brow point of view, but rather from the lessons which experience has taught us and the facts which we must face, if we are to deal with the problem intelligently, constructively and successfully.
I have lived long enough to find that it is an easy matter for a lazy person to indulge in quite brilliant destructive criticism, and that sometimes in discussing these larger questions there is more of an inclination to destructive criticsm than there is to a patient, evenly balance examination of a problem and then an effort at something constructive in the way of proposal.
Naturally, this evening my mind is occupied principally with the part which the negro plays in the American trade-union movement, and I believe that you would be disappointed, and you would feel that I had imposed upon your time, if I did not make that my principal theme.
But before discussing the negro as a wage-earner, and the part which he plays in the American trade-union movement, it is necessary to call attention to this fact: that the racial problem in this country, so far as the trade-union movement is concerned, is not a negro problem in particular. It is a problem which equally affects large numbers of others.
I have among my acquaintances and among my friends those who belong to different racial groups, and I want to assure you as a trade-union official that every complaint which I ever heard from negroes, every ground which seemed to give them justification for complaint, has been called to my attention by Jewish friends who were wage-earners, by Polish friends, by Italian friends, by Russian friends. So that the problem, as far as racial conditions and the American trade-union movement are concerned, is not confined to any one race. It is one which applies to all of the races we have in our country who belong to those groups from Central and Southern Europe and the Near East.
I have come into contact with the problem of the negro so far as its social side is concerned, and also in its economic side, and both have tremendously interested me.
For some thirty years I have tried to understand the problem created by the presence of different races in our country. I have taken some part in the American trade-union movement in shaping policy, so that what I will tell you or refer to may, perhaps, be understood a little more sympathetically.
I would like to say that I am the first officer of my union, and perhaps one of the first in the American trade-union movement, to organize a union composed exclusively of negroes working at their trade in a Southern State. I did that almost thirty years ago, after having to meet that social prejudice which we encounter in the South. This union which I had the privilege of organizing, was created in the First African Methodist Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The American trade-union movement, or to be specific, the American Federation of Labor, is criticized at times because of the methods it adopts in endeavoring to organize the negro wage-earner, and because of an alleged failure to give him the opportunity of working into the more highly skilled trades, and further because there is said to be a policy on the part of our trade-union movement to adopt certain general measures relative to organizing negroes, and then to find ways of evading their practical application.
I think it will be acknowledged immediately, that so far as the social aspects of the racial problem are concerned; the trade-union movement had nothing to do with establishing those prejudices which exist, not only against the colored men in this country, but against that whole group which we call the foreign. I do not know exactly who the “foreigner” is, but we do seem to have prejudices in this country against those whom we call foreigners, and those prejudices which exist had their origin before we had an American Federation of Labor.
The American Federation of Labor should be credited at least with this: that it has gone further up-to-date than a large number of Christian churches because the American Federation of Labor and the great majority of the affiliated national unions, not only organized the negro, but brought him into the white man’s union. The organization in which I hold my membership has insisted that when the negro joined the union he stood in the union with all of the other members, and that there was nothing in the nature of segregation, although a number of the Protestant members of the Molders’ Union on Sunday went to their church, while the colored brothers went to another of the same denomination.
I bring out this fact, not in the nature of any criticism of the churches, because I realize that they have a problem, and that the greater minds in the churches are struggling with it. I call attention to it, rather so that you can realize that there are some criticisms made against the American trade-union movement failing to have sufficiently high ideals, but that so far as the practice goes, leaving ideals to one side, they have made headway more rapidly than a number of our Christian denominations.
However, it is not the social aspect of the problem, and it is not the racial aspect of the problem, that interests either the American trade-union movement or myself. The problem with which we find ourselves compelled to deal is an economic one.
It is immaterial whether an article is manufactured in a sweat shop in New York City by Russians or whether it is manufactured in Birmingham, Alabama, by negroes. Its market value is not determined by who the workers were who made it, but upon the character of the product, and that is what determines its price. We do not get a lower price because a piece of furniture was made by a Pole or made by an Italian.
Dealing with economic problems we have come into contact with this one condition which must also be borne in mind, if we are to have any practical understanding of the problem.
There are races in this country, or the racial groups who are not quite so thoroughly Americanized as some others—I do not know how to define this with definiteness or precision, but we say there are those groups, anyway—seem to suffer from a condition very much as the Israelites suffered from a similar condition when they apparently were confined very largely to nothing but brick making in the Valley of the Nile. They are looked upon as aliens. They have different social and religious customs and traditions, and they are inclined more or less to segregate themselves, not because the community desires that they shall do that, but because they find that by grouping themselves they secure the common protection and safety which is found in numbers and which they cannot get when they are in a community where they are not already well established as individuals. That is what we find. That is why I am glad to have the opportunity of discussing it with you.
We find that the racial groups in this country suffer partly because they have professional leaders; that these racial groups are exploited very frequently by some of the keener minds among their own.
I only need to call attention to the padrone system which existed in this country only a few years ago which practically made it impossible for the Italian immigrant to work in a community unless the padrone secured his position for him, and unless the padrone received a price for doing that. In other words, there was built up the racial labor boss. The racial labor boss secured his footing very largely because of the standing he had with the large employers of labor in the community and with the political leaders.
And so directly in connection with this effort to organize the negro and other races, we have come into contact with the boss of the racial group whose interest apparently was not so much the welfare of his racial group as it was the personal advantage which he derived because he controlled them and exploited them. One reason that the trade-union organization among those racial groups in our country has failed to make more rapid progress, and fails to make the progress it should today, is because these misleaders of their own racial groups use their influence to prevent the members of these races from becoming members of a trade-union organization.
The negro has much the same problem which other races have who are not quite so much Americans as those whose ancestors came over a greater number of years before.
I have the greatest of sympathy with the leaders, the true leaders of the negro, as I have with the negro race, in endeavoring to work their way out of the position in which they find themselves.
I came into contact many years ago with a man who I have always believed was as great a leader, as great a constructive mind, as the negro race has produced in this country. I have talked with him; I have corresponded with him, and at one time I had to battle with him a little bit, and if I understood his viewpoint it was this: that whether a man is colored or not, if he occupies a subordinate position in the nation’s affairs, if he is semi-skilled or unskilled labor, he must become skilled labor before he can demand the recognition to which he is entitled.
This great leader—you can infer whom I have in mind—did all that he could to give the Southern negro an opportunity of learning a trade, so that from being an unskilled worker—there is such a thing as an unskilled worker —he could become a mechanic, command the wages which skill brings, elevate his standard of living and make good, because he had placed himself on a higher plane.
It was a very difficult thing for this leader to accomplish, because while his proposition was practical and one with which I was in full agreement, the difficulty came in finding employers who would give the negro in the South the opportunity of becoming a mechanic.
And so it was necessary for him to talk in a heart-to-heart way with some of the representatives of the large industries in the South who would give the negro this opportunity. He succeeded in one important instance; and it so happened that I was in the same vicinity trying to do some organizing work at the same time. This is what occurred. It could not help but occur. I am bringing it out without one word or thought of criticism, because I appreciate the problem. I am bringing out what occurred so that you may have a better understanding of the problem facing the American trade-union movement in its effort to organize the negro workers.
A very large corporation in the South, not so many hundred miles from Washington, employed patternmakers, molders, machinists, boilermakers, blacksmiths, and a number of the woodworking trades. They were willing to give the negro an opportunity. When I visited the plant about 25 years ago there were some two thousand negroes employed, and of that number over 200 had become what are called mechanics. They graduated from the laborer class and had become mechanics. They were competent to teach other negroes. It was a very satisfactory working out of the program which this great colored leader believed so absolutely essential.
But obligations came along with it. We are all prone to demand our rights, and to dodge some of the responsibilities which go with them.
This leader could not dodge his responsibilities. The large corporation was unwilling that there should be any trade-in organization. One reason that they were willing to give the negro an opportunity of learning a trade was an effort to remove a condition in their plant which might lead to trade-union organization and so it became necessary for this leader, when he visited this plant every year, to tell his colored brothers how much they owed this corporation because of the opportunity which was given them to become mechanics; that in connection with that obligation it followed that their general attitude throughout the year must not only be to give a good return for the wages received, but not to adopt any policy which would make the corporation feel that it had made a mistake in permitting the negro to become a mechanic.
In other words, the “soft pedal” was put on any effort on their part to organize.
I cannot blame this great leader for taking that position. I think, had I been in his place, I might have done the same thing, because in the South no other large corporation would give negroes an opportunity to become mechanics if they suspected that after they had become mechanics they would immediately organize and demand the trade-union scale of wages. That was a practical condition.
This brings me back to the union I organized in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and I am referring to it so that we may all understand the reasons which have moved in the matter of organizing the negro.
In Chattanooga, at the time that I organized this first union of colored molders which was ever organized, there were about 350 or 400 white molders working in the city, and there were about the same number of negro molders. In a few of the foundries they were what is called “mixed.” They both worked under the same roof, but with negroes on one side and whites on the other. In some of the foundries they were all white and in some of the others they were all colored.
First of all I had to convince the members of my own union that the question was not a social one, that it was purely an economic one; that a casting made by a negro molder was just as good as a casting made by a white molder; that it brought the same price in the market, and that the purpose of our trade was not to establish class distinction; but was to protect molders in the economic field by seeing that the competition of one group of men did not result in lowering standards which had been established by another, and although they did everything but throw me out of meeting room—and I thought they would do that when I first broached the subject—finally they yielded, but it was necessary to have the negro molders meet for organizing purposes in the First African Methodist Church in Chattanooga.
When I talked with the leaders of the negro molders I found them intelligent men. I found that their having learned a trade, having become craftsmen, being able to do better for their families than they had before they received a skilled man’s wages, had given them a broader viewpoint. Then perhaps these men were also among the most energetic of their race in Chattanooga, willing to take a chance, willing to be pioneers. I thought a great deal of this local union and of its members. We all like to be the one to start something. And so I spent much time with them. As I would pass through Chattanooga I would always stop over and see them.
About six months after the organization of this local union, I received a letter from the officers telling me that a special meeting had been called, and that I must be present. The president of the local union, who was a lay preacher in the Methodist Church, and quite able to express himself, opened the meeting. He said that he hoped I would not misunderstand their position, but that they had finally reached the conclusion that it was not posssible for them to have a union. He said, “It is about like this: the foundrymen have told us that they do not want any union, and if we keep on they are going to discharge some of them and if we are discharged how are they going to work as molders any other place in the South? If we remain active in the union we will lose our positions; and then, besides, we think that you white molders are always going to fight for higher wages, for shorter hours, and when you do get higher wages or when you get shorter hours, then the foundrymen who have to give us a little more to keep us from organizing.”
And so they surrendered their local union for the reasons they gave.
I have no criticism for those men, none in the least. I understood the situation that they were in. They had built up something in that community which was different from any other foundry center in the South. They had come to the point where they could see an open rupture with the foundrymen. They doubted whether they could hold their own. They were unwilling to lose what they had already won, and so they took the position that the most important thing for them to do was to think of their own welfare first. I can understand the situation thoroughly, and I am calling attention to it, not to find any fault, because I have none to find, but to make it plain that the problem which the trade-union movement faces in endeavoring to organize the race in this country is not so simple as it may appear on the surface, and that when some people seriously or lightly state that we are not sincere, and that we are not performing our duty, it is rather because they fail to understand what the facts really are.
It is true that there have been unions that discriminated against colored workers, and it is true that they have discriminated against other so-called foreign workers, and it is equally true that they have discriminated against that type of American who says, “I go back fifty or a hundred years, and I am a little better American than you are.” There is discrimination throughout the entire industrial field. There is no group in this country that I know of subject to more discrimination at the present time than the members of the American Federation of Labor. Huge employers’ organizations comprising all of the leading firms in some of our industries have staffs of employers whose sole work is to destroy what trade-union organization we have to date and to prevent our getting any more.
When it comes to this field of discrimination in industry, it is not confined to the negro; it is not confined to the Jew or the Pole or the Italian, or any one else. The so-called thorough-going American is just as subject to it. That is another phase of the problem to which consideration must be given.
The trade unions years ago limited apprentices, and without attempting to give you any highbrow reasons, the fact remains that the trade unions did not desire to see the market overloaded. The best proof that they were right was the effort of a number of manufacturers’ associations, about 1904 or 1905, to found schools where a young man received a sheepskin which informed the employing world that he was a first-class molder or patternmaker or machinist when he had worked in the school a little while. They did that because they feared that the American Federation of Labor would have a monopoly of the employees, and they did not want that.
So the action of the American trade-union movement was a protective measure. The American trade-union movement spent a lot of money and made a lot of sacrifices to build up an improved condition; and I am not certain whether the trade-union in certain instances is not ethically sound in making certain limitations.
Let me give you an illustration, because I am not trying to defend the American trade-union movement. I never do. I only endeavor to interpret. If its record is not sufficient to justify its existence it would be a waste of time trying to defend it.
In the city of New York, about eighteen or twenty years ago, the members of a craft who are as highly skilled a group as we have in the industries, had built up a quite thorough-going trade union, not only in New York City, but in Brooklyn, Newark and Elizabethport, the whole industrial belt in the New York City area. They had established satisfactory hours and they had reasonably satisfactory wages. About that time a number of foreign craftsmen came into that district and were employed as superintendents. Not long after these superintendents had taken charge of the shops, foreign craftsmen began to come to New York with union cards of their own unions in their native land to show that they were trade-unionists in good standing, and they began to go to work.
Gradually the men who had met the expense, done the organizing and made sacrifices to build up more satisfactory conditions, were being edged out, and the other men who had made no contributions up to that time were taking their place.
Of course, ideals are essential things, but sometimes we must have protection. So the members of this union in New York raised the initiation fee, and said, “No member of our trade can work in these shops without paying this initiation fee.”
It was like the effort of a group of men who, going out into the wilderness as pioneers, clear the land and begin to grow crops and have gardens, taking the position that there is plenty of room for other pioneers—“let them come; but in our own clearing, that is the place where they can visit but not carry on their operations.”
The American workman has to protect himself, and at times he has been compelled to restrict members of his own group, and I think that in doing so very often he has been ethically sound.
There is a problem of unemployment. I listened with much pleasure this morning to what was being said about the negro getting into the better paying positions, more skilled ones; and I presume, of course, that the position which the American trade-union movement would take on that would be the position it would take as to anybody, because we draw no distinction of race, nationality or creed. Our principles apply to every one alike.
The American trade-union movement, made up of skilled men, have this problem on their hands: They are being permanently put out of business. This wonderful industrial transformation we are going into, of replacing skilled knowledge and manual dexterity by machinery and mechanical processes, is putting skilled men permanently out of the industries.
For instance: we are told by our Department of Commerce that within eight years, or since 1910, there have been 240,000 railway men in the transportation service who have been eliminated; and they also inform us that at the present time, with 240,000 less, our railway systems are hauling more ton miles and passenger miles than they did in 1920. There is reason to believe that the number of railway operating employees will be further reduced, and at the same time much more will be transported by the railroads.
So here are 240,000 permanently thrown out of the one field where they had prepared themselves to earn wages higher than those paid to unskilled men.
What is true of the railway men is true particularly in the skilled trades. I know in my own organization there are probably 50 per cent less skilled men employed than there were when I became an apprentice boy, and yet the volume of castings has increased enormously. The Department of Commerce tells us that during the same period I referred to a moment ago, 917,000 less wage-earners have been employed in our manufacturing industries, although these industries are producing more today than they were eight years ago.
Take one illustration which shows the tendency. I knew the Mr. Owens who invented the Owens Glass Bottle Blowing Machine. I remember going to his machine shop in Toledo when he was working on it, 25 years ago. The glass bottle blowers of that day were fairly well paid, and were a highly skilled group of men. The Owens Glass Bottle Blowing Machine is an automatic machine. Human labor cannot even direct it. There has to be a man to stop it if something goes wrong, but it works automatically or not at all. There is a large group of men permanently thrown out into the discard.
New industries are springing up. We have the chauffeur that we did not have a few years ago, and we have the employees in the moving picture theaters, and there are more manicurists and hairdressers, and so on, and they are opening new fields. But that is not very encouraging to the man who has spent four or five years in learning a trade and then four or five more in perfecting himself as a mechanic only to find himself thrown out.
So that the problem which the different races in this country who have become members of the skilled trades have to face is one which the white man, and the man whose ancestors were born here many years ago, also have to face.
I want to leave this one thought with you, because I have only endeavored to present to your minds some phases of a problem that I know, as a trade-union officer some thirty years. With perhaps a few exceptions in a few localities, the American trade-unionist is more eager to organize the negro than the negro is to become a member. I know that from my own personal contact with them. One of the difficulties which we have is due to that very condition which I referred to; which that great leader of the colored race encountered, that in order to have the negro receive the opportunity of learning a trade he had to be advised to keep away from the white trade-unionist, the problem which I present from a different angle, the results which affected that union of negro molders in Chattanooga, Tennessee, many years ago.
I find that the criticism which receive the widest publicity, coming from representatives of the colored race in this country, are making it more difficult for the American trade-union movement to organize the negro, just as it has been very difficult for us in some cities to organize the Pole, because the Polish boss who received most of his income from a political party, and the large industries in the city, advised the Poles to keep away from the union—“if you want to keep your good job, keep away from the union.”
On the one hand we are accused of having no deals and of doing nothing toward organizing the negro, and on the other hand we are finding some representatives of that race doing everything they can to make it impossible for us to do any organizing.
Those of you who follow what is taking place will remember that about three or four years ago the National Convention of Negro Editors adopted a resolution advising negroes not to join trade unions for the reason that if they hoped to break into the industries and become mechanics, they must keep away from the unions, because if they did organize the employers would not give them the same opportunity to become competent mechanics.
I think there is a measure of justification in that position. The only criticism I would have is this: that those who realize that that is a necessary condition to the more rapid development of craft skill among the negroes, should not then publicly accuse the American Federation of Labor of not being willing to do the organizing.
I have asked representatives of the negro race, some of the best known, to make some public statement or write me a letter in which they would say it was their belief that wherever possible members of their race should join the trade union of their craft, so that I could use that statement or letter to help me in the efforts I have made to organize negroes. So far no such statement or letter has been received.
The problem as I see it is an economic one. It is not different materially from the problem which every other so-called race in this country is compelled to deal with.
I believe that all of the religious organizations, and the fraternal organizations, and the social organizations, and political organizations which any race may have, so far as they are a wage-earning group, are insufficient. Unless they have an economic organization through which by collective action they can compel consideration of their rights, they will never enjoy their rights because trade-union experience has led us to believe that valuable as religious liberty may be and political liberty, unless liberty and equality go along with them, it does help in the bread and butter part of it. It helps in the future world; but the trade-union movement is not interested in that; it will leave that to the religious teachers. It is interested in the problem of today, and in securing the largest amount of social justice that it possible to secure for everyone who is compelled to work for somebody else for wages.
I could have spoken to you tonight in a very pleasant way and told you of the many complimentary things which are justified in connection with what negro trade unions have done, but I have chosen rather to take the more unpleasant task, the responsibility, but I feel it is an equally important one, and that was to call direct attention to some of the problems with which I have been compelled to deal, and to suggest a way by which it would be possible for a larger number of the negro race to become members of the trade-union movement of this country.
Let me leave a pleasant thought with you in connection with the negro worker as a trade-unionist. This incident occurred in the South. It was one of my first experiences. I was in one of the most famous of Southern cities. The building trades were on strike. They had been on strike for some time and they were getting a little weary. Two trades decided that they had all of the wear and tear of strikes that they wanted, and reported back for work. Their action would have broken the strike. It happened that all of the hod carriers were negroes and all members of the Hod Carriers’ Union. I will not give you the language they used when they decided what they were going to do. I will merely tell you that the negro union hod carriers refused to work for white union men who went back after their strike. As a result of the stand which the negro hod carriers took, eventually the white men won the strike.
