ARE YOU A MAN?
By W. R. Shields
I do not ask my friend, if you
Were born a Gentile or a Jew
A Buddhist, or Mohammedan:—
I only ask, are you a man?
It matters not, my friend, to me
If you are black as black can be.
Or colored red, or brown, or tan:—
I ask but this, are you a man?
I care not, brother, whence you came.
Nor do I seek to know your name.
Your race, religion, creed or clan:—
I want to know if you’re a man.
I care not if you’re homely quite,
Or handsome as an angel bright,
If you, throughout your little span,
Have only shown yourself a man.
I think that most men think like that.
They hate a weakling, loathe a rat;
They’ve always liked, since time began,
One who is first and last a man.
JOIN THE BROTHERHOOD AND BE A MAN!
The Messenger, 8 (July, 1926): 224.
By A. Philip Randolph
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was organized August 25th, New York City, N.Y.
WHO ORGANIZED IT?
As a result of a speech by the writer at the Pullman Porters’ Athletic Association on organization, the porters of New York were aroused. Immediately thereafter Mr. W. H. Des Verney interviewed the writer on the matter of organizing the porters. He called a meeting at his home at which Messrs. Roy Lancaster, at the time, recently discharged A. L. Totten and the writer, attended. The question of organization was discussed and the grievances of the porters told the writer. Upon the facts received in that conference an article was written in The Messenger magazine on the Case of the Pullman Porter. It aroused the porters throughout the country. It was followed up with another, more comprehensive.43
After the second article appeared, a mass meeting for Pullman porters was called, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was organized. As a result of that move an intensive organization campaign was launched and branches were established in Washington, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Mo., and Omaha, Neb.
Opposition immediately arose from some of the Negro papers and leaders who were brought up by the Pullman Company. In Chicago the fight was bitterest but with the able support of R. L. Mays, noted Negro Labor leader, Chandler Owen, Chief Editorial writer of the Chicago Bee; C. Francis Stratford, Prominent young lawyer of Chicago; M. P. Webster, Organizer of the Chicago Division; George A. Price, Local Secretary Treasurer, and W. L. Berry, Field Agent, the Brotherhood went over the top with colors flying. A large number of colored women’s clubs of Chicago, as a result of the splendid cooperation of Mrs. Irene B. Gaines and Mrs. Naola Smith, gave their moral support to the Brotherhood.44
WHY THE WRITER WAS SELECTED TO LEAD THE BROTHERHOOD
First, because of his long advocacy of the cause of organized labor; second, because of the fact he was not a porter and hence had nothing to fear from the Pullman Company. Besides he was the editor of The Messenger magazine, which could be used to spread the propaganda of organization. No man in the employ of the Company could organize the porters as shown by the discharge of men who were merely suspected of trying to organize them.
The right of employees to select anyone they desire to represent them, whether working for their employer or not, is recognized by the U.S. Railroad Labor Board in decision No. 218 (Docket 404).
It reads: “The Labor Board also holds that the employees may vote for representatives who are not employees of the carrier, if they so desire, just as the carrier may select a representative who is neither a director or a stockholder.”
1. To get a living wage.
(a) The present wage is $67.50 a month. It is graduated upward over a period of 20 or 30 years, to $90.00.
2. Pay for preparatory time.
(a) By preparatory time is meant time spent in making ready the car and receiving passengers before the departure of the train.
(b) Example: A porter leaving New York at 12:30 midnight for Washington, D.C., reports for duty at 7:30 P.M. Although he works five (5) hours for the Company preparing the car to depart, his time does not begin until the train leaves the terminal station. Upon a basis of his monthly wage of $67.50, he receives 25 cents an hour. Thus five hours spent in preparatory time represents $1.25 which the Company deprives the porter of every time he makes this trip. A porter on this run makes the trip twelve times a month, which means that he enriches the Company at his expense to the extent of $15.00. Over a period of a year this represents a loss of $180. This is quite an item to a worker whose yearly wage is only $810, or, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, $1,278 below the income which is required of the average family in order to live according to a decent American standard. A porter running out of Omaha, reports for duty at 3 P.M. and works until 2:30 A.M. the next morning before his train departs, or his time or wages begins. When it is considered that this is being done by thousands of porters throughout the country, it is easy to estimate what a great profit the Company derives out of this practice.
(a) There are what is known as “in charge” porter or porters who do conductor’s work and porter’s too. “In charge” porters are in complete charge of the car. They do the same clerical work of a regular conductor. But they only receive $10.00 additional pay for said work. Therefore, on each “in charge” porter, the Company saves $145 a month, since the minimum conductor’s pay is $155 a month. The rule is that when a porter has two cars, he should get the minimum conductor’s pay, but the custom is that when there are two cars to be handled, a conductor is there to take charge. The conductor’s union protects them to this extent. There are several thousand “in charge” porters in the service. But estimating on only one thousand, it is clear what a great advantage the Company reaps by paying them only $10.00 additional instead of the minimum conductor’s pay, $155. On one thousand such porters the Company saves $145,000 every month or $1,740,000 every year.
4. Pay for delayed arrivals.
(a) At present the average porter’s train may be late several hours every trip during the month, but he receives no pay for hours spent on duty beyond his regular scheduled hours’ because the hours he is late are required to be put in his accumulated mileage column and since he must make 11,000 miles or nearly 400 hours each month, he makes no overtime by being late.
(b) Example: A porter is running on parlor car from New York to Washington, D.C. The porter makes 13 round trips or 26 trips per month. The mileage from New York to Washington is 227 miles or 454 miles for a round trip. Now 13 round trips times the round trip mileage of 454 equals 5,902 miles.
The minimum mileage required for a porter to make a month for $67.50 before overtime is paid, is 11,000 miles.
The specified lay-over is from the time the train is due to arrive to the time train is due out.
The rule reads: Road service performed on specified lay-over to be paid as doubles at 60 per cent per 100 miles.
The porter running to Washington is due to arrive at 6 P.M. but arrives at 9 P.M., must put late arrival of three hours in accumulated mileage column. If he is three hours late at New York and Washington each trip during the month, he will be late 78 hours. Now 78 hours times 30 miles, the milage hour rate of the train, will equal 2,340 miles. Add 2,340 to 5,902, the mileage between New York and Washington, a porter makes during a month and it totals 8,242 miles. Subtract 8,242 from 11,000 the minimum mileage a porter is required to make, and the remainder is 2,758 miles, the porter is yet required to make before he is paid overtime.
(c) The Brotherhood demands 240 hours or less in regular assignment as the basis of the porter’s monthly wage. This provision will regulate preparatory time, station duty and delayed arrivals.
The Pullman conductors have the 240 hour month.
5. Doubling is injurious to the health of the porter. Doubling means leaving for a point immediately the porter arrives off a run, however long. It throws a regular porter out of line and he earns less.
(a) Example: A porter operating a line car between New York and Chicago. From the 1st of October to the 25th makes 5 trips with lay-over periods which expire on the 25th day. At the rate of $67.50 per month he earns $56.25. It happens, however, that on his arrival at New York, on the night of the 23rd, he is required to double out of Boston on the night of the 24th and consequently is not able to cover his run on the 25th day.
By doubling to Boston he is placed on the mileage basis and only earns $1.44, which is less than his day’s pay, or 60 cents times 240. He returns from Boston in service on the night of the 25th and arrives in New York on the morning of the 26th and earns another day’s pay of $2.25, which expires on the night of the 27th.
He is now out of line, and has to lay around until the 30th, when his line is due out, without pay. He then leaves New York on the 30th and arrives in Chicago on the 31st and earns $2.25, another day’s pay. His month’s total by doubling equals to $64.44. $56.25 is the pay received for time put in from Octo. 1st to 25th, $1.44 is amount received for doubling to Boston, and $6.75 for three day’s put in thereafter at $2.25.
Now if he did a full month’s work in regular time he would earn $67.50. But by doubling he only gets $64.44, or $3.04 less than his monthly wages. By one month’s work in regular assignment, he, on a 31 day’s month, covers 11,532 miles, an excess of 532 miles over the monthly mileage a porter is required to make before he is paid for overtime. When 532 miles are multiplied by 60 cents, the rate allowed for excess mileage, one gets $3.18. Thus if the porter had stayed on his regular run, he would have earned $67.50, his monthly wage plus $3.18 for excess mileage, or $70.68. By doubling he loses the difference between what he makes, $64.44, and what he would have made it he had not doubled, $70.68, or $6.25.
(a) Example: A porter leaving Boston at 6:10 P.M., enroute to Chicago, a run of 23 hours, gets three hours sleep on the run; whereas a Pullman conductor on the same train gets off at Buffalo, a run of 11 hours, and gets four hours’ sleep during that run.
(b) Porters are never assured of sleep, since they are always subject to a call by the passengers.
(c) No provision is made for the porters sleeping unless upper No. 1 is not taken. If it is taken he must steal naps in the smoking room in the glare of the lights. Nor can he take these naps until every passenger has retired.
(d) Special provision should be made for the sleep of the porters. This could be arranged through a system of relief porters.
7. Extra porters are not paid if they report for duty and there is no line for them to be sent out on. This is obviously unfair. Extra porters who are required to report at the yard for duty should be paid whether they are sent out or not. They are required to report regularly or be put off the list.
Regular porters who miss their line as a result of having doubled out, are not paid during the time they are lying around waiting to catch their line. This is unjust. They should be paid for this time spent waiting for their line, since they were thrown out of line accommodating the Company.
Example: If a regular porter running from New York to Chicago is doubled out from New York to Atlantic City upon his return from Chicago to New York, his home district, he will miss his line when he returns from Atlantic City to New York. Hence he must lie around for one or two days until his regular line returns. He is not paid during that time. A regular porter is only paid when he reports for duty and is not sent out if he is in a foreign district, that is, not in his home district.
9. Porters are required to buy the polish and equipment for shining the passengers’ shoes. If he does not shine their shoes, he is given 15 or 30 days on the street, and, if he shines them and requests pay for same, he is penalized. Polish and equipment should be supplied by the Company.
10. Porters should receive adequate rest before they are required to double out. They should not be required to double out during their lay-overs, except where necessary or very pressing. At present, a porter running from St. Louis or Chicago to New York is often required to double right out to Boston or to some other point before he sees his family, gets anything to eat, freshen up himself or change his clothes. During rush periods such as holidays, he is given bad hot coffee and buns. This is palpably against the health of the porter.
11. Maids don’t receive the same lay-overs as porters. Having the same runs, they are entitled to the same lay-overs.
SAVING PORTERS’ TIME
12. Whenever a porter is compelled to report for investigation, he does so on his own time. Facilities should be so provided that a minim of time is lost, since the lay-overs of the porters are their rest periods and the time for attending to their personal business.
13. Example: A porter was assigned to a dead-head car, that is to say, a car not in line service. He carried no passengers and had no opportunity to receive tips while enroute. When assigned to the car, however, he was told by the clerk that said car was going to some other destination, to return in service. His car was cut off at some station near Rhode Island where there was no Pullman district or agency. He could not plead shortage of funds or refuse the car, because in doing so he would violate the instructions contained in his rule book and is subject to immediate dismissal for insubordination of duty.
He was held at this place three days and had no way with which to obtain food or wire his superintendent. He was hungry, his car was cold, and he felt miserable. The rule says he must remain with his car, but starvation forced him to desert it, hence he took the first dead-head train back to his district and reported the condition under which he was made to suffer. The assistant superintendent was indifferent. He took undue advantage of his official capacity to assail him unnecessarily in very hard terms. The porter was not able to defend himself in a diplomatic way. The effort was to make him bow his head, and usually the porter does.
Finally the porter was forced to accept a penalty which must be acknowledged by his own signature. Thirty days suspension was the verdict, and this penalty appears against his records, for the rest of his term of service. He refused and asks permission to see the superintendent or local supervisory officer. The assistant superintendent hastened to the office of the superintendent and presented his side of the dispute. The porter was then called in only to find the superintendent was inclined to uphold the action of his assistant. He explained his case to no avail.
The superintendent recommended his dismissal or suggested that he resign from the service. In the latter case he refused and was told he could not go out on the road. Under the Plan of Employee Representation, he has the right to take the matter before his committee on grievances. But the local officials felt that he had no grievance. They blocked his efforts to adjust his case by means of delay. He went repeatedly to the office only to find it hard to interview them. Weeks passed and he was out of work.
Finally he got a hearing and was permitted to take his case to the Committee of Grievances. He discovered that the same official who was in the first part of the dispute was also a member of the committee. With him were four others, as against an equal number of porter representatives. The result was dismissal from the service.
Such is the way the Employee Representation Plan functions.
RIGHT TO ORGANIZE
14. That the porters be not subjected to threats, intimidations and reprisals because of their membership in a labor union.
(a) The Company has fired porters because of activities in the interest of the union. It has compelled porters to vote for the Company union by threatening to withhold their paychecks or to withhold giving them their sign-out slip, that is, hold them off their runs. It has put inexperienced and untrained Filipinos on the club cars in order to frighten the porters away from their union. This is in violation of the seniority rule which the Company pledged to uphold in the agreement with the porters in the last wage conference, 1923. A club car is considered preferential service and supposed to go only to men of long service, efficiency and responsibility. But the Company overrode this rule and placed Filipinos on the club cars over the protest and request of Negro porters who have given probably thirty of their best years in the service.
(b) Under the Transportation Act, enacted by Congress in 1920, any group of workers on the railroads were invested with a right to organize and present their grievances to the Railroad Labor Board, machinery was set up under the said act to handle the workers’ grievances. Thus the Pullman Company is violating a Federal statute in opposing the men to organize.
(c) In the Employee Representation Plan of the Company, a clause specifically states that the Company will not discriminate against a porter or maid because of his or her membership in a fraternal society or union. This is Article 6 and Section F. Still it has done everything to prevent the men from organizing from hiring Filipinos to hiring Mr. Perry W. Howard, Negro Special Assistant to the United States Attorney General. . . .
1. There are twelve thousand porters in the service.
2. According to the rules of the United States Labor Board, an organization is required to have 51 per cent of the employees of a certain class of service in order to have a right to represent them.
3. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters now has branches in Washington, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Omaha, Neb.
4. As a result of the progress of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters the Pullman Company has called a wage conference to take place some time in January, obviously for the purpose of heading off the porters’ union. This conference doubtlessly will grant a small wage increase to the porters in order to get them satisfied. But the spirit of the men is so high that it will have no great effect upon them, since they realize that the Brotherhood has compelled the Company to call this conference.
The Brotherhood is not backed by Moscow. It has no connection with communists.
The claim that it is is pure Pullman propaganda.
1. The Brotherhood is being morally supported by the American Federation of Labor and the Big Four Brotherhoods.
2. It has been officially endorsed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
3. The Civic Club, in a public meeting held to get the facts about the movement to organize the Pullman Porters, endorsed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
The Brotherhood does not counsel insubordination but efficient discipline. It does not propose to injure the Pullman Company but to help it. The union is conservatively managed and directed so as to make it an efficient and constructive agency in cooperation with the Company for the general improvement of the service on the cars and the development of a high, upstanding, responsible type of porter.
The Messenger, 8 (February, 1926): 37–38, 61–62.
Organization of Pullman porters in two locals in New York City is of more than ordinary interest. Negro workers constitute an important section of the working class, and because of the color prejudice in this country have generally been kept in the unskilled and ill-paid occupations. It must also be admitted that white workers have also been reluctant to admit them to the trade unions, and in a number of unions they have been definitely excluded.
One of the most hopeful signs in many years is the cooperation of the A.F. of L. in organizing Negro workers. In the case of the Pullman porters we have an example of a class working for a corporation which maintains a company union which, like all such paternal devices, smothers the initiative and independence of the workers and ties them to the corporate masters in a system that is really capitalist espionage.
The Pullman porters often work overtime without pay, prepare cars for occupancy on their own time, receive a small wage which makes them dependent upon passengers for tips, and hours of labor leave them little time for home life, recreation and education. Through organization they hope to redress these grievances, and it is certain that they will be little modified as long as they are in the spider’s web of company unionism.
We hope that organized Negro workers will build up a powerful organization, inspire their fellows in other occupations to do likewise and contribute much to the solidarity of whites and blacks which is so essential to a powerful Labor movement.
The New Leader, August 29, 1925.
By A. Philip Randolph
Pullman porters are efficient. They are loyal. They are honest. They are faithful. This, the company admits. Not only does the company admit it, but praises the porters to the highest. . . .
Pullman Porters Synonymous with Pullman Company
When one speaks of the Pullman Company, the first image which comes to mind is the porter with his white coat, cap and brush. In fact, it is a matter of common knowledge that the chief commodity which the Company sells is service, and that service is given by the Pullman porters. For comfort, ease and safety, the traveling public looks to the porter. Children, old, decrepit and sick persons, are put in his charge. And the history of the Company shows that he has been a responsible custodian, ever vigilant, tender and careful of the well-being of his passengers. His every move and thought are directed toward the satisfaction of the slightest whim of restless and peevish passengers.
And ofttimes this service is rendered under the most trying conditions. Many a porter is doing duty though he has not slept in a bed for two or three nights at a time. Nor has he had adequate food. Despite the requirements that he be clean, he is often doubled and trebled back without ample time to give his body proper cleansing.
Treated Like Slaves
But despite the long, devoted, patient and heroic service of the Pullman porter to the Pullman Company, despite the fact that the fabric of the company rests upon his shoulders, despite the fact that the Pullman porter has made the Company what it is today, the Company, callous and heartless as Nero, treats him like a slave. In very truth, the Pullman porter has no rights which the Pullman Company is bound to respect. So far as his manhood is concerned, in the eyes of the Company, the porter is not supposed to have any. When he is required to report in the district offices to answer to some complaint, he is humiliated in being compelled to stand for two or three hours before the district officials decide to consider him, while there he is insulted by some sixteen-year-old whipper snapper messenger boy who arrogantly snaps out: “What d’you want, George.” This may be a porter who has been in the service some thirty or forty years, trenching hard upon the retirement period. But what does that matter? He is only a Pullman porter. His lot is hapless. In obedience to the mandate of holy writ, when he is slapped on one side of the cheek, he is expected to turn the other one. And if, perchance, under the cross of oppression, of bitter insult and brutal exploitation, he should assert his rights as a man, immediately he is branded as a rattled brain radical, and hounded and harrassed out of the service. Many a tragic and pitiful case may be cited of porters who committed the lese majeste of challenging the injustice of an Assistant District Superintendent, being deliberately framed in order to secure a pretext for persecuting him until his life becomes more miserable than a dog’s and is driven to resign. And this porter may be one who has not rendered exemplary service to the Company but has seen a score or more years on the road.
Framing Up Porters
There are many ways in which to “get” a porter. A porter must be examined, unlike any other worker on the railroad, once every year. Many of them speak bitterly of this method of humiliation and abuse. If a porter is pronounced unfit, he may be retired or fired. Whenever the Company wants to “can” a porter who has the impudence to “speak up” for his rights and the rights of the men, the examining doctor, paid by the Company, finds it necessary to give this particular porter a very rigid examination, and he does not pass. He is politely told that, on account of the report of the doctor’s examination, his (the porter’s) services are no longer required. Porter after porter avers this to be a fact. Of course it cannot be proved. But it is quite sufficient that the men assert it to be true. Large masses of men have a way of sensing the true reason for things, however subtly done. It is obvious that grave injustices may be done men, especially the bold spirits, under cover of medical precaution. If a man is up to be retired or fired, as a result of a Company doctor’s examination, he should have the right to file a report of an examination in a first class hospital on his case. And the report of the examination in the hospital should be considered final and decisive. But in fact, the porters should not be subjected to a physical examination every year at all. It is unnecessary, discriminatory and hence, unfair. In this connection it is interesting to note that some of the porters objected to a certain Company doctor, and suggested that the Company employ U. Conrad Vincent, a colored physician of high standing, and, incidentally, a former Pullman porter with an excellent record card, but the Company balked. Why? Guess? It may not be so easy to frame a porter through annual physical examinations. The only remedy for this situation is organization. If, when a porter is told that he is unfit for any future service, he could say to the Company, “Well, I will report the matter to my union,” a very different attitude would be assumed toward him. It is because the Pullman conductors have their own union that they are not subjected to the degrading ordeal of these yearly physical examinations. It must be remembered too, that there are only one-fourth as many Pullman conductors as Pullman porters. But their interests and rights are not disregarded as the porters’ are, because they are organized. The philosophy of organization is aptly stated by an old grizzled farmer, who, while driving through the woods, nonchalantly flicking a fly which annoyed the ear of his horse, next a grasshopper which sat challengingly on a twig, then, a caterpillar perched snugly on a bough, with his whip, but balked significantly when he saw a hornets’ nest. Upon inquiry by a cynical friend as to why he didn’t flick the little busy hornet, buzzing menacingly on a little spongy looking knoll, he, with a mixture of chagrin and humor, growled back: “Them’s organized.” What he meant was that that hornet, if flicked, would report his troubles to his union and that union would go to the bat for that one hornet who had been wronged. The old farmer knew that he could not flick the hornet and get away with it as he had done the fly, the grasshopper and the caterpillar, because the hornets are organized. Verily, hornets have more sense than some humans, perhaps, most humans. They are aware of the advantage of facing opposition en masse.
A classic instance in point is the case of a porter who was accused by a woman passenger of having hugged her at two o’clock in the night. She claimed that she screamed and stuck him with a hat pin, that he hollered, but no one came or awoke. This, too, was in a ten section car. She never reported the incident until seven o’clock in the morning to the trainman. The porter denied it. The trainman and Pullman conductor wrote the woman’s report to the Pullman office. The case hung on for six months. One morning one of the members of the Grievance Committee, under the Employees Representation Plan, was commanded to come to the office and sit on the case. This porter had been up two nights on the road. When he appeared in the office before the nine men sitting on the case, he pleaded that he was unfit to deliberate on the matter; that he needed rest. “To insist upon my passing judgment on this case, indicates,” said the porter, “that either you undervalue your own ability or you overvalue mine, because you expect me to do in a few minutes what it has taken you six months to do, and still you have not finished.” This porter member of the Grievance Committee maintained that it was ridiculous to think that a porter would hug a woman in a ten section car, that a woman could scream and not awaken the passengers or the Pullman conductor who was asleep in a berth only two spaces away; and that the porter could yell and not be heard. The accused porter had requested the officials to examine him stripped for the pin prick, but this was not done. The porter-member of the Grievance Committee pointed out that the Company was doing to the porter what a mob in the South would not do to its victim, namely, it was trying and convicting him without his accuser identifying him. He also contended that the woman might have dreamt that some one was hugging her, and the next morning put it on the porter, the most defenseless person on the car. This porter was fired after he had walked the streets for six months. The porter-member of the Grievance Committee was forthwith framed-up and fired because of his manly attitude in fighting for the accused porter. He is one of the responsible citizens of New York. Such rank injustice cries out to high heaven for redress! But there is none except through organized action.
Sentenced Before Convicted
This policy of the Pullman Company’s putting a porter in the streets immediately he is accused, before he is duly tried and convicted, is absolutely indefensible. No other worker on the railroads is so outraged. If, when he is reinstated he were paid for the time he was suspended, it would not be so bad. But this is not the case. The porter gets nothing for the time he has lost, even though he be vindicated. How unfair! A Pullman conductor who is accused, works while his case is being tried. Why? Because the conductors are organized.
Where a Porter’s Word Counts
Even a porter’s word is revered and respected by the Pullman Company at times. Pray, tell us what time is that, you naturally inquire. Well, it is when the Company is being sued by a passenger. A case in point: Lady “X” was a passenger on car “Z” coming from Chicago. Porter “Y” was on the car. Nine other women were also on the car. Lady “X” got up early next morning and went into the ladies’ room. The nine women went into the ladies’ room also within the course of an hour or so. After Lady “X” had left the car she discovered that she had lost a necklace worth $25,000. She reported it to the Company’s offices. She threatened to bring suit. The porter was brought to the Pullman offices and questioned. He was asked whether he entered the ladies’ room after Lady “X” had gone in and come out; when he entered, if at all. The porter said that when he had women passengers on a car, he made it a policy of not going into the ladies’ room. He said that all nine of the women entered the ladies’ room after Lady “X” came out. The Company took the porter’s word and rested its case on it. Of course, in this case the porter’s word saved the Company money, hence it suddenly took on value. As an evidence of the value of the porter’s word, a clean record card was produced for him. The Company, by the way, has a way of making out record cards to suit its convenience.
The porter’s word will never count until they are organized. The present Employee Representation Plan is a pure farce. It was forced upon the men. They never wanted it. Many of them say that they would have rejected it if they had been allowed to. They were simply ordered to vote for representatives of the plan. They did so. The Pullman conductors were asked if they wanted it. They said no and rejected it. The porters were not supposed to have the right of choice, hence they were gagged with the plan.
Porters Should Reject Plan in November
Because of the failure of the Employee Representation plan to function in the interest of the porters, it is their duty and right to repudiate and reject it. How? By simply not voting for it at all in November, when the delegates to carry on the plan will be voted for. When fifty-one per cent of the porters vote for the plan, the U.S. Labor Board recognizes it as the lawful spokesman of the men. If 51 per cent of the porters don’t vote for it, it is no longer regarded as having the right to represent the men. In as much as the Plan does not represent the porters anyway, they are justified in rejecting it. To support the Plan is to reject an opportunity to build up your own organization to represent you. The Plan is merely a blanket endorsement of the feudalism of the Company. Under the Plan the porter is merely a pawn shunted here and there at the caprice of the Company.
Local Management Prosecutor, Jury and Judge
It is a notorious fact that the porters are the victims of judicial lynching under the Plan. Note the procedure: When a porter is up on a charge, the papers in his case are sent to the Local Committee, the body or original jurisdiction, of the Employee Representation Plan. The Local Committee is composed of ten members: five representatives of the Company, including the Assistant District Superintendent, and five representatives of the porters. Should the Assistant District Superintendent make the charge against the porter, he, at the same time presents the case against him in the Local Committee, sits in the Committee as the jury and judge. If perforce, the Local Committee should convict the porter, and the case is carried to the Zone General Committee, the body of appellate jurisdiction, the Assistant District Superintendent may serve as prosecutor, jury and judge there also. If the decision of the Zone General Committee is not satisfactory, the case may be referred to the Bureau of Industrial Relations, which is under the supervision of welfare workers in the pay of the Company. The Company, therefore, gets the porters going and coming. What is the remedy? Organization!
Company Can Do No Wrong
In every case where the Local or Zone General Committee recommends the re-employment of a porter, the resolution calling for his re-employment also explicitly states the Local Management is sustained, that is, that the Company’s attitude in the matter is sound, just, and correct, but that it is willing to extend mercy to the porter. The theory being that, where porters are concerned, the Company can do no wrong. The porter is always wrong. He never tells the truth, is always dishonest. How unsubstantial is this theory! For, note the presence of countless porters on Honesty’s Honor Roll. But there is something more behind this theory. There is a desire on the part of the Company to impress the porters with the idea that they have no right to expect justice, that if they get it they would be worse off than they now are. For, logically, if one is always wrong, he cannot expect any improvement in his lot by getting justice. He needs to pray for mercy. Hence the Pullman Company assumes the roll of always forgiving the porters of their sins, of being merciful, the porters being unable, as it were, so reasons the Company, to endure the sentence of stern justice. Now if the porters are standing on the mercy, the sufferance of the Company, naturally, they cannot demand their rights like men. Their only hope is to beg and beseech the Company to take pity on them, don’t treat them like grown-up men, but like children, for they are not of age, they are not responsible. Such is the underlying philosophy of the Plan in relation to the porter. A porter is less than a man to accept it. For if every recommendation of the Local and Zone General Committee is to sustain the Local Management in every case involving the rights of porters, the assumption is that these porters are guilty before their case is heard and they are tried. And if they are always guilty, what on earth is the use of trying them. The Plan is superfluous so far as the interests of the porters are concerned. It simply serves to whitewash the Company and to emphasize the criminality of the porters. Thus the Plan is a menace and ought to be rejected. No other group of workers on the railroads or in the Pullman Company is a victim of such a trick plan.