American Federationist, 36 (March, 1929): 296–305.
The Crisis, 36 (July, 1929): 241.
Chicago Defender, January 11, 1930.
A Challenge to the A.F. of L.
By Elmer Anderson Carter
It was the textile industries of the South, for the most part manned by native born white Americans, which threw down the gauge of battle and precipitated the most widely heralded and aggressive attempt to organize southern workers in the history of the American Labor Movement. Southern capitalists, making a belated bid for industrial power, have always looked askance at any attempt to organize workers. And the new industrial South had its birth partly in the cheap docile labor supply which was used as bait to lure manufacturing plants from northern communities where the demands of organized labor were proving vexatious.
In the South organized labor has always been weak. Black labor as slave labor had impoverished and pauperized free white labor, and the traditional hostility between black and white workers which slavery fostered has not diminished except in rare instances. White workers in their allegiance to a caste superiority based on color and race have played into the hands of cheap political demagogues and of employers who have used the unspoken threat of black replacement to whip and to hold white workers in line. The capitalists of the South for the most part have been class conscious, but only partially race conscious in so far as workers are concerned, but the white workers of the South have been race conscious and only partially class conscious. As a result organized labor in the South has been timid and unaggressive, fearing black labor except in those occupations where a preponderance of black workers has made an alliance inevitable, or in those occupations where either tradition or a necessarily long apprenticeship served to keep black workers out.
These are the conditions which the American Federation of Labor faces in its great drive to unionize the South. They are conditions which “cannot be evaded, cannot be ignored, and must be faced.” For any attempt to organize white workers without simultaneously organizing black workers must inevitably end in failure. If the American Federation of Labor is to succeed in the South, it must do so on the basis of an alliance between black and white workers. And this alliance cannot be achieved unless the American Federation of Labor is able to evolve a technique of labor cooperation which will assure to black workers the recognition and support of organized white labor.
Amid the giant furnaces and numerable smokestacks of Birmingham, Alabama, the American Federation of Labor has established its headquarters. From this center of the great industrial South, the stragegists of the Labor Movement are even now directing their campaign. If they have eyes they will not need to go out of the state of Alabama in order to see the utter impossibility of organizing labor on the basis of racial superiority. For, according to the 1920 census, under the general heading, Extraction of Metals, of the 26,204 males over 10 years of age engaged in coal mining 14,097 were Negroes, over 53 per cent of the total number of coal mine operatives in the state. In the iron mines, out of a total of 6,102 operatives, 4,843 are Negroes, or 79 per cent of the total number engaged in iron mining. Under the manufacturing and mechanical industries in the same volume of the 1920 census, out of a total of 835 furnacemen and smeltermen, 666 are Negroes, almost 80 per cent. In the semi-skilled crafts in blast furnaces and steel rolling mills, including tin plate mills, out of a total of 2,307, 1,022 are Negroes, over 44 per cent. Among the 1,625 semi-skilled operatives in the saw and planing mills, including box factories, are 594 Negroes, or 36 per cent. In the suit, cloak and overall factories there are 444 Negroes out of a total of 508 semi-skilled operatives, over 87 per cent. And in the blast furnaces and steel rolling mills, out of a total of 10,680 unskilled laborers, 8,959 are Negroes, a little over 83 per cent. Taking the totals for the state in manufacturing and mechanical industry, out of 135,608 skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled workers 56,384 are Negroes, or 41 per cent.
Although these figures may vary more or less in the South as a whole, they are sufficient to indicate the numerical strength of black workers in that section of the country. They should be impressive enough to convince the American Federation of Labor that any plan for unionization of the South which attempts to ignore the black worker, or which attempts by subtle means to maintain a relationship based on caste, is foredoomed.
In the southern drive does the American Federation of Labor contemplate the organization of Negro workers? If so, what program has been outlined for that purpose? What methods are to be pursued in order to bring white workers and black workers to a common understanding of their common problems? How does the American Federation of Labor plan to bridge the gap which social custom and tradition have cut between the workers of the two races? These questions are pertinent—aye, are pressing for an answer. Speaking editorially in the January, 1930 issue of the AMERICAN FEDERATIONIST, Mr. William Green says: “Trade Union membership is open to all Negroes. The majority of trade unions accept Negroes as members, but when regulations are interposed the rules of the American Federation of Labor provide that Negro workers may apply for charters direct from the American Federation of Labor. . . . Through union organization the Negro can raise his standards and the American Federation stands ready to help.”
A.F. of L. Complacency
If this is the answer which the American Federation of Labor makes to the questions above, and it is similar in content to other statements which from time to time have emanated from high officials of the Federation then the American Federation of Labor is not prepared to meet the challenge of black workers, not prepared in the South or in the nation. The attitude expressed in this statement is one of complacent satisfaction. It places the responsibility for the organization of Negroes on the Negro himself, while it ignores, apparently, the history of the Negro in the Labor Movement. That history is a history of resolutions which have been as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, of the creation of Federal and local unions which are dying from inanition, and of a constant struggle on the part of black workers not only to secure a place in industry but to hold that place sometimes against the hostility and and aggressions of organized white labor.
If one will take the time to read the proceedings of the various conventions of the American Federation of Labor, he cannot help but be profoundly impressed by the constant and heroic effort which black workers through their accredited delegates have made to secure the support of organized labor from within. Ten years ago at the convention of the American Federation of Labor at Montreal, Quebec, Negro delegates, eager to extend the blessings of trade unionism among their fellows, and conscious of the hostile attitude which they, even as union men, encountered among their white brothers, presented the following resolution:
WHEREAS, The American Federation of Labor has taken a firm position on the claims of negro labor to fair and impartial sharing of the benefits of organized labor; and
WHEREAS, Despite this attitude of the American Federation of Labor, encouraging results have not followed; and millions of Negro workingmen continue ignorant of the benefits of collective bargaining, thus militating against the successful operation of the Federation in its fight for a square deal for labor; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the American Federation of Labor enter upon a campaign of education among both white and colored working men to convince them of the necessity of bringing into the ranks of labor all men who work, regardless of race, creed or color; and be it further
RESOLVED, That, with this end in view, there be called into periodical conference with the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor white and colored leaders who can suitably represent and express the point of view of negro workingmen, and can convey to negro workingmen the good will and sympathy felt by the American Federation of Labor towards them; and be it further
RESOLVED, That there be employed in headquarters at Washington a competent negro agent, taken from the ranks of labor, who will express the hopes and yearnings of negro workingmen to the American Federation of Labor, and in turn be the mouthpiece of the Federation for such messages and information as the Federation may from time to time wish to convey to the negro workers throughout the country; said agent to be the executive secretary and official representative in the interim of meetings of said special committee on negro workers; and be it further
RESOLVED, That this Convention endorse the appointment of Negro organizers in all states and for all crafts in which Negroes are or may be employed, whose duty will be to build up Negro membership.
This resolution was not a perfect one. But it pointed the way in that it sought to create the machinery which would bring both black and white workers to an understanding. The action of the Committee of Organization to which this resolution was referred, is indicative of the attitude which has pervaded the American Federation of Labor whenever it deals with the Negro. Here is the emasculated resolution which the committee reported and which was passed:
WHEREAS, The A.F. of L. has taken a firm position on the claims of Negro labor to fair and impartial sharing of the benefits of organized labor; and WHEREAS, Despite this attitude of the A.F. of L. encouraging results have not followed, and millions of Negro working men continue ignorant of the benefits of collective bargaining, thus militating against the successful operation of the Federation in its fight for a square deal for labor; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That Negro organizers be appointed where necessary to organize Negro workers under the banner of the A.F. of L.
Your committee concurs in the resolution as amended and refers it to the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor to comply with, if the funds of the Federation will permit.
Evidently it was and is the conception of the A.F. of L. only to attempt to organize the Negro workers where necessary, and this is determined by the threat of Negro workers as potential strike breakers, or where Negro competition menaces the occupational security of white workers. It is a policy essentially weak, and as a result the growth of Negro adherents to the American Federation of Labor since 1920 has been steadily diminishing. And although it has been explained by Mr. Green that the decrease in Federal locals might be accounted for in part by the fact that some of them have become internationals, this will not account for the drop in Negro locals from 141 in November, 1921, to 21 in November 1929, since none of the Negro locals has become nationals or internationals, nor can they since it has been repeatedly stated by officers of the A.F. of L. that it is not the policy of the A.F. of L. to grant international charters along racial lines.
In 1929 Mr. A. Phillip Randolph, President of Sleeping Car Porters’ Union No. 18,068 of New York City, presented another resolution which was passed by the A.F. of L. in convention assembled at Montreal as follows:
WHEREAS, There is wide-spread misunderstanding among Negro workers, who are some of the most severely exploited wage-earners in America, chiefly because of the lack of organization, as to the aims and policies of the American Federation of Labor; and
WHEREAS, The Negro workers in numerous industrial struggles, have been used by certain business interests as strike-breakers for the purpose of breaking down trade union standards of wages, hours and working conditions and the principle of collective bargaining;
THEREFORE, Be it resolved that the 49th Annual Convention of the A.F. of L. does herewith go on record as favoring the extension of an educational and organization program as outlined by President William Green in his recent speeches to the Sleeping Car Porters’ in New York and Chicago, with a view to organizing them into the trades and callings as represented by the American Federation of Labor.
There has been no lack of resolutions on the part of the A.F. of L. as to the organization of Negro workers. If resolutions could have unionized Negro workers, there would not be a non-union black in the entire country. But the American Federation has never gotten really much further than the resolution stage and has been content “to resolve” and call it a day.
Whatever may be the plan of education and organization above mentioned, workers education in the aims of trade unionism to be effective must include both blacks and whites. No matter how thoroughly the doctrines and ideals of trade unionism are inculcated into the minds of Negroes, they will never be translated into organized effort so long as racial antipathy moves the black workers and racial snobbery permeates the whites.
In the past this education has not been wholly lacking. But it has been purchased at a price that is far too dear. Negroes struggling for existence and excluded from the ranks of organized labor have fought their way into industry in the role of strike breakers. They have been used by employers to beat down white labor. And then they in turn have been forced to accept wages and hours of work far below the minimum standards.
There is nothing in the Negroes’ racial characteristics which predisposes them to be scabs. Negro union men have struck with white union men on more than one occasion. Black freight handlers on the Illinois Central Railroad loyally went on strike with the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks which denied them membership because of race. Negro hod carriers, according to John P. Frey, Secretary of the Metal Trades Department, American Federation of Labor, continued to hold out even after units of the building trades in a Southern city had decided to give up. Negro mine workers fought the introduction of Negro non-union mine workers in West Virginia as bitterly as white workers did. The history of the longshoreman is replete with instances where white men and black men in cities in the South walked out together and together achieved victory or accepted defeat.
Where stern necessity has driven black and white workers together, there it has been demonstrated that there can be cooperation, there can be a common basis of action, there can be understanding.
No one could expect the American Federation of Labor to destroy race prejudice in industry. It would be foolish to hope that a few magic words spoken from the convention platform would be sufficient to eradicate the accumulated social traditions of American life. But the American Federation of Labor is guilty of negligence and of lack of vision. For, knowing the conditions which ranged black workers and white ones against the other, it has done nothing to develop an entente cordiale. It offered escape to the black workers in the form of federal and local unions, and watched them slowly succumb to the very same forces which necessitated their existence. In an age when racial cooperation is the shibboleth of those who would solve the problems of race, it has disdained to try this simplest and least harmful method of racial understanding—an interracial industrial committee of black and white workers.
What, pray, has the Workers Education Bureau done to promote greater accord between black and white workers? What program does it recommend? What advice does it proffer to those who face the race problem in industry?77
Twelve years ago the National Urban League made a sustained effort to work out a plan of cooperation with the A.F. of L. for the organization of black workers. In 1925 and in 1926 it renewed its efforts but up to this time its offers have met with a chilly response. Negro leadership outside the ranks of organized labor has been no more successful in securing consideration for black workers than Negro leadership from within.
The 1920 census revealed that almost a million Negroes had entered industry. What the 1930 census will reveal no one knows. But increasing mechanization and rationalization certainly have sounded the death knell to many of the skilled crafts. The skilled job of yesterday may become the unskilled job of today, and tomorrow may utilize the services of two elements which have remained on the fringe of the American Labor Movement because for the most part they make up that great horde of the unskilled—Negroes and women. A rigidly restricted immigration, plus the increasing simplification of tasks may easily increase the number of Negroes in industry to formidable proportions.
The Negro worker, then, in America is the challenge of Industrial Democracy. And the question still remains. Will the A.F. of L. meet that challenge?
Labor Age, 19 (February, 1930): 9–11, 29.
Content removed at rightsholder’s request.
The Crisis, 40 (December, 1933): 292.
Content removed at rightsholder’s request.
The crisis, 43 (September, 1936): 273.
We have been informed by Mr. William Green, President of the American Federation of Labor, that in the forthcoming nation-wide campaign to organize the workers that no distinction will be made with respect to race. Of course we have been told this before. Still Negro workers are unorganized and condemned for breaking strikes. Nothing systematic has been done to organize them, except among the needle trades unions, and even they, though liberal, have done too little. None of the unions seem to be inclined to employ Negro organizers to help carry the message of Unionism to Negro labor. The commonest common sense ought to dictate to the white labor leaders that there will be no effective work done in organizing Negro labor except with the aid of intelligent Negro labor organizers.
The Messenger, 7 (June, 1925): 228.
By William Green
President, American Federation of Labor
As human progress moves upward men are increasingly concerned with the problems of living together. The first step is to find those things in which there is community of interest. As we develop the art of living together and develop those things that constitute civilization, wide chasms between groups and nations tend to disappear. But there must be balanced development in all groups. So the wage earners of all industries and all races have mutual interests and common problems. It is of fundamental importance that the approach to these problems be intelligent, not emotional; with tolerance of understanding and patience and not prejudice and antagonism.
There are within the United States wage earners of many nationalities and races. The ideals for which our republic stands require that all these wage earners shall be accorded equal opportunities for self-development and progress. On the economic side, the standards established by the foremost ranks cannot progress further than they can resist the downward pull of the backward ranks.
The backward ranks have been recent immigrants and those racial groups within our country whose standards are below ours. The American Negroes have been in this class. The Negro wage earners of the United States have made great strides under tremendous handicaps. For historical causes over which Negroes themselves had no control, Negroes were living in the land of a race with which they were not equipped to compete. Despite a generally unfavorable public opinion, Negro workers have proven their ability to make a contribution to the world’s work and to achieve positions of responsibility and service.
As Negro workers have increasingly found their way into the industrial world, they have come more or less directly into competition with white wage earners. That competition worked against the best interests of both groups. It vanishes only when the Negro workers raised their standards of life and work, and this can be done only through organization directly or indirectly. Many Negro workers have assumed the responsibility of industrial workers and have joined the union of their trade.
The forces of industry operate impersonally—irrespective of race, religion or prejudice of any nature. If those forces are to be controlled and directed to conserve the best interests of those employed in production, there must be cooperation and joint counsel irrespective of any consideration but the welfare of the group determined on a functional basis.
There is need for broad understanding of the mutuality of the welfare of all concerned with production. That there has been prejudice on the part of white workers against Negroes, we cannot deny, but the way to overcome this lies through clearer understanding and honestly facing the principles of human betterment. Nothing permanent is gained by seeking an unfair advantage or exploitation.
The principle of mutuality is essential to all cooperative undertakings. Mutuality postulates groups and intergroup cooperation. The group must study its own problem and organize for constructive action. The procedure differs but little whatever the group or the purpose. The dependency for all real progress is education. Development must come from within. Outside agencies may help, but the only road to self-government and self-discipline is education. By this I mean something more than the formal agencies for study and information, important as they are. I mean that attitude toward the experiences of life that seeks truth without being confused either by personal feeling or prejudice on the part of others, and which reasons from facts and principles to logical conclusions in making decisions in every day life. Such an attitude makes every experience a step in the education of the individual. It is an attitude that brings growing possibilities for richness of life and broadness of vision as the years are added.
It is my most earnest hope that Negro wage earners will not allow themselves to be lured from principles and practices that make for substantial and practical progress. With you as well as with all mankind your hope for progress lies in education. Guard well your opportunities for education and self-discipline and see that your children avail themselves of opportunities. Guard your educational agencies against propaganda or special interests that would prevent them from the service of truth. Freedom of learning is the heart of all real freedom—for if the mind is in bondage then are we hopelessly lost.
The A.F. of L. stands ready to give you the protection of an organized movement. Many of you have already joined, but many more are still on the outside. Our organization has demonstrated its practical value. The struggle is not easy, but you owe to your selves and to us to join in the movement for the advancement of common interests.
The Messenger, 7 (September, 1925): 332.
By William Green
There is something inexpressibly reprehensive in taking an unfair advantage of an individual or a group that has not an equal sporting chance. The efforts of the communists to mislead the negroes is a case in point. A negro who is a communist and is personally in touch with the international communist group is working upon prejudice, credulity and discontent to mobilize negro opinion and sympathy in support of revolutionary practices and programs.
Such an effort deserves the indignation it has received. It is bad enough to mislead those who have an equal opportunity to know, but to take advantage of the weaknesses of those who have a moral right to our special care is quite outside the pale of decency and ethics. Misrepresentation and deception has been used to promote the World Negro Congress to be held in Chicago in October.
Warning has been issued to organized labor and to negroes specifically not to allow themselves to be lured from principles and practices that make for substantial progress. The hope for progress for the negro as for all citizens lies in education. Education gives the understanding necessary for control over the facts and forces of life. It brings individual development that makes possible finer and more practical reciprocal cooperation. The negro race can make a rich contribution to our cultural as well as our economic development. Education is the only road to the making of that contribution and to rising to higher levels where it will be possible to overcome artificial barriers now constricting negro life.
Supplementing education is the practical agency, organization. Organization makes possible an ordered development and a control over the economic forces.
The A.F. of L. offers to negro wage earners the protection and the experience of the trade union movement. It is necessary for negro workers to assure their responsibility for the advancement and maintenance of American standards of life and work. An equal obligation rests upon trade unionists to hold out a helping hand. No group can permanently escape the principle of mutuality which underlies all human progress.
American Federationist, 32 (October, 1925): 878-79.
This was our first visit to a convention of the Federation. It had some highlights of interest as well as many dead levels. This, of course, in a measure is the tenor of most conventions.
I was disappointed, however, with the absence of any hot intellectual battles on the floor. Everything seems to have been ironed out in committees. Groups seemed to be even afraid to support their own resolutions. We learned, however, from a discerning observer that this is a recognized form of strategy of groups that back resolutions. Regardless of its strategical value, it doesn’t make for a healthy moral and intellectual condition of the labor movement. It seems to savor of the fact that groups are losing time and energy in deft and subtle manipulations and parryings, without the courage to face an issue and fight it through. While many delegates apparently favored the idea of sending a delegation to study conditions in Soviet Russia, only Max Hayes of the Typographical Union of Cleveland, seemed to be willing publicly to admit it.
The most thoughtful talks were made by President Green, John P. Frey, Matthew Woll, Andrew Furuseth and John P. Lynch. Green is very deliberate and clear in his observations. He sometimes retraces a sentence in order to be sure of his thought. He has much of the manner of a theolog. He is markedly dignified. He seems to be yet feeling his way as the leader of the Federation.
Three Negro delegates of the Freight Handlers were present. They had all of the subtle quietness and diplomacy born of a victim of long oppression. They had problems, labor, organizational and racial which they wanted to work out, but they seemed securely isolated. They were not professional labor leaders although they were not unaware of what it was all about; but they were wholly unprepared to cope with so practical a group of labor leaders who shaped affairs. They, however, were quite the equal of the average white delegate. Immediately we saw them, they showed a welcome glow in their eyes, and manifested great concern about our welfare.
I felt that the Negro workers needed a strong man whose voice would be heard and respected in that parliament of American labor. There was not a word on their problems, although the American labor movement cannot reach its goal without them. American labor needs the refreshing, spiritual idealism of black American workers who have not been saturated with the practicalism of winning technical victories. President Green seems to understand that.
The Messenger, 8 (November, 1926): 336.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The American Federation of Labor stands ready to give to the Negro workers the protection of an organized movement and the Negro workers owe it to themselves and organized labor to join in the movement for the advancement of common interests.
That is the declaration of William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, in a statement to the Negro press last Wednesday. It was in answer to the question of the attitude of the American Federation of Labor toward Negro workers. The question was asked him because of his pledge of full support to the efforts to organize Pullman car porters and maids, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters having become an affiliated organization of the American Federation of Labor.
The full text of the statement of Mr. Green is as follows:
“There are within the United States wage earners of many nationalities and races. The ideals for which our republic stands require that all these wage earners shall be accorded equal opportunities for self-development and progress. Keenly conscious of these self-evident facts, the American Federation of Labor in convention assembled in 1890 declared that the—
“A.F. of L. looks with disfavor upon trade unions having provisions in their constitutions excluding from membership persons on account of race and color and requests they be expunged.”
“Again in 1893 the convention proclaimed:
“Resolved, that we here and now reaffirm as one of the cardinal principles of the labor movement that the working people must unite and organize, irrespective of creed, color, sex, nationality and politics.
“The standards established by the foremost ranks of workers cannot progress further than they can resist the downward pull of the backward ranks. The backward ranks have been recent immigrants and those racial groups within our country whose standards are below ours. The American Negroes have been in this class.”
“The Negro wage earners of the United States have made great strides under tremendous handicaps. For historical causes over which Negroes themselves had no control. Negroes were living in the land of a race with which they were not equipped to compete. Yet Negro workers have proven their ability to make a contribution to the world’s work and to achieve positions of responsibility and service.
“As Negro workers have increasingly found their way into the industrial field, they have come more or less directly into competition with white wage earners. That competition works against the best interests of both groups. It vanishes only when the Negro workers raise their standards of life and work. This can be done only through organization, directly or indirectly.
“The Pioneers of the organized labor movement were very conscious of this when they drafted into the constitution of the American Federation of Labor the following privision:
“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.
“In the obligation given to wage earners who join local unions holding charters of affiliation from the American Federation of Labor they are required to declare ‘never to discriminate against a fellow worker on account of creed, color or nationality.’
“There are 105 national and international unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor representing the principal trades and callings in the industrial field. At least 100 of these unions admit colored workers to membership. Where this is not done the American Federation of Labor issues certificates of affiliation direct.
22 Colored Unions
“Many Negro workers have assumed the responsibility of industrial workers and have joined the unions of their trades. However, as the national and international unions are organized upon the basis of competency of the workman to meet the requirements of trade union obligations and not the nationality of the applicant, it would be difficult to ascertain the exact number of colored workers now holding membership in the national and international unions of their trades and callings.
“There are now chartered direct by the American Federation of Labor twenty-two local unions of colored workers and five central labor unions whose component local unions have a membership entirely colored.
“The forces of industry operate impersonally—irrespective of race, religion or prejudice of any nature. If those forces are to be controlled and directed to conserve the best interests of those employed in production, there must be cooperation and joint counsel irrespective of any consideration but the welfare of the group determined on a functional basis.
“It is my most earnest hope that Negro wage earners will not allow themselves to be lured from principles and practices that make for substantial and practical progress. With them as well as with all mankind their hope for progress lies in education. They should guard well their opportunities for education and self-discipline and see that their children avail themselves of opportunities. They should guard their educational agencies against propaganda of special interests. Freedom of learning is the heart of all real freedom, for if the mind is in bondage then are we hopelessly lost.
“The American Federation of Labor stands ready to give to the Negro workers the protection of an organized movement. Many have already joined, but many more are still on the outside. Our organization has demonstrated its practical value. The struggle is not easy but the Negro workers owe it to themselves and to us to join in the movement for the advancement of common interests.”
Baltimore Afro-American, July 13, 1929.
By Elmer Anderson Carter
It is often asserted that black workers have been slow in accepting the doctrines and methods of organized labor. The most exploited workers in the United States, they have remained the least organized and therefore the most feeble in achieving either security and their employment or living wages and decent working conditions. This apparent indifference of the black worker to the benefits of trade unionism has served to draw the fire of various officials of the American Federation of Labor who, when accused of apathy to the fate of Negro labor, have replied from time to time that the Negro worker was unorganizable, and was as yet incapable of appreciating the necessity of identifying himself with the American Labor Movement.
The recent convention of the American Federation of Labor in Toronto lacked much of being able to convince observers that it is the pillar of flame by night and a cloud by day to lead the black worker, or for that matter the white worker, out of the wilderness. Out of the thirty million workers in America less than three million are enrolled in the American Federation. And the number of accessions this year of our Lord, which was to see a great deal in the South, even as reported, was a scanty 35,000.
The American Federation of Labor then not only has failed to unionize the black worker; it has failed to unionize the white worker. It is the citadel not of labor in the large sense but of crafts, and as a craft organization it necessarily has failed to embrace that great mass of unskilled labor with which the bulk of the black workers is identified.
Only in those occupations, generally semi-skilled or unskilled, which attract large numbers of Negroes, such as longshoremen, hod-carriers, common building laborers, or those in which Negroes enjoy a comparative monopoly, such as dining-car waiters and Pullman porters; or those in which Negro competition is able to cope successfully with the competition of white workers, as in the coal mining industry, only in these has American organized labor made any real effort to enlist the black worker in its ranks. The Negro, contrary to general opinion, is not slow to organize. There are approximately 100,000 Negro workers who are affiliated with some form of labor organization, a remarkable number when one considers that the Negro not only is outside of the pale of the skilled craft organizations, but also is compelled oft times to face the opposition of white labor, organized and unorganized, in order to gain a foothold in industry.
It is true that the American Federation of Labor has issued several lofty pronouncements to the effect that no discrimination because of race or color should govern admission to unions. It is also true that only eleven unions affiliated with the Federation specifically deny Negroes membership. But, so far, even when racial prejudice does not operate effectively to keep Negroes out, craft limitations and restrictions achieve the same result.
The statesmanship of the American Federation of Labor has failed to meet the problem of the unskilled worker, therefore it has been inadequate insofar as black workers are concerned. And there will be but little hope for the black worker in the American Federation as long as it is the so-called “aristocracy of labor,” as long as it remains structurally a craft organization. And there will not be much hope for the unskilled white worker either in those great industries where crafts give way before the introduction of machinery and the increasing specialization of tasks. Where this has occurred to a considerable degree, the American Federation of Labor has made but little progress; the automobile industry; the packing industry; the rising rayon industries, these three are significant and striking examples of the failure of the Federation to keep pace with modern industrial trends.
In the South, where the Federation contemplates a mighty effort to organize the worker, a higher type of statesmanship will have to be evolved than has hitherto been revealed by the guiding geniuses of the Federation. Any attempt to organize the workers which ignores the presence of the two million black workers will be fraught with disaster. It will take more than official pronouncements of policy. It will demand the resolute facing of the fact that the problems of white labor and the problems of black labor are identical.
Opportunity, 7 (November, 1929): 335-36.
November 7, 1929
My dear Mr. Carter:
Because I realized how constructive has been the work of the Urban League and how carefully it has tried to present facts in order that wrong ideas might not mislead the Negroes, I would like to call your attention to the misleading character of the editorial published in the November issue of “Opportunity” entitled “The A.F. of L. and the Negro.” Because Negroes have been so much exploited is an additional reason for making sure that they have the facts in all cases.
The pronouncements of any organization may be accepted as the ideal toward which the organization is headed. In no organization do we find that all members live fully at all times to its ideals but nevertheless as human beings we approximate as nearly as we can under the circumstances the ideals which inspire us. Constructive progress is usually slow but definitely pointed toward the ideal. To say that the American Federation of Labor has not yet unionized all workers whether white or black is not necessarily failure but a statement that the one undertaking is not yet accomplished. You do not say that a church has failed because a cathedral is not built in a year or because all are not church members leading perfect lives. Joining a trade union represents a very similar change in the worker’s life to joining a religious group. Joining a trade union requires something more than merely telling the worker that the union is there and that it can render him a service. There must be on the part of the worker willingness to join and understanding of the permanence of that membership as well as the new relationship between the union and the employer brought about by collective bargaining. Willingness to join the union represents a new attitude tward work problems on the part of the worker and an appreciation of his own function and contribution to the work process. These are not purposes that can be accomplished in all industries in a year or a decade. But, on the other hand, sometimes the change comes unexpectedly and suddenly as it did among the southern textile workers this past spring. There in a number of localities union activity is moving steadily forward and textile workers are being educated in union activity.
The Federation cannot effectively carry the gospel of unionism until workers are ready to hear and act. Any agency that has influence in formulating opinion among Negroes is assuming a very grave responsibility when it prejudices a group of workers against the work of the American Federation of Labor. We have not accomplished all that we would have liked but our work is carried on by workers for workers and it cannot move more rapidly than the workers themselves.
The editorial in “Opportunity” condemns the basis upon which our unions have been formed. Had the writer of the editorial been familiar with the history of the development of unions, he would have undoubtedly reached a different opinion. Each group of workers forming a national or international organization has determined for itself the basis of its organization. Some have found the craft basis more effective—others use the industrial basis. Under the regulations which have been developed through the American Federation of Labor no pronouncement has been made in favor of either type. We have, however, definitely and continuously refused to advocate one form to the exclusion of the other. The reason for this is obvious. You will remember sometime ago workers in the printing industry were organized in one union. Finding that this was not an effective method they split up into craft unions. The same thing is true of the workers in the paper industry. Formally all were in one union. The pulp and sulphite workers believed that they could make greater progress in a separate union and acted accordingly. On the other hand, in the mining industry it is more practical to have a single union for all. The railway shop employees while maintaining their craft organizations act collectively through a System Federation.
Even though a union organization may refuse to accept Negro members, it is possible for the Negro workers to organize and secure a charter of direct affiliation with the American Federation of Labor.
A magazine devoted to educational purposes and particularly one that has a responsibility for helping to form the opinion of an underprivileged group has a very serious duty to perform in first securing all of the facts before advising its readers. As the editorial in “Opportunity” states, a conference will be called to plan for more intensive work in the South. As there are many Negro workers in the South it would have been a mutually good service had your editorial suggested that the Negro workers prepare to take advantage of this drive and cooperate in the undertaking.
A very impressive event in the Toronto Convention was the address of A. Phillip Randolph which was listened to with marked attention by all delegates. Even though it occurred in the closing hours when business was transacted with that rapidity which marks the end of convention business there was evident appreciation of the great work which Mr. Randolph is doing for the Pullman porters. I am sorry the editorial failed to advise the readers of “Opportunity” of this part of the convention business which I think would have been of special interest to the group.
I hope very much that you may get better acquainted with the work of the American Federation of Labor for I am sure that the facts will lead you to a different editorial policy.
(Signed) WM. GREEN
President, American Federation of Labor.
Opportunity, 7 (December, 1929): 381-82.
By William Green
In January there will be held in Chicago a National Negro Labor Conference sponsored by the Sleeping Car Porters Unions. This organization of negro workers has recognized that the fundamental problem of negroes, as of all other workers, is industrial, and that the first attack on this problem is organization in trade unions.
Organization is the way to status in industry higher wages, just and honest working conditions, shorter hours of work. These things are essential to higher social and political standing.
Trade-union membership is open to all negroes. The majority of trade unions accept negroes as members, but when regulations are interposed the rules of the American Federation of Labor provide that negro workers may apply for charters direct from the American Federation of Labor.
The second step in meeting the needs of negro workers is vocational training. Workers who have no craft or special training must join the ranks of unskilled workers. Unskilled workers have lower rates and less continuity of employment. They are the first workers dropped when business slows down. Unions are the agencies through which workers can assure proper vocational courses through public schools.
The leadership of the Sleeping Car Porters is guaranteed that the National Negro Labor Conference to be held in Chicago in January will consider negro problems from this practical and constructive approach. All phases of the lives of negro workers are to be discussed and many of the speakers will be negroes who have achieved distinction in their work.
This conference is an opportunity to promote better understanding between all who work and that cooperation will serve the best interests of all. No group or race can win permanent advantage by taking unfair advantage by exploitation or undercutting standards. Through union organization the negro can raise his standards, and the American Federation of Labor stands ready to help.
American Federationist, 37 (January, 1930): 21–22.
In an editorial appearing in the January number of The Federationist, official organ of the American Federation of Labor, William Green, its president, comes out frankly and definitely for the organization of Negro workers and helping them to orient themselves to the new age of mass machine production. Says he:
“Organization is the way to status in industry. Higher wages, just and honest working conditions, shorter hours of work—these things are essential to higher social and political standing.”
All of which is nothing but the truth.
It is encouraging to see the American Federation of Labor taking such unusual interest in the black worker. True, close to a hundred thousand Negro laborers belong to the A.F. of L., but never before has it offered to aid the entire group of black workers. While it is generally conceded by students of the labor movement in this country that craft unionism as represented by the American Federation of Labor is losing numbers and influence rapidly, Negro labor is not in a position to spurn the hand of fellowship and solidarity. Any organization is better than no organization, because the individual attempting to bargain with his laboring power and skill can get little or no recognition unless a member of some organization.
The new attitude of the American Federation of Labor toward the Negro is indicative of the general change of front taking place in this country on the Negro question. No one need imagine that Utopia is right around the corner, but there is good reason to believe that it is not so far away as it once was.
Pittsburgh Courier, January 11, 1930.
Your reply to the editorial “The A.F. of L. and the Negro,” which appeared in the November issue OPPORTUNITY Magazine, and your editorial entitled, “National Negro Labor Conference” in the current issue of the American Federationist lead me to commend you in the name of the National Urban League for your official expression of interest in a cause which has long been neglected. That the Federation “stands ready to help” the Negro “raise his standards” is a commitment the Urban League wants to see fulfilled.
We are afraid, however, judging from past observations and experiences, that the word “stands” is to be taken literally; for we have seen the Federation stand still, exerting not a single muscle to welcome Negroes into the folds of organized labor, while blaming them for not accepting the restrictions grudgingly offered. In standing ready to help is it to be understood that you will now work for the removal of constitutional and ritualistic clauses governing the conduct of labor bodies that limit membership to white workers?
We are willing to accept your implied good faith, but please permit us to point out that this is not the first time we have read similar declarations. We do not question the “ideals toward which the organization is headed,” but we cannot admire the practice followed in the pursuit of those ideals.
For forty years Negro workers have heard the public pronouncements of the American Federation of Labor in favor of absolute equality for all workers regardless of race, color or creed. We have seen resolutions adopted by your body in convention assembled. While we know that the American Federation of Labor has no power to force any national or international union to accept its mandates, we have seen such mandates as pertained to Negro workers deliberately flouted by national and international unions, and these bodies go uncensured. We saw no change in the status of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks because it refused to change its constitution so as to admit Negro workers, but we did see the organization summarily dismissed because of a jurisdictional dispute with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. We have seen national bodies admitted to the Federation within the last ten years that have encouched in their laws circumscriptions of Negro workers.
All the while Negro workers have been branded as scabs. They were wanted in the union only after they had entered industry as strikebreakers. Denied opportunity to work under normal conditions they have been conscious of opposition from white workers and have resorted to strike-breaking as much to retaliate as to find employment. And even when they have joined unions they have been refused work because fellow white unionists would not work with them. Thus, whites arrayed against blacks and blacks against whites have kept up a constant warfare to the detriment of labor and the advantage of capital.
When has the American Federation of Labor campaigned among its white members for its ideal of fair play reiterated in frequent resolutions? It has permitted the labor union movement to become infested with narrowness and bigotry while blaming Negroes for not joining its ranks.
It is no defense to point out that only a few national organizations bar Negroes from membership. Subterfuges of one kind or another restrict as effectively as law. Nor does the federal local solve the problem. This expedient has offered an escape but not a solution; for it provides the badge but not the protection of unionism. Federal locals have no independence. Its members have no self-determination, for they are bound by the regulations of the Executive Council of the A.F. of L. who as officers of various national units condone the discriminations which have made federal locals expedient. As inoffensive as these federal locals are they are as a rule organized only when Negroes themselves take the initiative. If your new promise to help contemplates the initiative by the Federation will you organize federal locals of Negro plumbers, of machinists, railway mail clerks and others similarly excluded?
In ten years (1919 to 1928) the number of Negro locals and federal locals dropped from 169 to 23 in active standing on January 1, 1929. This is not because Negroes do not make good union members. There are too many instances that prove their loyalty under most trying circumstances for such an assertion to be true. I have heard veteran laborites tell of the exploits of Negro unionists that saved the day for unionism. No, the answer is that Negroes have never felt themselves welcome. They have seldom had full union privileges and protection. They have been taken in only when they managed to get past the barrages set against them. They have been asked to sell unionism to themselves, with a poor argument for their doing so. Only occasionally Negro organizers have been employed with varying degrees of success.
The Federation is about to embark on a campaign in the South where Negro wage-earners prevail in large numbers. They will want assurance that you will make their lot no harder than it now is. On the other hand the labor movement wants strength and solidarity. Negroes will want the union and the union will want them. You say in your article “At the Crossroads” in the current issue of the Federationist “No Southern community wants a large proportion of its population to remain permanently in the poverty group which entails high expenditures for relief; high percentage of uncollectible bills held by real estate owners, merchants, doctors, etc.; poorer stores in the community; a citizenry less competent to maintain good government; unnecessary sickness and the great susceptibility to epidemics.” Negroes form “a large proportion of the population of many southern communities,” where as you state “the average annual income is lowest.” May we ask then, whether or not your plans for organizing in the South, call for organizing Negroes—not merely permitting them to join—but actively campaigning for their membership.
In 1918 the National Urban League presented to your predecessor, Mr. Gompers, a resolution signed by leading white and colored citizens who asked that the Federation take active steps to bring Negro workers within the folds of the movement. This request was renewed in 1920, but the proposition was acknowledged with a resolution and tabled.
When the Industrial Relations Department of the National Urban League was organized in 1925, immediately it undertook to establish friendly relations with your office. Once in that year and again the following year the writer appeared before the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor in an effort to remove the laxity of the Federation toward Negro workers. We offered to raise one-half of the salary of a competent Negro who would work under your direction in trying to smooth out the relationship between colored workers and the various component national and international organizations, but you informed us that the “Executive Council does not at this time feel that the American Federation of Labor can undertake to meet the expense which would be involved in carrying out your proposition.”
As to our own position on this question, a convention of the National Urban League, assembled in Detroit in 1919, went on record by resolution as favoring unionization of Negro workers. Various locals of the League have adopted resolutions or have aided units of the Federation in one way or another. A trade union committee of white and colored people, which won favor from prominent Federation officials, had its genesis in an Urban League office. We have supported the cause of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, we have contributed articles to the Federationist and you have contributed an article to our magazine OPPORTUNITY. We have invited you to speak before our National convention on more than one occasion.
We write you in this fashion not because we are antagonistic but because we want to see something done. The Urban League is trying to lift the status and standards of Negro workers, but how can it do this as long as workers of the two racial groups wrangle for advantage? It is the job of us both to promote peace in industry but until we have the masses of workers realize the oneness of aim of all workingmen, regardless of race, color or creed, we shall have strife and not peace. There can be no peace in the hearts of white workers if black workers take their jobs when they are on strike; and there can be no peace in the hearts of black workers when they are denied not only the privilege to organize but also the right to labor because white workers object. When we have settled our labor differences between the races we shall have added materially to the spirit of interracial goodwill that is moving forward in other circles. In this common undertaking the Urban League, recognized as the foremost agency in the industrial field among Negroes, and the American Federation of Labor, spokesman of the American Labor movement, must each carry its part of the burden.