P.P.B.A. Company’s Trap
But the Employee Representation Plan is not the only snare of the porters. The Pullman Porters’ Beneficial Association is another joker. The P.P.B.A., together with the Employee Representation Plan, were devised to break up the efforts of the men to organize a real union. Practically all of the members of the Board of Directors of the P.P.B.A. have soft berths in the pay of the Company. This makes them safe and usable. While the money in the P.P.B.A. belongs to the porters it is controlled by the Company. Not a dime can be drawn without the O.K. of the Company’s Treasurer. The Company controls the P.P.B.A. by controlling its officials.
Pullman porters take notice: Your funds are secure. They are deposited in the Locomotive Engineers’ Bank of New York City. A certified accountant is handling your books, which means that they are absolutely accurate. All persons handling your money are bonded.
Though it is supposed to be a benevolent organization, the local bodies are compelled to raise a fund through voluntary contirubions to help members when in distress, despite the fact that each member pays $26 a year dues to the organization.
Organization Only Hope
That organization is the solvent key of the problem of the porters is generally admitted by all groups of workers on the railroads.
The Big Four Brotherhoods have long since urged the porters to organize, because it strengthens the bargaining position of the Big Four.
But notwithstanding the overwhelming sentiment in favor of the organization of the porters, there are some doubting Thomases among them. Some of them have “lucrative runs” and many stripes. They ask such silly questions as: Can it be done? Think of it? Why every other group on the railroad is organized. Are the porters the most ignorant group of workers on the roads? The Company could not prevent the Pullman conductors from organizing. Why should the porters permit it to prevent them from organizing? If organization has helped the conductors, the engineers, firemen, switchmen, trainmen, maintenance-of-way men, why will it not benefit the porters? Only a few porters have good runs. The large majority have starvation runs.
Porters Have Nothing to Fear
There is no reason for the porters holding back from organization on account of any fear. The railroad workers and public opinion are on their side. And when they organize they will not only have right but they will also have might on their side.
Porters should beware of smoke screens, canards and schemes to divide and conquer them. This is a device to which the Company will readily resort immediately it finds that the men mean business. It will seek to pit the southern against the northern porters, and the American against the West Indian. This, porters must guard against. Show that you have a higher sense of race solidarity. Whencesover we have come, we have a common heritage, common source, common interests and common enemies. Thus ours should be the slogan: each for all and all for each.
A concrete start has been made in New York to organize the twelve thousand Pullman porters. Every porter should rally to the call. None should shirk. All should work. The only test of a porter’s sincere interest in the welfare of himself and the men is to join the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. It is your only refuge. Demonstrate for once that you have spirit, guts, independence, manhood and the will to be freemen.
With a real union, the porters can get the 240 hours or less in regular assignment as a monthly wage basis. The Pullman conductors have it. But they only got it because they are organized. With a real union, the porters can demand and secure pay for the time they spend in making ready a car to go out on the road. As it is a porter may report at the yards at 3 P.M. and work on his car until 7 P.M., the scheduled time for his car leaving the station, but he receives nothing for this time he has worked for the Company. This is obviously unfair. But the only remedy lies in organization. With Organization, the men can get more respect from the underlings of the Company who are far more oppressive than the big bosses.
Down through the ages you will find the militant injunction: He who would be free must himself strike the blow, is still true.
Pullman Porters, Attention!
“My pledged Word:” Don’t worry about your leadership selling you out. Every Pullman porter in the service will cut his throat before I will desert the movement. May I say now that all of the millions of the Pullman Company could not cause me to desert you.
A. Philip Randolph
The Messenger, 7 (September, 1925): 312, 314, 335-36, 339.
By R. W. Dunn45
“The cards are stacked against us. The company officials serve as prosecutor, jury, and judge in the committee. Whether a porter is right or wrong, the company is always sustained. Why? Because the plan belongs to the company.”—From a statement by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in the process of organization, 1925.
In the year 1920 the Pullman Company established an “Employee Representative Plan” to apply to all its workers in the shops and on the cars. The company plan was devised to forestall unionization and to keep down labor troubles. Let us examine first its application to the 12,000 colored porters who work for this Company. What happened to them under the Plan?
Like other such plans the Pullman constitution declares in Article 6, Section C, “There shall be no discrimination by the company or by any of its employees on account of membership or non-membership in any fraternal society or union.”
This section has been repeatedly violated ever since the plan was put into operation. Says A. Philip Randolph, General Organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping-Car Porters, in the Nation, September 30, 1925.:
“Since the movement began to organize the porters through a series of articles in the MESSENGER, the men have been repeatedly called into the office of the company and questioned as to what interest they have in the movement. When a mass meeting was arranged at the Elks Auditorium in New York City . . . the men were threatened with discharge if they attended.”
Apparently “no discrimination” and the following statement are perfectly compatible in the mind of the Pullman management. From the Railway Age, December 24, 1920, page 111–4:
“In submitting the plan to its employees, the Pullman Company makes it clear that the right to hire and discharge, management of the properties, and the direction of the working forces shall be vested exclusively in the company.” The employees’ Representation Plan is designed to settle grievances arising in connection with the working out of the company functions.”
How the Plan Works
Even before the campaign for the porters’ union began, the plan had been prevented to the uses of the company in its policy of keeping the porters in subjection. When the plan did not work out to the interests of the company it simply violated its provisions quite openly.
Take the case of the porter on a car in the Baltimore yards. It was the day of the Army and Navy football game with especially heavy traffic. The porter X had finished making up his car and had then helped a number of other porters make up theirs in preparation for the evening rush. Having finished, he was leaving the yards when the superintendent halted him and told him he had no business to go, that he should return and help the others. Porter X informed the superintendent that he had already done so, and proceeded on his way out of the yards, but not before the superintendent had taken his name. The superintendent wrote at once to the porters’ district superintendent in New York asking for his immediate discharge for talk and conduct unbecoming a porter. The New York superintendent looked up the record card of X and found it was without a blemish; he had been five years in the Pullman service.
In view of this fact, the New York superintendent asked the Baltimore superintendent to reconsider the case. The latter refused. The New York superintendent then asked the general manager in Washington to review the case. The latter, after consultation with the Baltimore superintendent, could obtain no other recommendation from him but discharge. Finally, the case was referred to the Operation Department in Chicago and X was summarily dismissed, although the New York superintendent as well as the Washington official had both been loathe to recommend it, and although the porter had an absolutely spotless record card.
Here was a clear case for the Plan to handle. So after the discharge the grievance was taken up by the district committee of ten, all of whom, including the five representatives of the management, voted for X’s reinstatement. Under the provisions of the Plan this should have ended the matter. But when the committe’s recommendation was sent to the Bureau of Industrial Relations of the Pullman Company at Chicago, they passed it on to the management which turned down the recommendation of the committee. Finally, after many complications, the case was appealed from the District Committee through what is known as the Zone General Committee, the next higher appeal body, where by a vote of 18 to 2, Porter X was upheld. The Committee recommended that he be returned to work. But at the same time the management was sustained (it always is as against the porters) in its position although the porter was returned to his job, however without his lost pay. Under the Plan, as advertised and displayed for public approval, the case should have been finally decided by the Committee of first instance and X returned with full pay for his lost time.
Another case illustrates how the Plan serves as a graveyard for grievances. A porter is discharged during the union campaign. It is intimated to him by the management that he is dropped because of a wire received from Chicago. Why? Because he was known to be very active in support of the newly organized union. The man has an absolutely clean record card. The local committee, when such appeals are handed to them, are supposed, under the Plan to give a decision in ten days. But the Committee stalls and refused to meet to take up the case. The Porter remains on the street.
Another porter who has served the company for years and who is an active and intelligent local committeeman under the Plan is discharged. Why? Because he sent a letter to the delegates in other districts calling attention to the annual opportunity to discuss wages, etc., in conference with the management, and urging them to state what the men wanted discussed at this conference. One of these letters falls into company hands. His superintendent forwith discharges the porter because he is informed he has written a letter seeking to “cause trouble” with the company. This “trouble” had consisted partly of the porter’s active participation in defending in the district committee the rights of a discharged porter by securing back pay for the discharged man, who had been reinstated after the charges against him had fallen through. The Bureau of Industrial Relations was forced, through the persistency of the committee member, whom it later discharged, to pay this check, although it first deducted for fifteen day’s service.
In other instances the company has completely ignored the provisions of the Plan and obeyed the instructions of superintendents rather than district committees on questions over which the committees, under the constitution of the Plan, are supposed to have complete jurisdiction. A porter returning to his home ahead of the time he was expected, found his wife consorting with another gentleman and proceeded to kick him downstairs. The wife sued for divorce. The porter was called out on the road before the hearing in the Court. The lawyer he retained failed to appear in court, so the porter was held in contempt. Whereupon the Pullman superintendent steps in paternally and tells the porter if he does not pay the alimony to the wife, he will be discharged from the service. The porter refuses to pay, and spends ten days in jail. While he is in jail, the wife goes to Detroit, there secures a divorce, and “takes up” with the other gentleman. The superintendent thereupon tells the porter he can come back to work only when he has proven his wife’s infidelity. He produces the evidence from Detroit. The superintendent still refuses to take him back. He appeals to the district committee which votes 6 to 4 to put him back to work, and so recommends to the Company’s Bureau of Industrial Relations in Chicago. But the Bureau refuses to accept the finding of the local committee, takes the word of the superintendent, and refuses to reinstate him. Again the machinery of employee representation is violated, to indulge the personal spite of a company superintendent.
Those porters elected to the local committees who may happen to display any backbone against the company’s paternalism, are dealt with pitilessly under the Employee Plan. An amusing incident will illustrate. It is taken from an article by Mr. Randolph, in the MESSENGER, on “The Pullman Company and the Pullman Porter.”
“A classic instance in point is the case of a porter who was accused by a woman passenger of having hugged her at two o’clock in the morning. She claimed that she screamed and stuck him with a hatpin, that he hollered, but no one came or awoke. This, too, was in a ten-section car. She never reported the incident until seven o’clock in the morning to the trainman. The porter denied it. The trainman and Pullman conductor wrote the woman’s report to the Pullman Office. The case hung on for six months. One morning one of the members of the Grievance Committee, under the Employees Representative Plan, was commanded to come to the office and sit on the case. This porter had been up two nights on the road. When he appeared in the office before the nine men sitting on the case, he pleaded that he was unfit to deliberate on the matter; that he needed rest. ‘To insist upon my passing judgment on this case indicates,’ said the porter, ‘that either you undervalue your own ability or you overvalue mine, because you expect me to do in a few minutes what it has taken you six months to do, and still you have not finished.’ This porter member of the Grievance Committee maintained that it was ridiculous to think that a porter would hug a woman in a ten-section car, that a woman could scream and not awaken the passengers or the Pullman conductor who was asleep in a berth only two spaces away; and that the porter could yell and not be heard. The accused porter had requested the officials to examine him stripped for the pin prick, but this was not done. The porter member of the Grievance Committee pointed out that the Company was doing to the porter what a mob in the South would not do to its victim, namely, it was trying and convicting him without his accuser identifying him. He also contended that the woman might have dreamt that someone was hugging her, and the next morning put it on the porter, the most defenseless person on the car.
“This porter was fired after he had walked the streets for six months. The porter member of the Grievance Committee was forthwith framed-up and fired because of his manly attitude in fighting for the accused porter. He is a responsible citizen of New York.”
The tactics of the company during the porters’ organization drive in the fail of 1925 illustrates to what lengths it will go to intimidate workers asked by their fellow-workers to join the union. After a certain meeting held for organization purposes in New York City, the superintendent in that district called fifty of the men who had been at the meeting into his office before eight o’clock the following morning to ask them why they had attended such a meeting. In the Pittsburgh District the Pullman superintendent openly declared he would fire any porter joining the union. In St. Louis, the superintendent told some of the porters if they were going to be fools enough to join the union they would come to their senses when they found their places taken by Mexicans and Japanese workers which the company held in readiness for any such organization move by the present porters.
It is clear also that the company originally forced through the plan on the porters although it was unsuccessful in getting it endorsed by the organized Pullman conductors. The Plan was forced through among the porters chiefly by the effective use of intimidation. Men who would not vote under the plan were held off their runs and their paychecks held up. Especially were these tactics employed in March, 1924, when the company wanted to get out a record vote on the plan.
It is reported also that when the plan was “put over” in 1920, the porters in one district were handed a blue book containing the constitution and by-laws, and told they could not leave the yards until they had voted under the Plan. They were told that every other district had accepted the plan and therefore this district must accept it. They discovered later that their district was one of the first where the vote was taken. The same trick was employed in the other districts.
Again, the committees, under the Plan, are not permitted by the company to have persons charged with certain offenses appear before them to hear the charges. The defendant is never allowed to face the evidence or to be in the room when the charges are made, often by some prejudiced “welfare worker” serving as a stoolpigeon for the company. In the same manner the procedure before the higher committee is conducted, the charges and evidence against him has been drawn.
An interesting type of welfare work is that used by the Pullman Company in dealing with its colored porters. This welfare activity is closely associated with the Pullman Porters’ Benefit Association of America, organized in 1920, to which any porter may belong. The association provides him with insurance in which the premium is doubled should the porter leave the service or company. The Board of Directors of the Benefit Association originally consisted of five porters and two welfare workers. But gradually the entire seven have been transformed into instructors or welfare workers on the company payroll at $175 a month, as compared with the porters’ wages of $67.50. In other words, the company has seen to it that the Benefit Association stays within its control, although an annual election of one porter delegate from each of sixty-six districts still maintains the illusion of democracy. The Grand Chairman of the Benefit Association is one Perry Parker, a high official of the Pullman Company. Not a cent of the funds of the Benefit Association is spent without the approval of the company.
The porters charge that the welfare workers are professional stoolpigeons of the company, prying into the “characters” of the porters, searching for radicals and progressives, making charges against any employee who shows any spirit of independence or criticism. Not only is this type of semi-professional spy provided for by the company, but the voluntary type is encouraged, the porters declare. One of them tells, for example, of a superintendent at the Pennsylvania Station in New York who, at a meeting of the porters, told them: “If you see anything happening in the homes or on the streets or anything concerning our employees which might interest us, we want you to come right to my office and tell me personally. Your name will not be mentioned.”
The Messenger, 7 (December, 1925): 394-95.
By Frank R. Crosswaith
After chalking up a record that will stand for many a day unchallenged in the annals of organizing workers, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters closed the year 1925 with three monster mass meetings in the Negro section of New York City. During these three days’ rally, December 27, 28 and 29, over 20 porters and maids were enrolled in the fighting Brotherhood.
Within the two last weeks in December, 1925, the membership of the union was increased by over 300. The porters have displayed a readiness for and an appreciation of organization that is at once alarming and gratifying. In the short space of four months more than 45 per cent of 12,000 Pullman porters of the nation have rallied to the bugle call of unionism and class solidarity.
No other group of workers in the long history of the working class of America to better its economic and social conditions have shown such results in so short a time. These Negro workers are breaking traditions and establishing the fallacy too long accepted as true, that Negro workers can’t be organized and that they constitute the “scabs” of America.
A New Type of Negro to the Fore
They have established the unmistakable fact that a new type of Negro is now facing America, and America must heed his presence. Not content with the remarkable successes of 1925, the Brotherhood is out to eclipse its record for that year by energetically pressing forward a program in 1926 which should win the genuine admiration of every one truly interested in the struggles and triumphs of all workers. Organizers will be sent into every state where Pullman porters are located. The South will be invaded, the Far West will, in a few weeks, hear the militant demands and resonant voice of A. Philip Randolph and his colleagues in this veritable crusade of 12,000 Negroes for a chance to live and to rescue their tip-subdues, self-respect from the stultifying and stagnant swamp of tips-taking.
The first meeting of the New Year was held last Friday night, January 8, at St. Luke’s Hall, 125 West 130th street; the spacious and elegant auditorium was filled by Pullman porters and their families, cheering every word that fell from the lips of the speakers and manifesting a spirit of determination to win and an appreciation of the serious task before them as to make even an old labor-war veteran marvel astonishment. For these black toilers were cheering every reference made to a new “social order.” “The rights of man must supercede the rights of property.” “Industrial democracy,” “the class struggle,” and many other phrases well known to the readers of the New Leader. The speakers were A. Philip Randolph, General Organizer, Brotherhood Sleeping Car Porters; Mrs. Gertrude E. McDougald, Vice-chairman, Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers; W. H. Des Verney, Field Organizer, Brotherhood Sleeping Car Porters, and Frank R. Crosswaith, Executive Secretary, Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers.46
Women Play An Active Part
The role being played in this fight by the wives of these porters ahould not be permitted to pass unrecorded. In many instances where a porter has been hesitant in joining the union, his wife has sent in the initiation fee of $5 and then compelled him to sign the application blank. Letters are constantly being received at headquarters, 2311 Seventh avenue, from these women, apologizing for the apathy of their husbands.
One militant wife refused to accompany her mate anywhere in the streets of Harlem unless he joined the union. The wife of another porter, herself in a hospital undergoing a serious operation, insisted, nevertheless, that news be brought to her bedside after each mass meeting of the union. An auxiliary to the Brotherhood, consisting of the wives of porters, is now being organized and already its membership is impressive. The fight of the Pullman porters is the all absorbing topic wherever two or more Negroes gather in Harlem. This wave of enthusiasm and genuine interest in the Pullman porters’ fight is confined not only to New York City, but is evidenced where the organizers of the Brotherhood have visited: Washington, St. Louis, Kansas City, Boston, Omaha and Chicago, all tell the same story.
There is, however, another side to this picture not so rosy, not so fascinating. The management of the Pullman Company is using all the old tricks so familiar to employers who are determined upon the open shop method of dealing with their employee, such as intimidations, threats, shift of forces, withholding of pay checks, paid propaganda who ladle out in large portions the spotless virtues and benevolence of the company, and in still larger quantities the vicious vices and tyranny of trade unions.
The Pullman Company’s Army of Hired Men
In the persecution of its aims to keep the porters from organizing a union over which the company will have no control, and as a last resort to effect this desire, the Pullman Company has been able to purchase a number of so-called big Negroes, Negro newspaper editors, Negro politicians of the two old parties, Negro ministers and educators, a veritable battalion of “white hopes,” to stem the tide of organization among the men. King Canute in his famous injunction to the waves, had more success than these dusky tools of the Pullman Company are having.
In all of the scattered railroad centers, there can be found large stacks of Negro newspapers and magazines containing articles lauding the company and advising the porters against the Brotherhood in particular and trade unions in general. These are given away to the men. Quite a few of these papers were born since the porters began to unionize, others were on the verge of collapse; now, however, while they are being well supplied with Pullman money, it can be surely said, their circulation and influence among Negroes has decreased, and their duly earned fate patiently awaits them, for the porters will not read them; the aroused men and women of the race will have nothing to do with them, and it is a certainty that as soon as the Pullman Company is convinced—as it should be by now—that these Negro editors can’t produce the desired results, it will withdraw its support and the result will be a natural death for these sheets, a fate well deserved, and one that all workers, black and white, will hail with a song of satisfaction.
There are a few outstanding exceptions, however—such newspapers as the Washington Tribune, the Pittsburgh Courier, the New York Age and the New York Amsterdam News. They have thrown their lot in with the porters and are standing by them most admirably; these papers are not found in railroad yards to be freely distributed by the Pullman Company, but in the homes of the porters. Within the next two or three months, it is expected that over the required 51 per cent of the men shall have been enrolled and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters will take the case of the much abused and brutalized Pullman porters before the Railroad Labor Board or whatever agency will succeed it.
When the Negro Will Assume His Proper Place
The men are asking and should receive the unstinted support of all who are truly interested in the Negro, for it is not by singing “the spirituals,” or by rhapsodizing about “the old time religion,” that the Negro will be able to take his place in the world of men, but by harnessing his powers of production into labor organizations and his consuming powers into genuine co-operatives, will he be in the position to contribute his share in the making of a new society, dedicated to democracy in industry and one in which those who do the world’s useful work, will reap the full social value of their labor.
THE REAL PROLETARIAT OF AMERCA IS AT LAST BEING AROUSED! ALL HAIL THE DAY!
The New Leader, January 16, 1926.
Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free Pullman Desperation
The Pullman Company is desperate. It has lost its head, because of the stable, challenging power of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The Company is desparate because the porters are sticking to the Union, standing firm for their rights. The Company is desperate because it has discovered that it hasn’t got millions enough to buy the Brotherhood. This, the Company never dreamed of, for it has the psychology that every Negro is for sale. It gets this attitude from the types of Negroes it pays to serve as its tools, its servile vassals.
Frantically, the Company exclaims, “What kind of Negroes are these Brotherhood leaders anyway whom a white man’s money can’t buy?” Of course, the Company labors under the delusion that all Negroes are like porters: Doctor (not M.D.) D. Watson, H. W. Lucas, and S. H. Webb and a host of other time-serving, hat-in-hand Negro lackeys. But the Company is wrong. Fortunately, there are some Negroes who have a high regard for their self-respect, honor, manhood and race-Negroes who are undaunted by power and uncorruptible by gold. This type of Negro composes the Brotherhood.
Now the Company is using Watson, Lucas and Webb and a host of other Uncle Toms, who have a wishbone where a backbone ought to be, to villify, lie on and misrepresent the Brotherhood and its leaders. These same Negroes would be kicked out of the Company tomorrow if one passenger wrote a letter complaining against them and they know that, still they yell for the Employee Plan, which they know in their hearts is pure Pullman bunk. They are making fools of the Pullman Company, for they tell the Company what the Company wants to hear, namely, that Negroes won’t stick to anything long. They scream about being loyal to the Company, as though it is disloyal for porters to organize for decent wages. No such hula-balloo is being made about Pullman Conductors’ disloyalty, yet they are organized. Of course, even Negro Pullman stool-pigeons, such as Harry Hull, whoever he is, know that Brotherhood men are not disloyal, but they are simply saying this for little extra hand-out.
But the Company’s Negro stool-pigeons cannot save the Employee (mis)Representation Plan. The Brotherhood, with the flaming unquenchable determination of its members, is marching on to victory. A decision from the Interstate Commerce Commission is expected any day. Our task is to organize the unorganized porters and pay dues, and the Brotherhood cannot lose, even if the decision of the Commission were not favorable.
Your faithful servant,
A. PHILIP RANDOLPH,
General Organizer, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
Pamphlet (N.P., N.D.) in possession of the editors, March 6, 1926.
By Robert W. Dunn
Last month we set forth some of the hypocrisies of company unionism on the Pennsylvania Railroad System. This month we shall examine a near relative of the P.R.R., the company that makes and operates sleeping and chair cars—the infamous Pullman Company. Its financial guardians are Morgan, Vanderbilt, Marshall Field and several banks that also take the exploiter’s toll from the Pennsylvania lines.
The Pullman Company has never been in love with labor unions. For evidence on this point look up the records of the Industrial Relations Commission of 1916; examine the story of the great Pullman strike of 1894; consult the officials of the carmen or the sleeping car conductors who have had to deal with this company during the last few years. And finally, take into consideration the present merciless manouevres of this rich corporation in fighting off the unionizing efforts of its 12,000 train porters. It is with these porters and their union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the relation of that union to the “company union” that this article is chiefly concerned.
First let us examine this “plan of employee representation,” which so closely resembles the anti-union schemes adopted by other American companies within the last six years. It is “offered to our employees,” says President E. F. Carey of the Pullman Company, “for the purpose of handling expeditiously and settling promptly and fairly all questions which arise as to wages, working conditions, and such other matters as may be important to the welfare of the employees.” It is a joint committee type of plan as on the Pennsylvania, with “representatives” speaking for the management, and others supposedly elected freely by the workers. Unlike some other plans, however, the Pullman plan explicitly reserves the right to have the last “say” in every dispute that cannot be settled in the joint councils. All such matters are referred to the Bureau of Industrial Relations “and the decision of the bureau shall be final.” This bureau is simply the company’s labor or personnel department.
The plan, as is customary, promises no discrimination to any worker by reason of his membership in any union or fraternal order, but “the right to hire and discharge shall be invested exclusively in the company.” To be sure the workers’ representatives may bring up a discharge as a grievance—but remember the Bureau of Industrial Relations has the final voice. In other words the company can dispose of any worker who may prove troublesome to its plan, and its pursuit of profits.
Totten and Lancaster47
In actual operation the plan has proved a fraud and a crooked, hypocritical device to hypnotize the workers and destroy their solidarity. The evidence under this head is overwhelming. Men have been fired out offhand not only for displaying an interest in the trade union, but merely for carrying out their duties as “representatives” in an effort to squeeze what justice they could out of the company scheme.
A. L. Totten was one of those who tried to make the plan work in the interest of the porters. As a properly elected representative he attempted to stand up for the men who had elected him. For handling one or two of their grievances in a manner that showed the company he had courage and backbone, he was handed his discharge papers and dismissed for “insubordination and unsatisfactory service.”
Another well-known and highly respected porter, Roy Lancaster, was elected under the plan to represent the men. He tried to get them together for a wage conference last year—the company, it should be noted, has no regular date for calling conferences under its plan—and sent out a letter to other representatives asking them to formulate their demands. As soon as this letter came to the attention of the company he was set down as a “trouble maker” and discharged from the service.
Others like S. E. Grain have been removed without any stated reason for their discharge, but to all who have watched the Pullman Company in the last few months it is obvious that activity in the union has been the sole reason.
Still another porter, with a clean twenty-year service record happened to be in St. Paul on a run and attended an organizing meeting of the new union of which he was not even a member. He was called to the Pullman office the next morning and placed on the “extra list”—a man who had been on the same regular run for fourteen years straight! The order for his virtual discharge came, it was explained, from the general office. The local officials could do nothing to help him. They would not tell him what he had done, why he was being let off. . . . He is still trying to get back on his run.
Other reprisals have been visited on the porters who have had the courage merely to attend meetings of the new union. One man in St. Paul—also a 20-year man—was laid off his run on January 20th. He is still off, although not definitely discharged from the service of the company.
There is nothing unusual about this practice. It is the first weapon of any anti-labor corporation in countering an effort to organize its workers. It is merely interesting to observe the no-discrimination pretentions of the company union plan in contrast with its actual workings.
The eighteen delegates who attended the company union conference in Chicago in January were hand picked by the Pullman Company. Of course the usual pretense of “free elections” was made. But the results showed that no delegate who had not been virtually pledged in advance against the porters’ union had a chance of getting to Chicago. In the first place many of the organized porters refused to participate in the elections in spite of all the threats and coercion of the company. Of the 1,100 eligible voting porters in the New York Central district (New York City), less than 500 voted and less than 400 of these votes went to a certain T. E. Griffin. He was sent to Chicago as a delegate although it requires, under the plan constitution, a majority of the votes of the porters of the whole country to elect a delegate to the conference. On the other hand the same number of eligible voters—some 1,100—at the Pennsylvania Terminal cast 978 votes for a certain porter who was favorable to the labor union. He was not sent to Chicago. Then we have Grand Rapids, Michigan, where some five porters voted. Their nominee, Pearson, was elected to the Chicago conference! And a certain Keene who secured the nominating votes of only 15 porters in the Columbus, Ohio agency was also elected. When one remembers that the Pennsylvania Terminal with 1,100 voters had not one delegate at the conference and that none represented the Washington and other large terminals, one begins to appreciate the magnitude of the election frauds put over by the company in the name of “employee representation.” Responsible officials of the porters’ union estimate that of the 18 delegates at the conference only 3 secured the necessary majority required by the constitution to elect them!
The elections in 1924 were equally farcical. Sample ballots were mailed out to the various districts with the names of the company men marked with an “x”. A porter would be going out to make up his car when he would be stopped by a company official. “Hey, George! Did you vote yet? No? Can’t go out on your run till you vote. What’s your name and address? All right.” The porter would hurry to his car. The official would pull a marked ballot out of his side coat pocket and vote for “George.”
In its campaign to smash the porters’ union and maintain the dictatorship of the company union there is no underhand work to which the Pullman management has not stooped. Intimidation of every sort has been the daily practice of the company. One porter in Jacksonville who had expressed mild sympathy for the new union was told that he would either repudiate this endorsement or get off the cars. He was forced to write an open letter to all porters attacking the porters’ union. In fact it is estimated that 75 per cent of the delegates to the company union conferences in Chicago had proved their loyalty to the company by writing similar letters extolling the plan and slurring the real labor union and its leaders. Moreover, the most popular, independent and competent men were “defeated” in the elections to the conference, indicating clearly that it was a steam-rollered affair solely in the interest of the company.