T. ARNOLD HILL, Director,
Department of Industrial Relations, National Urban League.
Opportunity, 8 (February, 1930): 56–57.
By William Green
During the past five years Negro wage earners have been turning to the organized labor movement with new conviction. They are becoming responsible union members, sharing the benefits and hardships of union endeavor. With increasing frequency they have appeared in Washington as representatives of wage earners for the business of code making. These developments are evidence of substantial progress in the growing acceptance of responsibility on the part of Negro workers.
The American Federation of Labor sees in this development the beginning of a new era for wage-earners. Membership in a trade union represents a desire to keep step with economic and social progress and acceptance of the responsibilities for working out progress for wage-earners. This constructive attitude means that both white and Negro workers will join ranks in determining and maintaining minimum and maximum standards. When any one group however small accepts sub-standard conditions, the wage structure for all is undermined. Although the labor movement has had every sympathy for the handicaps of Negro workers, willingness on the part of some to undercut standards of compensation and workmanship, have been the source of practical difficulties. While we appreciated the reasons for the situation, it is with frank gladness and relief we note the progress of these workers beyond the necessities which prevented them from working common cause with us.
There is an immediate problem in many industries with which the advanced groups may cope—the Southern differential which in so many cases means the determination of the industry to depress Negro wages. Opportunity for Negro wage earners lies not in undercutting wages for white workers but in cooperating for the elimination of such a differential.
Negro workers need high wages so that they may increase their reserves. In periods like the past five years, the reserves of many have been exhausted. The unemployment relief census taken by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration in October 1933, showed that 18 per cent of the Negroes of the country were on relief as contrasted with 9.5 per cent of whites. In order to build up reserves for the emergencies of life, Negroes must have higher pay for their work and set aside a fixed amount for savings and emergency purposes. You want just as good homes and as good opportunities for your children as any other citizens of this country. The way to do it is organization for the purpose of negotiating a work contract with your employer that will provide higher wages and better work conditions. Your union executive will be responsible for negotiation of the work contract and for seeing that it is enforced. You pay dues into your union to pay your union executives and the expenses of the organization. If your dues are high enough the union may set up union benefits. During the year of 1933, the unions of this country paid out over 40 millions of dollars for death, sickness, unemployment, old age, disability, and other benefits. All of this was in addition to assuring members the highest wages paid in industries and securing the five-day week for the majority.
All those Negro wage earners who want to undertake seriously the job of increasing their incomes and assuring themselves of definite work rights, should join the union of their fellow workers or apply to the American Federation of Labor for a charter.
You can better yourselves if you are ready to make the effort. It will require courage and endurance, but what others have done you can do. I know many Negro miners who are splendid union workers, who can always be counted on for most faithful union responsibilities.
The union is the first step.
Opportunity, 12 (October, 1934): 299.
October 16, 1934
Mr. William Green,
American Federation of Labor Building
I note that in “Opportunity” for October, 1934, you “venture some advice to Negro workers,” as the Editor so aptly puts it. You say “Opportunity for Negro wage earners lies not in under-cutting wages for white workers, but in cooperating for the elimination of such a differential.”
As in interested white observer, and as a member of the St. Louis Conference on Race Relations, I am writing this open letter to indicate to you and to readers of “Opportunity” how amusing your article is. Although numerous charters of A.F. of L. locals are careful to disavow any differentiation against colored people, there are many, many instances in which Negroes are denied the privilege of “sharing the benefits and hardships of union endeavor.” The building trades unions are perhaps the most notorious in this regard.
Surely you are aware of the inability of highly qualified Negro carpenters, masons, etc., to get jobs on the New Homer Phillips Hospital for colored, now being erected in St. Louis. Here is one of the most glaring instances of race-discrimination on the part of both municipal and union authorities.
You are entirely correct in saying, “When any one group however small accepts substandard conditions, the wage structure for all is undermined.” And yet, how largely your A.F. of L. is responsible for forcing the Negroes to “accept substandard conditions,” by keeping them out of the unions of more highly-skilled workers! Your policy of “unofficial exclusion” of so many well-trained, fully qualified Negro workers is harmful to Negroes and to the A.F. of L. alike. No wonder 18 per cent of the Negroes of the country were on relief in 1933—in contrast to 9.5 per cent of the whites!
“Brutus, thou sleepest! Awake!”
P.J. WHITE, Jr.
For the St. Louis Conference on Race Relations
Opportunity, 12 (November, 1934): 350.
Resolution No. 5—By Delegate Robert E. Burford, of the Freight Handlers, Station and Express Employs’ Union No. 16220, Richmond, Va.:
WHEREAS, The B. of R. C., having jurisdiction of all Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employes; and
WHEREAS, The constitution of the B. of R. C. says only white people are eligible to membership; and
WHEREAS, There are about one hundred thousand (100,000) colored employes that come under their jurisdiction and are barred from membership in the B. of R. C., on account of color; and
WHEREAS, The B. of R. C. is affiliated with the A.F. of L.; and
WHEREAS, The constitution of the A.F. of L. does not bar any worker on account of color or race; and
WHEREAS, The Grand President, Mr. J. J. Forrester, of the B. of R. C.,79 stated to the 39th annual convention of the A.F. of L., in Atlantic City, that he would not relinquish jurisdiction over these employes, and that he would arrange everything satisfactory with these employes at his next executive meeting; and
WHEREAS, This meeting was called in Washington, D.C., in July, 1919, and our committee attended that meeting and stated their case before that board, and Mr. Gompers and Mr. Morrison addressed the board in our favor; and
WHEREAS, The board gave every assurance that this matter would be speedily adjusted, and we would hear from them as soon as it could satisfactorily be adjusted; and
WHEREAS, The Executive Board of the B. of R. C. met in Cincinnati last February or March and discussed this question, and not having any of our committee present, they tabled the matter for further investigation of the so-called “Negro Problem” as handled by the older organization; and
WHEREAS, We are not trying for, nor do we want what is called “social equality,” as some are trying to insinuate; and
WHEREAS, We only want equal protection and representation in all of the matters that concern us; and
WHEREAS, We are not looking for charity, nor do we want anybody to bear our burdens, but we are willing and ready to bear our part; and
WHEREAS, Our loyalty cannot be questioned, and as we believe that the fate of our organization is in the balance; and, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 40th convention assembled will use every means in its power to have the words “only white” members stricken out of the constitution of the B. of R. C., and admit the colored workers to full membership in their Brotherhood, or have them relinquish jurisdiction over the Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employes and allow them to establish a Brotherhood of their own.
Your committee non-concurs in this resolution for the reason that the American Federation of Labor cannot interfere with the trade autonomy of affiliated national and international unions. By the action of the last convention of the American Federation of Labor, held in Atlantic City, N.J., in 1919, the American Federation of Labor was authorized to organize colored workers under charters from the A.F. of L. if affiliated national and international unions refused to accept them.
A motion was made and seconded to adopt the recommendation of the committee.
Delegate Hay, Brotherhood Railway Clerks: I participated in all the deliberations that took place in the Washington and Cincinnati meetings referred to in the resolution, but under our constitution we could not take action at that time. Action may be taken next month when the Board of Directors meet.
Delegate Burford, Freight Handlers, opposed the recommendation of the committee and urged the adoption of the resolution. He pointed out the unfairness of having to pay a portion of the expense of representatives of the clerks’ organization who handled grievances for the Freight Handlers when the Freight Handlers were not given representation in that body. He stated that he was not asking for an international charter, but asking that the Freight Handlers be granted a local charter that would enable them to have their own committees handle their grievances.
Delegate Burford discussed at some length the position of the colored workers represented in the various freight handlers’ locals and urged that action be taken at once to relieve the situation, either by granting them charters that would enable them to handle their own grievances, or compel the clerks’ organization to remove from its laws the portion which discriminated against the colored workers by refusing them membership.
Delegate Berry, Pressmen: Is it true that the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks have been granted jurisdiction over the freight handlers?
Secretary Morrison: Jurisdiction was not granted, but was simply acquiesced in.
Delegate Berry: Do they refuse to take in the negro freight handlers?
Secretary Morrison: I would like to make an explanation. The question of taking in the colored freight handlers was taken up by the Railway Clerks, and they agreed to issue charters. I think some charters were issued. Then that action was changed, and the officers have been endeavoring to effect a change in their constitution that would allow them to take in all colored workers. The Federation has issued charters to all the Freight Handlers’ local unions that have applied for a charter, with an understanding with the Railway Clerks that their representatives will take up the grievances of the Freight Handlers and see that they get the same conditions as received by the members of that organization; and, so far as I know, they have carried that agreement into effect.
Delegate Dee, Railway Clerks, in discussing the question, said: This question is being given every consideration at the present time by our Executive Board. We held two meetings and will hold another meeting in July. We have handled their cases, and as a member of Board of Adjustment No. 3 I have settled many of the questions that have come through the regular representatives of our organization, and gave the colored brothers every protection that was extended to the whites, who have been paying their dues. I am from the south and I know the economic situation. I worked with them side by side. We have them in our own organizations and they get every protection. We are taking care of their grievances. In the interest of the men themselves who are now being taken care of in federal unions, we hope you will vote for concurrence in the committee’s report.
Delegate Lewis, Freight Handlers, opposed the recommendation of the committee and supported the resolution.
Delegate Gorman, Railroad Telegraphers, spoke in favor of the report of the committee and opposed the adoption of the resolution.
Delegate Workman, Longshoremen, opposed the recommendation of the committee and favored the resolution. He spoke of the manner in which the colored freight handlers had supported various strikes on the I.C. and other railroads, and contended that for their loyalty to the organizations with which they are connected or affiliated they deserved more consideration than they were receiving.
Delegate Sumner, Stereotypers, stated that the delegates who were discussing the question were losing sight of the most important part of the resolution, that requiring the Railway Clerks to eliminate the words “only white” from their constitution. In an address of some length he opposed all efforts of labor organizations to discriminate against any workers on account of race or color. He stated that any such discrimination was unfair and un-American.
Chairman Duffy: The resolution asks that we decide who is eligible and who is not eligible to admission to a national organization affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. The committee has not that authority, the Executive Council has not that authority, and the convention itself has not that authority. That authority rests only with the national and international unions. The committee and the Executive Council wish to see the colored men organized all over the country. The American Federation of Labor wants them organized. We reaffirm the action taken in the last convention, that if a national or international union refused to accept colored workers the American Federation of Labor will grant them charters.80
Delegate Burford: What kind of charters?
Secretary Morrison: As freight handlers.
Delegate Burford: We don’t want to be separated, we want the same kind of charters.
Chairman Duffy: When the American Federation of Labor grants charters to the colored workers, no matter of what trade or calling, the American Federation of Labor becomes the national or international union of those men. It is the duty of the American Federation of Labor then to take up the grievances of those workers. Out of the 110 national and international organizations affiliated with the A.F. of L. more than a hundred admit colored members to membership.
Delegate Sweeney, Tailors, asked if it was not contrary to the principles of the American Federation of Labor to allow an affiliated union to draw the color line.
Vice-President Duncan: This American Federation of Labor ever since its organization has stood for organizations without reference to color. It so stands today. This organization that is involved asks for a few more days to allow them to go through their constitutional forms to change their regulations. It is needless to say that as far as the American Federation of Labor is concerned all its influences will be used to have such a constitution changed, because the American Federation of Labor cannot be expected and will not be expected to endorse or favor a charter of any affiliated body that has a word in it discriminatory against a man on account of his color.
Delegate Grange, Seaman, opposed the recommendation of the committee, contending that in a way it endorsed the action of the Clerks’ Union in discriminating against colored workers.
Delegate McGlory moved to amend the report by providing that the Railway Clerks’ organization be requested to remove the words “white only” from their constitution. (Seconded by Delegate Mary Goff).
Delegate Anderson, Longshoremen, spoke at length in favor of the amendment, and stated in part: I have lived in the south for the best years of my life. I have been face to face with the question of the color line. In Texas we have dealt with the question fairly and impartially. If we do not see fit to admit the negroes to sit side by side with us in the meetings, which they do not ask, we give them every recognition possible. We give them charters, and when a question that concerns us all is to be considered we sit in conference with them and agree to what is best for all of us. That is why you do not hear these questions coming up from Texas. I do not agree with the report of the committee and think they could have found a better way out if they had tried.
Delegate D’Allessandro: Until you change the law the committee could not make any other report. The Building and Common Laborers have an organization and they have their door wide open. If no one else wants to take these men in we are willing to do it. That is the place for them. The freight handlers are only common laborers and we are willing to take in any of them that see fit to come to us. I am not claiming them, but I want to open some door to those fellows so that the discussion will be closed.
Delegate Foley, Barbers, supported the amendment, and objected to any labor organization excluding colored workers. He called attention to the fact that workers were not excluded from the Journeymen Barbers International Union because of race or color.
Delegate Duncan, (J. A.) Seattle, asked Delegate Foley if his organization did not exclude women from membership.
Delegate Hay again discussed the the question and urged that the matter be left with the Railway Clerks’ organization to adjust. He stated that if that were done he could assure the delegates that the question would soon be adjusted to the satisfaction of the members of that organization and to the satisfaction of the labor movement generally.
The amendment to provide that the Railway Clerks be requested to remove the words “white only” from their constitution was carried.
Resolution No. 38—By Delegates Jordan W. Chambers of the Railway Coach Cleaners 16088, St. Louis, Mo.; Eugene Posey of the Coach Cleaners 16331, Kandas City, Mo.; E. L. Rhone of the Central Labor Union, Mobile, Ala.; J. C. Steele, No. 16626, Cincinnati, Ohio; R. Eugene Bellinger, No. 16771, New York, N.Y.; Frank M. Phaire, No. 16702, Philadelphia, Pa.; John H. Smith, No. 15980; Edmund Turner, No. 16199, Mobile, Ala.; Frederick Wilson, Local 16685, Cleveland, Ohio; Robert E. Burford, No. 16220, F. H. & Sta. Employes 16381:
The prosperity, development, advancement and security of a Union under democratic constitutions rest almost wholly upon the contentment of the people they govern, regardless of color, creed or class.
In the matter of opportunities, the National Charter makes no distinction as to color, nor does that charter withhold from any organized body the right to advance educationally, materially or otherwise; and no organization operating under that charter should allow its growth and development to be stultified by a Union seeking only the advancement of its own ends.
The state of unrest which now prevails in the labor world is due almost entirely to the arrogant manifestations of selfishness shown by one Union over another.
The Coach and Car Cleaners of the country have grown to that point in life where they are capable of maintaining themselves independent of any other body, and it is now their firm purpose to assert their right to do so. They will not be cowed down; they will not feed from the hand, nor be pushed into a corner; but will contend on equal terms with the rest for life, liberty and the pursuits of happiness. Hence the following resolution:
WHEREAS, The Coach and Car Cleaners’ Local Unions, located in various centers thru-out the United States, have banded themselves together, without regard to race, color or sex, to form a Union which alone will have the jurisdiction over Coach and Car Cleaners of the United States and Canada; and
WHEREAS, The purpose of this organization is to promote in the most efficient manner the welfare of Coach and Car Cleaners; and as this end can be attained only thru those competent to know the needs and understand thoroughly the conditions necessary to such promotion, the Union reserves the right to select from among its own members, officers and representatives of every degree whatsoever: therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That an International Charter be granted to the Railway Coach and Car Cleaners’ Union that will have the above jurisdiction and seek to organize, according to the principles of the American Federation of Labor, all workmen of this class, regardless of creed, color or nationality; and, be it further
RESOLVED, And it is resolved, that at each and every Convention which has to do with the wage scale and working conditions of the Coach and Car Cleaners department, the Coach and Car Cleaners shall have a delegate or delegates to represent Coach and Car Cleaners at each of such Conventions; and that each of such delegates be a member of a Coach and Car Cleaners’ Local Union and a workman in the Coach and Car Cleaners’ department.
THEREFORE, In order to form a more perfect Labor Union, establish as insured justice, provide for the common defence promote the general welfare of ourselves and our employ, we do affirm and adopt this resolution.
Your committee gave a lengthy hearing to all parties interested, on the subject matter contained in this resolution. In the course of the hearing it developed that some few international unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor do not as yet admit colored workers to membership. It also developed that the majority, and by far the greater majority of the international unions do admit colored workers to membership, and that these colored workers are entitled to the same rights, benefits and privileges that the other members enjoy. On account of these few international unions refusing colored workers admission, exception is taken. Your committee, however, calls your attention to the section of the Atlantic City Convention of the American Federation of Labor last year on this subject, that:
“Where international unions refuse to admit colored workers to membership, the American Federation of Labor be authorized to organize them under charters from the American Federation of Labor.”
We therefore reaffirm our former action on this matter, at the same time calling attention to the fact that the American Federation of Labor does not organize workers of any trade or calling along racial lines.
The report of the Committee on Resolution No. 38 was adopted.
Resolution No. 48—By Delegates Frederick Wilson of Coach and Car Cleaners’ Local 16685; Edmund Turner, of the Boiler Makers and Blacksmiths’ Local No. 16699; Jordan W. Chambers, of the Coach Cleaners’ Union No. 16088, St. Louis, Mo.; James J. Pugh, of No. 16559, B.H.F.H. and S. Men; John H. Smith, of No. 15980 Boiler Makers’ Helpers; Noah Alien, No. 16351, Chicago, (Ill.) Coach and Car Cleaners; William Sharon, No. 17165, Freight Handlers, Cleveland, Ohio; Frank Phaire, No. 16702, Coach and Car Cleaners, Philadelphia, Pa.; Abraham Lefkowitz, A.F. & T. Local No. 5:
WHEREAS, The American Federation of Labor has taken a firm position on the claims of negro labor to fair and impartial sharing of the benefits of organized labor; and
WHEREAS, Despite this attitude of the American Federation of Labor, encouraging results have not followed; and millions of negro workingmen continue ignorant of the benefits of collective bargaining, thus militating against the successful operation of the Federation in its fight for a square deal for labor; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the American Federation of Labor enter upon a campaign of education among both white and colored working men to convince them of the necessity of bringing into the ranks of labor all men who work, regardless of race, creed or color; and be it further
RESOLVED, That, with this end in view, there be called into periodical conference with the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor white and colored leaders who can suitably represent and express the point of view of negro workingmen, and can convey to negro workingmen the good will and sympathy felt by the American Federation of Labor towards them; and be it further
RESOLVED, That there be employed in headquarters at Washington a competent negro agent, taken from the ranks of labor, who will express the hopes and yearnings of negro workingmen to the American Federation of Labor, and in turn be the mouthpiece of the Federation for such messages and information as the Federation may from time to time wish to convey to the negro workers throughout the country; said agent to be the executive secretary and official representative in the interim of meetings of said special committee on negro workers; and be it further
Your committee recommends that the 2nd and 3rd Resolves be stricken out and that the 4th Resolve be amended to read:
RESOLVED, That negro organizers be appointed where necessary to organize negro workers, under the banner of the American Federation of Labor. The Resolution would then read as follows:
WHEREAS, The American Federation of Labor has taken a firm position on the claims of negro labor to fair and impartial sharing of the benefits of organized labor; and
WHEREAS, Despite this attitude of the American Federation of Labor, encouraging results have not followed, and millions of negro working men continue ignorant of the benefits of collective bargaining, thus militant against the successful operation of the Federation in its fight for a square deal for labor; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That negro organizers be appointed where necessary to organize negro workers under the banner of the American Federation of Labor.
Your committee concurs in the resolution as emended and refers it to the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor to comply with, if the funds of the Federation will permit.
The report of the committee was adopted unanimously.