The company has been clever in its use of propaganda. All the plaudits of the company plan have seemed on the surface to originate spontaneously with persons and papers far removed from company influence. On investigation, however, it has been found that the praise of the company has come from negro papers all over the country in which advertising has been carefully purchased in return for a “correct” editorial policy. The “brass check” has never been so well illustrated as in this systematic pollution of the negro press with company-inspired messages. Then when the newspapers have printed their dirtiest slanders against the porters’ union and run scare heads on the leaders “Escaping with Union Funds,” the company has stepped in and purchased thousands of these papers and distributed them among the porters. It has tacked the items and editorials of the papers on the bulletin boards and walls of waiting rooms, and done everything possible to tell the porter that the world is against him if he bucks the company. In the official house organ of the company nothing has been written about the porters’ union. The company has deliberately sown its seed on the outside where the editorial utterance would appear to come from impartial sources.
“Uncle Tom” Stuff
The advertisements running in these papers have often been in the form of a letter from some “loyal” Uncle Tom, “me-too-boss” porter playing up the glories of the company union or the company benefit association. Samples from these messages bought and paid for by Pullman agents will illustrate the general tone of the anti-labor propaganda:
“Let us not turn over our money to those who will put ropes around our necks and lead us into the corral where we will be put under the yoke and forced into submission to the will of the American Federation of Labor. . . . Let us view with suspicion the baits that are set to trap us into an ignominious position. . . . We do not need the uninvited interference of radical outsiders. . . . Let us remain true to the traditions of our race. . . . Let us maintain the proud record of fidelity that we have built up. . . . Let us stand shoulder to shoulder for our co-operative Employee Representation Plan.”
Every passion, prejudice and fear is thus played upon by the copy writer of the Pullman Company. Another half page spread in several papers raises the spectre of unemployment against those workers who dare to join a union and says frankly:
“You can earn an honest living up here (in the North) as long as the great manufacturers see fit to employ you.”
Following this threat with the advice:
“The voice of the labor union is the voice of danger, betrayal and destruction. Do not heed it.”
So powerful is the whip held over the negro press that out of five such papers in Chicago none dares openly espouse the cause of the porters’ union against the intimidation and terrorism of the company union. Indeed, so effective is the choke the Pullman Company can put on the press in general that even the white press, with some exceptions, has been afraid to carry the news of the Pullman porters’ battle for trade unionism. Take as an example the debate at which A. Philip Randolph, General Organizer of the Sleeping Car Porters, trimmed Perry W. Howard, a Pullman legal agent. This debate attracted 1,700 people on a Sunday afternoon in Chicago. Invitations and releases were sent to all the Chicago reporters, and they came and “covered” it with care. But not one “stick” of news on this debate appeared in any of the capitalist sheets the following day.
The Case of Perry Howard
This Perry Howard, incidentally, illustrates the Pullman propaganda tactics. Howard is a Republican politician from Mississippi. Although on the payroll of the U.S. Department of Justice as a special assistant to Attorney General Sargent, he has been released to work for the Pullman Company in heading off union organization and scattering lies about the “red” character of the Union. The contribution of this colored Judas to the issues involved in this controversy are summed up in the following expression: “The economic salvation of the race lies in the good-will of the capitalists. Attempts to creat ill-will between the colored people and the capitalists are for the purpose of exploitation.” He follows this up with the threat that the company will import Filipino workers to man the sleeping cars if the negroes against their wages of $67.50 per month. And adds that to pay the porters a living wage would bankrupt the Pullman Company—which in its last annual report shows the largest gross revenue in the history of the corporation, amounting to $84,000,000 with a net income of nearly $16,000,000 equivalent to nearly $12 a share on its capital stock.
In addition to the “representation plan,” one of the most effective company devices for enslaving the porters is the Pullman Porters’ Benefit Association, (organized in 1920) which some of the Pullman advertisements have dealt with in recent months. None of the seven members of the board of this association are porters. Instead they hold attractive jobs as “welfare workers” and their wages are more than double those of a porter. The chief job of the welfare workers seems to be to spy on workers to determine their “loyalty” to the company. The company will inform you solemnly that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Benefit Association. And yet the chairman of the association is a company agent and not one penny can be paid out of the treasury of the association without the O.K. of A. A. Cummings, Treasurer of the Pullman Company! The money cannot be used for any purpose without the consent of the company management. And stenographers who work for the benefit associations do not even dare to attend meetings of the Sleeping Car Porters’ Unions for fear of being fired! The “benefit” of this association all goes to the company. To be sure it writes an insurance policy for the workers at a rate no less than that charged by ordinary insurance companies and much higher than that obtained in labor union insurance societies. If the porter leaves the service of the company the premium is doubled.
The Cards Are Stacked
To return to the “plan” itself, it is, clear that it is owned body and soul by the Pullman management. All the cards are stacked against the porters. The same local management that recommends the discharge of a porter sits on the local committee as prosecutor, judge and juror in the case. And if the local committee should happen to recommend that the porter be put back on his job the decision is not carried out. The higher, or “zone committees,” have no more power. All their decisions are simply referred up to the management in Chicago which decides according to its own whim the fate of a porter. And no matter what the decision in any of the committees, the management is always sustained as a matter of form. Moreover, the committees are not permitted to have persons charged with offenses appear before them to hear the charges. The defendant is never allowed to face the evidence or to be in the room when the charges are made, often by some prejudiced “welfare worker” serving as a company stoolpigeon. In many instances, also, the plan has served as a literal graveyard for grievances, the company dupes stalling and delaying and refusing to take up the case of a worker bringing an appeal. The worker remains on the street while he slowly awakens to the realization that the plan is a farce and a joke.
Labor Age, 15 (March, 1926): 1-4.
By A. Philip Randolph
A new Pullman porter is born. He breathes a new spirit. He has caught a new vision. His creed is independence without insolence; courtesy without fawning; service without servility. His slogan is: “Opportunity not alms.” For a fair day’s work, he demands a fair day’s wage. He reasons that if it is just and fair and advantageous for the Pullman Company to organize in order to sell service to the traveling public, that it is also just and fair and advantageous for the porters to organize in order to sell their service to the Pullman Conductors to form an organization of, by and for themselves, it is to the best interests of the Pullman porters to form an organization of, by and for themselves. He has learnt from experience that the Company Union sugar-coated the Employee Representation Plan cannot and will not serve his interests any more than it can or will serve the interests of the Pullman conductors, the engineers, switchmen, firemen, train conductors or trainmen. He has common sense enough to sense the face that the Plan is the darling creature of the Company, hatched and nourished for the benefit of the Company, not the porter; that he can no more get justice at its hands than could a rat get justice before a jury of cats. His doctrine is that the best kind of help is self-help expressed through organized action.
The new Pullman porter is a rebel against all that the “Uncle Tom idea suggests. The former possesses the psychology of let well enough alone.” The latter that of progressive improvement. The former relies upon charity and pity; the latter upon his intelligence, initiative and thrift. The old time porter is afflicted with an inferiority complex; the new porter logically takes the position that a man’s worth in society is not the result of race, color, creed or nationality; but that a man’s worth is based upon the quality of his service to society.
The old time porter assumed that a clownal grin or a “buck and wing” was a necessary part of the service in order to extract a dime tip from an amused and ofttimes a disgusted passenger; whereas, the new porter believes that intelligence and dignity and industry are the chief factors in service of quality and value. As a service agent, the new porter seeks to anticipate the desires of his passengers with a view to making their travel ideal. He realizes that his service is a representative form of salesmanship for the Company to the public, and for himself to the Company and the public. His work is not alone regulated by the mechanical requirements of the service, but out of his rich and full experience, he is ever formulating new and higher forms of service. Many constructive and practical ideas lie in the heads of porters who are reluctant to reveal them because they feel that they neither get the proper appreciation or reward from the Company for them. A just wage stimulates the employees to give their best to their employer; it develops a larger interest in the job and a joy in performing a high type of workmanship.
The new porter is not amenable to the old slave-driving methods, his best service is secured through an appeal to his intelligence. Just as he damands fairer treatment than the old time porter, for the same reason, he gives a higher type of service. Just as he rejects charity and pity on the grounds that he is a man, and doesn’t need such, so he refuses to make excuses, but performs his duties in accordance with the requirements of efficient service.
His object is not only to get more wages, better hours of work and improved working conditions, but to do his bit in order to raise and progressively improve the standard of Pullman service. The new Pullman porter takes the position that his ability to render the Company increased productive efficiency can only result from his increased physical, moral and mental efficiency, which rest directly upon a higher standard of living, which in turn, can only be secured by a higher, regular income. His insistence upon a regular, living wage is based upon the fact that not only is the tipping system morally unjustfiable, but because tips fluctuate violently in amounts, from month to month, and a porter is for ever uncertain as to how to regulate his household affairs, since he cannot definitely plan on how much money he can spend above his meager wage of $67.50 a month, on his wife’s clothing, furniture for his home, or his children’s education. No other group of workers are required to work under such distracting uncertainty. Of course, the reason is that they are organized.
The new Pullman porter believes in organization and is wont to convince the Company and the traveling public that the Brotherhood will be a distinct asset to the Pullman industry in the practical and efficient handling of service and personal problems. He is cognizant of the fact that the security and welfare of the porters are bound up with the steady, continued and sustained progress of the Pullman industry. He is confident that his experience in the service equips, adapts and furnishes him with a peculiar and unique type of training and knowledge which no other employee possesses, and, therefore, renders him highly capable of giving constructive cooperation to the Company which will reflect itself in better service, and, hence better business.
The new porter is not a Communist, but a simple trade unionist, seeking only to become a better and a more useful citizen by securing a higher standard of living and preserving his manhood.
The new porter is not a slacker either on the job or in his organization. He is not content to consume the fruits that the hands of others produce. He is willing and ready to shoulder his share of the responsibility in making conditions better for the porters in particular and the race in general. Nor does he assign his ills to the sinfullness of the officials of the Pullman Company, but to his own failure to sense his rights, duties and powers to right them.
The new porter recognizes the necessity of cooperating with the Pullman conductor, since both are Workers for the same employer whose policy is to pit one against the other in order to keep them at logger-heads. Each can get more through cooperation; both will be exploited the more should they permit themselves to be deceived by the Company into believing that their interests are opposed. Though they accidentally belong to different races, they belong to the same class.
The new porter is not flattered by the claim that he has a monopoly on a job which does not yield him a decent living. He maintains that a fuller consideration of the relation of wages to production costs will show wage rates accompanied by efficient management, lower production costs, higher production efficiency and a higher type of workmanship. Higher production efficiency is reflected in lower selling prices, which makes possible service to a larger group of consumers, and a consequent larger volume of trade. The new Pullman porter contends that low wages encourages indolence, irresponsibility and dishonesty, and hence it is not an economical wage.
The new porter thinks hard but says little.
The Messenger, 8 (April, 1926): 109.
Brothers and Fellow Workers:
Since we left your district, it is with great pleasure that I can announce that the Movement has been going steadily forward. Everywhere a high crusading spirit is being sustained with a remarkable and assuring constancy. May I say that the permanence and progressive development of the Organization depend upon the intelligence, initiative and spirit of loyalty of the Organizing Committees, the centers of thought and action, the eyes and ears of the Movement. Responsibility and power for the execution of organizational policies reside in your hands. May I urge that you keep ever vigilant over the affairs of your district so that you will be always prepared to handle the situation with firmness, intelligence and wisdom. Our success will depend upon your scrupulous observance of the fact that:
First, the Organizing Committee is a secret body. Its membership and deliberations are to be held with the utmost secrecy. Only the local Secretary-Treasurer shall have access to and sit in the meetings of the Committee, or such other representative as shall be duly authorized by the General Organizer. This policy is dictated by the special and peculiar conditions under which the Movement was projected and must so continue to proceed until it comes into the open. Its primary object is to protect the interests of the membership.
Second, The Organizing Committee shall spare no pains in seeing to it that the district is organized 100%, that every porter in the district gets his membership card. There is a way tactfully to bring pressure to bear on the slacker porter. May I advise, however, that, in no case, should intimidation or coercion be used. Our policy must always be to appeal to the intelligence of the men, the public and the Pullman Company.
Third, The Organizing Committee shall industriously urge the members of the Brotherhood to keep up their dues. One need not emphasize the fact that unless the dues of the members of an organization are kept up, it cannot last. Dues are to an organization what taxes are to a government, they are the economic blood, the prop, the mainstay. These dues help the porters to pay their dues in their churches and lodges.
Fourth, The Committee shall also urge that the Brotherhood men do not talk too freely among themselves while on duty, that they refrain from telling the Company officials or passengers anything about their relations to the Movement, that they think hard, but say little.
Fifth, The Committee shall use its moral influence to impress the men with the fact that they must give better service now than ever before, that they must make time, be industrious and responsible; that the purpose of the Union is not to protect a porter who will not give service or who deliberately violates the rules and regulations of the company, but that each man must show himself worthy of the rights and privileges he is seeking through the Organization. Diligently impress the porters with the viewpoint that with rights and privileges go duties and responsibilities.
Sixth, It is the policy of the Movement that no porter be permitted to speak in the public meetings, fearing lest he be victimized by some of the Company Agents. The men must be advised not to permit their enthusiasm to run away with their better judgment. Advise them to permit their leaders to speak and suffer for them, if, indeed, anyone must suffer.
Seventh, The Committee shall advise and urge that the porters respect the Company officials, both white and black, that they refrain from speaking disrespectfully of said officials. The success of the movement does not depend upon abusing anyone. It must rise or fall upon a basis of the justice and merit of its programme, the loyalty of its members and the intelligence, responsibility, initiative, courage and honesty of its leadership.
Eighth, Advise the men not to rely upon the truth of reports, rumors and propaganda that they see in the publications of those who are interested in misrepresenting the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, but that they should seek their information from the responsible heads of the Movement.
Ninth, Advise the men that their monies are being used for the promotion and development of the organization, the printing of literature, maintenance of general headquarters, branch offices, the paying of the expenses of travel and upkeep and pay of the organizers and regular workers in the Movement; that a certified public accountant surveys the books of the Organization with a view to insuring their accuracy; that the officials who handle the funds of the Union are bonded.
Tenth, The Local Secretary-Treasurer shall confer periodically, that is, twice a month, with the organizing committee, or as often as the committee shall require. The Committee shall meet twice a month. It shall so change the dates of meeting from time to time as to enable the members who are out on the road during one Committee meeting to be in at the next.
Eleventh, The Committee shall seek to maintain a spirit of harmony and concord in its meetings and among the men. It shall frown upon the discussion of personalities that is calculated to foster and engender bitterness of feeling, of trivial and petty matters that do not make for the development and advancement of the organization.
Twelfth, The Local Secretary-Treasurer shall serve as the open spokesman for the Brotherhood in the district. The local Committee’s policies shall be presented through him except where there is an organizer who is authorized to present same.
Thirteenth, The Organizing Committee shall see to it that the Local Secretary-Treasurer holds at least one public meeting a month; more, of course, are permissible.
Fourteenth, the Committee shall advise the men through the proper form that the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is not affiliated with any organization, although it has the moral support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, The American Federation of Labor, The Big Four Brotherhoods, The National Urban League, the Brotherhood of Federal Employees, The Civic Club of New York, etc.
Fifteenth, The Committee shall advise that the men do not misrepresent the Company; that they truthfully report the facts of a case in which they may chance to be involved. Impress upon them the fact that the Brotherhood cannot effectively protect and represent their interests unless it knows the true state of facts relative to any case. Again there is nothing to be gained by misrepresenting the Company. The reaction to misrepresentation is more injurious than beneficial. We must adhere to truth and right and we cannot fail.
Sixteenth, The Organizing Committee must control and dominate by its superior intelligence and moral influence, the election of every delegate to any convention or meeting which relates to the interests of the Pullman Porters.
Your faithful servant,
A. PHILIP RANDOLPH,
The Messenger, 8 (May, 1926): 157.
“The negro can’t be organized.” How many times we’ve heard that hopeless cry, and how many times we have wondered whether the real reason behind the difficulty was not the reluctance, indifference or actual hostility of white to unionizing black workers. And now we’ll hear Frank Rudolph Crosswaith, international organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Brother Cross–waith, a native of the Virgin Islands, is one of America’s keenest negro thinkers and organizers.
“Why, it’s all bosh,” he begins. “Six months ago we founded this Brotherhood. Today we have 6,000 members and are gaining hundreds more each week. Actually, negro workers are just as easy to organize—perhaps easier—as white. Intelligence, aggressiveness and a knowledge of negro conditions are the essentials; unions follow naturally just as day the night, because the working conditions of Pullman porters are so wretched that they are only too willing to organize to help themselves.”
Crosswaith is scornful of the Pullman company’s own pet union, which recently granted a trifling wage increase with one hand, while adding extra work to the porter’s burden with the other. An important class of linen tenders at the terminal stations was wiped out when the wage increase was granted, with the result that porters have to be on the job earlier now to care for this initial work.
In a few days Crosswaith was able to organize nearly all the porters working out of Detroit, while similar reports are typical of other big rail centers. The union porters, while taking the initiative in the matter of organizing, are, of course, in need of the help they can get from existing railroad unions and are able to report scores of instances in which representatives of the white unions have given material aid. Whether the new Brotherhood will affiliate with the A.F. of L. or stay outside with the independent railroad Brotherhoods has not yet been determined. The porters prefer first to obtain majority organization on the big lines, thus proving their ability to take care of themselves in their struggle with the powerful Pullman company.
Locomotive Engineers Journal, 60 (May, 1926): 349.
The successful future of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters has been more than ever assured by the tour of Organizer A. Philip Randolph and Assistant Organizer Ashley L. Totten which took them to the Pacific coast and back to New York city again.
The organizers report that the tour across the country was a huge success. In every city the movement took on city-wide interest and they were able to secure the ablest labor leaders and persons of prominence to support it.
Starting from Chicago on February 10, the organizers held large meetings in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn., Spokane and Seattle, Wash., Portland, Ore., Oakland and Los Angeles, Cal., Salt Lake City, Utah, Denver, Colo., Omaha, Neb., Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo., and back to Chicago and New York. In the Twin Cities—St. Paul and Minneapolis—the organizers had no difficulty in breaking down the opposition set up by the Pullman company. The porters themselves merely laughed at the feeble presentation of the Employee Representation Plan made by agents of the Pullman company who were sent there to discourage the movement.
Seattle Mayor Speaks
Despite intimidation the porters turned out in full force to all Brotherhood meetings and seemed to be proud of the fact that they were connecting themselves with a movement that had created such a great stir all over the country. Evidently the Pullman company did not believe that the organizers would really extend their tour to the Pacific coast, for, when it became known that two meetings were held in Spokane, sending that district 95 per cent over the top, they were amazed. At Seattle the organizers were received by the Mayor and his official staff, who delivered a formal address of welcome. Amid cheers from the vast gathering of citizens who attended, the Mayor said that the Pullman porters should have been organized twenty-five years ago. If they would have their contentions on truth and justice they would soon find that if the Pullman company didn’t settle the American nation would.
At Portland the importance of the movement was brought to the attention of the professors of Reed College, who invited the organizers to an interview and gave Mr. Randolph the privilege of addressing the students there.
When the organizers made their first appearance in Oakland they had to wend their way up a crowded stairway to the main auditorium of the church, while prolonged cheers were given as they were escorted up the aisle to the rostrum by Dad Moore, a veteran porter. A similar demonstration took place in Los Angeles where they spoke before at least 2,000 persons in the largest edifice for Negroes in that city. Mr. Randolph addressed students in the University of California, Berkley, and also the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.48
Secret Canvass in St. Louis
Salt Lake City, with its small Negro population, turned out in larger numbers than ever before, and the few porters of that district signed up rapidly.
At Denver the opposition of the Pullman Company showed its hand somewhat. A Negro newspaper editor tried to bribe the pastor of Zion Baptist Church with the sum of $300 if he would agree to close the doors of the church against them. Requests were made of the Mayor to stop the meetings, but instead the Mayor himself and ex-Governor Sweet, a liberal, attended and spoke favorably about the movement. The stop at Omaha was made only because it was in direct line with the road the organizers were traveling, but it is generally known that Omaha comes next to Seattle with a large percentage of union men. At Kansas City and St. Louis the organizers engaged in a secret house-to-house canvass, signing up men who had been told by their superintendent that if they attended any meetings they would be dismissed from the service.
When the organizers appeared at the Metropolitan Community Center, 3118 Giles avenue, Chicago, Ill., on the afternoon of April 27, they found a record crowd awaiting them. There were loud shouts of “Randolph and Totten!” and voices that cheered themselves hoarse as they were escorted to the rostrum. After Randolph’s address Miss Mary McDowell spoke, and, in part, said that the Pullman porters were going to have the opportunity of writing their own economic contract. All that they have to do is to join the union and pay their dues. She pledged herself to help in that publicity which the movement should receive and which the Pullman company fears.49
“The Stool Pigeons’ Terror”
One remarkable thing about the trip is that the Organizers challenged opponents everywhere they spoke to debate the question and no one has attempted to accept the challenge. In every district they proved conclusively that the Employee Representation Plan (Company Union) is a farce and that the Pullman Porters’ Benefit Association of America is controlled and dominated by the Pullman Company.
By reason of the fact that women showed a great interest everywhere for the movement, they had no difficulty getting up local auxiliaries which will be officially known as the “Economic Council of Women.” Professional men of the Negro race are lining up behind the Organizers while many who were opposed and were active trying to defeat its purpose, are found to be converted or driven to shame.
During the tour Mr. Totten was given the name of the “Terror of the Stool Pigeons,” because of his relentless attack on all persons who have been identified as spies and eavesdroppers on the porters.
It is admitted that the cause of the Brotherhood has sunk deep down in the hearts of the porters everywhere, and no opposition from the Pullman Company can halt its progress now.
The New Leader, May 15, 1926.
By Frank R. Crosswaith
That a new Negro has arrived in the United States is admitted by everyone who has been following the development and expansion of the Negro in the arts, and literature. Many people differ, however, in truly identifying this new Negro. Various writers and scholars have tried to locate him, but with very little success. What is new of the Negro in America, is not so much his classical adventures as is his gallant strides made in understanding the social system under which he lives and in a realization of the tremendous importance of economics in an effort adequately to solve what is loosely termed the “Negro Problem.” As an evidence of this truth the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is the most outstanding example. The existence of this powerful economic organization will not alone affect the relationships of the white and Negro peoples of the United States, but will divide the Negro race itself upon the basis of their separate interest in the struggle to live. Already this is becoming clearer and clearer as the Brotherhood sweeps forward in its spectacular crusade to bring economic relief directly to the twelve thousand Negroes employed as Pullman Porters and Maids. In this regard it is interesting to students of the social sciences to observe that the most vicious and persistent opposition to the organization of these workers has come from some so-called Negro leaders and Negro institutions.
At midnight on March 12th, the writer in company with W. H. Des Verney, Assistant General Organizer of the Brotherhood, left New York City for a short trip in the interest of the Organization. Our itinerary called for stops to be made at Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, and Albany, in the order in which they appear. Pittsburgh is considered one of the most solidly anti-union industrial centers in the eastern section of the United States. We found it living most scrupulously up to this reputation. But more than this, we found that the Pullman Company exercised no ordinary amount of influence upon the Negroes of Pittsburgh and upon the institutions supposedly belonging to Negroes. Negro churches and social agencies were particularly influenced to such a degree that for a time it seemed as though the Brotherhood’s message would remain undelivered in Pittsburgh. It required exceedingly agile maneuvering on the part of my colleague and I in order to overcome this influence and so accomplish something constructive among the porters there. The district is reputed to have about 300 to 350 porters. The men are governed by Superintendent Kaine. He is pictured by some of the local porters as a true personification of the czarist philosophy. “I am monarch of all I survey; my rights there are none to dispute.” Like all men of this type, say these porters, he has surrounded himself with a few faithful hirelings to whom an appeal to race, to honor, or to those finer qualities to which the average man responds have little or no effect whatever, but whose conduct squares best with the old barbaric command, “Slave, obey thy master.” Some of the more manly and honorable porters in Pittsburgh are rigidly opposed to having Harry T. Jones as instructor of Pullman porters. It is common knowledge in Pittsburgh, however, that Harry T. Jones is very well liked by his immediate superior, because of “efficiency of service.” One porter said: “Why, Mr. Crosswaith, if we have chicken for dinner, that fact is known in the office of the Superintendent next morning. If we buy a decent rug for our homes, that, too, is immediately reported, and as a result of our efforts to brighten our homes, we are usually penalized.”
We were informed by a prominent social worker that a Negro institution, ostensibly for social purposes was being used as an agency for spying on the activities of prominent Negro agitators especially those with an economic program. One of the agents of this outfit, she said had made several visits to New York where he attended the mass meetings of the Brotherhood, and that on one occasion she read his report and saw the writer’s name coupled with that of the promoter of the American Negro Labor Congress. Whether this bit of information is true or false, Pittsburgh still remains the ancestral home of “stool pigeons.”
It was only after we were successful in getting before the Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Pittsburgh and vicinity, composed of 150 ministers with a combined congregation of approximately 45,000 persons that we were able to overcome the opposition. The Conference adopted the following Resolutions endorsing the Brotherhood and exhorting Baptist Clergy and laymen everywhere to give the Pullman Porters all moral and financial support possible.
“Whereas, We, the undersigned ministers, representing the Negro Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Pittsburgh and vicinity, with 150 churches and a combined congregation of approximately 45,000 persons, after hearing the address of Frank R. Crosswaith, a representative of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, do hereby go on record unqualifiedly endorsing the gallant efforts being made by this group of Negro workers to strengthen their chances in the struggle to live by organizing a union. And, Whereas, we endorse this movement because we feel that in organizing a union, through which to protect their interest, they are doing no more than workingmen of other races have done and are doing. We also endorse this movement because we believe that if these men succeed with their program their success will tend to encourage race workingmen everywhere to harness their producing powers for the purpose of improving their economic, social and educational status, making generally for the betterment of the human race. And, Whereas, we unhesitatingly condemn those who, being devoid of vision and race pride, have lent their time, ability and their position to misrepresent this great movement and thwart its progress, especially those ministers of the gospel who, in this instance, have substituted the Cross of Christ for a cross of gold in order that they might stand with those who would keep this body of Negro workers from exercising their inalienable right to life, liberty and happiness. Therefore, be it Resolved, That we, the Baptist ministers of Pittsburgh and vicinity in conference assembled, do hereby pledge unstintingly our moral and financial support to the manly and courageous efforts being made by the Pullman porters to organize themselves into a union, to be known as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. And we appeal to our brethren everywhere to aid them in every way possible.”
A similar attempt was made to appear before the Washington Conference of the M. E. Church, which was presided over by Bish Claire, but we were unsuccessful in doing so. Evidently, these men of God (?) would have nothing to do with us. The writer personally appeared at the Conference on two occasions and presented his card with a request for the privilege of addressing the gathering on the matter of the Brotherhood. These requests were absolutely ignored by Bishop Claire who was in the chair at the time. Not only were we ignored, but those who controlled the publicity of the Conference saw to it that all other visitors were announced in the press except the representatives of the Brotherhood. No doubt, had a Pullman official appeared at that conference, he would have been permitted to speak, and the learned ministers would have considered themselves rendering a great service to God and their race. Not all the Negro ministers in Pittsburgh, however, have pawned their souls to wealth and greed. For instance, there is the Rev. Dr. C. A. Jones, Pastor of Central Baptist Church and Rev. Dr. H. P. Jones of Euclid Avenue Church. These two men, with a few others, stood out among the ministers of Pittsburgh like a beacon light at night on a dark and storm-swept sea.
Nevertheless, after spending considerable time there, we left with a goodly percentage of the men having signed up as members of the Brotherhood. It might be well here to state that since leaving Pittsburgh, the men of that district have been steadily coming into the Organization.
In Cincinnati conditions were a little more pleasant. There we were fortunate in being in a city where the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America has a strong organization. These white working men, without being requested to do so, turned over to us their large assembly room, located in the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks Building for our mass meetings. It is said to be the first time that Negroes were ever in the building in any other capacity that that of servants. We held two meetings there, which, while they were not overflow meetings, were of tremendous propaganda value to our Organization, and we enrolled quite a number of local porters before our departure.
Detroit proved to be a paradise. Meetings were held there both mornings and evenings, and they were all well attended. There was not a single meeting at the close of which the Brotherhood was not stronger by six to thirteen new members. Cleveland was the next stop, and proved equally as fertile as Detroit, if not much more so. The Aldun Hotel (hole in the wall) in which our meetings were held witnessed a constant stream of proud porters flowing forward to join the everswelling ranks of the Brotherhood. The white newspapers gave us splendid publicity. In Buffalo we conducted our meetings, two each day, in Evans’ place, just opposite the railroad station. These meetings were well attended, and like those in Detroit, and in Cleveland, took on, in many instances, the appearance of gigantic mass meetings. At the close of each meeting my colleague and I were literally swamped with applicants. Albany not having very many porters left for us to enroll, our visit there was very short. We returned to New York City on the night of April 14th, after covering nearly 2,000 miles of territory. We delivered together almost 100 speeches in the cause of the Brotherhood in particular and labor in general. The trip on the whole was a splendid triumph for our cause; it convinced us thoroughly of the fact that the Negro workers of the United States are at last awakened to the important part played in their lives by the economic factor and that truly a new Negro faces America; that he is ready for the gospel of economic emancipation, and that the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is symptomatic of this fact. The spiritual and educational gains of this trip is beyond my pen adequately to describe. Sufficient to say, however, that through the existence of the Brotherhood the Negro in America in particular and the workers generally, are spiritually richer for our being.
The Messenger, 8 (June, 1926): 173-74.
By Frank R. Crosswaith Special Organizer
With the eyes of the Nation turned upon it, and the hearts of a race beating with mingled hope and prayer for its victory, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters turns its head, figuratively speaking, toward the home stretch. Seldom, if ever before, has a group of workers in their struggle to rid themselves of some of the cobwebs of industrial oligarchy succeeded in attracting as much attention and gained such widespread sympathy as in the case of the 12,000 Negroes employed as Porters and Maids by the Pullman Company. Students of labor history, experienced labor leaders, aged preachers and politicians all have marvelled at the picturesque figure cast upon the American industrial stage by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, for, the Brotherhood’s success has shattered many of the beliefs and left over ideas about the Negro worker and his capacity to function in the industrial realm; it has also given fresh courage to our friends who believe in the humanhood of the Negro race.
In the success of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters there lies a lesson of deep import both to organized labor and organized capital. To the former it sounds the advanced note of the arrival of the Negro worker into the ranks of the organized labor movement to play its part in tearing down the color bar which has so long divided labor. To the latter, it is a warning that the end of the day is at hand when the unorganized Negro worker can be so handily used by capital in its struggle with labor. In the world of thinking men and women, the above truths are clearly recognized. The National Magazine, in its issue of June 9th carried an editorial on “The Pullman Porter” in which appears this significant paragraph: “These men who punch our pillows and shine our shoes and stow our bags under the seat in their black hands no little responsibility for the industrial future of their race.”
Already unorganized Negro workers in almost every industry are beginning to look with inquiring eyes to the Brotherhood for council and leadership in their endeavor to organize and equip themselves the better to grapple with the problem of making a living. That Negro workers have been systematically kept out of the labor movement will not be denied by any honest and fairminded person familiar with the story of American labor. The story is a long and gruesome one tempered only with a few saving instances which need not be mentioned here. It is quite apropos to say, however—and it is now generally admitted—that labor, by bending before the color line did much to weaken itself in its struggle with capital and to justify the antagonism evince up to but recently by Negro workers toward the cause of labor. On the other hand such tragedies as East St. Louis, Chicago, Cartharet, etc., tell more eloquently than words can how organized capital has profited from the rift made by color prejudices in the ranks of labor.
With the onward sweep of our industrial developments and their attendant social evils and advantages it was inevitable that the Negro worker would be drawn more fully into the conflict between our industrial masters and the working class. That he would enter the struggle so defiantly enthusiastic, was not expected by even those who had given some serious thought to the perplexing questions of labor and capital. But, contrary to calculations he not only proudly entered the list, but with lightning rapidity broke down some of the traditions falsely attributed to his race, and established a new record in the history of workers organizing in the United States; he also brings with him those admirable attributed for which the race is noted. The spiritual zest and fervor carefully cultivated during the days of slavery; his courage, so often attested to by all who know the military and pioneer history of the United States, his devotion and faithfulness to a cause in which he believes, and above all, his soul sweetening music which has given America a place high in the musical world. All of these he brings to the organized workers of the United States, as can be observed at the meetings of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
When one recalls some of the stories that have gone the rounds of this country and the world anent the eternal, inescapable and fundamental difference between the Negro and white man, it is not such a hard matter to understand the general interest and surprise which the spectacular growth and expansion of the Brotherhood has caused. To have expected that 12,000 Negroes would continue to accept unquestioningly a condition of employment which denied them a living wage, which subjected them to inhumanly long hours of work and which demanded of them the submersion of their manhood by making public beggars of them, is to evince a sort of juvenile optimism that is deserving of the utmost pity.
In spite of the deplorable conditions attendant upon the porter’s employment, however, it might safely be said that the rapid progress and success of the Brotherhood is due to the resourcefulness and courage of the General Organizer. This young Negro, with a social vision, brought to the Pullman Porters’ movement a rich experience and thorough training in labor problems, economics, sociology, history, etc. It can be stated that seldom has a leader of any group assumed active leadership so thoroughly prepared as is the case with A. Philip Randolph. For over ten years this pioneer Negro labor leader struggled against the organized ignorance of his group and the wide-spread prejudice of the whites in an effort to bring the liberating message of industrial freedom to Negro workers. We quite vividly recall the apathy, the open and subtle hostility and fear which greeted him and his colleagues in the early morn of their crusading days.
Now, however, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is an established fact, its roots are sunk deep in the life of the American people. As the days roll into weeks and months, and the months into years, its influence will spread wider and deeper until all the workers of the Nation realize that the fate of the whole working class is inextricably bound up with that of every section of the working class. When this truth is accepted by the tortured toilers of the land, it will mean the dawning of a new day, and a realization of the prophetic advice, uttered by one of the world’s great benefactors: “Workers of the World Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to gain”; and, in that day, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters will sink its identity into a bigger and nobler Brotherhood.
The Messenger, 8 (July, 1926): 196.
By A. Philip Randolph, General Organizer
Dear Brethren and Fellow Workers, Greetings:
We have reached another mile post in our onward steady march toward our goal. We are ready for action and we are in action for the achievement of our objectives, namely, a living wage, 240 hours or less in regular assignment, better working conditions, and the recognition of our movement as the instrument lawfully to settle disputes on wages and working conditions between the Pullman Porters and Maids and the Pullman Company. Through eight or more months of intensive struggle, we have built up a powerful organization which has won the recognition and admiration of friend and foe. Throughout our steady, progressive and dramatic march forward, some have doubted, many feared, others denied that our goal could be realized. But withal, the iron-battalions of the Brotherhood have never faltered. The question of whether we could organize or not has been definitely and unequivocally answered. We have done the deed in manlike fashion; we have scaled apparently insurmountable heights of obstacles and opposition, subdued and routed relentless and bitter enemies. Confronted by the most formidable forces ever arrayed against a movement, we have ploughed our way on through to victory after victory to the deafening accalim of an aroused and enlightened public.
Doubtless we have made some mistakes, all movements do. That was inevitable in a great forward, soul stirring effort. But they have not been grievous. Our policies have been and are sound. They are based upon the most rigid experience and knowledge of the labor movement. Had they not been sound, the organization would have blown up long since. Moreover, besides being structurally and organically correct, our heart, our purpose, our vision has been and is right. But, brethren, our achievement, though marvelous, creditable, stupendous and thrilling, is just our beginning. Despite the fact responsible, seasoned, hardboiled and experienced labor leaders readily admit that our work of organization in the last eight or more months overshadows the results of a large number of unions that have been in existence eight or more years, we must not be lulled into a false sense of security, of inactivity and contentment. Yes, they consider our work veritably phenomenal. But let us not become drunk with the red wine of our achievements, however challenging they may be to the opposition. Life is one continuous struggle. Our struggle is not for a week or a month or a year, but for all time. We are building for generations of black children unborn. That we may build for the future securely, we have sought with deliberation, patience, labor, study and sacrifice, to lay our foundation upon the rock of truth and justice, in order that we may weather the fierce storms of adversity. This has required and will continue to require of every Brotherhood man that he realize that the things that are permanent, enduring and imperishable are not of mushroom growth, but that an enduring and stable structure must rest upon a sure and solid foundation which is the work of time, intelligence and devotion. Without a recognition of this fact nothing of substantial value can be achieved. The landmarks of progress are the results of ceaseless, continuous and prolonged struggle. The powerful railroad organizations are over a half century old, and they are still working to increase their power, to educate their members, to increase their wages and improve their working conditions.
Thus, it is obvious to any one that the accomplishments of the Brotherhood in the last eight or more months are nothing short of a miracle.
Now, in order that our next step may be correctly placed and timed, we have sought the advice and guidance of Mr. Donald Richberg.
Donald R. Richberg and the Brotherhood
It is a matter of common knowledge that Mr. Richberg knows more about the Watson-Parker Bill, which enacted the Railway Labor Act, under which the Mediation Board will be set up and function, than any living man in America, since he, together with Mr. Thom, who represented the Association of Railway Executives, wrote it. He represented the twenty standard railroad unions.
In reference to our case and situation, it is Mr. Richberg’s opinion that the Brotherhood should permit one of the standard railroad unions of great power and means to go before the Mediation Board first and fully test and employ the entire machinery of the new Act before we present our case to the Board. His reason is based upon the fact that a standard railroad labor organization is more prepared to secure favorable precedents and interpretations of principles for organized railway employees, who seek to employ the method of collective bargaining as against the company union, sugar-coated the employee representation plan, than the Brotherhood would be or the Pullman conductor’s organization, or any of the smaller unions. He feels that our case will be greatly and materially strengthened, if, when we go before the Board, we are able to point to precedents and interpretations on wages and working conditions, which have already been made by the Board, under the new law, that are, in principle, similar to our own case. The logic of this reasoning is seen by the fact that if a given precedent or interpretation applies in one case it must, ipso facto, apply in another case which is analogous. In his opinion, it is more to our advantage to profit from the pioneer work and experience before the Board of a powerful standard railroad organization, which will mobilize all of its forces in getting the Board to take the right position on organized labor, than for the Brotherhood to have the responsibility and burden of doing that job, which would be necessary were we to be the first to take our case to the Board. The only question involved, Brethren and Fellow Workers, is the question of the advantage, of benefit, of favorable result. If it were more advantageous for the Brotherhood and sound and proper that we should do so. But if a greater advantage is to be secured by permitting some other union to precede us, it is the part of wisdom for us to adopt the latter course of action. There is no better or abler person in America from whom we can find out which course of action is the proper one to pursue than Donald R. Richberg. He is an expert in Railroad Labor Law, in Trade Union policy and strategy.
Besides, be it remembered, brethren, that Frank P. Walsh, celebrated labor lawyer and Donald R. Richberg are associated together in working on and presenting our case. Therefore, let every Brotherhood man increase his zeal, interest, devotion and enthusiasm for the building up of our great movement. Our supreme test is at hand. We cannot and must not hesitate, procrastinate, or equivocate. In these times, events are moving swiftly. In the very near future, the Board will be making interpretations and setting down precedents which we must be able to avail ourselves of, readily, promptly and effectively. Fortunately we have made a thorough and assuring technical preparation. We have mobilized the very best talent as economists and lawyers available in the country.
Present Plan of Action
Mr. Richberg, Mr. Frank P. Walsh and your humble servant are now busy working out plans, policies and methods of procedure for handling the Brotherhood’s case. In an extended conference of several hours, Mr. Richberg and myself went into practically every phase of our problem, detailedly. It is quite evident that he is deeply sympathetic with our cause and concerned that we win our demands, build up and maintain a powerful and constructive organization.
The Messenger, 8 (July, 1926): 217, 218, 221.
A. Philip Randolph, general organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, has issued the following statement:
“As a result of the indorsement coming from such organizations as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Knights of Pythias, the National Federation of Colored Women, the National Urban League and other useful race institutions, the spirit of the men in the brotherhood is at its highest point in the organization’s history.”
“The results of one week of balloting among the men prior to our appearance before the mediation board indicate that the great majority of Pullman porters and maids have repudiated the company union plan of the Pullman company and are solidly for the brotherhood.
The New Leader, August 21, 1926.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Brings Trade Unionism’s Message
By Frank R. Crosswaith
To the great chorus of proletarian voices is added the now-awakened black workers of the United States in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. In 1894 that Grand Old Man of Labor, Eugene V. Debs, was sent to Woodstock jail because of his efforts to weld all the railroad workers, including Negro porters into the American Railway Union. The story of this brilliant early effort of American labor is still rich and fascinating reading, and will become even more so with the passing of years. One fact that will make the episode always of first rate interest to students of labor is that in 1925 the same group of workers whose absence from the ranks of the A.R.U. contributed largely to its failure, has now become organized and among those most active in this accomplishment are two Negro comrades of Debs.50
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was launched upon the charted but troubled sea of trade unionism on the night of August 25, 1925, when a handful of Pullman porters assembled in the lower meeting hall of the Negro Elks of New York City. The message of trade unionism and the class struggle was explained to them by A. Philip Randolph, brilliant editor of the Messenger Magazine, George S. Schuyler, Roy Lancaster, the writer, and others.
It was plain to those who knew the history of labor in the United States as well as the relationship of the Negro to the white population of the country, that there was being born a movement which would test to the fullest degree the capacity of the American Negro to grasp the significance of trade unionism, and which would establish the fact that the Negro masses had at last entered upon the industrial battlefield to endure experiences that other workers have encountered. It was also plain that in addition to the experiences common to all workers attempting to increase their wages, thereby reducing profits, through organization, these workers had to grapple with the peculiar psychology of a race who for 250 years were held in servitude, made to believe that they were created to be only “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” a belief so deep-rooted as to make many Negro leaders, both religious and secular the ardent and eloquent defenders of entrenched wealth.
Here, indeed, is a sociological paradox which social scientists some day may be able more fully to explain. Here, too, is a testimonial to the astuteness and cleverness of those who rule America; a race occupying the lowest rung of the social, political and economic ladder staunchly defending those who have decreed to them that position, and who, because of their control of the press, the school, and the pulpit, are mainly responsible for the social ills suffered by that race; a race of workers hostile to the claims of labor, indifferent to the wrongs suffered by labor, and ever ready to be used on the side of entrenched power and against all those who challeneged the power of the master class.
In brooding over this working class tragedy, the writer is not unmindful of the indifference, the open and concealed hostility and apathy of a large—alas! too large—section of white labor. That the birth of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters marked the beginning of the end of such a serious situation is admitted by friend and foe alike.
Facing unparalleled obstacles, lacking in the main actual experiences in trade union technique and tactics, these Negro workers have conducted a campaign of education, agitation and organization that has added new lustre to labor’s cause and new laurels to their race.
In one year of activity they have chalked up a new record. Theirs is the record of being the first large group of workers to defeat a Company Union in battle. This fact was vividly brought out when on the afternoon of August 26, the annual “Field Day” of the Company Union took place. On their way to the “field” a parade was staged through the streets of Negro Harlem and passed the Headquarters of the Brotherhood. At the head of the parade rode the local white Pullman officials; behind them was a band of musicians followed by porters who by actual count numbered six and only one of whom can be truly classified as a porter. Prior to the organization of the Brotherhood, the Field Day of the porters was an eagerly awaited and well patronized social event in the life of the porter in particular and the race in general. Huge throngs usually attended this affair. It was with this past experience that the parade was recommended. For, argued those who are supposed “to know,” when we can march through the streets of Harlem with several thousand porters and their families, it will prove to all and sundry that the porters are with us and against the agitators. The usual inducements of free (?) ice cream, cake, punch, dancing, etc., were offered, but the men for once very graciously declined the company’s Grecian gift.
In contrast to this, the Brotherhood staged an anniversary rally that very night in the spacious and inviting auditorium of St. Luke’s Hall. The rally was staged as a test of the relative strength of the Company Union and the Brotherhood. The hall was crowded to overflowing, the enthusiasm of the men was at the highest point. It was undoubtedly the largest group of Negro workers ever gathered under one roof to listen to an economic program.
On this Labor Day the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters salute the workers of every race in every land. It brings the message of class solidarity to the workers of the United States in every shop, in every mill, in every mine, on every railroad. It says to them that henceforth in the struggle of labor everywhere to rid the world of exploitation, war, chauvinism, prejudice, and poverty, they, the organized representatives of the soul-racked victims of a soulless social system, are determined that no longer must labor be divided on the basis of color, race, religion, or nationality, thereby playing into the hands of the master class, but that Labor must stand solidly united in recognition of its common interest and common destiny.
The New Leader, September 4, 1926.
By Esther Lowell
NEW YORK—Pullman porters organized in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters are using the occasion of their union’s first anniversary to answer Pullman Co. propaganda printed as a news article in the Wall Street Journal. One big point made in the article is that the minimum wage of porters has increased 163 per cent in the last 13 years. “Quite true,” agree the porters, “but look where it all started—$27.50 in 1913! Is the $72.50 a month a living wage now? We are seeking a minimum of at least $150 monthly to meet the high cost of living.”
The Pullman Co. saves $139.30 on every 15-years-in-service porter it pays $90.70 a month, declare the porters. The porter paid this rate is “in charge” —doing the conductor’s work in addition to his own on the Pullman car. If the company paid a conductor for the work, it would spend $150 for the conductor plus $80 for the porter, a total of $220.
Few Private Cars
Furthermore, the company cannot point to a single porter regularly employed in charge of a private car and therefore earning the maximum rate of $104 a month, $1,248 a year mentioned in the Wall Street Journal. The porter is paid at the maximum rate when he goes out in charge of the private car, but he is seldom out in that capacity over a month or two at a time, and never as much as a year steadily. Between such choice runs he lapses back to his old rate.
The Pullman Co. is credited with paying porters on committee and company work extra sums on the basis of their presumed tips equaling $75 a month. The porters say that they are actually paid only fur such days on which the committee work occurs, not for the total days lost. Roy Lancaster, secretary-treasurer of the brotherhood says that he used to miss five days when called off his New York-Chicago run for company union work. He received pay only for the two days on which the committee met.
Tips are about the $55 a month first estimated in the Wall Street Journal, not the the $75 later implied as correct, according to Labor Bureau Inc. findings from the the porters’ own replies to a questionnaire. Sylvia Kopald of the bureau is working out statistics for the brotherhood to present with its case—to the Pullman Co. if a conference is granted after the national referendum on company union or brotherhood—to the rail mediation board otherwise.
Only a third of the passengers in a parlor car of 31 seats will tip, porters say, and most give only a dime. In sleeping cars the percentage tipping is a little higher but the maximum amount given is usually a quarter. When a man and wife and children travel together, the man is likely to give the porter only a quarter for the whole family, even tho several berths are occupied. When berths are not all full, the porter is the loser. He is never sure of this much needed extra income from tips.
Tipping the Boss
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters wants to see the porters and maids paid sufficiently by the Pullman Co., so that they will not have to depend upon tips for their living. The tip is really tipping the company, the porters say, for not paying its workers decent wages. The company does not recognize tips as a part of earnings in apportioning pensions to old employees. The average pension given is only $18 a month.
Porters have to pay for their own food enroute, paying half the high dining car prices charged to passengers, which is still an expensive rate for such poorly paid workers. Only a third of the porters, according to the Wall Street Journal figures, get free uniforms because of 10 years or more service. The majority of porters have this additional expense each year. As for owning their own homes and autos, the brotherhood officials laugh at the idea and wonder where the Wall Street Journal found its figures. Porters in small towns may possibly own little shacks they call homes, but the bulk of the porters are urban dwellers and certainly do not own either residences or autos.
Don’t Own Company
The financial paper makes a point of the porters’ ownership of Pullman Co. stock. Each porter is permitted to buy only one share and less than a tenth have taken the offer. The Pullman Porters’ Benefit Assn., given with the company union, was denied the right of investing $200,000 of its $250,000 funds taken from the porters in stock.
Daily Worker, September 13, 1926.
By A. Philip Randolph
Dear Brethren and Fellow-workers, Greetings:
One year ago this month we were born. It was August 25th, in New York. The occasion was a monster mass meeting in the Elks Hall. This had been preceded by a secret conclave at the home of Brother Des Verney with himself, Brothers Lancaster and Totten and the writer. At that mass meeting, perhaps, the most unique and significant movement among Negroes was projected. It began and has steadily moved forward within the veil of secrecy. This was essential to avoid the victimization of the men. The wisdom of this method has been tested through a period which has tried men’s souls.
Is the question which has rung down the changes. Have we not accepted, too often in abject resignation, unmerited scorn reproach and persecution for over one thousand years? Have we not drunk in America, a land made beautiful, prosperous and powerful, by our own sweat and blood, tears and toil, the bitter dregs of privation and want, hate and hell? Have we not, as virtual peons of Pullman property, built up mountains of gold and goodwill, for over a half century, without a murmur, on starvation wages, in fact, on practically no wages at all? Have we not listened to the honeyed words, the siren call of our pretended white friends and black leaders who counselled satisfaction and contentment: “to let well enough alone,” to accept pity for pay; to wait for ours in the sweet by and bye instead of fighting for justice in the here, now and nigh? Have we not been easily flattered, quickly deceived, and systematically exploited? Have we not ever appeared as children of laughter and levity, joy and jokes, innocence and ignorance? We sang in sorrow, danced in darkness and worked in worry.
Who then, Brethren, could take us seriously? The tragedy of our lives could not be sensed by the outer world of white men.
What though, ask the white men of power, black children wail for bread they never eat; black women weep for raiment they never wear; and black men toil to the tune of torture? Is it not written in holy writ: “Slaves, obey thy master?” Have they not been the slaves of men down the centuries! They have accepted insolence in silence, contempt with contentment, derision in docility. Have they not been the disinherited and dishonored of the sons of men? Then how can the world reverse its reason on right and wrong in relation to a race of blacks? Thus spake the age-old masters of slaves. Nor have they changed in their thinking today, nor will they change, Brethren, until we change them. This them is why the Brotherhood was born. We are in quest for the holy grail of economic freedom. Yes, and we shall find it. But we must destroy the engines of industrial slavery ere we breathe the air of free men.
Smashing the Employee Plan
Realizing that the Employee Representation Plan stood athwart our path to freedom, we resolutely assailed it without let or hindrance or equivocation. All of the resources of the Pullman Company have been thrown in the balance against us. Still we are steadily smashing it, retiring it to oblivion. Every subterfuge has been resorted to with a view to fortifying a decadent, decrepit, and deceptive plan for settling workers’ grievances. The operation of the Plan has securely established its own failure, its own futility as an instrument for achieving economic justice for the porters and maids. So thoroughly has the Plan been discredited that the Company, in order to give it a new lease of life, has placed a porter on the Board of Industrial Relations, in order that it might appear that the porters and maids have a voice on every committee of the Plan. One, Mr. George Shannon, has been chosen to represent the porters. Regardless of his qualities or virtues, he is absolutely helpless to benefit the porters. He is like a lamb in a cage of lions. He is being used as flypaper to ensnare the porters. The new scheme is merely calculated to deceive the porters into believing that the Plan will work, that the Brotherhood is unnecessary. But the Pullman Company cannot fool the Pullman porters all of the time. Porters, like conductors, were bound to wake up. Sheer necessity forced it. Oppression, in the nature of things, contains the seeds of its own abolition. No institution, or system, or doctrine founded upon the tyranny of body or mind, can stand. The Plan represents autocracy. It suppresses freedom. It stifles initiative. It suffocates thought. Its rules merely regulate injustice and intrench industrial serfdom. It was built to discourage organization of, by and for the porters and maids. It cannot any more serve the interests of the porters than can a sewing machine grind corn.
The fact that every official of the Plan must be an employee of the Company, gives the Company the power to discharge any man who shows a spirit to fight in the interest of the men. The whole fight of the Company against the Brotherhood is based upon the fact that it doesn’t control the officials of the Union. Such is the reason for the trade union movement everywhere. It is seeking to break the irresponsible domination of the boss over the workers.
Upon discovering that the Plan could not withstand the mortal blows the Brotherhood was dealing it, the Company proceeded to mobilize forces within the race to oppose the Union. The powerful Negro papers of the West went over completely to the Pullman Company and arrayed themselves against us. Pullman gold was being lavishly dispensed among Negro editors. Few had the stamina to resist the pressure. Happily, all of the Negro editors did not surrender to Pullman power. The Eastern papers very largely maintained their freedom, and so have some of the Western ones.
But, undaunted and undismayed, we fought on and won the respect and admiration of friend and foe.
Conferences of some of our leading Negroes were adroitly plotted, planned and juggled to glorify the so-called Pullman friendship for the race. Corrupt and wicked Negro politicians and preachers were subsidized to proclaim the blessings of the so-called monopoly which porters and maids enjoy, a monopoly which does not yield a living wage or civilized hours and conditions of work. It was boldly asserted that no other race enjoys such a monopoly as though there was any other race except the white serving as conductors on Pullman cars or railroad trains. Are not these jobs monopolized by the white race?
Even the much oppressed Filipino was belabored into some of the club cars in order to frighten the porters away from the Brotherhood. But to no avail.
We were in dead earnest this time. The Company saw it. We would not surrender, we would not equivocate, we would not retreat a single step, and we resolved that we would be heard in the great forum of public opinion, and we were heard.
Sixteen Cents More Per Day
But, brethren, the Pullman Company is resourceful and inventive. It has fertile brains. Seeing the tide of organization steadily rising, it made its supreme bid to stem the tide by calling a wage conference under the Plan and distributed a few crumbs from its big banquet table of some seventeen millions net profits for 1925, in the form of an eight per cent increase or sixteen cents a day. And to the utter amazement and dismay of the Company, it only stimulated the men to organize more strongly, since it was apparent to them that the increase was the direct result of the Brotherhood. Thus the Brotherhood is already paying the porters over 300 per cent on every dollar they have invested in it, granting that they have paid their joining fee of five dollars and twelve dollars dues, for the year. In a bank, at the current rate of interest, they would only have earned six per cent, or $1.02 on $17, a year’s interest, whereas the Brotherhood has put $64.80 in the pockets of the porters for $17. Not a bad record, this. And the porters are getting this increase of $64.80 every year, but only pay $12 dues. Obviously, the Brotherhood has paid big dividends.
But this is only the beginning, my brethren.
is on, and at its conclusion, a conference will be sought with the Company. Should we fail to secure same, we shall seek the services of the Mediation Board.
We have come a long way to reach this point. And we are ready, willing and prepared to fight through the years to attain our goal, economic security and freedom.
Thus, brethren, let our anniversary be an occasion of joy. It is the race’s first serious and significant knock at the door of economic justice.
Let us look forward with our heads erect and souls undaunted. Ours is a great spiritual victory for the race. To the utter disappointment, consternation and despair of Pullman officials, the Brotherhood has demonstrated to the world that it is beyond the reach of corruption. Be assured, my brethren, that the Pullman Company may have money enough to purchase preachers and politicians, papers and prestige, but it has not got millions enough to cause me to desert your cause. Every dollar you put in the Brotherhood is systematically handled by an expert accountant. Your money is as secure in the Brotherhood as it is in the Pullman Company. It is being used for no other purpose than your economic emancipation. Your officials are honest, upright and capable.
The great success of your movement is due to the valiant unselfish and efficient labor of Roy Lancaster, General Secretary-Treasurer; W. H. Des Verney, Assistant General Organizer; A. L. Totten, Second Assistant General Organizer; S. E. Grain, Field Organizer; Frank R. Crosswaith, Special Organizer; M. P. Webster, Organizer, Chicago Division; George A. Price, Secretary-Treasurer, Chicago Division, and Brother Berry; George S. Grant, Secretary-Treasurer of Los Angeles; Dad Moore and D. J. Jones of Oakland; Clarence E. Ivey of Portland; Burgess of Salt Lake City; Benjamin of Boston; Rev. Prince of Denver, and a host of heroic, self-sacrificing souls whom circumstances prevent naming at this hour. The men have ascended to the highest heights of human struggle—loyalty to a great cause. They have been weighed in the balance and not found wanting.
“Tempt them with bribes, you tempt in vain; Try them with fire, you’ll find them true.”
Yours, brethren, has been a marvelous demonstration of devotion, zeal, faith, and action.