Resolution No. 37—By J. W. Chambers, Railway Coach Cleaners, Union No. 16088;
WHEREAS, The interest of the Trade Labor Principle can only be protected by the effort put forth by the wage earners, who are not prejudiced on creed, sex or color:
WHEREAS, The Colored workers have become a factor in the labor world and perform one-seventh of the labor performed in the United States, he is appealing to the trade and labor unions of America in the Convention assembled to adopt such measures and disseminate such principles, whereby he can secure the rights and recognition that he is justly entitled to;
WHEREAS, The Brotherhood of Railway Carmen claim jurisdiction over the Coach Cleaners’ classification of work, and the International Brotherhood, Boiler Makers, Blacksmiths and Machinists, deny Colored workers the right to membership on the grounds of racial lines adopted in their constitution. This is itself creates an unrest and distrust among the workers, which will never be removed until such discriminative laws are repealed; be it
RESOLVED, That the American Federation of Labor Convention assembled take immediate action on enactment of such resolution that will prohibit any International Organization from adopting racial lines in their constitutions.
In the hearing held on this resolution it developed that many of the statements therein contained were incorrect. You will note that the last Whereas specifically states that the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen claim jurisdiction over coach cleaners, and that the Boiler Makers, Blacksmiths and Machinists’ organizations deny to colored workers toe right to membership on account of racial lines adopted and in their constitutions. For these reasons the convention is asked to take action to prevent any international organization from adopting laws on account of racial lines.
The facts in the case are these: The Brotherhood of Railway Carmen claims jurisdiction over coach and car cleaners, but do not admit to membership colored workers following that occupation on account of the law in their constitutions prohibiting the admission of colored workers. The president of the International Brotherhood of Railway Carmen assured the committee that he will place this matter squarely before his next convention in two forms; first, to admit colored coach and car cleaners to membership in the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen; or, second, failing to do so, to surrender all claim to that class of work.
The Boiler Makers have no law in their constitution prohibiting the admissions of colored workers following their trade or any branch of it. The Blacksmiths issue charters to colored workers of the trade and have no law denying admission to colored workers. The Machinists have nothing in their constitution prohibiting the admission of colored men of the trade.
The report of the committee was adopted.
Delegate Chambers asked permission to make amendment to the committee’s report.
The chairman stated that the subject was closed, but if there were no objections Delegate Chambers would be allowed to state his amendment.
Delegate Chambers suggested that the report be amended by the insertion of a provision as to the time the constitution of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen should be amended. He suggested that this be done before the next convention of the American Federation of Labor.
The chairman stated that the motion could not be entertained; that opportunity was given for discussion or amendments before the questions were put, and Delegate Chambers failed to take advantage of it.
President Gompers in the chair.
Secretary Conboy: This completes the report of the Committee on Organization.
FRANK DUFFY, Chairman
SARA A. CONBOY, Secretary
A. J. KUGLER
WM. A. NEER
THOMAS L. FARRELL
H. L. MORRISON
W. S. BROWN
CHARLES H. MOYER
E. J. MANION
JOHN P. BURKE
F. J. MC NULTY
FRED W. BAER
G. G. JACOBS
Committee on Organization.
Secretary Conboy: I move the adoption of the report of the committee, as a whole. (Seconded and carried).
Resolution No. 46—Delegate Mat Lewis, Little Rock, Ark.; Freight Handlers No. 16738; Wm. Shaw, Local No. 17165, Cleveland, Ohio; Joe H. Wilcox, Local 16810 B.H.F.H. Station Men; Frederick Wilson, No. 14685, Coach and Car Cleaners, Wichita Falls; James J. Pugh, No. 16559, Cleveland, Ohio; W. M. Carlock, No. 16579, Knoxville, Tenn., Freight Handlers; F. Phaire, No. 16702, Philadelphia Coach and Car Cleaners:
WHEREAS, As a result of the European War, the world is passing through a period of unrest never before known in the annals of history; and
WHEREAS, During this period of unrest citizens are clamoring and pleading for justice from those in power; and
WHEREAS, The American negro fought in the World War for the freedom that is due every human being; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the freedom and democracy thus won by the sacrifices of all should be dispensed regardless of race, creed or color; therefore, be it further
RESOLVED, That copies of this resolution be forwarded to the national committees of the dominant parties.
The American Federation of Labor has never countenanced the drawing of a color line or discrimination against individuals because of race, creed or color. It recognizes that human freedom is a gift from the Creator to all mankind and is not to be denied to any because of social position or the limitations of caste or class, and that any cause which depends for its success on the denial of this fundamental principle of liberty cannot stand. We therefore concur in the resolution and recommend its adoption.
The report of the committee was adopted.
Resolution No. 9—By Delegate R. J. Smallwood, of the Railroad Shop Workers’ Union No. 16797, Houston, Texas:
RESOLVED, That where there is an organization (colored) that is not eligible to membership in the various white locals (internationals) and have the affiliation with the A.F. of L. that said organizations will cooperate together and said internationals will give them all of the desired support with reference to the six crafts internationals. We want to say further that we believe we can do more to further the interests of this and other (colored) organizations if we can handle our difficulties through the internationals; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That when the internationals get out an agreement the colored union should be included in the agreement, and should have the greatest recognition, as you know the greatest problem before the American people today is the labor question; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we, the Railroad Shop Workers Union No. 16797, composed of colored mechanics and helpers of the six crafts, namely machinists, boilermakers, blacksmiths, sheet metal workers, carmen, painters and all other trades of wage earners, do solemnly believe that such a step taken as an amendment to the constitution of the A.F. of L., will get us to the four million mark; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That we place ourselves on record before the American Federation of Labor to have them to get the recognition of our Union from the companies in order to remove doubts that may exist in the opinion of the railroad world and general public that this union is a labor organization in the common acceptance of the word.
As the workers referred to in this resolution are already protected in the agreements with the railroad craft organizations, and in the action of the convention on Resolutions Nos. 5 and 37, in the report of the Committee on Organization, this committee believes that no further action is required.
The report of the committee was adopted.
Resolution No. 17—By Delegate Jacob Middleton, of Janitors’ Helpers and Laborers Union 16034, Charleston, S.C.:
WHEREAS, We, the Janitors and Laborers of Local 16034, are not being paid the scale of wages that is being paid at Norfolk, Philadelphia, and all other Northern yards; and
WHEREAS, The high cost of living is no lower upon us in Charleston than those in the Northern yards; and
WHEREAS, The scale of wages that is accorded us at the Charleston Navy Yard is not sufficient to provide for ourselves and families; and
WHEREAS, This Local has made protest against the unjust discrimination made against the ratings of Laborers and Janitors in the Charleston Navy Yard; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That this convention of the A.F. of L. go on record as being willing to assist in the cause of Local 16034 and, be it further
RESOLVED, That a thorough investigation be given our cause before the Convention assembled at Montreal, Canada.
We recommend that this be referred to the Executive Council to render whatever assistance they can.
The report of the committee was adopted.
Proceedings of the 40th Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1920, pp. 263-64, 272-73, 276-77, 307-11, 351-52, 375, 433.
Organization of Negro Workers
Resolution No. 72—By Delegate Albert C. Campbell, of Federal Labor Union No. 17775:
WHEREAS, The Preamble of the Constitution of the American Federation of Labor declares: “A struggle is going on in all the nations of the civilized world between the oppressors and the oppressed of all countries, a struggle between the capitalist and the laborer, which grows in intensity from year to year, and will work disastrous results to the toiling millions if they are not combined for mutual protection and benefit,”; and
WHEREAS, Among the toiling millions of the United States there are many influences at work which tend to prevent the combination of the workers for mutual protection and benefit, and all such influences are injurious to the working masses and to Organized Labor; and especially the century old custom of workers allowing themselves to be divided into antagonistic groups on the basis of race, color, language, place of birth, sex or religion; and
WHEREAS, More than ten million Negro toilers live and labor in this country, as the most exploited and abused section of the industrial and agricultural workers; and their hope of liberation from their present bondage as a mass can be realized only through organization as an integral part of the labor movement, and through the common action of a united labor movement including all workers without distinction of race or color; and
WHEREAS, The interests of the Negro workers and of the white workers are identical and the interests of Organized Labor no less than of the Negro workers demand that the Negro workers be organized and included without distinction in the Trade Unions, with the full protection of organization extended equally to black and white without prejudice and no progress but only disastrous results can be expected from any exclusion of workers from the Unions on account of race or color; and
WHEREAS, The American Federation of Labor declared officially as far back as the year 1890 that it “looks with disfavor upon trade unions having provisions in their constitutions excluding from membership persons on account of race or color,” and requested that such provisions be expunged; and again in 1897, and in 1910, 1917 and 1918 the American Federation of Labor or its officers took actions or made official statements affirming the position; and
WHEREAS, Nevertheless, several of the largest and most important International Unions affiliated with the A.F. of L. as well as some unafilliated continue to preserve in their constitutions provisions by which workers otherwise eligible are excluded from their ranks because of their race and color, and
WHEREAS, Other affiliated Unions which have no written rules prohibiting the admission of Negroes, do nevertheless in practice generally refrain from enrolling Negroes; or after enrolling them do not grant to these members the same degree of Union protection as is granted to the white members; and
WHEREAS, The effect of such practices, as has been repeatedly indicated by the American Federation of Labor, is to leave a great mass of workers, because of the color of their skin, in a position of great disadvantage, working for lower wages than the union standard, frequently unable to obtain employment because of discrimination not justified by any lack of loyalty to the cause of Labor; and
WHEREAS, The continuation of such provisions and practices undermines the standards of living of all the organized as well as unorganized of whatever race, and constitutes a fatal weakness in the Organized Labor Movement; and
WHEREAS, Compromises on the basis of separate Unions for Negro workers distinct from the white workers have frequently been resorted to and these are only makeshifts which may at times be justifiable as better than no organization at all, but are sometimes justly resented by self-respecting Negro workers as being the preservation of “Jim Crow” institutions; and the problem of organizing the mass of the workers on the basis of solidarity as indicated by our Preamble remains unsolved; and
WHEREAS, Those cases where the white workers and colored workers are enrolled together in the same Unions without distinctions, such as the Mine Workers and the Longshoremen, have proven that in this manner all race and color prejudices and divisions in the ranks of Labor are successfully eliminated; there, be it
RESOLVED, That the American Federation of Labor in its forty-fifth annual convention assembled does hereby declare that any constitutional provisions, rule or practice, whether of official policy or by tacit custom, by which workers are excluded from Trade Unions because of race or color, is contrary and antagonistic to the principles and Constitution of the American Federation of Labor and to the interests of the masses of workers; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the American Federation of Labor calls upon all affiliated bodies which may have such provisions or customs, to adjust their constitutions and likewise their practices to these principles, so that every worker on a basis of exact equality regardless of color or race may enjoy within the Unions the same rights, privileges, protections, opportunity to obtain employment along with and equal to all other members of the Unions, with the same wages for the same work and the same conditions; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the President and Officers of the American Federation of Labor are hereby authorized and instructed to take up this matter with each and every affiliated body, inquiring into the provisions and practices of each in this respect, using such official authority as they possess in urging the International Unions and other affiliated bodies to remove in fact and in form all such discriminations as exist; and the President and Officers of the A.F. of L. shall make public from time to time the progress of such efforts, and shall report to the next convention of the A.F. of L. whatever results may be obtained in regard to each affiliated body separately and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the American Federation of Labor shall with the greatest possible dispatch and energy proceed with a campaign to organize all Negro workers in the same Unions with the white workers wherever this can be done under present conditions; and where it is unavoidable to organize the Negro workers into separate Unions, but at the same time to take up with the existing Unions the question of combining the organized Negro workers with the existing Unions which for the time being may refuse to admit them; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the most effective and sincere manner by which the American Federation of Labor can ensure a response to its efforts to organize the Negro workers is to take up in an aggressive and whole-hearted manner the cause and demands to which they are entitled to all the rights, benefits and privileges specified in their laws. The discrimination and abuses, such as lynching, segregation, disfranchisement, etc.; so that Organized Labor becomes the champion of the Negro’s social demands as the demands of the most abused and exploited section of the working; and the President and Officers of the American Federation of Labor are authorized and instructed accordingly.
The American Federation of Labor from its birth favored and advocated the organization of all wage workers irrespective of race, color or creed. The A.F. of L. has organized the colored workers. The A.F. of L. proposes to continue to organize them.
Of the 107 National and International Unions affiliated with the A.F. of L. at least 100 admit colored workers to membership, National and International Unions not admitting colored workers to membership were informed by the Buffalo, N.Y., and St. Paul, Minn., Conventions of the A.F. of L., that if they did not admit colored workers to membership, the A.F. of L. would organize and charter them direct.
This has been done. All of which your committee concurs in and recommends that the work of organizing colored workers be persistently continued.
The report of the committee was adopted by unanimous vote.
Delegate Conboy: Mr. Chairman, this completes the report of the committee, which is signed:
FRANK DUFFY, Chairman;
THOMAS S. FARRELL,
CHARLES A. MOYER,
E. J. MANION,
JOHN P. BURKE,
MARTIN T. JOYCE,
I. M. ORNBURN,
W. N. REDDICK,
PATRICK E. GORMAN,
D. W. HELT,
E. E. MILLIMAN,
ROE H. BAKER,
C. J. GOLDEN,
SARA A CONBOY, Secretary.
Delegate Conboy moved the adoption of the committe’s report as a whole. The motion was seconded and carried, and the committee discharged with a vote of thanks.
Delegate Wall, secretary of the Committee on Resolutions, directed attention to a typographical error in the proceedings, page 321 of the ninth day, relative to Resolution No. 76. He stated that the committee recommended noncurrence in this resolution and not concurrence.
The correction was made a matter of record.
Proceedings of the 45th annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1925, pp. 322-25.
Negro Labor Organizers
Resolution No. 85—By Delegate A. Philip Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters Union No. 18068, New York, N.Y.
WHEREAS, Negroes constitute one-tenth and a little more of the population of the United States which is about the size of the entire population of the Dominion of Canada which indicates the great importance of Negro workers in American industry, especially when it is considered that a larger ratio of Negroes work, when permitted, than any other group in the country;
WHEREAS, Since the World War Negro workers have become a large and significant factor in the basic industries such as steel, coal, railroads, packing, automotive and rubber; and
WHEREAS, Because of the existence of racial barriers against Negro workers in certain trade unions which has resulted in inculcating, engendering and fostering distrust and suspicion of white trade unionists that inevitably creates division and weakness in the labor movement; be it
RESOLVED, That the American Federation of Labor in its 53rd annual convention go on record to enlist and employ Negro Labor Organizers as paid and volunteer organizers to help carry forward the aggressive and constructive organization campaign now being conducted by the American Federation of Labor under the National Recovery program, and thereby bring about a better and finer feeling of cooperation between the black and white workers of America and strengthen and consolidate the position for effective collective bargaining of organized labor in the United States of America.
Your committee recommends that this resolution be referred to the Executive Council to be put into effect if the funds of the Federation permit.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters’ Union: I have raised this question because of the great importance at the present time of carrying forward the movement of organization of the workers. I have been told in the convention by some of the delegates from the South, especially in the tidewater district, that the employers in the shipyards have been pitting the white and black workers against each other in order that they might weaken the forces of organized labor in that section. They have indicated to me that it has been difficult for them to meet with the Negro workers and organize them, and consequently they want some Negro organizers to assist them.
I have also been told about the attempt in Alabama on the part of some of the trade union groups to organize the Negro workers. All these efforts are commendable and praiseworthy, but they need to be helped by some Negro organizer who can make an effective approach to the Negro workers. We are living at a time when the National Recovery Act is being presented to the country, and it seems to me the only way for the NRA to be effective is for all the workers in the country, regardless of creed, nationality or color to be organized so that there may be an economic balance maintained. If that is not done it seems to me NRA will fail, because, fundamentally, the success of NRA depends upon the increased purchasing power of the people in this country, and the workers constitute a large majority of the purchasing people of the country. Therefore, the raising of wages depends upon collective bargaining and collective bargaining depends upon organizing power.
The Negroes constitute a large section of the population of America, one tenth or more, and we are living in a time when the great business interests of the country are fundamentally opposed to the labor clauses of the NRA. There are probably 99 per cent of the employers of the country who are fundamentally opposed to the labor clauses of the NRA. They are going to employ every device to weaken and to sabotage this Act. One of the devices they will employ is race prejudice. Already they are saying there should be a differentiation between the black and white workers in industry. That is calculated to increase competition between the white and the black workers, and that will engender hostility and antagonism, and consequently you can readily see that it is important that organized labor remove from the hands of the employing class the weapon of race prejudice. That can only be done by going out and organizing the black workers in large numbers. I realize that among the Negro workers there is a new spirit; they are eager to come into the ranks of organized labor, but there still exists some barriers in the unions against the Negro workers. It is to be hoped that these barriers will be broken down, for we are living in a time when all labor ought to be in the organization.
The Sleeping Car Porters are doing their part to organize the Negro workers. We want to come into your group and give as much cooperation as possible. The cooperation the Sleeping Car Porters will give will be absolutely without cost, but there should be some paid Negro organizer to go out and bring the Negro workers into the fold.
Vice President Duffy, Chairman of the committee: Your committee is not opposing the resolution; we report favorably upon it, but we refer it to the Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor to put into effect if the cost will permit. We are in favor of organizing the colored workers—all workers, skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled.
The report of the committee was unanimously adopted.
Equal Rights for Negro Workers
Resolution No. 97—By Delegate R. Suny, of the Cleaners, Dyers, Spotters and Pressers Union No. 18233, New York, N.Y.
WHEREAS, The negro workers in the United States are the last ones to be hired and the first ones to be fired; are the most underpaid and the most exploited; and
WHEREAS, Race discrimination and jimcrowism are means to divide the workers, holding them back from united struggles against the attack of the employers; and
WHEREAS, It was long since recognized by organized labor in the United States of America that the freedom of the white wage earner cannot be won without the freedom of his black brother; be it
RESOLVED, That the American Federation of Labor, at its 53rd Annual Convention, in Washington, D.C., demands the elimination of all clauses which have any suggestion of discrimination against negro workers, from all A.F. of L. International, National and Federal Union Constitutions; and be it further
RESOLVED, That this 53rd American Federation of Labor Convention demands equal rights for the negro worker in the union, in the shop and on the job.
The question of discrimination against negro workers has been before the conventions of the American Federation of Labor for many years. At the Cincinnati Convention last year the committee on organization made a lengthy report on a resolution similar to the one we have now before us. We showed that many declarations were made from time to time by the American Federation of Labor in favor of negro workers and called attention to the fact that the American Federation of Labor admits all classes of workers—skilled and unskilled—to its ranks irrespective of creed, color, sex, race or nationality.
We called attention to the action of the Atlantic City Convention of the American Federation of Labor held in June, 1919, wherein it was decided that where International Unions refuse to admit colored workers to membership, the American Federation of Labor, be authorized to organize them under charters from the American Federation of Labor. At our convention last year this declaration was reaffirmed as all workers are eligible to membership in the American Federation of Labor irrespective of creed, nationality, sex or politics. Your Committee re-endorses the action taken last year on this matter.
The report of the committee was unanimously adopted.
Resolution No. 87—By Delegate A. Phillip Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters Union No. 18068.