To deter such souls from their purpose or vanquish them in combat is as impossible as to stop the rush of the ocean when the spirit of the storm rides upon its mountain billows. You are hourly increasing in number and strength and going on from conquering to conquer.
White America has always reasoned that no Negroes had the moral stamina to resist the influence of money. Your Pullman officials thought that in order to halt this movement it was only a question of sending out a few thousand dollars to buy up your officials. But Pullman officials and white America have been rudely awakened to a realization that a New Negro has come upon the scene who places manhood above money, principles above price, devotion to duty to his race and a great human cause beyond the reach of gold, whether it be in tens of thousands or millions.
To my mind, brethren, this is our greatest spiritual landmark. It has won the respect of the employer, worker, educator, politician and preacher alike. You have shown that it is not true that every Negro has his price to sell out the race. Yes, your movement is incorruptible by gold and undaunted by power. I would rather go in rags, live in a hovel, drink water and eat the crust of bread, and go down to the voiceless silence of the dreamless dust before I would betray your trust for the riches of this world.
And, brethren, we cannot fail if we remain united. For the cause of justice there is:
“A voice on every wave,
A sound on every sea!
The watchword of the brave,
The anthem of the free!
Where’er a wind is rushing,
Where’er a stream is gushing,
The swelling sounds are heard,
Of man to freeman calling,
Of broken fetters falling—
And like the carol of a cageless bird,
The bursting shout of freedom’s rallying word!”
Why should we not rejoice in our triumph? Is not the star of hope beginning to illumine our path to power. Do you not see the pitiless storm which has so long been pouring its rage upon you breaking away, and a glorious bow of promise spanning the sky—a token that to the end of time, if we are resolute, the billows of prejudice and oppression shall no longer cover the earth to the destruction of our race, but seed time and harvest shall never fail and the laborer shall eat the fruit of his hand and brain.
Then let us be tolerant. Let us forgive our enemies, though remain ever vigilant and alert. Let us as workers be ever mindful of our duties, obligations and responsibilities to the Pullman Company and to the public. A high standard of service depends upon us and we must give it. No Brotherhood man should ever shirk his duty or violate the rules of the Company. The purpose of the Brotherhood is not to shield dishonesty, insobriety, indolence, but to foster industry, a high sense of responsibility, intelligent initiative, courtesy and devotion to principles of justice, righteousness, fair-play, freedom, self-reliance, loyalty to truth and service to mankind.
But what have we done? We have achieved nothing short of a miracle through solidarity.
Achievements of the Brotherhood
1. It forced the Company to call a wage conference last February under the Employee Representation Plan and grant the porters and maids an eight per cent increase, thereby raising the pay from $67.50 per month to $72.90.
2. It forced the Company to revise the Time Sheet with a view to removing basis for criticism on same.
3. It has forced the local officials to become quite lavish with courtesy and attention.
4. It has carried the message of labor unionism to over half a million black and white workers from August 25, 1925, to August 1, 1926. Over 500 meetings have been conducted from origin of movement up to day. The meetings have ranged from 100 to 2,500 or more. Thousands of Negroes addressed had never heard a talk of organized labor before. Many of the Negro preachers did not know what it was all about, except that some “black reds” were coming to town to urge insurrection among Negroes. That was the propaganda of the Company. It is estimated that there were over 60,000 persons at the opening of the Sesqui-Centennial at which the General Organizer spoke May 31st. He stressed the cause of black labor. Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, and Frank B. Kellogg, Secretary of State, the other speakers, stressed the prosperity of the country.51
5. The case of the Pullman porters in particular and the Negro workers in general has been presented to central labor bodies in various cities visited as well as to individual trade unions. A large number of white workers said that they had never seen a Negro before advocating the organization of Negro workers.
6. The Brotherhood has secured entrance into a number of Negro churches.
7. The case of the Pullman porters and the Negro workers has been presented in addresses to Reed College in Portland, Oregon; a body of students of the University of Denver, and a group of industrial Y.W.C.A. girls; University of California; University of Southern California; Chicago University; University of Minnesota; the fraternity of law students of Howard University; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Convention, together with a large number of liberal and labor forums throughout the country; also to a number of Negro business clubs; National Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, the Shriners and Knight Templars in convention.
8. The Brotherhood has secured the endorsement of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in convention assembled; the leaders of the National Urban League; the Chicago State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs; the Thirty-seventh Annual Session of the Grand Lodge of the Knights of Pythias of New York; the Empire State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs; the Brotherhood of Federal Post Office Employees; National Young People’s Baptist Union; the Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers; the National Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs.
9. During eleven months of organization and agitation, over three million five hundred thousand pieces of progaganda literature have been circulated.
10. Over 75,000 miles of territory have been covered by the organizers.
11. The Brotherhood has brought to the porters for their education such leaders of thought as James Weldon Johnson, Secretary of the N.A.A.C.P.; John Fitzpatrick, President, Chicago Federation of Labor; ex-Governor Sweet of Colorado; Norman Thomas, Director, League for Industrial Democracy; Mary Mc Dowell, Head of the Department of Charities of Chicago; H. E. Wills, Assistant Grand Chief, Locomotive Engineers; Mr. Lovell, Vice-President, Locomotive Firemen; Mr. Clark, Vice-President, Train Conductors; C. H. Brown, General Chairman, Adjustment Board of Railway Clerks and Express Handlers; Mr. Eagan, Special Representative of William Green, President of the A.F. of L.; William Pickens, R. W. Bagnall, Walter White of the N.A.A.C.P,; Eugene Kinckle Jones, Executive Secretary of the National Urban League; James Oneal, Morris Hillquit, Chandler Owen, C. Francis Stradford, lawyer, Abraham Lefkowitz, Prof. Bowman of Columbia University; Joseph Schlossberg, Secretary-Treasurer, Amalgamated Clothing Workers; Gertrude E. MacDougald, Assistant Principal, Public School 89; August Classens, ex-Assemblyman, Algernon Lee of the Rand School of Social Science; Congressmen Emanuel Celler and LaGuardia, Arthur Garfield Hayes, Rev. A. C. Powell of the Abyssinnia Church, New York City, Thomas J. Curtis, First Vice-President, State Federation of Labor of the A.F. of L.; Charles W. Ervin, Editor of the Advance, organ of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers’ Union; Samuel Beardsley, of Jewelry Workers, Philip Zausner, of Painters and Paper Hangers; Harry Laidler, Benjamin Stolberg, McAllister Coleman of Federated Press, Robert L. Dunn, Gurley Flynn.52
In all of the districts where the Brotherhood has set up local organizing committees, speakers from the American Federation of Labor have been secured to address the porters from time to time. It has developed a higher sense of race pride and responsibility among Pullman porters and maids.
13. Ladies’ Auxiliaries to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters have been established in New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Oakland and Los Angeles, Calif., Denver, Omaha, and Salt Lake City. The auxiliaries are active propaganda nuclei for the Brotherhood.
Such is our achievement, Brethren. Let us renew our courage and faith. and rededicate our hearts and minds and hands to the unfinished task and high mission of Negro emancipation. Forward to victory.
Your faithful servant,
A. PHILIP RANDOLPH,
The Messenger, 8 (September, 1926): 263-65.
Pullman Company’s Czars Forced to Retreat from Attempt to Force Voting
In a vigorous protest against the action of the Pullman Company in attempting to force porters to vote in its company union elections, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters definitely repudiated the “Employee Representation Plan” as representative of the porters at a regular meeting.
Telegrams from every section of the country were read telling the story of porters’ refusal to vote in the “Plan.” “The spirit of fear is broken,” declared A. Philip Randolph, leader of the Brotherhood.
Two Pullman Company officials, czars in their districts, have been forced to back down in their campaigns to intimidate porters into voting in the Employee Representation Plan, according to reports received in the National Headquarters of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
Superintendent Mitchell of the Pennsylvania district and Superintendent Burr of the St. Louis district, noted for browbeating and threatening porters who have refused to vote in the company union elections, have been forced to change their tactics by the militant campaign of the Brotherhood, exposing their Simon Legree methods.
At the beginning of the elections now in progress many porters were sent to the offices of Superintendent Mitchell with a notice: “See Mitchell in regard to refusing to vote.” The Brotherhood is in possession of several of these notices. Superintendent Mitchell questioned these men, and by innuendo and direct suggestion threatened them with company reprisals. It was “on the carpet” for any porter who stood on his rights of manhood and refused to cast a vote in the fake company union.
When this situation was reported to the Brotherhood its leaders began a militant attack upon the czar of the Penn Terminal, showing up his autocratic, irresponsible attitude toward the men in his employ. The result has been a precipitate about face on the part of Superintendent Mitchell. The day after the “Mitchell Must Go” campaign was announced he declined to see porters sent from the yards for not voting. As the Brotherhood attacks continued, he entirely reversed the company policy of forcing men to vote by holding back their pay checks, and now be heard to declare, “Any man has a right to refuse to vote.”
The same victory was won over Superintendent Burr in St. Louis, Mo., whose high-handed injustices to the men in the service had long been a grievance in that district.
The Pullman Company has made the forcing of the vote a definite policy both in the Employee Representation Plan and in its cousin, the Pullman Porters’ Benefit Association. Elections for the latter were held in October and were marked by all varieties of coercion and intimidation. Paychecks were held up and men held off their runs in an attempt to force the men, who were disgusted by an open company steal of the primary, to register a vote.
Only the fighting spirit displayed by the Brotherhood and the power of honest workers banded together for their own protection check many similar abuses in the Plan elections. There is ample proof that check withholding has been practiced in previous elections.
An example of this kind of illegal pressure is in the offices of the Brotherhood in the shape of a notation from the Second Assistant District Superintendent of the Pennsylvania Terminal District to F. R. McGuire, the receiving cashier. It refers to the elections in the Plan on February 22, 1924, when Roy Lancaster, secretary-treasurer of the Brotherhood, was still trying to fight the cause of the porters within the Employee Representation Plan. It is as follows: “The following P. T. (Penn Terminal) porters have not yet voted. In order to secure every possible vote please withhold their paychecks until O.K. ‘d by the chairman of the Election Committee, R. Lancaster.”
Against tactics like these the Brotherhood instituted its successful campaign. “The Company Union Must Go,” is its slogan, and it will continue to defend the rights of the men who wish to join an honest labor union that will protect their interests against the Pullman officials, who wish to force them to remain in a powerless, non-representative, company-controlled “plan.”
The New Leader, November 13, 1936.
How a trade union brings self-respect and improved conditions to America’s Pullman Porters heralds a new day in race relations
By Frank R. Crosswaith, Special Organizer, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
The “Golden Rule” is still the unrealized dream of mankind, and bids fair, it seems, to remain so for generations yet to come. Nevertheless it is a dream that will continue to attract the devotion and enlist the support of men and women of vision in every race and clime all down the slopes of time until it becomes a reality.
The history of the human race shows that religious freedom was at one time the all-absorbing question confronting early man. The right to worship God after the desire of one’s own heart was won at a tremendous cost in blood and misery. The finest flower of the pioneer Christians was sacrificed to establish this right.
Political liberty next occupied the center of the stage. The so-called “divine right of kings to rule” was challenged by those who believed in the right of the governed to have a voice in their government. Like religious freedom, political liberty was won after much blood had been shed, every race contributing its quota of martyrs to the cause. Today political liberty is pretty generally recognized. In those countries where kings still rule by divine right their powers have been considerably reduced. They are kings in name only. The real power lies with the people.
Industrial Autocracy Bars Social Progress
The question which this generation and perhaps many succeeding ones must answer is that of industrial democracy; the right of men and women who work, whether by hand or by brain, to have a voice in determining the conditions and hours of their work and the reward they shall receive for their labor. Whether we know it or not, whether or not we consciously make any contribution to the answering of this question, the fact remains that around the fortress of industrial autocracy our social progress will mark time until the answer is made. This answer will in the nature of things be in favor of democracy. For we cannot remain politically and religiously free in the midst of industrial despotism. To attempt to do so will sow the dragon’s teeth and eventually to reap the harvest in conflict.
The Negro’s Share in Labor’s Struggle
One of the manifestations of our efforts to answer the call of democracy in industry is the trade union movement. The limits of this article will not permit a consideration of the long, tragic story of labor to organize, nor a discussion of labor’s aims, its methods and its hopes. Suffice it to say that the Negro by organizing is doing his part in the interest of progress in line with the long history of labor’s struggle.
Sixty years ago economic conditions and the educational activities of the Abolitionists brought about the emancipation of the American Negro from chattel slavery and lifted him into a world whose ways he did not understand. Without property or education and with but few friends, he turned naturally to the domains of “personal service.” He became the cook, the waiter, the butler.
One of the first corporations to employ him in this capacity was the Pullman Company. For fifty-nine years the Negro porter has been a familiar figure to those who enjoy the use of Pullman cars. Today approximately 12,000 of them are employed as porters and maids. The traveling public came to look upon the porter as the smiling, courteous, efficient, faithful and—as they thought—well-paid and satisfied, sable-skinned servant who, after punching their pillows and shining their shoes, glowingly accepts a quarter in tips. Little did the recipients of his keen and capable service suspect that all was not well with him; that beneath his apparent satisfaction was hidden the growing realization that he had genuine and serious grievances, which like those of his white fellow-workers on the railroads and elsewhere could only be corrected through organization of, for and by the porters.
A detailed account of these grievances is excluded from this article through lack of space. It is enough to say, however, that the porter’s wages prior to organization were $67.50 per month (they have since been raised to $72.50), and his hours of work more than 400 per month. On certain runs he contributes anywhere from three to six hours of labor without pay. In the language of the service this period of free labor is called “preparatory time”—the time between reporting for duty and the train’s departure. For instance the porter running on a train which leaves New York for Washington at 1 a.m., must report at 7 p.m.; his car must be ready to receive passengers at 9 o’clock; but his pay does not begin until the train departs. Porters, unlike most other railroad men, work on a mileage basis and are required to make 11,000 miles per month. They spend about $70,000 per year for shoe blacking, but are not permitted to charge passengers for shining their shoes.
A Union Crusade
On August 25, 1925, the first organization meeting of the Brotherhood was held in New York. It was sparsely attended, but the succeeding meetings kept drawing larger and larger crowds until the organization assumed the dimensions and fervor of a regular crusade. The record shows that in less than fourteen months a comfortable majority of the porters and maids were enrolled in the union. The organizing record of the black workers stands unequaled in the history of American labor organization. No other union before or since has been able to enlist so large a number of workers in so short a time. This was accomplished in the face of an established tradition that the Negro could not be organized. The Brotherhood is a living refutation of that belief and stands as a monument to inspire Negro workers in all other industries.
In their struggle to organize the porters and maids have set their faces resolutely against the “tipping system” as a method of rewarding them for the many excellent services they render the traveling public. This phase of the campaign has won widespread admiration and interest. It marks the porter’s struggle as the most significant effort of the Negro since his emancipation. He has come to understand that a firm and balanced manhood is incompatable with a dependence on public gratuities; that tips carry with them a haunting and horrible sense of insecurity, to say nothing of the lack of dignity. Tips for the Negro as a reward for his labor bring back to the dim corners of his memory years of sorrow and bitterness spent in slavery; and they also tend to keep alive the fog of prejudice and ill-feeling.
Women Join Union
There are approximately 500 Negro women in the Pullman service employed as maids. They have responded to the call of organization as readily and as fervently as the porters have and are marching shoulder to shoulder with them.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters indicates a new turn in the relations of the races in the United States and a new chapter in labor’s story. Its members realize that though fundamentally a trade union, theirs is also a race movement on which the critical eyes of friend and foe alike will be focused, and that its success will enable the Negro to participate more fully and freely in the struggle for industrial democracy. In this struggle he will contribute not alone his share of courage and faithfulness, but his soul will be enlisted. He will further enrich and ennoble the conflict with his music and his song so carefully cultivated during his unforgotten years of servitude, to the end that the GOLDEN RULE may come a little nearer realization.
After 16 months of organizing the Brotherhood has already qualified for recognition with an enrolled membership embracing a large majority of the porters and maids in the service. When A. Philip Randolph, General Organizer, presented the case of the Brotherhood in the preliminary hearing of the U.S. Mediation Board, a new chapter in Negro thought and action was begun.
The Locomotive Engineers Journal, 61 (April, 1927): 260-61.
June 4, 1927
Mr. E. F. Cary, President,
The Pullman Company,
I am addressing you this letter in order to acquaint you, first hand, with every phase of the development of the Movement to organize the Pullman porters in order that your attitude toward this Movement may rest upon a basis of understanding.
First, why did the Pullman porters organize? I think it is a sound business policy that you frankly face the question and honestly seek an answer. Doubtless, you can recall several previous efforts on the part of the porters to organize, especially during the war. Each time the main question at issue was wages and working conditions. Evidently, the porters felt then that organization would enable them to improve their condition. Then the United States Government, through the Railroad Administration Department, of which Messrs. McAdoo and Hines were Director Generals, encouraged the organization of railroad employees. With a view to adjusting disputes between carriers and employees with facility and dispatch, the Government set up the Board of Wages and Working Conditions. This Board was replaced by the United States Railroad Labor Board, which was set up under the Transportation Act upon the restoration of railroads to private hands, in 1920.53
During this time you organized the Employment Representation Plan for the Pullman porters. It functioned for about six years unchallenged. On August 25, 1925, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was born. It was the outgrowth of long deep-seated grievances which had been partly expressed and partly unexpressed, grievances because of poor working conditions which the Employee Representation Plan failed to remedy. These are not imagined but very real grievances which cannot and ought not to be summarily ignored, either by the Company or the porters. Despite several wage conferences under the Plan, five years after its inauguration, porters received a wage of only $67.50 a month, thereby being compelled to rely, for a living, on tips, which a scientific survey by the New York Labor Bureau revealed averaged only $58.15 a month, out of which an average occupational expense of $33.82 must come. This brought an income of only $1,154.16 a year, whereas, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics has set $2,040.75 as the minimum yearly wage upon which an American family can live in health and decency. Coupled with this, the systematic oppression of some of your local officials, the inability of porters to get a fair hearing on charges made against them under your Plan, the failure of porters to get an adequate redress for their grievances, the obvious Company control of the Plan, made organization among the porters, as among your conductors, necessary and inevitable. I am sure I need not tell you that porters would not always be content to work the long hours of 350 or more a month under the 11,000 mileage basis without compensation for overtime.
May I say that the Employee Representation Plan, the Pullman Porters Benefit Association, Field Days, Quartets, Bands, Stock Distribution Plans, Free Insurance, Courtesy and Honor Rolls do not constitute a fundamental, fair or permanent solution of the problem of unrest which the above-named conditions are bound to foster, engender and inculcate. Such, then, is the basic reason for the beginning of the Brotherhood.
Who Began It?
In order that your mind might be disabused of any misrepresentation about the origin of the Brotherhood, permit me to assure you, backed up by our records, that the Pullman porters in your employ, began the Movement to organize the porters and maids. In the home of Mr. W. H. Des Verney, a porter, thirty-seven years in your service, the first meeting was called. At that meeting, Mr. Roy Lancaster, seventeen years a porter and A. L. Totten, nine years a porter, both of whom served as officials of the Employee Representation Plan and the Pullman Porters Benefit Association, were present. I was the only person invited there who had never served the Company. But I am certain that you will admit that porters have as much right to secure a person who was never a porter to represent their organization as the stockholders of the Pullman Company have to employ an attorney or statistician, not a stockholder, to represent them.
Who Compose It?
And the Brotherhood is composed of Pullman porters. Nor are they all young men. The survey by the Labor Bureau of New York showed that the average service-ages of the members of the Brotherhood are a fraction over nine years. It may be interesting for you to know that all of the organizing committees, which are the local executive and administrative machinery of the Brotherhood, are composed of the oldest and most responsible men in your service, service-ages ranging from ten to forty years.
Who Control the Brotherhood?
The control of the Brotherhood is in the hands of the porters who finance it by their monthly dues, and assessments when essential. Contrary to unfounded charges, none of the leaders of the Union are either Atheists or Communists. Its leaders do not oppose the United States Government or advocate irreligion. The Brotherhood is perfectly willing to permit the Pullman Company or anybody of disinterested, responsible citizens, to institute an investigation to establish the truth or falsity of our claim.
Purpose of Brotherhood
The organization is seeking lawfully to secure better wages, improved working conditions for the porters and maids through the approved and accepted method of collective bargaining. This principle is recognized in both state and federal statutes. The new Railway Labor Act, which you supported, as a member of the Association of Railway Executives, provides under the head of General Duties, in Section 2 that “All disputes between a carrier and its employees shall be considered, and, if possible, decided with all expidition in conference between representatives designated and authorized so to confer respectively, by the carriers and by the employees thereof interested in the dispute. Third, Representatives, for the purposes of this Act, shall be designated by the respective parties in such manner as may be provided in their corporate organization or unincorporated association, or by other means of collective action, without interference, influence or coercion exercised by either party over the self-organization or designation of representatives by the other.”
The right of self-organization on the part of the employees of carriers is clearly and cogently set forth in the aforementioned Act which of course, I am sure you do not deny, since you were a party to its formulation and enactment.
The fact that you recognize the right of your employees to organize and bargain collectively with you is shown by your jointly setting up of an Adjustment Board with the Pullman conductors under the Act. Thus, I am confident that you would not consciously and deliberately seek to deny the porters a right which you recognize and accord the conductors.
But the purpose of the Brotherhood is not only to secure more wages and better working conditions, it is as sincerely concerned and interested in a high standard of service as you are, for we relize that as the company grows and develops into a bigger, better and more prosperous enterprise, the possibilities of improvement for the porters and maids increase, also.
It is the aim and desire of the Brotherhood, with its every initiative and talent, to increase the productive efficiency of the porters and maids, to develop their esprit de corps, to insist upon and maintain the utmost consistency in constructive and productive discipline. Courtesy, sobriety, industry and honesty are foundation principles of the Brotherhood. Courtesy, we consider, an essential element of the Pullman service, an infraction of which is as grave and inexcusable as a lack of industry or honesty. But servility is not courtesy, nor does it make for efficiency. The public is well aware of this distinction, which, it is my hope, you will recognize and appreciate. Contrary to the viewpoint, in certain quarters, that the discipline of the porters would deteriorate with unionization, it would measurably improve, because of their realization that their improved wage and working conditions were made possible through their organization which is obligated to furnish, and, is responsible for, a high order of discipline among its membership. There is also the additional element of race pride in the success and progress of their own organization which would serve as an incentive to porters putting their best foot forward in service. Under the influence of the Brotherhood discipline would flow from the principle of attraction instead of coercion; of willing, intelligent, initiative, instead of fear and intimidation; of a developing and higher instinct for workmanship and service, instead of a grudging performance of routine duties.
The Brotherhood is much more prepared, spiritually and intellectually, to secure this creative, constructive response and discipline than you can through your Employee Representation Plan, because the former, the Brotherhood, emanates from within, as an expression of the spirit and life and hopes and faith of the porters in themselves, whereas, the latter, the Plan, is imposed upon them from without—which social psychology will show—can hadrly make for a higher morale that will reflect itself in a finer quality of service.
It is my wish also that you know that the Brotherhood does not presume to take over the management of the Pullman Company. Ours is not to dictate but to cooperate, with every honorable means in a sympathetic and harmonious spirit for the mutual good and benefit of Company and porter, and the traveling public alike.
It is my sincere belief that the collective experience and intelligence of the porters can be more effectively released, organized and appropriated by the Company, for the benefit of the Company, through an organization of the porters of their own free choice than by any agency, however skillfully wrought, but which is devised by the Company, and expresses chiefly the will of the Company.
I suppose it will be generally conceded by everyone that the porter, who actually handles the Pullman car, knows more about it than anybody else. By the very same token, the porter, who actually handles the passengers, knows more about them, their whims, their inexpressed interests and wants, their emotional reaction, than anybody else. This constant repetition in the handling of cars and the public necessarily builds up in them an experience and intelligence of practicable workable value, which may be employed to great advantage by the Company in the inventing of new and more productive methods for achieving and rendering this highly intangible thing you call service, the chief commodity which you sell. This rich mine of creative common sense of porters and maids will only fully manifest itself under the stimulating hope of reward, in terms of equitable wages, working conditions and the freedom of voluntary organizational activity. This does not mean that the Brotherhood will engender the notion in the minds of the porters that they can do as they please, that they can violate the Pullman Company’s rules and commit manifold derelictions with impunity, that the Brotherhood will sanction and protect them in shiftlessness, irresponsibility, dishonesty or insolence. Not at all. On the contrary, the Brotherhood will instill, cultivate and develop a higher sense of responsibility, a finer conception of loyalty to the Company, a deeper interest in the conservation and preservation of Pullman property, and an essential concern in the efficient salesmanship of service, the foundation of Pullman and porters’ prosperity, alike.
Company Has Right to Require Discipline
Permit me to assure you also that the Brotherhood recognizes that you have the right to require discipline from the porters. Discipline is essential to good service and good service is essential to Pullman development. If the Brotherhood did not insist upon, require and insure the utmost discipline of its members in the interest of A-l service, it would not deserve to exist. May I hope that you will not construe this as vaulting egotism, but you can easily verify the fact that the Brotherhood can develop in, and exact, a higher form of discipline from the porters and maids than the Employee Representation Plan can, because of their deep faith in the former and their chronic distrust of the latter, a faith born both of a vital race consciousness and pride in self-organization responsibility, and a distrust born of doubt that porters can secure justice through the Employee Representation Plan, which is nominally the porters’ but actually in control of the Company. I am frank to say that there is deep objection among all Negroes, arising out of a long and bitter experience, to any agency which is Negro only in name, but which is really dominated by white men. Without the knowledge of this race psychology, you will be utterly unable ever rationally and effectively to deal with your porter personnel problem with a sure and constructive industrial statesmanship.
Information of Pullman Welfare Workers Unreliable
Of this attitude of mind of the porters and maids you will never hear from the mouths of your Negro welfare workers, because of them, the welfare worker’s, fear that it would simply tend to incur your displeasure. Your welfare workers report to you only those things they think you want to hear. They never tell you the truth about the thinking and spirit of the porters or of the Negro race as a whole. In the first place, they don’t think that you believe the truth, and in the second place, granting that you did believe it, they assume that you would consider them incompetent to handle developing unrest among the men. But it is obvious, that if you base your policies, in dealing with porters, upon the misinformation furnished by your welfare workers, it will be, in the nature of things, utterly impossible for you to secure the maximum productive efficiency from them. The fact that you employ Negro welfare workers would seem to indicate that you appreciate the necessity of knowing something about the mind of the porter. But you are only getting half-truths is worse than your getting no truths, for, since such information can only serve to cause you to misdirect your efforts, it will cause you to defeat the very end you hope to achieve, namely, increased service efficiency.
Progress of Company
The material progress of the Pullman service industry has been marvelous, unprecedented. The entire American public has been the beneficiary of the constructive resourcefullness and ingenuity of its management in mechanical elaboration and perfection of physical equipment.
From the wooden, kerosene-lamp miniature sleeper, has developed the magnificent, richly decorated and furnished standard sixteen section sleeper, and your very recent addition, the fourteen-room car, which probably represents the last word in luxury and comfort, in transit, on rails.
You have spared no means in fashioning an environment of such a work of art for the traveling public as would elicit from them a response of aesthetic appreciation and enjoyment. To this end President Carey in the Annual Report of July 31, 1926, stated that during the six years and five months since the property was released from Federal control (March 1, 1920), $81,473,100 had been invested in new equipment, and that of this amount $17,274,313, was invested in 546 new cars in the fiscal year just closed.
For the replacement of equipment you have long followed an exceedingly liberal depreciation policy. According to your balance sheet, $86,432,333 of earnings have been charged in your company equipment depreciation account. Your cars and equipment trench hard upon two hundred millions, or, more accurately, $196,841,691.
According to the Interstate Commerce Commission, the total cash investment of the Pullman Company up to 1924, was $32,602,238. Your present capitalization, however, is $135,000,000 brought to that figure by the reinvestment of surplus earnings and the issue of stocks as dividends and in exchange for property. Since 1897, the Pullman Company has distributed $345,675,000 in cash dividends and $60,000,000 in stock dividends.
Such is the stupendous and remarkable progress your company has made in material and mechanical refinement in financing and organization.
In management, technique, too, your Company has moved apace.
Progress of Porters and Maids
I need not tell you that, in the nature of things, it would be impossible for the porters and maids to be a part of this phenomenal progress, playing a considerable and basic part in giving its existence, without being profoundly influenced intellectually and spiritually. In very truth, the porter of fifty years ago, with the wicker-lamp, wooden car mind, could no more properly handle the deluxe standard sleeping, parlor, buffet, room, observation, steel cars of today than could the wooden, wicker-lamp cars of yesterday meet the rigid and exacting industrial and social requirements of modern travel. The former only required a porter with a primitive, rural mind; the latter, a porter with an elert, urbanized mind. I think you will agree that the vast progress of the Company would not have been possible with the porter with the slow-moving rural mind. A person needs much more urbanization to be able efficiently to handle the highly elaborated mechanism of the Pullman car. And along with the transformation of the rural mind of the porter into an urban mind, goes a progressive change in worth, service technique and competency and productivity. But accompanying this urbanization and improvement in the productive ability of the porter, go the needs, desires, interests, hopes and demands of an urban citizen.
The history of all social psychology shows that the latter inevitably follows the former. The wage increases you have granted are based upon the assumption that a porter of today, with an urban mind, is worth more to the Company than a porter of yesterday, with a rural mind.
And it may be interesting for you to know that this demand of your porters and maids for higher standards of living, better wages, hourage and working conditions, is merely a manifestation of a general movement forward of the Negro race. In the last fifty years, the race has accumulated 2 billions in property; its illiteracy has decreased over eighty-five per cent in fifty years. In 1926 there were practically 5,000 Negro doctors, 2,500 Negro dentists and 3,000 Negro lawyers. In 1920 there were 3,341 trained nurses. There are one hundred Negro banks, seventy-five Negro insurance companies and 343 periodicals. In literature, art and science, the Negro has made substantial and enduring contributions, of unquestioned world merit in reaches and quality to society. . . .
Union of Porters Inevitable
Industrial unrest of the porters and maids cannot be removed through summary repression. If stopped at one point, temporarily it will find expression through other channels, that may not be rational and constructive.
Porters and maids could no more remain on the same cars with the conductors and on the same trains with other train crews, who seek through collective bargaining, to improve their conditions and not seek to employ the very same method of collective bargaining to improve their conditions, than could a man fail to seek food when hungry or water fail to seek its level. Even granting that the Brotherhood should fail, it would not amount to a destruction of the will of the porters to organize. The will of self-organization, without interference, coercion or intimidation, may be stifled, crushed, for awhile and delayed, but it cannot be permanently destroyed; nor can it be killed by a mere increase in wages and better working conditions apparently secured through the Plan. The Company can get no relief from a besetting unrest by temporary victories over attempts of porters and maids to organize, assuming that it can win such victories, for these victories are, in reality, but harbingers of ultimate permanent victory of the porters in bona fide self-organization.
May I say that a contract with the porters and maids not to organize would be meaningless and valueless even granting that the law validated such a contract, for the urge and necessity for organization inherrent in the industrial conditions of being a porter. They can no more agree not to organize, with the ability to execute said agreement, than can a boy agree not to grow, with the ability to execute said agreement.
Conditions have convinced the porters and maids that they cannot rely upon anything to safeguard their interests but their own organization which is untrammeled, in the least, in the selection and designation of representatives for the formulation, presentation of their case, and the handling of recurrent grievances. No benevolent paternalistic grievance adjusting system such as the Plan will suffice. The rise and existence of the Brotherhood is incontrovertible evidence of the truth and soundness of this proposition.
Attitude of Company to Conductors
May I say that I am quite reassured by your jointly settling up an Adjustment Board with the Order of Sleeping Car Conductors, under the provisions of the new Railway Labor Act, which recognizes and sanctions the principle of collective bargaining on wages and working conditions, that you will not be disinclined consistently to pursue the same labor policy with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters which represents a majority of your employees in this class of service.
I cannot believe that you would entertain, for one moment, the idea or indulge the practice of making any morally unjustifiable and untenable distinction between your conductors and porters in the recognition and application of the principle of self-organization and the self-designation and selection of representatives for collective bargaining and the adjustment of disputes. I am certain that you must realize that there are ample facts, scientific, industrial for such a distinction, and that such could not be construed as in harmony with the express language and implied spirit and intent of the Federal statute.
I am sure you would not join hands in the adoption of a course of action which you thought was harmful to the Company and conductors. Thus, I think you will agree that the porters and the public are justified in assuming by your recognition of the conductors’ union that you don’t consider the principle of self-organization, self-designation of representatives for collective bargaining, as inimical to the welfare and interests of the Company, the conductors or the porters and maids.
Therefore, I assume that the question of organization will not be an issue if it can be demonstrated that the porters and maids want it, which, of course, is a logical position. If the porters didn’t want organization, the Brotherhood could not well claim that they did, since such a claim is subject to verification by a disinterested Government body, the United States Mediation Board.
No legitimate objection can be raised against the organization of porters on the grounds that it will destroy discipline, for, in the first place a bonafide functioning organization of porters and maids has never existed; hence no grounds of fact exist upon which to base such an assumption. Moreover, it is perfectly unfair to predicate attributes and behavior of a group of men and women under conditions they have never experienced. Instead of organization subverting discipline, it will greatly improve it, since the very organization of porters presupposes, implies and indicates their susceptibility to discipline, for discipline is nothing more than the implicit acceptance of, and obedience to, definite rules of behavior, which is the recognized condition of organization.
But if organization is believed by you to be injurious to the discipline of the porters, why do you maintain the Employees Representation Plan for them? It is my understanding that you allege the Plan to be an organization; hence, rendering another form of organization superfluous and unnecessary.
Value of Brotherhood to Company
Can the Brotherhood be of any actual value to the Company? It decidedly can. It can effectively weed out the shiftless, irresponsible element from the service which constitute a definite liability, and attract and secure more men of pronounced character, industry, and worth, for the work.
It can stabilize the turn-over, thereby achieving a higher degree of efficiency through the attractive impressment of porters and maids into the service, over longer periods.
The development of efficiency in the handling of Safety First devices and methods can be greatly facilitated under the Brotherhood’s stimulation and control.
As to service, a more resourceful and constructive system of service education can be developed in the hands of the porters’ own union. A more rational and higher conception of its social dignity and importance can be inculcated in the minds of the porters through the Brotherhood, which will express itself in definite productive value.
A higher level of morale of the porters and maids can be attained by the Brotherhood over that of the Plan, since the rigid, though reasonable disciplinary exactions of the former, are adjusted by the porters as the manifestation of their own will, whereas, discipline under the Plan is considered irksome, distasteful and oppressive, because it is imposed from without by the Company, which is viewed and followed by the porters, more often through fear than love. This negative psychological attitude prevents the Company from realizing maximum production results from the service efforts of the porters and maids.
More substantial and consistent economics, compatible with a high standard of service, can be effectively instituted and executed under and through the machinery of the Brotherhood because of the belief on the part of the porters that they will participate in the beneficent results of such economics than under the Plan.
There is also the problem of elaborate espionage. It utterly fails to accomplish the end for which it is intended. Besides, it may be listed on the debit side of the ledger. As an engine for the production of fear, it may be rated high in efficiency, but as an agency for creating good will and intelligent initiative among the porters, it is hopelessly bankrupt. It is an unbearable tax upon the frailty of human nature to expect that types of men who willingly consent to engage in espionage which brings upon their heads the curses and contempt of their fellow-workers can be fully trusted by anybody. Industrial espionage is based upon the theory that the labor personnel of the Company as discontented and that undercover men are essential to prevent organization which is deemed deleterious to the interests of the Company. But there is ample labor history to show that it does not permanently prevent organization or agitation. It only serves to create a sullen and expensive skepticism of the spirit of fair-play of the employer.
On the other hand, when men are contented, born of a belief and feeling that the opportunity to improve their conditions has been wide and unrestricted, that representatives who conduct negotiations, in their behalf with the Company, are freely designated by them; that the Company does not seek, in any way, to influence their selection of representatives; that a spirit of mutuality, good will and cooperation are religiously fostered between the porters and the management will work with a freshness, ardor, loyal willingness and interest which cannot fail to reflect itself in more and finer production.
Industrial peace and order will logically and naturally flow from the above pictured attitude of mind, and it is a matter of commonplace industrial engineering that order and peace are an indispensable condition to high production standards. If peace and order are to be established and maintained among those associated with the industrial life of the Pullman Company, they must think and act in terms of constructive cooperation, understanding and mutuality.
This involves a complete recognition of the rights of the porters and maids who constitute a substantial section of the human forces of the industry. There can be no honorable reciprocal relationship where the management attempt to deny to the porters and maids the exercise of a legal or moral right. Such an attempt can only foster and breed ill will, resentment, antagonism and spiritual maladjustment which will certainly tend to press the curve of service efficiency downward. It has been well said that men feel very strongly toward those who seek to abridge their activities or infringe upon their rights. They cannot entertain kindly feelings for those who prevent them from doing the things they have a right to do. Such an attitude creates hatred, bitterness and conflict, which must necessarily increase production costs.
It is pretty substantially accepted by economic experts that a scientific coordination of human and mechanical forces is the only sound formula for the achievement of higher production standards and lower production costs. But, modern psychology will unerringly demonstrate that this co-ordination and correlation of human and mechanical forces cannot be attained under a condition of spiritual resentment of the human forces to a curtailment of volitional organizational action.
Train Crews and the Brotherhood
If associated effort as between the various sections of labor personnel in a given industry makes for increased production, so will associated effort between two industrial groups, say, the train crews and the Pullman crews, make for a larger total efficiency on a given train, as well as a larger specific efficiency of each individual industrial group. Concretely, the Pullman service will surely be the beneficiary of the cooperation between the train crews and the Pullman crews. This is obvious because the work relates at certain points. But such cooperation would hardly be possible if the train crews feel that a large section of the Pullman crews are scabs, their enemies. Scabs are despised by all union men which emotionally prevents willing and helpful cooperation. This accounts for the support which the Brotherhood receives from the standard railroad unions. It is, therefore, palpably to the interest of the Company to have the porters and maids organized into bonafide union which other railroad unions will respect and recognize. Modern economic history irrefutably proves that union labor raise, instead of lowering production. The reason is that a union man develops a higher sense of self-respect and responsibility, skill and regularity. It is beyond the realm of doubt, that a porter who is sufficiently venturesome to brave the possibility of being fired, by joining a union, means much more to the Company as a producing unit than a porter who is willing to endure conditions which he actually and honestly would desire changed. The former, has initiative, industry and moral courage; the latter, is morally weak and shiftless. No porter can be truly trusted by you who does not trust himself to help improve his wage and working conditions in cooperation with his fellow-employees, when an organized, systematic, intelligent effort is made to so improve conditions.
Conduct of Brotherhood
In order that you may be fully disillusioned with respect to lurid and sinister rumors about the Brotherhood, we willingly invite any disinterested body of public spirited citizens to examine into the conduct of the affairs of the organization. The finances of the Brotherhood are handled by a recognized, responsible, standard accounting firm of New York, headed by Mr. Stuart Chase, at 2 West 43rd Street.
The Brotherhood’s affairs are as scrupulously conducted as any institution in America, an audit being made monthly, quite an unusual procedure for most concerns. This is done to insure the absolute protection of the interest of its members, and to convince the world that the Brotherhood is not a moneymaking, grafting proposition, for the personal aggrandizement of a few selfish men, but that it is a great movement of social and racial significance, of practical idealism which is conducted honestly and honorably and efficiently for the collective well-being and interests of its membership, the Pullman Company and the general public.
Attitude of Negro Public
You have only to canvass Negro public opinion to find a virtual unanimity of interest in the success of the Brotherhood. It is viewed as the most significant economic movement of racial progress instituted in the last half century. The most outstanding Negro organizations and leaders such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the leaders of the National Urban League, the National Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, the Shriners, The Elks, The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of New York, the members of which are preaching Brotherhood sermons, the International Negro Ministerial Alliance of America, the Negro Race Congress, headed by Dr. Jernigan of Washington, and practically the entire Negro press, stand behind the Brotherhood.
The White Public
Of the attitude of the white public, doubtless you are to some extent aware, for you surely know of the public prominence of a large number of the men and women who compose our Committee of One Hundred. It certainly speaks definitely for the responsibility of our movement. None of the persons, who are members of the Committee, can be accused of readily affixing their names to anything in which they have no confidence. Especially, would they be hesitant about venturing into the Brotherhood, implicit with big and far-reaching principles, unless they were committed to its program.
Permit me herewith to reassure you that the Brotherhood stands ready to submit to, and abide by, the Watson-Parker Bill, which has established the procedure of mediation or arbitration of disputes between self organized employees and carriers. We feel that the dispute between the membership of the Brotherhood which embraces the majority of your employees of this class of service, and the Pullman Company can be amicably adjudged through mediation or arbitration as provided in the law.
If you feel that the Brotherhood has no case, I am sure you would not be opposed to having this fact established through fair and impartial arbitration as provided by the Act, since you could sustain no loss, but only secure a reaffirmation of your contention. If the Brotherhood has a case, I think you will also agree that it would be industrially inexpedient to deny same, since it could only tend to give force to a continuing vexatious condition of discontent among the porters and maids, which will render an eventual definite handling of the situation through mediation, arbitration or direct conference, advisable and imperative.
In conclusion, the Brotherhood is building a new porter, upstanding, responsible, efficient with initiative and constructive practical intelligence who will work to build up a bigger and better Pullman industry to serve the nation. You will find the Brotherhood ever ready fully to cooperate with you frankly, intelligently, loyally and honorably to achieve this end mutually beneficial to the prosperity and human elements of the Pullman industry.
As the designated spokesman of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, I have the honor to remain
A. PHILIP RANDOLPH,
General Organizer, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
Original in the Lowell M. Greenlaw Papers, Chicago Historical Society, also published in The Messenger, 9 (July, 1927): 237-41.
An Unknown Negro Writes A New Page in Labor History
By Frank R. Crosswaith
“Am fully mindful of the grave seriousness of the situation and personal danger. Conscientiously feel brotherhood’s cause is so righteously important, that a firm stand should be taken. Have fully decided to remain and meet the consequences. This means that I am willing to make the supreme sacrifice. Have sacredly dedicated my all to the promotion of the brotherhood’s noble cause. Advise at once. Being constantly intimidated by Pullman Negro officials.”
This remarkable telegram was received by A. Philip Randolph, general organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, at its headquarters, 2311 Seventh avenue, New York City, and was sent by Bennie Smith, field organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, stationed in Jacksonville, Florida. It substantiates fully what every unprejudiced student of American labor and all sincere friends of the Negro have consistently claimed—that the Negro workers of the nation whenever reached by the message of organized labor and inspired with labor’s ideals will bring to the movement that rich spiritual contribution, that fidelity in ideals, that unfading courage in the face of great danger which have characterized the Negro throughout his history in the United States. In some respects these invaluable and ennobling contributions destined to be made by the Negro is the cause of labor in its struggle against wage slavery, will be even more startlingly brilliant and socially serviceable than the soul-sustaining spirituals wrung from him by the master’s lash during the de-humanizing days of chattel slavery.
An Early Volunteer
Bennie Smith had served the Pullman company faithfully and efficiently for twenty years, during which period he succeeded in chalking up a record termed “enviable” by both his fellow workers and his employers. When the movement to organize the porters began, among the first to join was Bennie Smith of the Omaha, Nebraska district of the Pullman company. Smith not alone joined the organization, but exerted his every influence to bring the other porters in his immediate district into the brotherhood. His attitude added tremendously to the immense popularity he already enjoyed among the men.
When the Pullman company became alarmed over the rapid growth and expansion of the Brother of Sleeping Car Porters it decided to call a conference under the aegis of its “company union.” Bennie Smith was elected a delegate from his district; at the time he was local officer in the “Employee Representative Plan”—the company union. At the conference, held in Chicago, the company first gave the porters a slight wage increase and then handed the delegates a company-made agreement to be signed by them. Two of the delegates had the courage and manhood to refuse to sign on the dotted line; one of these was Bennie Smith, the Nebraskan rebel, and the other, W. H. Edwards, of St. Louis, Mo. These two dissident porters remained adamant against the pleas of their more gullible and spineless fellow delegates as well as against the threats of the company representatives in the conference.
Upon the return of Bennie to his district the local Pullman officials began to exact from him a high price for his stand in the conference. All manner of mean things were done to him, calculated to get him disgusted with the service and eventually out of it. But Bennie was wiser than they had given him credit for being. The same stalwart courage and bravery which characterize the telegram above sustained him and he continued to be the efficient and capable porter as before. He would permit no one to mar his “enviable” record with the company.
Smith is Summoned
The company next called for the election of delegates to a convention of the Pullman Porters’ Benevolent Association—the benevolent feature of the company union—and again Bennie’s name was placed in nomination by his fellow porters to the awe and chagrin of the company’s officials. Immediately a campaign was quietly started to insure the defeat of Bennie. Porters were secretly advised “not to vote for Bennie Smith,” that “he was disloyal to the company”, etcetra.
When told of this Bennie complained to the head of the industrial bureau of the company, in whose hands is lodged the responsibility for making the company union function. This move on the part of Bennie offered the company its long awaited chance to clip with a terrible thorn in its collective sides. The head of the bureau called Bennie to Chicago “in order that he might in person, file his complaint against his local superior officer;” Bennie was also to “bring along the names of the porters who told him that the Omaha superintendent had advised them not to vote for him”
Realizing that in the event he did comply with the latter request not alone would he be penalized, since never before in the history of the bureau had a porter been found guiltless in a dispute with an official of the company, but that his fellow workers who had informed him of the secret instructions would be penalized as well. He therefore agreed to appear before the bureau, but refused to disclose the names of his brothers. The result was that Bennie was dismissed from the service. Thereupon he was employed as field organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and proceeded to prove that not alone was he a good porter, but an equally courageous and capable labor organizer.
About two months ago he was ordered by National Headquarters to leave St. Louis, Mo., and proceed to Jacksonville, Fla. Arriving there he found that the local porters knew very little about the Brotherhood. In the spirit of the pioneer, Bennie endeavored to inform them of the struggle being waged by their brothers in other districts for a living wage and improved working conditions. In short order he had a goodly number of the Jacksonville porters enrolled, to the alarm of the local stool pigeons as well as the officials of the company.
One of the methods being employed by the company to thwart the efforts of the Brotherhood is the touring of Negro Pullman officials through the various districts to make speeches against the Brotherhood. Accordingly, on April 20 C. C. Webb of Chicago made his debut in Jacksonville, Fla., and delivered his customary tirade against the organization. On the next day Mr. Webb is said to have informed the local superintendent that “Bennie was in town.” Some of the local lackeys were then called in and told that “I think it would be a good idea to give Bennie Smith an invitation to leave town.” The lackeys of course, were to get word to Bennie indirectly. When the information reached him, Bennie ignored it and continued to quietly enroll new members in the Brotherhood.
On the morning of May 18 two detectives called at Bennie’s temporary headquarters. He was out. They left word for him “to report immediately to Police Headquarters and see Chief Roberts.” Upon so doing the chief questioned Bennie about “his business in Jacksonville,” at the same time remarking cynically that “he didn’t care anything about the organization of the Pullman porters,” but “he did care about ‘The Messenger’—the official organ of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters—because “there was some damn bad stuff in it” and that he (Bennie) “was going to be put in jail.”
Bennie then asked the chief to tell him which of the issues of The Messenger had the objectionable matter in it, or would he kindly let him see the particular copy.
Evidently, unaware of the trap set for him by the resourceful Bennie, the chief naively replied that “Mr. Franklin E. Cooper (the local Pullman superintendent) had the copies” and that he (Bennie) should report at the Police Station at nine o’clock the next morning when Mr. Cooper would be present with the copies of The Messenger to file charges. Chief Roberts then ventured the opinion that “The Messenger had been preaching social equality and stirring up the Negroes.”
A Judicial Reception
Obviously when Negro workers demand a living wage, better working conditions plus the right to organize in their own union, they are considered by the Pullman Company as making a bid for social equality. Bennie then tried to get in touch with the Judge in order that he might explain to that dignitary his presence in Jacksonville and was informed by that dispenser of justice that he (the Judge) knew all about it, and that he had it in “black and white” and that Smith had better get back to headquarters.
Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Bennie immediately secured local advice and was informed that inasmuch as there had been no charges made against him, no warrant issued for his arrest, and, furthermore, since he had violated no law, he was legally within his rights in remaining away from the courts of Jacksonville. The next day W. H. Mitchell, a local Negro Pullman official, made three trips to Bennie’s room to tell him that “if he remained in Jacksonville he would do so at the risk of his life,” that “because of certain information he had gathered and the dangerous conditions of the South it was extremely hazardous for him (Bennie) to remain in that section,” and, besides, many white people had been asking about him.
The inference here is unmistakable. Bennie immediately informed this sable-skinned emissary of the company that it was his intention to leave Jacksonville at an early date, but that in view of the sudden developments, he was willing to hasten his departure if he knew positively that Mr. Cooper (Pullman superintendent) desired it.
Smith Leaves Town
The stool-pigeon fell into the trap and immediately left Bennie with the expressed intention of “returning to let him know how the superintendent felt about the matter.” Upon returning, Mitchell informed Bennie that “it was best for his personal safety if he left town at the very earliest possible moment.” He treacherously added, “The superintendent didn’t say so, but I overheard something.” Bennie then refused to leave town.
Meanwhile preparations for Bennie’s arrest and incarceration were being made; he, however, steadfastly refused to leave Jacksonville. He did so only after A. Philip Randolph sent him the following wire: “Your word against Cooper’s is valueless in a Southern court. Leave immediately.” Some hours later Bennie Smith was passing through Waycross, Ga., on his way to Chicago, Ill.
Bennie Smith will be sent back to Jacksonville by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters after steps have been taken to give him all possible legal protection. For, as he very tersely stated in one of his messages to headquarters, “I am not afraid of the law, for I have done no wrong. But I am concerned about the outlaw.” Thereby ends, for a time at least, a most dazzling and inspiring chapter in labor’s history contributed by the rapidly awakening Negro workers of the nation.
American labor can make of the industrially arrived Negro worker a promise or a menace. What will its decision be?
The New Leader, June 25, 1927.
Chicago Defender, November 19, 1927.
Organizer of Union Outlines Fight
By A. Philip Randolph, General Organizer
Chicago Defender, November 19, 1927.
By A. Philip Randolph General Organizer
In the Congress Hotel, Chicago, mediation of the question of representation between the Pullman Company and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, is now going on by Honorable Edwin P. Morrow of the U.S. Mediation Board.
This is a far cry from August 25, 1926, when, as a result of nationwide unrest among the porters with The Employee Representation Plan which has failed, after six years trial satisfactorily to adjust disputes, the Brotherhood was born. Like a prairie fire, the Movement swept the country, and on December 10th, 1926, the first step in settling the dispute between The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Pullman Company was taken by the U.S. Mediation Board.
The procedure instituted was as follows: After the Brotherhood had secured a majority of the porters and maids in the service, the General Organizer addressed a letter to the Pullman Company, requesting a conference, which was denied. Whereupon, he made an ex parte application to the U.S. Mediation Board for its services to mediate the dispute.
December 10th, Honorable Edwin P. Morrow, member of the Board was dispatched to Chicago to inquire into the merits of the dispute. The representatives of the Brotherhood and the Pullman Company were ordered to lay their claims in the dispute before him.
The Brotherhood, in the hearings which lasted a week or more, presented its side of the dispute, contending (1) That it embraced the majority of the porters and maids in the service, (2) that the Employee Representation Plan, organized and controlled by the Company, has no standing under the new Railway Labor Act.
The Company contended that the Brotherhood did not represent the porters and maids since 85 percent had voted for the Employee Representation Plan in the last election. The Brotherhood replied by producing 1000 affidavits from porters showing that they voted under coercion, intimidation and interference of the Company, that they did not vote of their own free will, but under threat of being pulled off their runs or of losing their jobs.
In the opinion of the U.S. Mediation Board, the facts and arguments presented by the Brotherhood were sufficiently meritorious to warrant the Board making further investigation into the case.
In February, the Board so decided to further investigate the case.
On the 4th of May of this year, Mr. Morrow, was deputed to go to the headquarters of the Brotherhood in New York and go more fully into the records and documents of the Brotherhood substantiating its claims. He had the statistician of the Board, Mr. W. C. Mitchell to come to the Brotherhood’s office and carefully examine all of the membership blanks, records and finances of the Brotherhood. This investigation lasted four days. A report was made to the Board on the investigation and July 11, Mr. Morrow was ordered to Chicago by the Board to proceed with the work of mediating the question of representation, which is the basic principle in dispute.
Such is the present status of the case. From the trend of mediation, some definite position on representation between the Company and the Brotherhood, will be reached very shortly. Mr. Morrow has declared his intention of continuing on the case until some settlement is reached or he will reccommend arbitration.
Propaganda to the effect that the Board had turned down the Brotherhood’s case was as erroneous as it was malicious. But the response of the porters and maids in paying dues indicates that it was not only not believed but that it stimulated them to great loyalty and devotion to the Organization.
Mr. M. P. Webster, Organizer, Chicago Division, and the General Organizer are the Committee representing the Brotherhood at this stage of the negotiation. This committee will be joined later by Roy Lancaster, Secretary-Treasurer; Bennie Smith, Field Organizer; A. L. Totten, Assistant General Organizer; E. J. Bradley, Organizer, St. Louis Division; W. H. Des Verney, Assistant General Organizer, if occasion arise.
The Messenger, 9 (September, 1927): 284.
BROTHERHOOD OF SLEEPING CAR PORTERS,
Docket No. 20,007.
against to Dismiss
Petitioner’s Brief on Motion
The Pullman Company
The motion to dismiss alleges as grounds of dismissal:
“The allegations set forth in the complaint do not state a cause of action over which the Commission has jurisdiction.
“The Commission is without authority to grant the relief prayed for or any relief.”
This brief will attempt to show that the Commission has ample jurisdiction in the premises and power to grant the relief prayed for.
Nature of the Matters Complained of.
The petition alleges that defendant since 1867 has continuously maintained and now maintains a practice whereby it encourages and permits porters in its service to receive contributions in money, tips and gratuities from passengers. The prayer of the petition is that the Commission, pursuant to its powers under Sec. 13 of the Interstate Commerce Act, investigate the said practice and policy of the defendant and issue such order as the facts and circumstances, in the judgment of the Commission, may warrant, and, specifically, that the defendant be required to cease and desist from:
a: Directly or indirectly, informing or instructing applicants for positions as porters that they may expect increment to their wages from passengers.
b: Inducing or permitting porters in its service to receive gratuities from passengers.
c: Continuing to fix wage rates for porters at an amount insufficient to enable them to remain in the service.
d: All acts, policies or practices tending to produce discriminations among passengers in the service rendered them by its employees.
e: Inducing payment by passengers for services rendered in excess of the price indicated on the ticket of passengers.
At the outset, it must be firmly grasped that The Pullman Company as a common carrier is an agent of the public, that porters are employees of a public agent, and that it is the position of petitioner that tipping affects and impairs the performance of duties which The Pullman Company owes the public. The practice is complained of in its relation to the public service.
The injurious effect on the public service of the tipping practice will more clearly appear if the duties of porters are described in some detail. These duties are set out in a booklet of instructions to porters issued by defendant January 1, 1925. Some two hundred and seventeen matters are listed to which the porter must give detailed and often continuous attention. Many of them affect substantially the health, safety and comfort of passengers. The quality and quantity of performance of these duties necessarily affect passengers in said respects.
The rules of the porter’s service are grouped under nine headings. They comprise such duties as the care of linen, blankets, towels, pillows, the preparation and closing of berths, the handling of baggage, guarding cars, care of equipment, ventilation, heating and lighting, protecting the safety of passengers and of their property, and the maintenance of sanitary and police regulations. The porter is a policeman, a health officer, and a house superintendent. He controls ventilation, heating, lighting, sanitation and safety. By day and night he is the guardian of the safety of passengers and their belongings.
The porter has other police duties. He is an aid to the train conductor in charge. The porter must enforce sanitary regulations, must make sure that passengers are not suffering from smallpox, cholera, typhoid fever or plague; that persons suffering from infectious diseases, other than those named, are accompanied by a qualified trained attendant, and that they have the entrance and removal permits required by law to enable them to go from one state to another. The porter must see to it that tubercular passengers are provided with proper means for collecting and destroying sputum.