WHEREAS, Negro workers are being notoriously victimized in various sections of the country in the form of being displaced by white workers when the minimum wage rate is applied; and
WHEREAS, Negro workers are being deprived of certain benefits under the N.R.A. since they, especially, in the textile industry fall within a category, to which the provisions of the National Recovery program will not apply until a later date in January, 1934; and
WHEREAS, The application of unfavorable wage differentials in certain industries in the South are made to bear heavily upon Negro workers who constitute a large labor factor in these industries; and
WHEREAS, This wage differential policy with respect to groups of workers is alleged to be based upon differential in productive efficiency and living costs; and
WHEREAS, Responsible production statistics in relation to Negro workers compiled during and after the World War period Indicate that the charge of production inefficiency is without basis in fact, and that certain groups of Negro workers have the same level of productive efficiency of similar groups of white workers and that the level of productivity of certain groups of Negro workers is higher and lower than some groups of white workers; and
WHEREAS, Wage income determines cost of living standards and renders it wholly unscientific to relate wage rates to racial factors; and
WHEREAS, It is a dangerous precedent and definite menace to the organized labor movement to permit the government to promulgate and execute a wage policy, expressing differentials that can only result in creating competition between the workers that will accrue to the benefit of the employing class; be it
RESOLVED, That the American Federation of Labor in its 53rd convention held in Washington, D.C., does herewith condemn the policy of wage differentials based upon sectional or racial grounds and herewith calls upon the National Recovery Administration heads and the President of the United States to eliminate said policy in the interest of economic justice to the Negro workers in particular, the American workers in general and raising the purchasing power of the entire working class as a whole.
Your committee recommends adoption of Resolution No. 87.
The report of the committee was unanimously adopted.
Proceedings of the 53rd annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1933, pp. 193-95, 197, 268-70, 523.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: I rise because the Sleeping Car Porters are interested in the report by the Executive Council on the matter of discrimination against negroes. This report has been so handled as to delay its presentation at this convention until the time when it will not be possible to have a full discussion. I think that that smacks of a very questionable procedure in this matter. Therefore, I think it is very, very important that this convention listen to a discussion of the report on discrimination in trade unions against negro workers. This phase of the matter is just as important as anything that has appeared in this convention.
I take it that there have been three important questions before the convention; one, industrial unionism, one the Labor Party, and this race question. So I want to request Mr. Chairman, that the convention be permitted to listen to a discussion of the question of discrimination in trade unions against negro workers. It is a very important matter. The report which has been made is very inaccurate, fragmentary and absolutely unsound and ought to be examined by the convention.
President Green: Are there any objections to delaying putting the motion before the convention until we dispose of the question raised by Delegate Randolph?
Delegate Duncan, Seattle Central Labor Union: I would like to ask what resolution the brother might object to. Are we going to be governed by the objections of one individual, or are we we going to act democratically?
President Green: The convention can direct the Chairman and the officers of the convention what it wishes to do. The Chair asks if the mover of the motion will withhold the motion until after we have disposed of the question raised by Delegate Randolph.
Delegate Feeney: I will agree with that.
President Green: Then the motion is withheld, and after that the convention will have a chance to vote on the motion.
Delegate Duncan, Seattle: Might I ask for another exception in the case of Resolution No. 206, introduced by the Washington State Federation of Labor?
President Green: The convention can determine that after it disposes of this question.
The Chair submits the supplemental report to which Delegate Randolph refers—the supplemental report of the Executive Council, and the committee, as I understand it, recommends concurrence in the report.
SUPPLEMENTAL REPORT OF THE EXECUTIVE COUNCIL COLORED WORKERS
The 1934 San Francisco Convention of the American Federation of Labor directed the President to appoint a committee of five to investigate the conditions of the colored workers of this country. Pursuant to this direction a committee consisting of John E. Rooney, Operative Plasterers and Cement Finishers, John Brophy, United Mine Workers of America, John W. Garvey, International Hod Carriers, Building and Common Laborers’ Union, Jerry L. Hanks, The Journeymen Barbers International Union and T. C. Carroll, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees were appointed.
The Committee conducted an investigation and obtained considerable information on the subject. Opportunity was afforded those interested to present their views.
The report of the Committee indicates that there are a few National and International Unions that deny membership to Negroes. In most of these instances special provisions are made to organize the Negroes into Federal Labor Unions directly chartered by the American Federation of Labor, In some National and International Unions admitting Negroes they are placed in separate local unions with varying rights of membership.
We are of the opinion that since each affiliated National and International Union has complete autonomy that the welfare of the Negro worker will be best served by a campaign of education of white workers to bring to them the necessity of solidarity in the ranks of the workers and the voluntary elimination of all restrictions against full rights of membership to the Negro.
The American Federation of Labor has consistently advocated the organization of all workers and we reaffirm that policy. The economic welfare of the workers can best be served by complete unity of purpose and action. We therefore recommend that all National and International Unions and the American Federation of Labor conduct a continuous campaign of education to bring to the white worker the necessity for greater unity of the workers in the labor movement to the end that all discrimination against Negroes will be removed.
Your Committee has considered the Supplemental Report of the Executive Council dealing with the Committee having investigated the conditions of the colored workers of this country and recommends concurrence in the Executive Council’s Report.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman and delegates to the convention of the American Federation of Labor—the report of the Executive Council I consider quite inadequate; it does not meet the issue in any respect, and, in the first place, it has not followed the procedure laid down by the San Francisco Convention. I wish to read from the records of the San Francisco Convention relating to this question.
In that convention Delegate Hutcheson, Carpenters, asked: “What was the final recommendation of the committee?” The Organization Committee non-concurred in the resolution, which dealt with discrimination against Negro workers.
Then Delegate Hutcheson moved as an amendment: “Therefore, I move as an amendment to the committee’s report that there be a committee of five appointed by the president of the American Federation of Labor to investigate the conditions of the colored workers of this country and report to the next convention.”
That report was not made here by the committee which was appointed by President Green. President Green appointed five persons on that committee as follows: John G. Rooney, Operative Plasterers and Cement Finishers; John Brophy, United Mine Workers of America; John Garvey, International Hod Carriers, Building and Common Laborers Union; Jerry L. Hanks, Journeymen Barbers International Union; and P. C. Carroll, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees. These were the men who were appointed on that committee. They were bona fide trade unionists, men in organizations affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. The committee met in Washington and held hearings for two days. Representatives of various Negroes organizations appeared and presented data with regard to discrimination against Negro workers. The committee considered the recommendation for holding regional hearings in the centers where Negroes were in great numbers working at various industries, New York, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago—places of that sort. The committee made its recommendation to the Executive Council. The Executive Council appointed one if its members to make the report of the matter. This is the report, but the recommendations of the committee appointed by President Green are not in this report. I think they should be included. As a matter of fact, this report of the Executive Council I will regard as merely a dignified, diplomatic camouflage.
This is the report which was made by the committee appointed by President Green, signed by four of the members of the committee of five. It reades:
“First. That all International Unions, who bar Negroes from membership in any way or discriminate against them through separate local systems or forbid them representation at conventions or on committees, will take up the Negro question at their next convention for the purpose of harmonizing constitution, rules and practices to conform with the oft-repeated declaration of A.F. of L. conventions on equality of treatment of all races within the trade union movement.
“Second. All charters issued by A.F. of L. shall be in conformity with both declared policy and law on the subject of membership.
“Third. The A.F. of L. through its officers, the American Federationist, A.F. of L. Weekly News Service, Workers Education Bureau and other mediums, conduct a continuous active campaign of education within the trade union movement on the Negro problem. The purpose being to get the white worker to see more completely the weakness of division and the necessity of greater trade union unity between white and black workers to the end that all workers may be organized.
“John E. Rooney,
“T. C. Carroll,
“John W. Garvey.”
Now, I want to know why these recommendations were not included in this report and presented to this convention. As a matter of fact, the motion in the San Francisco Convention provided that both recommendations and findings should be presented to this convention. And, by the way, the findings are important because they represent the basis upon which those conclusions were drawn.
Now, fellow delegates, it is not the purpose of the Sleeping Car Porters to claim that all of the unions of the American Federation of Labor discriminate against Negro workers. The United Mine Workers, the Hod Carriers, Butcher Workmen, International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, the Carpenters, Teamsters and unions of that sort include Negroes in their membership; but other unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor either have color clauses in their constitutions of color pledges in their rituals that directly bar Negroes from the unions. Not only that, but their are other devices and subtle ways by which some of the unions that do not have these color clauses discriminate against Negro members.
We have had the occasion to examine material presented to us again and again where Negroes have gone to certain jobs to work and they were told by the contractor: “You cannot work here because you haven’t a union card. You have got to get a union card.” Then the Negroes went to the unions and asked for a card. They were told they could not get cards unless they were working on the job. You can readily see what a dilemma certain groups of Negroes are in because of this discrimination practiced by some of the unions.
The report of the Council states that provision is made for the organization of Negroes in Federal unions. We find that the Federal unions that include Negroes are racial unions. There is no justification for a racial Federal union. There is no more justification for it than to have Federal unions based upon sex or religion or nationality. It is against that very thing the Negro workers are protesting, and consequently the report of the Executive Council does not meet the issue presented.
Let us take the freight and express handlers. They are under the jurisdiction of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks. The Brotherhood of Railway Clerks is supposed to make agreements covering all the workers that come under their jurisdiction. Now, the freight handlers and express workers in the various Federal unions have no power to negotiate an agreement concerning rates of pay or working rules, and yet the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks has no machinery whereby the members of these Federal unions may present their grievances to that organization, to the end that that organization may properly adjust those grievances.
The national unions that cover Negroes who are members of the Federal unions say they make agreements for these Negro workers. Under the Railway Labor Act as amended by the 73rd Congress you have definite ways in which grievances are handled. Now a Federal union where Negroes are members—let us say one of those members discharged by the carriers. That union hasn’t the right nor the power to present a grievance to the National Railroad Board of Adjustment. The Federal union is an isolated, separate body, it has no connection. For instance, a Federal labor union in Chicago has no connection with the Federal union in New York. They have no national structure, and therefore cannot make use of the Railway Labor Act. They have no way to appeal to the National Labor Board.
A Federal union based upon race is a dual union, because the National union covers the same class of workers that are covered in the Federal union. The Federal union has no power under the law.
The Federal form of organization that the American Federation of Labor provide for Negro workers is virtually no organization at all. I know of no Federal union of Negro workers which has negotiated a contract with the employers; consequently you can see that the Federal unions, as organized by the American Federation of Labor, neither have the power to protect the interests of the Negro workers nor does the Federal unions organize Negro workers to any appreciable extent. Therefore it is purely evasion of the question to point to the fact that the American Federation of Labor has such Federal unions.
The Negroes in the Federal unions have found that in some instances, although they get the results, they are called upon to pay fees to various agents that come around and pretend they are going to get results for them. Now we are calling upon this convention to give serious consideration to this question. We have evaded it for a long time, there is a conspiracy of silence on the question right here in this convention, because there is no reason why the supplemental report of the Executive Council should be presented to the convention about the time we are ready to adjourn. In order that we might be able to meet this issue properly we have got to be frank, honest, and candid about it. There may be claims to the effect that the Negroes have not joined the trade movement in as large numbers as they ought to join. That is like a policeman knocking a man down on the sidewalk and arresting him for blocking the traffic.
The Sleeping Car Porters want this convention to know that the Negro workers want to come into the American Federation of Labor, they want to share in the defense and help bear the burdens. We want to go through all the trials and tribulations with the white workers. They want to stand arm to arm and shoulder to shoulder and face the problems as they are. They don’t want charity, they don’t want philanthropy, they want to come into the American Federation of Labor on a basis of equality with other workers. Whenever one group of workers is barred the stigma of inferiority is attached to them.
No national or international organization in the American Federation of Labor has the moral right to claim the privilege and the right to write an agreement covering the wages and working conditions for a given class of workers and then except a section of those workers because of race or color. No national or international union has a right to claim the benefits of Federal legislation which gives them the right to negotiate a contract on the basis of majority representation, and then keep a part of the workers from enjoying that privilege.
There is no reason why any national organization should attempt to evade that issue and run to the refuge of trade autonomy. That question has been raised from time to time, but this convention has found ways to deal with organizations that discriminate against workers in other cases. The Federation in this convention forced a certain department, the Building Trades, to accept certain national and international unions. If the Federation can do that it also, by the same token, is able to compel certain national and international unions not to discriminate against workers because of the accident of color or race.
The American Federation of Labor has taken cognizance of racketeering as a general proposition. There is no more reason why the convention should not take cognizance of race discrimination and wipe it out. We do not claim that all the organizations affiliated with the Federation discriminate against Negro workers. A number of them accept Negro workers. Negroes constitute one-tenth of the population of America, they constitute a larger proportion than there are people in Canada.
The Sleeping Car Porters conquered the Pullman Company, and on the board of directors of that company were J. Pierpont Morgan, Mellon and Whitney. The Sleeping Car Porters conquered this mighty corporation in ten years of struggle. This is an indication that Negroes will stand up and fight for their rights just as well as white workers will. There is no reason under the sun why an organization of labor which is interested in the organization of workers, regardless of race, creed or color, should single out the Negro workers and attach to them the stigma of inferiority and say, “Although you are workers, you haven’t the right to join an organization. We will make contracts for you but you will not have a voice in the organization making the contract.” Think of a national organization making a contract for a group of workers and not allowing those workers to have a voice in the determination of that contract. That is a reflection upon the spirit of this great organization.
We are living in times of storm and stress. Right here on this floor experiences were related where men in a certain village were shot down. It showed that the employer was not concerned about race or color. Then why should the worker be concerned about race or color? The labor organizations will always suffer, the American Federation of Labor will always suffer for that fact until it is corrected.
No doubt there is considerable power possessed by this organization, but, after all, when there is a fundamental error in the philosophy, in the program of an organization based upon the exclusion of a worker because of the accident of his color, that is certainly a serious handicap.
Why should a Negro worker be penalized for being black; why should anybody be penalized for something over which he has no control? The American Federation of Labor will not be able to hold its head up and face the world so long as it permits any section of workers in America to be discriminated against because they happen to be black. We are living in a time when there should be no division of race, religion, creed or nationality. The workers are facing the possibility of the abrogation of civil and political rights, because in every industrial crisis in America the civil liberties of the workers have been abrogated. It happened in a San Francisco general strike, it happened in Toledo, it happened in Minneapolis, it happened in the textile workers’ strike.
In Arkansas the share cropper decided to organize. They were both white and black. Black and white organizers were sent there and talked to the share croppers, and the white share croppers were thrown out of their shacks and left on the roadside to suffer. Both black and white workers were misled. The black workers were told, “Don’t have anything to do with that white worker because he lynches you.” They then go to the white worker and say, “You are better than these black workers, you are of a superior race, you are a Nordic.” As a result they were able to exploit both classes of workers.
Not until the workers themselves understand that there is no fundamental difference between the white and black workers, that it is all superficial, that there is no difference in the capacity of black and white workers, their brains are alike, their physical makeup is the same, except that there is a different pigment in the black man’s skin.
The workers in America have been victimized by propaganda by people who are keeping the workers divided because they know what a power they will be when once they are united, when once they are bound together in one organization fighting for one object.
I have this report and recommendation presented by the committee appointed by President Green, signed by four members of that committee. I move that this report be adopted by the convention as the spirit of this convention in order that the world may know that the Federation is taking a different position on that question of the Negro, and that it is looking upon every worker as a worker, whether he is black or white, Jew or Gentile, Catholic or Protestant.
Secretary Frey: I desire to approve both of the Executive Council’s report and the report of your committee on that report. I am in very large agreement with what the delegate has just said. I sympathize deeply with his problems, I know something of what it is through personal contact. Thirty-five years ago, against the objections of the members of my local union in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I organized a union of Negro molders and my reward was an attempt to run me out of town by the white molders and foundry workers.
My regret is that an outstanding member of his race should have felt the report of the Executive Council is evasive and insufficient. That will be published in the report. It will be widely read, and every one interested in the Negroes’ welfare and in his rights will find that this outstanding delegate, whom we all have an affection for, said the Executive Council’s report was not only inadequate, in his opinion, but was evasive.
Like many other delegates in this convention I have the privilege of associating with leaders of the Negro race. Let us recognize the fact that all human beings are the children of the same Creator, but although we recognize that we cannot escape the fact that in some parts of the world some of the Creator’s children have a prejudice against others. I accept the responsibility of the trade union movement to break down that prejudice, and I think I am not exaggerating when I say the efforts of the American Federation of Labor have done more to break down racial prejudice, particularly in the South, than all the other institutions which the South has.
In my organization in the South and in many others we have broken down the prejudice so much that when the Negro becomes a member of the union he sits with the other members. But there is a prejudice in the South which has not been overcome yet. The Christian churches have not been able to overcome it. The large number of members of the Baptist Church and the Methodist Church are in the South, yet there remains something in the South which makes it necessary On Sunday morning or Sunday evening for members of these two religions to go their separate churches. Christianity in the South has not been able to break down the prejudice to the extent that both races can meet together.
We have gone farther than that. There is a danger that we may create prejudice instead of breaking it down if we make too strong an effort in that direction. I knew the beloved Booker T. Washington as a man and I admired him because of the work he did. He knew of the efforts I was making to break down racial prejudice on the part of any trade unionist, and as I was meeting with difficulty I requested him to give me a letter saying he favored the Negroes becoming members of our trade unions. I knew he could not publish it through the press. I wanted a letter to use when I came in contact with his people. He declined to give me that letter, and I agreed that his reasons for doing so were sound. He said, in substance, “If I should give you such a letter and it should be known the manufacturers in the South would allow members of my race to be discriminated against by the employers. They would not want members of the Negro race in their factories because they might be organized.” Because of my close association with leaders of the colored race, when I became a member of the Labor Advisory Board, NRA, the national secretary of the leading Negro organizations in the country wrote to me and said, in substance, “We know we can depend upon you because you understand the problems. We expect that you will see that the Negro receives the same minimum wage rate as the white in the codes.”
Now, everybody knows the struggle we had to prevent differences in the wage rates, particularly in the South. The minimum rates in the South were there, not so much to protect the whites, but to protect the Negroes. He said in substance, “These codes which have been enacted are working to the benefit of the whites, where the hourly rate has been raised from 10 and 12 to a minimum of 25 cents, but the employers in the South refuse to give our race any chance of employment, saying if we have to pay those rates we will employ whites.”
It seems to me that in reaching a declaration upon this subject it should be phrased so that no additional race prejudice will be created, but rather that through the sane, practical, educational methods which have brought about the organization of so many Negro workers, we carry on the work we have been doing. I hope the Council’s report will be adopted and the committee’s report adopted.
President Green: The President of the American Federation of Labor should say a word just now, because it is quite evident that there is need of making clear to the delegates some facts in connection with this matter, and in doing so I speak as a friend of the colored worker and one who has endeavored to make his contribution toward the adjustment of this problem to which Delegate Randolph has referred. I gave earnest support to the organization of the Sleeping Car Porters from the beginning. I attended a number of mass meetings composed of Sleeping Car Porters and I appealed to them to join the Sleeping Car Porters Federal Labor Union. I spoke in churches and in different places in presenting the attitude and the position of the American Federation of Labor toward this subject. I made it clear that so far as the American Federation of Labor itself is concerned it extends to the colored workers a most cordial invitation to become members of organized labor, to unite with us, to join with us, and to enjoy all of the rights and privileges of the American Federation of Labor. The American Federation of Labor can do no more. As evidence of its attitude, the Sleeping Car Porters are organized very largely.
A number of International Unions admit colored workers to membership without reservation or restriction. I think one hundred out of the one hundred and five international unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor admit colored workers to membership, they have removed all bars on account of color. But the proposition of Delegate Randolph goes further than that. It proposed that this American Federation of Labor compel national unions to change their laws in their constitutions so as to provide for the free unrestricted admission of colored workers to membership. That is a very fundamental question that has been referred to here by speakers on numerous occasions during this convention. Has the American Federation of Labor the authority to say to an autonomous International Union how it shall draft its laws. What provisions for admission of membership shall it make?
We very jealously guarded that principle today when we decided that while the American Federation of Labor could provide that Communists could not act as delegates in central bodies and State Federations of Labor, we could not go further than that and invade the jurisdictional field of national and international unions.
If there are any organizations affiliated with the American Federation of Labor who do not admit colored workers to membership, if they would accept my advice they would remove the bar for I believe we ought to make provision for the admission of these members. But that is neither here nor there. The national and international unions must decide that question for themselves, and I think the report of the committee to which Delegate Randolph refers provides that if in the future the American Federation of Labor issues charters to national and international unions, it must stipulate that the laws of this union must provide for the admission of colored workers into membership. Can we go that far? Upon what basis do we rest? Do we give national and international unions autonomous rights? Can we suspend the charter of the international union because it does not provide for the admission of colored members? Can we do that? Would you be willing to order that done? Are you ready to do that?
There may be one or two national unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor whose membership would say to the representatives of those members in convention assembled, we will withdraw from the American Federation of Labor before we will be subjected to such dictates. That is the point involved. That is the question.
Now we believe that education will finally overcome that conditions, that eventually through persuasion, through appeal, through the economic and social laws all prejudice will be overcome, that national and international unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor will so broaden their organic law as to provide for the admission of all members. But that is for them to decide. Now the American Federation of Labor, as I have said, has made a declaration on that subject, and they recommend to national and international unions that colored workers may be admitted freely and upon a basis of equality. Out of 105 of these national and international unions, 100 have carried out that recommendation. Now in order to make it clear and definite the American Federation of Labor has said, well and good, if there is any international union that has a bar to these workers we will take them in ourselves by granting Federal charters. Their Federal charters are not granted because we want to emphasize the color question or to isolate them, but they were granted to accommodate the needs of the colored workers who come under the jurisdiction of national and international unions that yet retained in their organic laws a clause that made it impossible for the Negro workers to be admitted. Could we do more?
I don’t know why the American Federation of Labor is repeatedly denounced by those who represent Negro academic organizations as standing in the way of admission of colored workers when we have made our declaration, we stand up and defend it. We appealed to all national unions to respond to our recommendation, and we say to those who will not, if you won’t take them in, we will take them in and try to protect their interests.
Now upon the report of the committee—the report of the committee to which Delegate Randolph refers was referred to the Council at its last meeting. The Council decided to refer that to a sub-committee made up of Vice-President Harrison, to prepare a report based upon the recommendations of the committee. Brother Harrison was immediately pressed into service as a mediator in the Building Trades dispute. He was occupied for days in that. Surely he ought to be commended for that service and he told me that just as soon as he could prepare this report he would do so. He prepared it and handed it to me yesterday. The discussion has been so continuous that it seemed impossible to submit it ere this. There is the answer. There has been no desire to evade. It has just been a part of the administrative difficulties that your Chairman has been compelled to face during the proceedings of this convention.
There it is. Do we want to follow the recommendation of the Council or do we want to say to national and international unions, you must change your laws? Is the American Federation of Labor to say what the laws of national and international unions shall be, what the qualifications of membership shall be, what members they shall admit, the national unions having full power to determine who they shall admit and who they shall reject? That is the question? I wish they would change their point of view, but only education and persuasion will bring that about.
I agree with the economic philosophy expounded by Delegate Randolph, that a colored worker is a competitive worker of the white worker, and that if the employer can get the colored worker cheaper than he can get the white worker doing the same work the employer will employ him. There is great need for him to become organized and associated with the American Federation of Labor, but the abstract philosophy of that question in no way effects the administrative policies of national and international unions. There is the issue, there are the facts presented to you in the fairest possible way that I can present them without prejudice—just the facts as they are for your consideration.
Delegate Knight, Railway Car Men: Mr. President, I am not going to impose upon this convention at this late hour by discussing the question before the convention. My purpose in arising is to correct an impression that Delegate Randolph left with this delegation insofar as it applies to National Adjustment Boards covering the mechanical department employes on the railroad and the application of agreements that are negotiated by their mechanical department crafts.
The agreements that we negotiate for the mechanical department employes on the railroad cover every employe in that department, white or black, male or female, insofar as increases in pay, shortening of hours or working conditions are concerned. If an employee, black or white, has a grievance, under those agreements it will be handed to the National Adjustment Board, Second Division. I was afraid he left the impression that there was no way, and if I did not misunderstand him he said so. If he will read the hearings before the Congressional Committes he will find that we told the Committee in the hearings that we represented all employes and would handle their grievances under the Emergency Railway Act providing for Adjustment Boards, which has now become a part of the permanent law, and we will do that.
Delegate Webster, Sleeping Car Porters: I rise, Mr. Chairman and delegates to express the appreciation of the Sleeping Car Porters for the very splendid cooperation that we have obtained from President Green and the American Federation of Labor, which has to a large extent contributed to the success of the Sleeping Car Porters’ organization. But I want to augment the remarks of my fellow delegate, Brother Randolph, with respect to the Federal union method of organizing Negro workers.
For some twenty years or more I have been actively engaged in the organization of workers throughout the length and breadth of this land. Some six or seven years ago we were given Federal Charters by the American Federation of Labor to organize the Pullman Porters. We found that we could not organize 8,000 Pullman Porters stretching from New York to San Francisco and from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Miami, Florida, under Federal charters, and as a consequence we had to maintain a national organization.
The Pullman Company, in one of its arguments against the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and in support of the company unions, when appearing at the hearings of the Congressional Committee held in Washington, no doubt on the reports of the financial secretary of the convention of the American Federation of Labor, attempted to show that committee that we only had 600 members in our organization, by reason of the fact that we are only paying per capita tax on 600 members. The fact was that we had to maintain a national organization and therefore, we had to keep our per capita tax down to a skeleton in order that we might have funds to carry on this national organization, and had we not carried on this national organization we could not, even with the assistance of the American Federation of Labor have been able to perfect an organization of the Sleeping Car Porters. We have every confidence in the fact that President William Green is very sincere in his attitude toward helping the colored workers. He appeared in our meetings in Chicago and in New York, and there expressed himself in unequivocal terms as to how he stood on this proposition. But in the practical application of the problem of organizing the Negro workers under Federal unions it does not work. In my organization activities, since I have been a part of the American Federation of Labor I have used every possible effort to try to get the colored workers to come into the American Federation of Labor.
I will cite an instance in Chicago, in the express industry, an organization composed of 150 men. The Railway Clerks, as you know, have a color clause in their constitution for some reason. A man by the name of Brown, some eight or nine years ago connected with the Railway Clerks decided that Negroes working in that industry should be organized. He was around there a year or more and he did not make much headway and finally they asked if we would do anything for them. Thereupon I took upon myself the responsibility of assisting in the organization of that particular local. I don’t know what the form of organization was at first, but at any rate, Brown was eliminated and a man by the name of Shoals came on the scene and he got a charter for a Federal Labor Union for this group of men. He asked me if I would cooperate with him. We invited him to our headquarters and for three or four years up until recently, I took an active part in organizing this particular Federal union, so that at the present time I believe they have almost every Negro who operates in the express industry in the capacity of a freight handler in this particular union.
It was because of persuasion that I used upon those colored men that they accepted membership in that, in spite of the fact that the particular union that was trying them had a color clause in their organization. This organization has perfected itself and is going along nicely. Agreements are being handled and the men have derived some benefit to a large extent. But now the complaints come to me that “you told us to go into this organization, now that we are in here why can’t we become members of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, just like the freight handlers that work next to us. We do the same work and get the same pay. So far as it has gone, well enough, but we don’t see why we can’t become members of this organization of Railway Clerks.”
I heard the President make the inquiry of why these very drastic tirades were directed against the American Federation of Labor by a certain organization representing a large number of Negro people. It is true that those associations have directed attacks toward the American Federation of Labor, but the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, in spite of the fact that we do not feel this matter has been given the proper consideration by the American Federation of Labor, have never failed to defend the principles and the program of the American Federation of Labor and on many occasions.
It might be well to bear in mind, fellow delegates, that there are upwards of ten million Negroes in this country. They buy food, clothing, shoes, automobiles, they buy every commodity that enters into the industrial life of America today. You have such institutions as have been referred to by President Green. These institutions are usually financed by foundations. Who finances the foundations? Such organizations as the International Harvester Company. We find that contributions to many of these organizations that are supposed to speak for the colored workers are made largely by these open shop corporations, and as a result it is to their advantage to grab upon every ounce of information they can get relating to prejudice toward the labor movement in an effort to keep the Negro workers out. It has not been so long ago since an article appeared in the paper by a Negro welfare worker, and his sole argument publicized in Negro newspapers was the fact that the American Federation of Labor had a color clause in many of the constitutions and where there are no color clauses they use other subterfuges whereby they will keep Negro workers out of the organization. His point was that therefore they should not become part of the American Federation of Labor, that their best friend was the man who had the money. Those organizations that are directing their efforts towards prejudice of the American Federation of Labor are in many instances financed by these great corporations. It is the position of the Brotherhood of Pullman Car Porters that while we are highly appreciative of the efforts put forth by the American Federation of Labor in the interests of the organization of Negro workers, insofar as the Sleeping Car Porters are concerned we are perfectly satisfied with what the American Federation of Labor has done for us, although in many instances we have not always agreed. Nevertheless, we are satisfied, I say, as far as the Sleeping Car Porters are concerned. But now since we are able to sit around the table for the first time in the history of America and write a national agreement concerning a large group of Negro workers we find in every mail that comes to our office appeals from all classes of Negro workers for organization. Therefore, we feel that the American Federation of Labor ought to make even more than a gesture of carrying out this educational campaign, making it known to these international unions that there must be something definite done about this matter in order that we might be able to go out in my own field among a large number of Negro workers who incidentally have not yet been educated in the trade union movement. They do not know anything about the value of buying trade union products. There is a large volume of Negro workers who by reason of their contacts with the trade union movement, would be able to buy more union-made products. It is our intention to go out in the field and spread the gospel of organized labor, and we want a real honest-to-goodness program for the American Federation of Labor to the end that we may be able to overcome all these arguments that have been put up against us, largely financed by those interested in the exploitation of labor in general.
President Green: The Chair recognizes Delegate Harrison:
Delegate Harrison, Railway Clerks: Mr. Chairman, I dislike very much to take up the time of the convention at this late hour to discuss this question, but Delegate Randolph’s charge against the Executive Council compels me to make a statement of fact in that connection. The report which Delegate Randolph criticized was drafted by myself at the request of the Executive Council. The report was drafted in the manner that it was for the reason that the report that was submitted by four members of the committee of five appointed by President Green went beyond the duty imposed upon that committee by the San Francisco convention. If you will read that report closely you will find that it does not only deal with the Negro question, but it deals with all races.
Furthermore, there was a minority report submitted by one member of that committee, and in order not to submit the two conflicting reports to the convention, I endeavored to write a report for the Executive Council that was in keeping with the instructions imposed upon that committee by the San Francisco convention.
Now the report of the Council very clearly states that there are some affiliated national and international unions which deny full membership to Negro workers. There are some affiliated national and international unions which have some restrictions upon the membership privileges of the Negro workers, and in those instances where the Negro is entirely excluded from membership in the affiliated national and international unions, the American Federation of Labor has arranged for membership for those workers in Federal Labor unions. In the report we point out the necessity of solidarity among all workers, regardless of color, and we say that we believe that is a problem which will have to be corrected through education. We therefore call upon the affiliated national and international unions and the American Federation of Labor to carry on a continuous campaign of education to the end of that all workers will be admitted to all the affiliated organizations composing this American Federation of Labor.
I have always understood that under the charters and the constitution of the American Federation of Labor all affiliated unions had complete autonomy to determine the qualifications of membership, and that being true, there is only one way to solve this problem, and that is through education. So much for that. I say that because the charge made by Delegate Randolph has no basis in fact.
I want to deal with the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks for a moment, the organization of which I have the honor to be President. I regret that Delegate Randolph would take the liberty to discuss the policies of my organization in this convention because he knows nothing of those policies. He is entirely uninformed about those policies and about their application to the particular question he endeavored to present to this convention. In the railway industry we do not have a closed shop. Our organizations are entirely voluntary. In negotiating our contracts with railway managements, we make no reference whatever to the color of any employee. The contract covers each and every employee, regardless of color, who may be in the service of that particular railway. Under those contracts we have seniority rules and rosters are posted carrying the seniority of the various employees in any given district. Under the contracts of my own particular organization, we have those provisions. We have some few Negro workers in our class of service. In those instances where we do have Negro workers they appear on the same seniority roster along with the white workers and they enjoy their seniority rights just the same as do the white workers.
In the event a Negro worker may have a grievance because the contract is not observed by the management officials our committees undertake to adjust those grievances in exactly the same fashion as they do for the white employes covered by that contract, and in the event that we are unable to adjust those grievances with the management officials, we progress them to the National Adjustment Board in Chicago, established under the privisions of the Railway Labor Act, and we secure decisions in exactly the same manner as we do for the white employees.
Now we do not admit Negroes to our Brotherhood, so in order to take care of that problem, because we must give them the same service we give to the white employes, we organized the Negroes into Federal Labor Unions. Federal Labor unions pay per capita tax to our committee on each railroad as do our local unions and their representatives sit with the representatives of our local unions in determining the demands that will be made upon railway management, and the settlement that will be made in respect to matters affecting their wages and working conditions. Summed up in a nutshell, the Negro worker under the Brotherhood I represent has complete economic equality. He does not have social equality to the extent that we do not admit him to our Brotherhood. I think that policy is wrong and we ought to admit him to full membership, but it is a problem of education and one that must be handled in that way. We have had this problem up in the conventions of our International organization since 1922, endeavoring to remove the restrictions. I hope that some day we shall persuade our people to grant full membership to the Negro workers, but it will have to be carried on in that way.
I have tried to give you the facts without any prejudice whatever, because I believe every worker ought to be organized, they all should be in the same organization, but it is a matter that will have to worked out and I don’t want this convention to pass a resolution or a motion that will say that my International Union will be expelled if we do not amend our constitution, because then you are discussing with me a principle as to whether or not the organization I represent shall have the same privilege of enjoying its autonomy as do the other affiliated national and international organizations.
Under Delegate Randolph’s organization these railway labor unions give to Delegate Randolph and his Sleeping Car Porters the freedom they enjoy today through the Railway Labor Act. We are glad to see them organized and we are glad to cooperate with them. I believe the report of the Council meets the situation fairly and it ought to be approved by this convention.
Delegate Randolph: A point of correction. In the first place I want to say we are not directing any special criticism against the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks. We set forth the facts as they are. There are other unions in the Federation that are guilty of the same sin of excluding Negro workers.
President Green was a little in error when he said that only five unions of the 105 affiliated national and international unions excluded Negro workers. There are twenty unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor who exclude Negro workers. The Machinists, the Plumbers, the Electricians and others that I could name here exclude them.
Relative to the observation made by the delegate over here, giving the impression that Federal unions could not bring grievances to the National Board of Adjustment, I want to confirm that statement I made, and you can go to the National Board of Adjustment itself and it will tell you that no railway organization which is not national in structure can raise a grievance to that Board. Federal local unions are national organizations, therefore, Federal local unions of Negroes are absolutely helpless in raising grievances before the Board of Adjustment.
On the matter of railroad organizations giving the Sleeping Car Porters their salvation under the law, I want to correct Brother Harrison in that statement. When the Railway Labor Act, amended by the 73rd Congress was to be enacted, when the representatives of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters got down to Washington we found that every group of railroad workers in the railway industry was written into the act in black and white, designated in black and white, except the Sleeping Car Porters. I don’t know who was responsible for that. The railway workers, he claims, helped to bring that Act into existence. We appeared before the Senate Committee on Foreign and Interstate Commerce and the House Committee and introduced an amendment to the Bill which was already printed, so that the Sleeping Car Porters should be included in the law. That is a very important correction that I want to make, because it leaves the impression with the delegates here that the railroad unions put the Sleeping Car Porters on their feet as a result of that law. If we had been excluded we would not have had any rights under the law. We could not appeal to the National Board of Adjustment had we not gone down there and had the Sleeping Car Porters not put that in there ourselves. The whole discussion of the Federal unions is absolutely unsound. It does not meet the issue at all and we had just as well recognize that fact.
I appreciate the observation of Delegate Harrison in stating that he hopes the time will come when the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks will eliminate the color clause, but we want it known right now, Mr. Chairman, that the Negro workers in the Federal unions have absolutely no remedy by way of dealing with management through the Federal labor unions. Secondly, it is in error to say that the Negroes are economically equal with other members of national organizations, when they have not the right to become members of that organization. That is a very peculiar plan of economic equality.
Delegate Tracy, Electricians: The delegate has just made a statement that I want to correct. He said that the Electrical Workers barred the Negroes by law from membership in their organization. There is nothing in the law of the International Union of the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers that bars Negroes, and such false statements as are made relative to our law here are not doing his cause any good. We also have Negro members in our organization.
President Green: The question has been called for. The question recurs on the substitute for the committee’s report offered by delegate Randolph.
The motion to adopt the substitue was lost.
The motion to adopt the committee’s report was carried.
Proceedings of the 55th annual convention of the American Confederation of Labor, 1935, pp. 806-19, 827-29.
Discrimination Against Negro Worker
Resolution 79—By Delegate A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, Following the San Francisco Convention of 1934, in which Resolution No. 141, demanding the expulsion from the A.F. of L. any national or international union whose constitution or ritual contained clauses against the membership of workers because of race or color, a committee of five trade union workers, consisting of John E. Rooney, Operative Plasterers and Cement Finishers; John Brophy, United Mine Workers of America; John W. Garvey, International Hod Carriers, Building and Common Laborers’ Union; Jerry L. Hanks, the Journeyman Barbers International Union; and T. C. Carroll, Brotherood of Maintenance of Ways Employes, was appointed by President Green, and conducted an investigation into discriminations in the trade unions against Negro workers, for two days in the A.F. of L. Building in Washington, D.C; and
WHEREAS, The report of the committee appointed by President Green never was formally presented to the Convention, as the adopted resolution No. 141 of the San Francisco Convention demanded, but on the contrary, a statement was prepared and submitted to the Atlantic City Convention by George M. Harrison, President of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, who was appointed by President Green to deal with the report of the aforementioned committee, which statement minimized the question of discriminations against Negro workers, but stated in part, as follows: . . . We are of the opinion that since each affiliated national and international union has complete autonomy that the welfare of the Negro worker will be best served by a campaign of education of white workers to bring them the necessity of solidarity in the ranks of the workers and the voluntary elimination of all restrictions against full rights of membership to the Negro. The American Federation of Labor has consistently advocated the organization of all workers and we reaffirm that policy. The economic welfare of the workers can best be served by complete unity of purpose and action. We therefore recommended that all national and international unions and the American Federation of Labor conduct a continuous campaign of education to bring to the white workers the necessity for greater unity of the workers in the labor movement to the end that all discrimination against Negroes will be removed,” the said statement being accepted and adopted by the convention; and
WHEREAS, Discriminations against Negro workers by trade unions affiliated with the A.F. of L. are still rife and flagrant in utter nullification of the many high-sounding declarations by numerous conventions of the A.F. of L. for equality of race and color prejudice, and in violation of the constitution of the A.F. of L., said discriminations consisting not only of color clauses in constitutions and rituals of national and international unions, but in many other subtle and varied ways, both against Negro workers going into the unions, and devious machinations to deny them jobs after they are in the unions and are paying their dues and taxes; and
WHEREAS, Negro workers have demonstrated that they possess the will and capacity to organize and fight, picket and strike along side their white brothers and sisters for union recognition and conditions, as seen among the needle trades, coal miners, longshoremen, and share–crop and tenant farmers, unions in which Negro workers are accorded equal rights and treatment; and
WHEREAS, So long as one black worker is denied trade union recognition, equality and protection and is victimized by capitalist exploiters, and is prevented from realizing security, no white worker is safe in the possession and exercise of his alleged freedom, and since working class solidarity, the only hope and salvation of the workers, is not possible of attainment so long as one worker is barred entrance into a union because of race or color, nationality, religion, political faith or sex; and
WHEREAS, In this period of crisis, when the employing class is seeking to crush and stamp out the trade union movement with fascist ferocity, and gives no thought or consideration to a worker because he accidently may be a white man, a white woman or a white child, seeking only to coin the blood and sweat of all workers into dollars for profit, the A.F. of L. should cease to pussyfoot, evade and dodge the question of Negro rights in the trade unions and frankly face it in the interest not only of the Negro worker but of its own moral, intellectual and spiritual growth and power and future; for no honest and sincere trade-union official or worker who has witnessed the dire ravages of this depression and noted the growing threat of the Big Business interests, to the right and interests of the workers, can, in good conscience and sound trade union ethics and principle, slam the door of the trade unions in the face of a worker merely because God made him black. No self-respecting Negro worker can accept the stigma of race inferiority which exclusion from trade unions attaches to him, and no truly fair-minded white worker or leader should expect or demand it. There being no more shameful and disgraceful blot upon the name of the A.F. of L. than this discrimination and jim-crow policy of certain unions in the A.F. of L., and the disposition of the A.F. of L., to permit it to continue; there be it
RESOLVED, That the Fifty-sixth Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, assembled in Tampa, Florida, goes on record as condemning all forms of discrimination against Negro workers, and demands the elimination of the color bar from all constitutions and rituals of national and international unions, making it mandatory that if any union affiliated with the A.F. of L. with color clauses in their constitutions or rituals fail to eliminate the said clauses in their next conventions and report same to the Executive Council, that the said national or international, stands automatically expelled from the A. F. of L. and call upon the central and state bodies departments, national and international and federal unions to create an anti-race prejudice committee, to hold hearings on the extent and nature of discriminatory practices against Negro workers in their own unions and among the unions in their locality, and to agitate and educate the workers of the need and value of working class unity for defense and protection against capitalist oppression; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That the A.F. of L. can, with as much constitutional justification, expel a union which violated its own, the A.F. of L. Constitution, by barring workers on account of race or color as it can justify constitutionally the expulsion of ten national unions because of alleged violation of democratic trade union procedure. . . .