These duties of a sanitary officer are set out in the rules referred to and porters are therein instructed to familiarize themselves with the regulations contained in the Interstate Quarantine Regulations of the United States Government and the Standard Railway Sanitary Code of the States and in a pamphlet entitled “Communicable Diseases and Travel” which are stated to be on file in the district offices of the company.
The porter is required, also, to see to it that the laws of the several states with regard to gambling, card playing and Sunday regulations are enforced. He also has duties with regard to preventing dutiable articles from being transported without payment of customs and duties under the Immigration laws; and he must aid to enforce the prohibition laws of the United States.
Description of the Tipping Practice.
Upon the performance of the duties described above, the tipping practice impinges. The influence of the practice on such performance varies with a number of factors. Among these are the character of the porter, his conception of his obligation to the public and his employer, the generosity or meagerness of the tip, the manner of the tipping or non-tipping passenger, the degree of intensity of economic pressure upon the porter, the vigilance of Pullman inspectors and “spotters,” the number of passengers in the car, the length and condition of the journey and other factors.
The time of tipping varies. Some passengers make their contribution early in the journey believing it most efficacious then. The great majority defer it until they leave the car at the end of their journey. This has an important effect on the length of the porter’s run as is shown below.
The purpose of the tip varies. It may be in the nature of a bribe to induce the porter to acquiesce in the violation of sanitary or police regulations or to secure an inordinate amount of the porter’s attention as against other passengers. In this case, of course, it is usually paid otherwise than at the end of the journey. The tip may be in consideration of legitimate personal services rendered to the passenger by the porter over and outside of the duties required by the company, and in that case indicates merely an employment of the porter by the passenger. It may be simply a gratuity without any service rendered because, for example, the passenger knows the porter cannot remain in the service on the wages paid by The Pullman Company. The usual personal service such as shining shoes and carrying baggage are required by the company. Hence a tip for such service does not indicate employment by the passenger. It is understood that the porter shall proffer a brushing off. Otherwise than at terminals this is usually the invitation and opportunity to the passenger to provide the tip.
The amount of the tip varies with its purpose and with the financial ability and propensity of the passenger and with the alacrity and manner of the porter. It is believed to average about $58 a month to each porter in active service and not less in the aggregate than $7,000,000 per annum. This subject is more fully discussed below in connection with the wages and working conditions of porters.
Wages and Working Conditions of Porters.
The tipping practice is and has always been an important factor in the wages and working conditions of the porters.
The defendant employs from 10,000 to 12,000 porters. They are paid on a mileage basis. The standard is 11,000 miles or about 400 hours of road service. Beyond this porters are entitled to overtime. Monthly wage rates effective February 15, 1926, are as follows:
Overtime is earned when mileage in excess of 11,000 miles per month has been covered. It is paid at the rate of .61 of $.01 per mile.
In addition to road service, the porter must be in attendance at terminals for several hours before the train starts and also put the car in shape after arrival. For these services he receives no pay.
Basis of Estimate of Amount of Tips Received.
In 1926, at the instance of the petitioner, the Labor Bureau of New York received 777 questionnaires filled out by porters showing runs and tips received. The average mileage per run was 1,282.38. The average porter makes 14.6 runs a month averaging 38.6 hours each. The average porter serves 293.36 hours of road work per month and, in addition, three hours of preparatory time each trip and about one hour terminal time. Average wage received is $78.11 per month; 673 regular porters averaged in $7.56 each round trip and monthly $58.15. The questionnaire shows large variations in amounts received from tips; 376 earned less than $60 a month therefrom, while 245 earned more than $60; 5 earned less than $15, and 2 more than $200.
It appears from the returns to the questionnaires that earnings and tips depend upon the opportunity given by the company in the allotment of runs. The porters assigned to tourist cars receive a differential over the base rate because “tourists” are poor tippers. Higher wage rates are established for parlor car porters inasmuch as the parlor car travellers are more meager tippers than sleeping car travellers.
The questionnaire also showed seasonal variation in earnings and tips. From April 15th to June 15th is the dead season. Traffic and tips are then light. From June 15th to Labor Day traffic is brisk and tips increase; after Labor Day the trend of travel is at another low level where it remains until the week before Thanksgiving; a brief rush period then ensues, after which there comes another lull which endures until the week before Christmas. From Christmas to April 15th the winter season is on, during which travel and tipping are larger.
The Effect of the Tipping System on the Wage Rates Paid by The Pullman Company.
Obviously, The Pullman Company saves in its wage bill approximately the amount contributed by the public in tips. As it employs approximately 10,000 porters and the answers to the questionnaires show an average of about $58 per month, the amount contributed by the public appears to be about $720,000 a month or approximately $8,640,000 per annum. This is believed to be approximately the annual amount The Pullman Company saves in its wage costs by the tipping practice. As said practice has been in effect since 1867, when the Pullman Company began business, the total saved to it by tipping cannot be less than $150,000,000. Some such sum has been contributed by the travelling public which has been accordingly burdened to approximately that amount.
The Pullman Company maintains the 400-hour basis as its standard of wage rates for the reason that that standard tied up with the tipping practice requires long runs, requires the porter to follow the car on any but the longest runs to destination; by this arrangement the porter is with the passengers on arrival and then receives their tips. This practice of requiring long runs, averaging approximately 1200 miles and 38 hours per run, necessitates also, under the rules of the company, that the porter do without adequate sleep during the run.
It is recognized that a reasonable amount of sleep and rest is necessary for the performance of railroad service—witness, for example, the 16 hour law. In determining the effect of the tipping system on the quality and quantity of defendant’s service to passengers through porters, the amount of sleep available to porters under defendant’s rules is relevant.
On this subject the questionnaire affords evidence; 57% of the porters responding, or 323, report that they obtain three hours’ sleep a night; 92, or about 16%, report that they obtain no sleep; 133, or 23%, report that they obtain more than three hours ranging up to seven hours; 22, or some 4%, report that they obtain less than three hours’ sleep.
Mr. L. S. Hungerford, General Manager of the Pullman Company, testified before the Federal Industrial Commission (see Vol. 10, pp. 9955-8) that under the rules of the company the porter is permitted to retire at 11.30 p.m. and is required to get up at 3 a.m. He is not permitted to sleep after 3 a.m. nor is he permitted to sleep during the day. At page 9955 Mr. Hungerford states that he does not think long runs good for the service.
Evidence Tending to Show that The Pullman Company permits, encourages and has officially confirmed and adopted the tipping practice.
It is submitted that the tipping practice is and has been continuously a policy and practice of the defendant. For purposes of this motion, the allegations of the petition must be taken as admitted. The petition alleges:
“IV (a) (p. 2). Defendant on or about February 27, 1867 instituted and has since maintained the practice . . . of paying said employees (porters) wages insufficient to enable them to remain in said service and of inducing passengers to contribute the compensation necessary to that end.
“XI (p.5). Defendant in 1867 adopted the policy of hiring only negroes as porters and paying them only one-half or two-thirds of the amount necessary to enable them to remain in its service. In thus taking negroes into its service defendant took over with them the gratuity custom and has since maintained, developed and officially confirmed it.
“XIII (p. 6). Among said acts (confirming said practice) are the following: Defendant, in employing porters, notifies them that passengers will contribute $50 to $100 per month and thus eke out the wage which defendant itself pays (approximately $72.50 per month) to an income upon which it is possible for the porter to remain in the service. Defendant requires that porters perform personal services to passengers, such as cleaning shoes and clothes, and requires the porter to furnish supplies and equipment therefor. Defendant at all times since 1867 has fixed the wage paid by it in the light of the amount defendant estimates the porter will receive from passengers and by making the defendant’s portion only approximately one-half to two-thirds of the said necessary wage. The said $72.50 per month was established by defendant as a minimum rate for porters in February 1926. Prior thereto and before 1923 it was $60; before 1919, $48.50; before 1918, $30; before 1916 for many years it was $27.50. These amounts were at all times inadquate to enable said employees to remain in the service and forced them to induce passengers to make up the deficiency. A month’s work is equivalent to 11,000 miles or 400 hours of road service and said minimum rates are and were the pay received by the great majority of porters from defendant. By said acts defendant has, in effect, instructed porters to obtain the necessary residue of their wages from passengers.”
Statements of Officers of The Pullman Company before Public Bodies with regard to Tipping Practice.
That the Pullman Company permits the tipping practice is a matter of public knowledge and needs no proof. That it considers tips with relation to the length of runs is shown by proceedings of the Joint Conference held in Chicago January 27th to February 3rd 1926 under the Plan of Employee Representation. At that conference the employee representative requested the company to consider a 240 hour basis instead of the 400 hour basis as the standard of wage rates. The representative of the company replied:
“The management cannot consider that proposition as it would work detrimentally for the company and for the porters, since it would result in cutting their runs down to a point where they would not make more than 240 hours per month, with the result that they would be cut off at interim points and lose their tips.”
See Federal Industrial Commission Report (Vol. 10, pp. 9955 et seq.). Mr. Hungerford, General Manager of The Pullman Company, testified (p. 9955) that tipping is considered in fixing wage rates of porters for tourist car service at higher rates than those for the regular Pullman service; this for the reason that travellers on tourist cars are not of a class able or accustomed to pay tips; hence to induce porters to accept service in tourist cars the wage rates must be higher.
At p. 9597 Mr. Hungerford states that tips account for the fact that the company is able to get porters at $27.50 per month (then the wage rate—1915), and obviously far less than a living wage.
At p. 9651 G. H. Sylvester, a characteristic porter among those long in the service of The Pullman Company, states that his earnings in tips are three times what is paid by the company, and further that he could not remain in the service if tips were abolished and the wage rate not increased.
Testimony of Robert T. Lincoln, President of The Pullman Company. Mr. Lincoln testified that if tips were abolished the company would have to raise wage rates to keep porters. He further states that the fact that the abolition of tips would require The Pullman Company to raise wages is the underlying reason why tips are not abolished (p. 9677). He further testified that Pullman rates to the public are based upon the tipping practice (9678). This must mean that in Mr. Lincoln’s opinion if tips were abolished the rates to the public would have to be increased unless the company’s dividends were decreased. Further, Mr. Lincoln testified that the porter would have to be paid a living wage if tips were abolished (9680).
Quotations have been made above from the report of the conference at Chicago January 27th to February 3rd 1926 under the Plan of Employee Representation, whereby it appears that the company’s runs averaging some 1200 miles and 38 hours of continuous service are based upon the tipping practice.
For the purposes of this motion, the above is sufficient to demonstrate that the tipping practice has been adopted by The Pullman Company as a part of its permanent policy. The tipping practice determines the conduct of the service with regard to the allotment of runs and length of runs as well as the wage rates paid.
The reason for its adoption and retention is also clearly apparent, to wit, the saving in wage costs of not less than $7,000,000 per annum. A practice so advantageous to the defendant will not be abandoned by it without a struggle to save it.
The Tipping Practice Produces Discrimination Among Passengers.
A description of the Porter’s duties is set out above. It must be obvious that to permit the porter to receive tips produces or tends to produce discrimination, particularly in the performance of the duties described below.
Order of making berths. On a day and night journey the porter makes up berths in transit and must make them up in some successive order. The order is within his discretion and is often of great importance to passengers. The sick, feeble or tired traveller often wishes his berth made up among the first. It cannot be denied that tipping may, and often does, influence the porter in this regard and produces discrimination in favor of the generous tipper against the non-tipper or one whose appearance does not indicate a tipping propensity. Obviously took, tipping has a tendency to influence the porter as to ventilation and heating, screens in windows, and like services. As to these matters passengers often have conflicting desires.
The porter is an assistant to the train conductor with regard to enforcement of sanitary regulations. Tipping naturally tends to produce discrimination in that regard. Money in the nature of a bribe paid to the porter by travellers suffering from infectious diseases may well have a tendency to disarm the porter’s vigilance and induce him to refrain from making the proper report or from taking the proper action in that regard.
Indeed, all the police duties of the porter may well be affected by tipping which in this instance may amount to bribery. In a number of states there are laws against gambling and card playing on Sunday or otherwise. The payment of money to the porter, who alone has sufficient opportunity to observe the conduct of passengers, must have a tendency to induce him to acquiesce in violation of such laws.
It is also the duty of the porter to prevent and report violations of the prohibition law and of the rules of the defendant as to the consumption of intoxicating liquors by passengers on its cars. The payment of money to the porter by bibulous passengers tends to induce him to close his eyes to such violations.
On trains operating across international boundaries and from ports, such as Key West, porters have important duties with regard to the immigration and custom laws of the United States. As to immigration they are required to furnish passengers with governmental forms showing the passenger’s nationality, etc., and see that they are filled out and turn them over to the immigration officers. This is a quasi-official service. Tipping tends to affect the porter’s conduct in the performance of these duties. Immigrants, as well as cigars, liquors, and other dutiable articles, may be and often are, more readily smuggled if the acquiescence of the porter is obtained by means of what amounts to a bribe.
It will not do to say that such bribery would occur if tipping were abolished. In such case the payment of a bribe would have to be concealed and hence would become more difficult and dangerous, whereas under the present practice it may be given before all men without arousing any suspicion of violation of law.
It appears from the foregoing analysis that tipping tends to produce discrimination in the enforcement of the laws and in the performance of duties which are a part of the porter’s obligations to the public as an employee of a common carrier and agent of the public.
It must be obvious that the practice produces or tends to produce discrimination as between the prosperous and the needy. The porter only has so much time to perform these duties. The tipping practice tends to induce him to satisfy first and primarily the needs and desires of the traveller having the apparent ability and willingness to make him a money payment and to defer or neglect those of the traveller having a less prosperous or non-tipping appearance or propensity.
The Tipping Practice tends to Injure the Quality of Service Rendered the Public by the Defendant as a Public Agent.
The connection of the tipping practice with the long run policy of the defendant has been referred to above. It is given as a reason for the maintenance of the long run policy by the officers of the defendant. According to the returns from the questionnaire, the runs average over 1200 miles and 38 hours. According to the statement of the defendant’s officer, the long runs are maintained because they enable the porter to accompany the passenger to his destination and thus gives him better opportunity to receive money from the passengers. If the porter’s run were shortened he could not afford to remain in the service because he would lose a large proportion of these payments. Yet, it is by reason of these long runs that the porter is deprived of the opportunity for necessary sleep and rest and thus deprived of the opportunity to keep himself in that condition of mental and physical alertness necessary for the adequate performance of his duties. By reason of the requirements of the long run, the average porter secures less than four hours’ sleep in twenty-four hours while in service; and the necessity of earning enough to maintain himself at the low wage rates provided cuts him off from the opportunity to lay off and thus accumulate sufficient sleep and rest. Indeed, he is required by the rules to accept service whenever demanded by the defendant without regard to whether or not he has had an opportunity to secure rest. The Commission will take judicial notice that sleep of less than four hours for several nights in succession is insufficient for the maintenance of health. Yet, by the conditions of his service, the average porter secures no more.
The necessity of proper sleep and rest for employees engaged in the movement of trains is recognized by the sixteen hour law. Similar considerations are applicable to the porter’s service. He, too, has duties which require mental and physical vigor and alertness. Thus, it appears that the long run policy in which the tipping practice inheres is detrimental to the service rendered by the defendant to the public.
There are other by-products of the practice complained of which tend to reduce the quality of the service rendered by the defendant. Thus, it is the practice of porters to bid for the runs producing high tips. Some runs carry more prosperous passengers than others and thus more tips can be earned on these runs. Yet the work and the quality of its performance are the same. It follows that the reward is disproportionate to the service rendered and has no relation to it. The reward depends upon the willingness and ability to tip of the passengers carried. Such a result is obnixious to the canons underlying employment in public service and must tend to produce a poorer quality of service than a system based upon rewards to the service rendered.
Again, the practice tends to reward the capacity of the porter to ingratiate himself with prosperous passengers rather than in relation to the standards of performance in other ranks of the railroad service. In other ranks and promotion depend in some degree upon the quality of service rendered, but in the porters’ service in The Pullman Company there are no such rewards. There is no avenue of promotion from the ranks of porters. He cannot hope to become a conductor (the next rank) regardless of the high quality of his performance.
Henry T. Hunt
Attorney for Petitioner,
100 East 42nd Street,
New York City.
Donald R. Richberg,
October 20, 1927.
B.S.C.P. Brief on Motion to Dismiss, Interstate Commerce Commission Case #20,007, ICC Files.
“Abolish Tipping, Yes—But”
Editorial from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters has asked the Interstate Commerce Commission to investigate, with a new to raising wages and abolishing tipping. The Brotherhood, it is said, does not speak for all the porters, but for most.
The public is quite willing that wages should be fixed by any means agreeable to porters and employers. But it will not accept negotiation, mediation or arbitration of the great and glorious institution of tipping. The Interstate Commerce Commission may rule as it likes, but about tipping, the traveler will do as he has done; if pleased he will tip liberally and if displeased, or merely cranky, he will tip scantily or not at all.
The right to tip the Pullman porter is one of the few remaining vestiges of American freedom, not to be lightly cast aside. If the porters are determined to break up the practice they might try mixing up all the shoes for a change, instead of only some.
Editorial from a Pittsburgh (Pa.) daily paper reprinted in the Pittsburgh Courier
The organized Pullman car porters are demanding a living wage and the elimination of tipping. We hope and pray that their demands be met.
A living wage is a necessity. Tipping is an unmitigated evil. Every worker should receive at least a living wage. Justice demands that he should get more, in order that he may put aside something for the day of adversity.
When a toiler’s days of usefulness to his employer are ended, he should not be thrown to the wolves. In his years of activity he should be encouraged to make provision for old age, so that he will not become an object of charity. If a man’s efforts are rewarded with only a living wage he cannot save anything.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters has asked the Interstate Commerce Commission to take a hand in their controversy with the Pullman Company. The porters want their monthly wage increased from $72.50 to $150 and tipping abolished.
It is said that in fixing the wage the Pullman authorities take into consideration the amount received in tips from Pullman car patrons.
That is wrong in principle. It is an injustice to passengers and porters alike. When a traveler buys a railroad ticket and Pullman space and pays for the meals eaten on the diner, that is all that should be required of him. He is entitled to the necessary services performed by the train crew, including the duties of porters and waiters.
When the porter, the waiter or any other member of a passenger train crew starts out on his run he should know what he is to receive in dollars and cents for the services performed. This amount should be paid by the employers, not by the road’s patrons.
If the railroad or the Pullman company has to increase the fare in order to pay a decent wage, let the fare be increased in the amount necessary. By this means the additional expense entailed will be equitably distributed among the patrons and each employe will get what is coming to him. At the outset both passengers and porters will know what to expect and can govern themselves accordingly.
We do not presume to say what the wages of a Pullman car porter should be. But we do say that they should be sufficient to enable the porter and his dependents to live comfortably and decently, and they should be paid by the company, not by the public.
There is good reason to believe that employers other than the Pullman oficials, when fixing the amount of wages, take into consideration the sums received by their employes in tips. This should be done. If the patrons of various enterprises know that those who served them received a decent wage they would not feel called upon to scatter bounties recklessly about.
Not only is the tipping habit a nuisance to those who do the tipping, but it has a tendency to break down the self-respect of the person tipped. A man may serve in an humble capacity without feeling himself less than a man. But if circumstance forces him to lower himself to the position of a mendicant asking alms, his spirit is broken and by degrees he may find himself drifting into the class who become the wards of public charity.
Tipping is inimical to the best interests of all concerned. Let’s be done with it.
Comment from “Headlines for Table Talk”
Interstate Tattler, September 30, 1927
The Pullman Company refused to accept the invitation of the Mediation Board to discuss wages and working conditions with representatives of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. This is a reactionary and hard-boiled attitude, still we can understand and respect it. The Company is determined to fight to the last ditch to protect its interests. It is taking advantage of every technicality offered by the law and is prepared to exert all the brute force of its wealth and political prestige. The officials of the Company are not paying any attention to the piffle about the interests of the Company and the interests of the men being identical. They know that what is good for the Company is bad for its employees and what is good for its employees is bad for the Company. It is a plain case of conflicting interests and they are doing their level best to see that the Company comes out on top. We do not see how any fair-minded person can censure them for that.
What we cannot understand is the continued protracted silence of the white Railroad Brotherhoods, who ought to be the natural allies of the porters. The only effective weapon left in the hands of the porters now is to create an emergency. Creating an emergency is a euphemism for calling a strike. We have our doubts whether the porters could win a strike. There is only one way to win a strike—by a concentration of force. The workers must be able to stop the machinery and to prevent other workers from operating it. The porters are too widely dispersed to do either. The Company would fill their places with scabs. Contraband porters could not gibe the traveling public efficient service but that would be the hard luck of Pullman passengers. In the meantime the striking porters would miss their pay and tips. Talk of justice to labor is all right and it gets a lot of applause but a man with installments due on the piano is not going to remain on strike very long.
While it is doubtful if the porters alone could win a strike the Company will listen to reason quickly enough if the white Brotherhoods take a sincere and manly attitude. They have only to declare their unwillingness to cooperate with scab labor and the Pullman Company will come down off its high horse. We are aware that the white Brotherhoods are not employees of the Pullman Company, and that fact, as we see it, would make their refusal to work with scab porters all the more effective. The public must travel. If a union train crew should refuse to take a Pullman car out because it was manned with scabs all the passengers with really important business in hand would take passage in a day coach. The railroad would get the money and the Pullman Company would lose it. In the meantime, those scabs would be on the payroll. You can figure the rest out for yourself.
“Above the Law”
Editorial from The Pittsburgh Courier, September 10th, 1927.
The refusal of the Pullman Company to carry the dispute with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to the Arbitration Board as specified by the New Railway Labor Act, is admission on its part that it considers itself above the laws of the country. Every other railroad company in the country has accepted, without a single objection, the good offices of the governmental machinery for the settlement of disputes between employees and employers. There remains the Emergency Board, to be selected by the President when an emergency exists. The porters’ organization is now working strenuously to get this board appointed and functioning on its case.
Strange to note, the Pullman Company, at the same time that it was refusing to arbitrate the differences with the porters’ union, was arbitrating its dispute with the Pullman conductors! The latter organization is a very weak and dispensable one while the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters has enrolled well over a majority of the Pullman porters and maids, who are as near indispensable as any workers can be. Having tried by every means within its power to prevent the organization of the porters into a union controlled by themselves, and miserably failed, the Pullman Company in its desperation even flaunts the government of the United States in an effort to keep from paying its largest group of employes a living wage. This is practically an admission of the fact that it has no case, and the gesture should hearten those porters of a more pessimistic turn of mind.
The porters and maids have been making an excellent fight. It has been a fight waged against great odds. Curiously enough, most of the opposition has come not from whites but from Negroes, a fact that is difficult for an intelligent, race-conscious Negro to understand. With the exception of one or two newspapers, nothing but commendation has come from white people in all walks of life. Whatever the final outcome of the struggle, the porters and maids should maintain the excellent fighting organization they have created. Every group of workers in the country should be organized. There is no other way to wield any influence or exercise any control over one’s work. The Pullman Company can no more represent the porters and maids than a flea can represent a dog upon which it feeds. Any such contention is laughable and those who believe it are gullible, indeed.
Editorial from Norfolk Journal and Guide, September 17, 1927
After a study of the several letters exchanged between Vice-President L. S. Hungerford of the Pullman Company and the Hon. Edwin P. Morrow, member of the United States Mediation Board, and between General Organizer A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Mr. Morrow, along with the comment of Donald R. Richberg, general counsel for the Brotherhood in connection with the dispute between the Pullman Company and the Brotherhood, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that both moral and statutory las is on the side of the Brotherhood and against the Pullman Company. Mr. Morrow sought, as provided by law, to mediate the dispute between the company and the Brotherhood. Failing in this he attempted to induce the parties to the dispute to submit the matter to arbitration as provided by law. To this the Brotherhood consented, but the Pullman Company absolutely declined to enter into arbitration with the representatives of the Brotherhood, basing its refusal on the claim that no dispute exists between the company and its maids and porters. The status of the case so far is that the Pullman Company positively refuses to join issue with the Brotherhood, that is, the company declines to recognize this organization of its maids and porters.
The Mediation Board, through Mr. Morrow, has exhausted all legal and reasonable means to bring the Pullman Company and the Brotherhood together, thus that a dispute between it and the company does exist.
The position of the Pullman Company in this matter seems to be indefensible. The Mediation Board has on its own investigation determined that the Brotherhood represents a majority of the porters and maids and is thus entitled to a conference with the company on any grievance, and accordingly sought both mediation and arbitration in the dispute, failing because of the positive refusal of the Pullman Company to enter into any such conferences.
It is to be regretted that the company has taken this position. It harkens back to the days of capital and labor feuds of unpleasant memory. The majority of porters have the right through the Brotherhood to speak for all, and they have made certain demands that by all moral and legal dictates the company should mediate.
“The Pullman Porters’ Flank Move”
Editorial from the Boston Chronicle, September 24th, 1927.
Balked by the tactics of the Pullman Company which is seeking refuge in arbitrary prerogative rather than join in determination of a dispute according to merit, or lack of it, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, claiming the right to represent the Pullman porters in contractual relations of wages and rules with their employer, resorts to strategy.
The move, undreamed of and totally unexpected, is a formal request on the Federal Interstate Commerce Commission for investigation of Pullman rates for sleeping and parlor car service.
The Commerce Commission has jurisdiction over nearly everything financial appertaining to railroad operation—except salaries and wages of rail officials and employes. Recently the Commission refused to permit the banking house of Morgan to handle the New Haven stock sale on the ground that the million-dollar commision the bankers would get out of the sale should not come out of the property. The Commission cannot raise the porters’ pay nor abolish “tips.” It can, however, rule that $5.00 is too much pay for a room without bath and privacy for one night on the Federal Express to Washington in view of the low nominal wage paid to the servant who chiefly renders the $5.00 service.
The move of the Porters’ Union is strategic—a flank attack on the Pullman Company’s fat pocketbook; and if Pullman management becomes convinced of favorable action on the Union’s request, by the Commission recognition of the Union by Pullman won’t be long; after which conferences resulting in a higher wage structure and reasonable rules will shortly follow.
The Pullman Porters’ flank attack is wonderfully potential.
“Pullman Porters Face Technicalities”
Colorful News Movies, September 24th, 1927.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters has bearded the wages and hours of service lion in his den by filing a petition with the Interstate Commerce Commission, a quasi-judicial tribunal, created by Congress February 4, 1887, for the purpose of regulating interstate Commerce by requiring all rates to be just and reasonable and prohibiting unjust discrimination and undue or unreasonable preference or advantage in transportation rates or facilities.
The act to Regulate Commerce has been amended several times, and the Commission has been given jurisdiction upon complaint, to determine and prescribe reasonable rates, regulations, and practices; and it is under this phase of jurisdiction, together with other technical clauses of common law that the Pullman Porters are braving the mysteries of the Commission’s jurisdiction in an effort to secure a better wage and more equitable conditions of labor.
We laud the Pullman Porters for exhausting every device of law in their endeavor to raise the dignity of deluxe transportation service.
There have been several cases before the Commission which involved interstate commerce relating to complaints lodged by Negroes. (Most of them have been lost.) The porters’ case, however, is the first Negro case which seeks to tie up to the scheme of Federal regulation of interstate commerce the idea of securing wage increases for a group of workmen. The situation is indeed a novel one, and one the outcome of which, under the guidance of astute and learned counsel, it is difficult to foresee.
Since we are first, last and always for Negro organization, wherever the Negro is dealt with as a separate group, we trust that the brethren of the rail may win their case.
In the face of cold, cold law, which prescribes the jurisdiction of the Commission as being limited principally to passengers and property, we confess that it is difficult for us to see just where Brother Randolph’s organization gets off.
From the bottom of our soles, however, to the top of last summer’s straw lid, we hope we are mistaken; and attorneys for the complainant, who know the case far better than we do, may find some legal loophole which will give the Commission jurisdiction to decide the porters’ plea; and if they do, we are sure that the long fight for wage justice will have been won.
The Slave in the Pullman
The following editorial is taken from “America, a Catholic Review of the Week,” issue of October 1st, 1927. “America” is the leading American Catholic Weekly.