The American Federation of Labor, has, from the beginning, energetically endeavored to overcome all forms of discrimination, and has vigorously opposed any distinction in citizenship and citizen rights because of race or color.
The discussion of this subject in our conventions, the influence of our National and International Unions have accomplished most practical results. The method which our trade union movement has applied has been that of education. We have led trade unionists to see the dangers to free institutions whenever discrimination was permitted to exist. Our American trade union movement at its beginning adopted a fundamental principle, that it would recognize all wage earners as being equal in all of their rights, regardless of racial origins or religious and political beliefs.
Your committee is opposed to any other methods than those of education, for prejudices cannot be eliminated by any other method. For this valid reason your committee recommends non-concurrence with the resolutions.
A motion was made and seconded to adopt the report of the committee.
Delegate Meyers, Technical and Research Employees’ Union: I am obliged to rise in protest against the position of the Resolution Committee on this resolution. This is a continuance of the policy as expressed in the report on the Scottsboro case and is a shameful evasion of the problem that faces America and the task of welding thirteen million negroes in this country into the labor unions. We know that the negro is not given his rights as provided by the constitution. We know it by looking out on the streets of the city and seeing Jim Crow cars, and we also know that negro delegates are not staying in the same hotel where white delegates are staying, simply because in the south the negro is not accorded the rights of the white man.81
We have an opportunity to protest it. We have an opportunity to struggle for the further emancipation of the negro as well as of other minority groups, as a labor organization, and yet when the opportunity comes before us we evade it. I don’t say “We,” I say the Resolutions Committee, and I think we have got to be sharp about it. I have heard on this floor insulting remarks already under the breath, and it burns me up to think that we are going to allow intolerance against the negro workers. We heard the representative from the Alabama State Federation of Labor talking about justice. It is true that not only the negro workers are persecuted in Alabama, but even the white organizers. The head of the United Rubber Workers’ Union was slugged near Birmingham. These attacks are not centered upon the negroes. The attack upon Herndon will be referred to in a resolution that will come up soon.82
From the attitude of the Resolutions Committee, it certainly does not seem that the committee is using every effort to weld together the negro and white workers. These resolutions are simply stating things that are known to everybody, and while it might not be to the liking of some people with prejudices to be put on the same equality with negroes, we, as working people, in order to get thirteen million negroes into our union, in order to prevent their use by white bosses to knock down the wages of the white workers, have to take them in.
I can call to your attention the stockyards strike in Chicago fifteen years ago. Negroes were employed without knowing what they were to do to break that strike, and later on, when there was an attempt to build unions among the negroes and whites, conveniently enough, race riots broke out. They were not accidents, they were planned, and they were planned to divide the negroes and the whites, so that unions could not be built. Therefore, knowing the attitude of the white bosses, we have to take a firm or courageous stand, we have to go out of our way to get them to work with us.
Perhaps you have noted that there is a certain amount of apathy about speaking on some of these resolutions, and because they are discouraged, not by the chair but by the reports of the Resolutions Committee, they do not speak. Certainly they can lend a helping hand to negro workers. I say if you want to build this movement, if you want to preserve democracy, if you want to weld unity, you have to defeat this report and stand in favor of the resolution, as should have been done in the Scottsboro case.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman and delegates to the convention, at the outset may I say that the Sleeping Car Porters’ delegates do not claim that the American Federation of Labor has not done anything for the organization of the colored workers. We do not claim that the American Federation of Labor is not now doing something for the organization of the Negro workers. We do not claim that the American Federation of Labor is not attempting to bring about better relations between the negro workers and the organized labor movement. President Green has on various occasions appeared in public meetings under the auspices of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and addressed large gatherings, he has made helpful, able, and constructive talks that have had wide influence in bringing about better relations between the negro workers and the labor movement.
We do say, however, there has not been any systematic and coordinated effort for the purpose of eliminating discrimination in the trade union movement. In the Atlantic City convention a report was adopted in the interest of prosecuting a nation-wide campaign of education to eliminate discrimination in the trade unions. I do not know that anything has been done on that program. I have not heard of anything being done. When the question of discrimination in the trade unions comes up the question is always raised that it is an invasion of autonomy of the national and international unions. Autonomy is not something absolute, autonomy is relative. In other words, you have this doctrine of autonomy with respect to state rights, and yet there are limitations set upon states’ rights. For instance, no state is permitted to ignore the income tax law. No state is permitted to set up a separate postal arrangement of its own. Therefore, despite the existence of the doctrine of autonomy, there is also a recognition of the limitations upon autonomy. If the American Federation of Labor can say to an international union that you cannot go out and organize workers without the scope of your jurisdiction by invading the field of another union, it seems to me that the American Federation of Labor ought to be able also to say to a national or international union that you cannot remain within the American Federation of Labor if you go out and proceed to organize a given group of workers and exclude from that organization workers that come within the scope of your jurisdiction. In other words, it seems that if the Federation can exclude an organization for invading a field of another union in organizing workers, it can also exclude a union for refusing to accept workers in a field over which it has jurisdiction.
As a matter of fact it is utterly impossible to have a unified movement if the organization of workers is based upon race or color. Now the exclusion of negroes from the trade unions involves two things. One is attaching a stigma, a stigma of inferiority to the negro workers. This is a condition which no self-respecting negro worker can accept. Second, the exclusion of negro workers from the trade unions involved also a loss of wages and a loss of jobs. I know of numerous instances where negro workers have gone from job to job. They have asked for the right to work and the foreman has said, “Have you a union card?” The negro worker has answered, “No.” Then the forman said, “Well, you cannot get work.” The negro worker in turn has gone to the union and has said. “I want a union card, I want to join the organization,” and the union has said “Have you got a job?” He answers, “No,” and then the union says, “We cannot give you a union card.”
Consequently, you can see the vicious circle in which the negro worker is thrown. If he hasn’t got a job he cannot get a card in the union, and if he hasn’t got a card in the union he cannot get a job. Therefore, this is a serious and fundamental and basic and vital question.
Now, when the workers exclude a group of workers from their own union on the basis of race and color, and the employer does not exclude their workers, it is a point of division, because the employers say to the negro workers, “You see, the white workers are opposed to you.” This subject of discrimination of negro workers in the union is important for consideration in the Tampa convention, because here we are in the midst of the South. I have been told by a number of international presidents that they would oppose the color clause in their constitutiona and rituals, but that they could not do anything about it because of their southern membership. I have been told that there are vice presidents of international unions who failed of reelection because they dared to advocate the right of negroes to join their unions. Therefore, you can readily see the importance of discussing this question in a place where you have the whole element of southern prejudice before you.
The American labor movement will never be effective so long as there is not an effective labor movement in the south, and there will never be an effective labor movement in the South so long as the negro workers are not accepted by the unions upon a basis of equality. As a matter of fact, the white and black workers of the South cannot be organized separately as the fingers on my hand. They must be organized altogether, as the fingers on my hand when they are doubled up in the form of a fist, in order that they may be able to strike at the proper moment. If they are organized separately they will not understand each other, and if they do not understand each other they will fight each other, and if they fight each other they will hate each other and the employing class will profit from that condition.
What are the conditions of the white worker in the South? You have, for instance, convict labor. Right here in Tampa, I saw a number of white workers cleaning the streets, while a guard had a gun in his pocket working along with them. This is the condition of the white workers right here in the South. Then you know of the kidnapping and the flogging case here, the murder of Shoemaker and the flogging of Poulnot. There were also textile workers in Georgia who were put in concentration camps. White men were shot in Gastonia and Marion, North Carolina. The only privilege I can see in a worker being white is the privilege of looking down on the negro and of starving to death.
You have white workers who are share croppers, white workers and children who are being exploited in the factories. The white workers and the negro workers have more in common than the white workers and the white employers. The white share crop worker and the negro share crop worker have more in common than the white share crop worker and the white capitalist or the landlord. These are principles and truths that the white workers in the South will learn, and I can see evidences of an advancement of education among the white workers in the South along this line. I do not condemn the white workers in the South for their attitude toward the negro workers, because they have been the victims of prejudice, inculcated, fostered and engendered by the demagogues of the press, the church, and the state in the South. The various forces of capitalism have played their part in keeping the black and white workers apart, and so the white workers are not to blame. They are slowly seeing the light. As a matter of fact, it is illustrated as to what attitude the employers of the South have toward the white and black workers by a historical incident in slavery. One slave owner wanted to have something fixed on the top of his house, and there was a negro carpenter who was a slave and a white carpenter. It was a dangerous job, and it was possible that the man who went up there to fix that house would fall down and kill himself. So the slave owner sent the white carpenter up to do the job, and while some other demagogue, a politician, was standing by he asked the slave owner, “Why would you send a white man on top of that house to do a job when he might fall and kill himself, when you have a Negro slave there?” The white slave owner said, “Well, if a white worker goes up on that house and happens to fall and kill himself, I don’t lose anything, I can get another one, but if this Negro slave is sent up there and falls down and kills himself, I will get a thousand dollars.”
Therefore, you see where there is a conflict of economic interests and race, the economic interests prevail. That shows you that the conflict in the South over this question has a definite economic basis.
Now, what is the condition of the Negro? The Negro in the South is the victim of the peonage-disfranchisement, Lily-white primaries, poll tax, tenant and share-crop farming, the entire jim-crow system, segregation, mob rule, lynch terror, low wages, long hours and intolerable working conditions and convict labor.
As a matter of fact, I have in my hand a report which was recently made by Dr. C. F. Duncan, of Jacksonville, a colored man, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a negro insurance man and a negro journalist from Jacksonville, and Frank McAllister, a white man, of the Workers’ Defense League. They went to McClenny, Fla., on the 15th day of this month, at 10:00 o’clock in the morning and made an investigation of negro peonage there. This is their report:
“We first interviewed a school teacher who informed us of the conditions of the schools. In her department there were 52 children in one room. A majority of the children come to school barefooted. Attendance falls off in the coldest months because the pupils do not have enough clothes to keep warm. She was prevailed upon to talk only through intervention of Dr. Duncan, who assured her that no harm would befall her but that it was her duty to speak freely. The houses (if you can call them that) in which these people live all are owned by Will Knabb, turpentine operator, and the workers live in constant fear of reprisals.
“Next we talked with several turpentine workers who talked freely but only after much persuasion. They stated categorically that all the negro people in this community were held in slavery. None is allowed to leave the place. The owner has two stool-pigeons who keep him informed of everything that goes on in the quarters. These informers even slip under the shacks at night and listen in on the conversation to see if they may detect some hint of dissatisfaction which might indicate that someone was harbarong thoughts of “escape.” One of these informers is named Cobb. After almost two hours in the quarters, Cobb detected our party and immediately ran to the clerk of the commissary to notify him that someone was prying around.
“The turpentine workers are forced to toil from daylight until they can no longer see at night. For their labor they receive pay ranging from 60 cents per day to $1.00. A very few receive as much as $1.25 a day. They are forced to purchase their supplies at the commissary owned by Knabb. Prices at this commissary are almost double regular retail prices. For sample, white bacon, which can be bought in Tampa stores for 15 cents per pound, cost 25 cents per pound in Knabb’s commissary. Six pounds of plain flour cost 40 cents in the commissary and the same grade can be bought for 24 cents at the retail stores. When the wages of the turpentine workers are translated into purchasing power it is easy to see that many of them are working for 25 cents per day. One man spent $2.00 outside the commissary a little while back and was told that his pay of $10.00 would be held up until he purchased all his goods at the commissary.
“Any desire on the part of the inmates to escape is effectively thwarted by the realization of possible consequences. Men may suffer beatings, their very lives may be threatened if they attempt to leave. By a system of camps which surround the community they are able to head off any fleeing slave.
“As soon as we had secured this information, which we considered adequate, we decided it would be safer to leave. The informer had notified the commissary of our presence and we could see a small cluster of white men gathering. Wisdom seemed to dictate departure and so we left after about two hours in the quarters.”
“Here is an evidence of exploitation of the negro workers. Why? Because there is no labor organization in the South that has the strength and power to prevent the exploitation of negro and white workers.”
I appeal to this convention, and especially to President Green, that some representation be made to Governor Scholtz of Florida, the Sheriff of Baker County, the United States Attorney General for an investigation of peonage in Florida and a general Federal investigation by the Congress. Here is a direct violation of the constitution, because here is a case where men are being held in involuntary servitude. I also appeal to President Green to make representations to the United States Attorney and also proceed in getting a Federal investigation of this condition, because it is typical throughout the state of Florida, and unless someone might say that I don’t know enough about Florida to talk about this, I want to say to you that I was born in Crescent City, Florida. My mother and father were born in Monticello, Florida. My fathers’ father was born in Virginia, and his forbears run back to slaves who were owned by John Randolph one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Therefore, I am as American as any white American born in America. Therefore, there is no question of some interloper raising this question.
The question of the economic opportunity for the black worker in the South is bound up with the question of economic opportunity for the white worker in the South. So long as the black worker remains a slave, white workers in the South will never be free. So we appeal to the white workers in the South, and I have faith in the ultimate sense of Justice toward negro workers on the part of the white workers in the South. I believe the white workers of the old South will eventually see the light, and when they do they will join hands with the black workers and they will fight together against a common foe.
It has been said it cannot be done, but it is being done in Arkansas, where you have the black and white workers in the same tenant farmers’ union. Right here in Tampa, in the Longshoremen’s Union there are white men alongside black men fighting for the same thing. Therefore, there is no fundamental opposition, no fundamental difference between the white and the black workers. They have a common interest in getting more wages and better conditions, and they have a common interest in opposing their exploiters. But when some demagogue comes around and tells the white worker he is better than the black worker, and then he goes around and tells the black worker that the white worker is trying to take advantage of him, then hate and hostility begin to flare up. The only remedy for that is the organization of the black worker and the white worker in the South in the same union.
I hope that the holding of this convention here in Tampa will help bring that about. I was quite opposed to the holding of the convention in Tampa, because I believe whenever a convention is held by the American Federation of Labor, provision ought to be made that negro delegates will receive the same accommodations as all other delegates to the convention. That condition, of course, does not exist in Tampa. In the future I think that should be taken into consideration, and whenever an effort is being made to hold a convention the A.F. of L. should refuse to hold it in a city where equal accommodations are not afforded.
However, I hope that the holding of the convention here will result in the building up of sentiment for the organization of the negro and white workers together. I believe that will serve as one of the fundamental solutions of the problem of the workers of America. I believe the time will come when the working class people of the South will be the most militant of the working class people of America, especially when these two groups here are united and have all in common and nothing in opposition.
Secretary Frey: Mr. Chairman, I believe every delegate in the hall has the highest regard for the splendid assistance which the delegate who has just spoken has endeavored to give to his own race in this country. For one, I admire him and he knows it, but I want to call your attention to the fact that the delegate has not addressed himself either to his resolution or to the committee’s report, and the report is predicated upon the resolution which was introduced. The resolution calls for the expulsion of any national or international union which does not amend its charter to conform to the delegate’s opinion of what should be the rule relative to admission of negro workers. The resolution goes further, and it says that the failure of an international union to amend its charter is equivalent to the action of international unions in setting up a dual organization to the American Federation of Labor, and therefore, the Executive Council is equally justified in expelling them. May I read the resolve, so that there can be no doubt?
“Further resolved that the American Federation of Labor can, with as much constitutional justification, expel a union which violated its own, the A.F. of L. constitution, by barring workers on account of race or color as it can justify constitutionally the expulsion of ten national unions, because of alleged violation of democratic trade union procedure.”
Now I know of no one who has done as much to eliminate racial prejudice in this country as did the American Federation of Labor, and I want to say in the kindliest spirit possible that because of my interest in the question I am at times almost convinced that one of the most serious obstacles to the more rapid elimination of that racial prejudice is the attitude assumed by some leaders of the colored race.
Now, let us get a few facts which are more important than logic or eloquence or appeal. The outstanding delegate in this convention, so far as organizing members of his race is concerned, with the assistance of the American Federation of Labor, brought a national union of Pullman porters into existence. Their delegates are seated here. They have had the support of every central labor union in the country. May I call your attention to the fact that all of the members of that union belong to the same race as the delegate who has just addressed you. Now, circumstances in our country cannot be the same for everyone, and we know that not only are there oppressed and exploited negroes in the south, but there are also exploited and oppressed white workers in the south.
But there are opportunities, and I want to give you a contract. I did not have the educational advantages of the delegate. I went to work when I was nine years old. I never had an opportunity of receiving the education and the culture that we acquire in our great universities. While the delegate was having his mind trained, while he was absorbing the culture, the highest that we have in Harvard University, I was organizing negro moulders into the Moulders’ Union in the deep south.
Yes, there are prejudices. The American trade union movement is not responsible for that, but they exist, they are deep-rooted, and I believe for one that the only way to eliminate them is through education and not through compulsion, as recommended in the resolution.
We are here in the South. On Sunday we saw the negroes going to the church of their own denomination. We saw the whites going to the church of the same denomination which they have for themselves. Does anyone believe that with a situation developed over several generations which leads Christians themselves to divide themselves into churches, so that members of each race go to their own church, although they are both of the same denomination, it is possible for our trade unions, by expelling national organizations, to more rapidly carry on the work of wiping out the unjust discrimination which exists?
The committee has said plainly in easily understood language that the committee believes it is only by applying educational methods that this prejudice can be eliminated, and if I understand the trade union movement that is the position this trade union movement will take on this continued introduction of resolutions and continued speeches doing more to stir up racial feelings than anything else. We are here to be of service, and the only way to eliminate prejudice is to use the strength of this Federation to apply educational methods. To advocate compulsion weakens instead of strengthens the effort that is necessary to wipe out the unjustified and unfortunate prejudice which does exist.
The report of the committee was adopted.
Proceedings of the 56th annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1936, pp. 234-36, 631-35, 657-64.