The nearest thing to a slave observable in this country is the Pullman porter. He has the same color, to begin with, and to conclude, he toils under conditions that are not remarkably dissimilar.
The ante-bellum slave received no wage, but, as a rule, he was provided with enough food to keep him alive, and in fit condition. His modern counterpart, the Pullman porter, manages to extort a money-wage, but it is not a living-wage. Far from it. But for the generosity of the public, he would starve. About half his income is doled out by the Pullman Company, a corporation of enormous wealth, and the other half is carelessly tossed to him—or in some cases slowly given with unspeakable groanings of reluctance—by the traveling public.
The porters have presented their grievances to the Interstate Commerce Commission. They desire to work for a living, or rather, to receive a living in return for their work, and they dislike the plan of depending upon chance charity. They argue that their tips, which amount to about $7,000,000 yearly, are in effect, a fixed charge on the public in excess of the rates allowed. Hence the practice of “tipping” constitutes a violation of the Federal law, and should be abolished. This done, the porters hope that public opinion will rally to their support, and force the Pullman Company to pay a living wage.
Whatever may be said of the legal and practical value of this argument, it is clear that the porters suffer from a real grievance. They have a right, founded on the natural law, and taking precedence of the right of the Company to declare dividends, to receive a living wage in return for their services. They do not get it. Unless they demean themselves as a mendicant class, they run grave risk of malnutrition.
It seems to us that a corporation which deliberately pays an insufficient wage, and cadges on the public to increase that wage, is a public nuisance. Further, a corporation which fosters the creation of a menial and mendicant class is contrary to public policy.
Two marvelous improvements have made their appearance in the Pullman care in the last twenty-five years. One is a separate curtain for the upper berth, and the other is a slot for discarded razor-blades. Apart from these alterations, the interior of the Pullman is much the same as it was at the time of the Buffalo Exposition. In other respects, too, the company shows an unwillingness to change, and the chief of these is a reluctance to yield to humanitarian ideals. Should it evince a willingness to revise its wage-scale upward in favor of the porters, the public will overlook its rooted conservatism in other less important details. Humanity comes first.
The Messenger, 9 (November, 1927): 337-38.
THE PULLMAN PORTERS UNION
Frank R. Crosswaith, Secretary
2311 Seventh Avenue
New York, N.Y.
January 4, 1928
Dear Friends and Brothers:
The backs of the Pullman porters are against the wall. The Pullman Company is desperately trying to jam its criminal “Company Union” down their throats. Their struggle is our struggle. Race and color should not count. If they fail, we fail. In more than two years they have struggled alone, relying upon their own strength and resources. They must receive now some active support from labor; hence this appeal.
The porters’ case before the U.S. Mediation Board and the Interstate Commerce Commission is most expensive. The Brotherhood must bear the same heavy financial burden as other transportation labor organizations, many of which are as much as a quarter of a century old, with unlimited financial resources. It is estimated that they need immediately $25,000. They have overcome all other obstacles but their financial one. A majority of the porters realize full well that the lifting of their heavy economic burden depends upon the success of their union, but they haven’t as yet gotten the habit of paying dues promptly. It is this financial difficulty that prevents them from getting official recognition and the establishment of their union on a sound basis. The success of their efforts will mean power to organized labor. Negro workers in every other industry will be encouraged into joining the union of their trade.
Conscious of the tremendous importance of the porters’ struggle to labor generally, the above listed unions have come together to aid them; and we hereby ask that you give this appeal the immediate liberal support it so truly deserves.
Thomas J. Curtis, Chairman
A. I. Shiplacoff, Treasurer
Frank R. Crosswaith, Secretary
THE UNITED HEBREW TRADES Heartily endorses this appeal and asks for it the unstinted support of organized labor. M. Feinstone, Secretary.55
Make checks to A. I. Shiplacoff, Treas., and mail to above address.
International Fur Workers’ Union Archives.
By A. Philip Randolph General Organizer, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
The question comes from every corner: What is our next step? Our next step is to fight with redoubled determination. The decision of the Interstate Commerce Commission does not daunt the Brotherhood. Three of the commissioners stated that our case was within the jurisdiction of the Commission. This shows that the decision of the Commission is open to grave doubt as to its legality. The Brotherhood has the right under the law to appeal from the decision of the Commission just as many railroads do from time to time. We also have a right to reopen the case, if we so desire.
But our immediate program is to proceed with the creation of an emergency, which will require the United States Mediation Board to step in, survey the situation and recommend to the President of the United States that he appoint an Emergency Board to investigate the entire dispute with a view to settling same. Ours shall be the first complete and supreme test of the Railway Labor Act. No other group of railway employees have been compelled to invoke the Emergency Board, since the railroad companies have settled their disputes with their employees either through mediation or arbitration. The Pullman Company is the one outstanding case of a railway employer who has flagrantly defied the United States Mediation Board in refusing to abide by and obey its recommendations to arbitrate the dispute with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
The first step in creating the emergency is the taking of a strike vote.
The Meaning of a Strike Vote
By a strike vote is meant the indication on a strike ballot that Pullman porters are determined to strike if need be to secure their rights and win their demands.
A strike vote IS NOT A STRIKE. It is a sign of the iron resolution of the men to fight to the finish for their rights. It does not follow that Pullman porters will strike because they take a strike vote. The Telegraphers Union on the Burlington Railroad took a strike vote but did not strike. The United States Mediation Board stepped in and effected a settlement. The Train Conductors, Engineers, Enginemen and Firemen, in fact every union of railway employees has, at some time, taken strike votes without striking. But the strike vote expresses the strength of the Organization which will bring the Company around.
Pullman Company Will Not See Strike Ballot
Be assured that the Pullman Company will not see a single strike ballot signed by a single porter. All strike ballots will be reviewed and investigated by the United States Mediation Board in order to determine what per cent of the members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters are willing to go all the way with the Organization to achieve its demands. The strike vote which shall be prepared and sent from the National Headquarters in New York to Division Headquarters in the respective districts. There is no more reason for a porter to have any fear in signing a strike ballot than in signing an application blank or an affidavit of intimidation.
The Company does not think that the porters will stand up under fire. But the Brotherhood will prove to the Company that it has misjudged the porters again, that it is being misled by its Negro stool-pigeons. Some porters who have never paid any dues are rallying to the Brotherhood. Porters formerly opposed to the Organization are joining. The spirit is higher than ever. Our slogan that a winner never quits and a quitter never wins is cherished and revered now more than ever before. Men are willing to answer every call. Men are willing to march when the order is given. Men are willing to sacrifice to the limit. And this is as it should be, for the porters have gone too far to think about turning back or giving up. To turn back means to accept the despicable stigma of a “quitter” and to invite the most brutal and inhuman treatment from the Company in the future, for if the porters do not stick to the Brotherhood their lot will be worse than that of a dog’s with the Company, since the Company will assume that if they haven’t the guts to organize and stick, they are not entitled to a man’s chance, a man’s treatment. And the Company would be right.
Happily there are porters with that fighting, militant and determined spirit who are willing to carry on until victory is won. Nothing can daunt them, nothing can halt their march. This is the new Pullman porter, and he represents the new spirit of the New Negro.
The Messenger, 10 (April, 1928): 90–91.
By G. James Fleming
The Crisis, 44 (November, 1937): 332-38, 346-47.
Dear Brother Webster:
It has come to my attention that propaganda has been circulated to the effect that the American Federation of Labor has turned down the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters three different times and won’t permit us to join. I wish you to inform the men that this is not true. The action on the application of the Brotherhood for an International Charter in the American Federation of Labor has simply been postponed at different times. The reason for this is that our application for a charter is involved in a jurisdictional dispute. By this I mean that the International Hotel and Restaurant Employees Alliance and the International Bartenders League claims jurisdiction over the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters on the grounds that a Pullman car is a hotel on wheels. My appearances before the Executive Council of the Federation have been for the purpose of breaking down this condition, and I think we have about done that. I am appearing before the Council again on October 19th on this same question.
Now, if we wanted to go into the Federation on any terms, we could have been in the American Federation of Labor two years ago. It wants us to come in immediately, but we are holding out for an International Charter, because it will give us more voice, more power and a higher standing in the Federation. If we go in under the International Hotel and Restaurant Employees Alliance and International Bartenders League, this Organization will speak for us, and we will have no voice. Therefore, our not being in the Federation is result of our own choice.
I want to urge that you push the Questionnaire Ballots and advise the men definitely that the instructions and orders of the Policy Committee and the General Organizer are NOT TO VOTE IN THE EMPLOYEE REPRESENTATION PLAN ELECTIONS.
I hope this explanation is clear so that you will be able to inform the men and any of the public that you think advisable.
A. Philip Randolph,
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Demand That the Pullman Company Be Included Under the56 Emergency Railroad Transportation Act 1933
Resolution No. 86—By Delegate A. Philip Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters’ Union, No. 18068
WHEREAS, The Pullman Company is claiming and boasting to its employes that it is not subject to regulation by the National Recovery Act or the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act, 1933, and hence may continue to maintain its Plan of Employe Representation or Company Union; and
WHEREAS, The Coordinator of Federal Transportation, in reply to request by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to investigate the Pullman Company Union, stated that the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act does not apply to the Pullman Company; and
WHEREAS, The Coordinator, Honorable Joseph B. Eastman, in a letter to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters under the date of September 25, states: “The fact is that the Pullman Company is not subject to the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act, 1933” . . . and adds “The failure to include the Pullman Company no doubt may be due to an oversight but that does not change the fact;”57 and
WHEREAS, Sec. 3 of the Interstate Commerce Act, states: “The term ‘common carrier’ as used in this act shall include all pipe line companies; telegraph, telephone, and cable companies operating by wire or wireless; express companies, sleeping car companies and all persons natural or artificial engaged in such transportation or transmission as aforesaid as common carriers for hire . . . ;” and
WHEREAS, The Railway Labor Act states in Sec. 1, First, The term “Carrier” includes any express company, sleeping car company, and any carrier by railroad subject to the Interstate Commerce Act; and
WHEREAS, Under Title 1, Emergency Powers of the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act, 1933, the Federal Coordinator of Transportation is moving to determine wherein railway carriers are violating Labor’s rights in the above named act, through a questionnaire sent the carriers, in which it is said: “It is now unlawful for any railroad to:
(1) Deny or in any way question the right of its employes to join the Labor Organization of their choice.
(2) Interfere in any way with the organization of its employes.
(3) Use its funds in maintaining so-called company unions.
(4) Influence or coerce its employes in an effort to induce them to join or remain members of such company unions”; and
WHEREAS, In President Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act, the general policy of the nation is herein expressed against workers being forced to join company unions and labor is granted the untrammeled right of self-organization and the designation of their representatives free from interference, restraint or coercion of employers of labor; and
WHEREAS, The Pullman Company has violated and is now violating the Railway Labor Act, the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act, 1933, and the spirit and letter of the N.R.A., by maintaining with its funds a company union, and firing porters and maids for joining the Sleeping Car Porters’ Unions which embrace the large majority of the porters and maids in the Pullman service; be it
RESOLVED, That the American Federation of Labor in its 53d annual convention held in Washington, D.C., instructs and urges the Executive Council to use its good offices in calling upon President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue an Executive Order interpreting the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act, 1933, to include within its scope sleeping car companies, thereby correcting a situation that results in the Pullman Company occupying a favored status; be it further
RESOLVED, That the convention herewith condemn the policy of oppression and exploitation of porters and maids by the Pullman Company through low wage rates and the chain ganging of runs from four hundred to five hundred a month, a policy which is in direct contravention of the spirit of the National Recovery Program.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. President and delegates: Before speaking on the resolution I want to express on behalf of the officers and members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, our sincere appreciation for the action of the Cincinnati convention in granting both financial and moral support to our organization in our fight to eliminate the company unions through an injunction proceeding. I may say our injunction trial took place June 26 and 27 in New York, and that the decision is now pending. We expect that it will be handed down at any time.
Now I want to say a word about this resolution, inasmuch as it not only affects Pullman porters and maids, but the Pullman conductors.
There are two major pieces of legislation that have been enacted, the National Recovery Act and the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act. These two pieces of legislation arose out of similar conditions, namely, economic confusion. We had banks going out of business, factories closing down, and there was widespread unemployment. The two pieces of legislation are calculated to increase re-employment through raising wages and by reducing the hours of work. It is inconceivable that any corporation would be excluded from the supervision of either one of these pieces of legislation, but to the amazement of the Pullman porters and maids and Pullman conductors, the Pullman Company sets up a claim that it does not come under either the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act or the National Recovery Act. In other words, the Pullman Company claims it is entirely outside the law, and consequently it can maintain the company union it now has. It is a strange unprecedented and extraordinary situation. I want to read from the Interstate Commerce Act a provision with regard to the relation between carriers and their employes.
“First, the term ‘carriers’ includes any express company, sleeping car company, and any carrier by railroads subject to the Interstate Commerce Act, including all floating equipment, such as boats, barges, tugs, bridges and ferries; and other transportation facilities used by or operated in connection with any such carrier by railroads, and any receiver or any other indivdual or body, judicial or otherwise, when in the position of the business of employers or carriers covered by this Act.”
They use the term “common carriers,” and here you have the very name, “sleeping car company,” designed in the Interstate Commerce Act. The Pullman Company sets up the grounds that it does not come under the jurisdiction of the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act because sleeping cars are not definitely designated. The Act itself simply states that the term “carriers” means any common carrier by railroads subject to the privisions of the Interstate Commerce Act.
Now the Interstate Commerce Act definitely designated the sleeping car companies and says that wherever the term “common carriers” is used that sleeping car companies and express companies shall come under its provisions.
Now, President Roosevelt, in writing a letter to President Whitney of the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen, makes this statement in his letter, and it bears on the question here involved:
“On August 16 you wrote the Coordinator furnishing him a copy of the document above mentioned, entitled ‘Evidence of Expenditures of Railroad Funds to Coerce Employes and Maintain Company Unions,’ and asked him ‘to promptly review the information submitted and thereafter to take such action or make such order as may be necessary to cause the law to be complied with in this respect.’ The information submitted is voluminous and relates to many different carriers. The Coordinator has not at his command a force of investigators sufficient to cover all of these grounds by direct examination of records. He plans, therefore, to send a questionnaire to be answered under oath to all carriers by railroads where so-called company unions exist, covering each and every one of the practices alleged in your communication, and asking in detail whether or not such practice is or has been in effect. The questionnaire will be supplemented, if found practicable, by test examinations of records in typical cases through commission investigators. To the extent that such practices are admitted, or are otherwise found to exist, the carriers will be given an opportunity to make a legal defense in the form of a brief if they so desire. If important legal questions are raised in such briefs, the labor organizations which you represent will be given an opportunity to present their views upon such questions. By the information finally developed the Coordinator’s actions will be governed. Every effort will be made to expedite this inquiry.”
Now, in this communication President Roosevelt definitely says that this questionnaire is to be sent to all carriers by railroads. Now, the term “railroads,” according to the Interstate Commerce Act, simply is designated to make a distinction between carriers by water and carriers by rail. It seems from the letter that President Roosevelt meant it should include all the employes under any kind of transportation company whatever. It seems to me it is clear that President Roosevelt, with his fine, constructive and splendid vision would certainly not permit the Pullman Company, which is one of the most arrogant open shop companies in America, to be without regulation, either under the National Recovery Act or the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act.
Right after this questionnaire was sent out by Mr. Eastman the Pullman Company answered our letter for the first time in the last eight years, but the company contends it has no dispute with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, because it has a contract with the Pullman porters and maids in the company union. It says that it intends to adhere to that procedure.
Our organization feels that that is a very definite violation of the law. Just before the Pullman Company sent that letter to us it had sent a communication to the officers of the company unions in which it called upon those officers to report to the supervising officers of their districts and receive funds for the purpose of attending a company union meeting in which they were to sign an agreement to maintain the reduction in pay of Pullman porters and maids to June, 1934.
We contend that the Pullman porters and maids, and also the Pullman conductors and all the employes of the Pullman Company, come under the Emergency Railroad Transportation Act. We do not want to be divorced from the railroad group, inasmuch as Mr. Eastman is going to recommend legislation for the permanent government of transportation. In Mr. Eastman’s mind there is an idea that the porters ought to be covered in this Emergency Railroad Transportation Act. It seems to me, merely because sleeping car companies are not definitely designated in the Act, there is no reason why the Pullman Company should not be included, because under the Act for control of carriers the sleeping car company was not designated but the Pullman Company was affected.
We are calling upon President Green to work with our organization. Of course he has already indicated that he would, as he always does, to the end of getting the President to take some action in order that the sleeping car company shall be included in this Act. If that is not done the Pullman Company will violate all the terms of this Emergency Legislation.
Pullman porters are now getting $72.50 a month, and yet before the Industrial Relations Commission which was set up by President Wilson, Mr. Robert Todd Lincoln, who was then President of the Pullman Company, testified that a good porter will make good tips. In these days of depression, when travel is light, the tips have gone down 75 per cent. Furthermore our organization is opposed to the tipping system. We believe the porter ought to receive a definite living wage. Nevertheless, if the Pullman Company can prevent the porters from organizing, the porters will be unable to collectively bargain for bettering their conditions. Out of this $72.50 a month the Pullman porters are required to pay $33.00 a month as occupational expenses.
The Pullman porter has to pay for the polish which he uses on your shoes, he has to buy two uniforms a year and pay for food in transit. We had the Labor Board of New York make an investigation. They secured information indicating that the Pullman porters pays out $33.00 a month in order to be a porter. Now that is a rather large amount of money to come out of the small wages of the Pullman porter, plus the tips that are now practically inconsequential. The Pullman Company is setting up the claim now that it cannot make any drastic change in its policy. It says the company cannot afford it. Nevertheless the Pullman Company boasts that it has never passed a dividend. Other companies have not been so fortunate. The Pullman Company has no funded indebtedness. The Pullman Company does not pay any wage to the Pullman porter and the Pullman Company expects the public to pay them.
In 1925 to 1929 an investigation revealed that the public was paying to the Pullman Company in tips alone $8,540,000 a year. Now, nominally, these tips were received by the porters, but actually they went to the Pullman Company, because by virtue of the tips the Pullman Company could set the wage that would be very much lower than if the porters did not receive tips. Morgan, Vanderbilt and Mellon, who are on the Board of Directors of the Pullman Company, are receiving the benefit of these tips. We want a definite wage, we want a 240-hour work month. If we get the 240-hour work month it will enable a great many of the men on furloughs to get jobs.
We hope this resolution will be effective and instrumental in getting some action that will change the status of the Pullman porters, the Pullman maids, the Pullman conductors, and express workers. None of them know where they stand, they do not know whether they come under the Emergency Railroad Act or the National Recovery Act. We want to know what piece of legislation has jurisdiction over our employes. We will not permit the company to get from under both pieces of legislation. Before we do that, the Pullman porters and maids will walk off the cars. We cannot claim that we have any kind of constructive, enduring industrial peace unless that industrial peace rests upon industrial justice. Certainly it is not just if the Pullman porters are excluded from all these pieces of legislation.
The report of the committee was unanimously adopted.
Proceedings of the 53rd annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1933, pp. 193-94, 519-23.
Requesting International Charter for Sleeping Car Porters
Resolution No. 144—By Delegate A. Philip Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters No. 18068.
WHEREAS, The Sleeping Car Porters have functioned, since they were organized in 1925, through the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, international in scope, though affiliated with the American Federation of Labor under Federal charters since 1929; and
WHEREAS, The Pullman Company is an international corporation which operates its sleeping cars in Mexico and Canada; and
WHEREAS, There are now thirteen Federal Locals of Sleeping Car Porters affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, with ten or more sleeping car locals in preparation for affiliation as Federal locals, which fully satisfies the conditions and requirements for an International charter; and
WHEREAS, The Railway Labor Act, as amended by the Seventy-third Congress, specifically states under the general caption: National Board of Adjustment—Grievances—Interpretation of Agreements, Section 3, paragraph (a), “That the said Adjustment Board shall consist of thirty-six members, eighteen of whom shall be selected by the carriers and eighteen by such labor organizations of employes, national in scope, as have been or may be organized in accordance with the provisions of Section 2 of this Act,” and renders it imperative that railway workers, in order to function effectively in bargaining collectively in the negotiations of agreements concerning rates of pay and rules governing working conditions, be embraced in an organization national in structure and scope; and
WHEREAS, The tax of Federal locals is too heavy a burden upon the Sleeping Car Porters to permit them adequately to handle the grievances and represent Sleeping Car Porters that are located in Pullman districts, extending from Miami, Florida, to the twin cities of Minnesota and from New York City to California; and
WHEREAS, The only sound structure of organization of Sleeping Car Porters is one which is co-extensive with the industry in which they are employed and the corporation with which it must fight for the right of self-organization and the selection and designation of representatives of their own choosing; and
WHEREAS, Since the passage of the Railway Labor Act, as amended by the Seventy-third Congress, five or six thousand sleeping car porters and maids have joined the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, representing the large majority of the porters and maids in the sleeping car industry; and
WHEREAS, The sleeping car porters will soon institute action, through the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, to secure a conference with the Pullman Company, to make and maintain an agreement on wages, hours and rules governing working conditions; therefore be it
RESOLVED, That in view of the aforementioned facts and reasons of the Fifty-fourth Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, in San Francisco assembled, herewith grant an international charter to the Sleeping Car Porters, the same to include within its scope of jurisdiction the redcaps, ushers and train porters.
As the subject matter of this resolution requires administrative action, your committee recommends that the resolution be referred to the Executive Council for their earnest consideration.
A motion was made and seconded to adopt the report of the committee.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters’ Union No. 18068: Mr. Chairman and delegates of the Fifty-fourth Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor—The Application of the Sleeping Car Porters for an International charter is based upon several grounds. First, the Pullman company for which the Sleeping Car Porters work is a corporation which conducts its business on an international scale operating sleeping cars in Mexico, Canada and the United States of America.
Second: Federal unions in an industry where the workers are unified on a national scale tend to increase and foster a psychology of isolation and separation. This tends to prevent these workers from building up economic strength.
Third: Federal unions require taxation which is too heavy for the Sleeping Car Porters to bear in view of the fact that the Sleeping Car Porters are now operating under a national labor organization. When the Sleeping Car Porters went into the American Federation of Labor in 1929 they then had a national labor organization. We could not unscramble that national labor organization, therefore we had to bear the expense incident to operating a national organization. At the same time we had the official relationship with the American Federation of Labor of Federal unions.
Fourth: The amendment to the Railway Labor Act by the Seventy-third Congress requires that railroad workers, in order that they may effectively deal with the employers, must function through national labor organizations. Permit me to read one section of the Act under the general caption, “National Board of Adjustments, Grievances, Interpretation of Agreements, Paragraph A:
“That the Special Adjustment Board shall consist of thirty-six members, eighteen of whom shall be selected by the carriers and eighteen by such labor organizations of the employes national in scope as have been or may be organized in accordance with Section 2 of this Act.”
Therefore, you see, delegates, that railroad workers, in order that they may function effectively in building economic strength, in order that they may collectively bargain with the railroad company, must have a structure that is national in scope.
Fifth: The Sleeping Car Porters have now thirteen Federal unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. We have the required number on which you can build an International labor organization.
Sixth: The Sleeping Car Porters are prepared and ready to pay taxes on five thousand sleeping car porters, bona fide members that we have organized. Federal unions could not have organized five thousand sleeping car porters, but we were functioning through a national labor organization and consequently we were able to organize that number. In the next thirty days we will be able to organize ninety to ninety-five per cent of the sleeping car porters of the Pullman Company.
Consequently we qualify in every respect for an International charter in terms of numbers of Federal locals, in terms of bonafide members, in terms of ability to pay the per capita tax, in terms of financial ability to operate an International organization.
Now, the Sleeping Car Porters have made application to the Executive Council for an International charter several times before. The first application was turned down on the ground that the International Hotel and Restaurant Employes Alliance claimed jurisdiction over the Sleeping Car Porters. I shall not comment on that jurisdictional claim because of the fact that the Executive Council refused to give over the Sleeping Car Porters to the Hotel and Restaurant Employes International Alliance.
The second application which was made to the Executive Council was turned down on the ground that we did not have enough bonafide members and were not financially able to operate and conduct an International labor organization. However, that position is now changed in view of the fact that we have organized over five thousand members and are qualified to operate and conduct an International labor organization.
We made a third application for an International charter to the Executive Council. No action has been taken on this third application. However, the Order of Sleeping Car Conductors has also made application to the Executive Council for jurisdiction over the Sleeping Car Porters. Now just a word about that claim. The claim of the Order of Sleeping Car Conductors for jurisdiction over the Sleeping Car Porters is based upon the ground that there are porters who work in charge, operate sleeping cars in charge; that is to say that they do conductor’s work and receive a differential in pay over the standard sleeping car porter of about $13.
In connection with that position may I say that there are probably not three hundred sleeping car porters who operate in charge, and even the Order of Sleeping Car Conductors recognizes the policy of the Pullman Company to use sleeping car porters as “in charge porters,” because the agreement of the Sleeping Car Conductors says that where there are two or more sleeping cars the sleeping car conductor shall be in charge. The implication is that where there is one car a sleeping car porter may operate “in charge.” A sleeping car porter who operates “in charge” is not operating in charge all the time. He may operate “in charge” one month and then may be removed and work on a standard sleeping car as a full-fledged porter. Moreover I don’t think you will find fifty porters in the country who operate “in charge” over two or more cars. In other words, the sleeping car porters who operate “in charge” are operating on one car, and the agreement of the Order of Sleeping Car Porters recognizes that policy of the Pullman Company. Before the existence of Sleeping Car Conductors the sleeping car porters worked “in charge.” They have worked “in charge” since the organization of the Sleeping Car Conductors. Therefore, this point on the part of the organization in claiming jurisdiction over the Sleeping Car Porters is unsound inasmuch as sleeping car porters are not responsible for working “in charge.” The Pullman Company assigns them to that work and therefore there is nothing that can be done about it.
As a matter of fact, it is simply a change in the economic and industrial conditions of the Pullman porters and the Pullman conductors. May I say in this connection that the Sleeping Car Porters have absolutely nothing against the Sleeping Car Conductors. As a matter of fact the Sleeping Car Porters are interested in the Sleeping Car Conductors holding their jobs and the Sleeping Car Porters will co-operate with them in helping them to hold their jobs so far as possible. However, the Sleeping Car Porters have spent over a quarter of a million dollars during a period of nine years to organize five thousand or more men into a legitimate, bona fide labor organization, and the Sleeping Car Porters feel that they are entitled to national and international charters with control over their own affairs and they feel that they are competent in terms of ability, of character and of vision to operate such an organization.
We also feel the delegates to this convention would certainly be in favor of a group of men who have fought and suffered and sacrificed for nine years to build up an organization, that they would be in favor of these men conducting their own international organization. May I say that during this period over five hundred Pullman porters have lost their jobs. Consequently you can readily see that a very definite sacrifice has been made to build up this organization. Now this historic convention has established some precedents. In other words, it has broken a precedent in enlarging the Executive Council, which is constructive and fundamental. It has also taken a position on industrial unionism, which is another fine and far-reaching and significant position. It ought to take another position and to break another precedent in awarding the first international charter to an organization composed of Negro workers. This organization is the first one that has made application to the American Federation of Labor for an international charter. Therefore, it would be not a mere gesture, but it would be something fundamental for the Executive Council to award an international charter to this organization, inasmuch as the Sleeping Car Porters qualify in every particular and in every way in order to receive such a charter.
President Green is familiar with the struggle of this group. He has spoken in public meetings for our organization in New York and Chicago. He knows what the group has gone through. He knows what it has borne, the ordeals the movement has endured, consequently I am confident that this Federation will be appreciative of the progress that this movement will make if it is granted an international charter.
Now we are going to enter a letter to the Pullman Company in the next few days for a conference for the purpose of discussing an agreement concerning rates of pay and rules governing working conditions. We are going to do that whether we get an international charter or not. In other words, we have more than 70 per cent of the sleeping car porters in the Pullman service. Therefore, we are qualified under the law to get a conference with the Pullman Company. We are confident that we will be able to get an agreement. However, we would be far more effective in presenting our case if when we went for this conference with the Pullman Company we had an international charter from the American Federation of Labor. It would give a splendid moral effect to the whole effort that would be made on the part of our organization.
May I say also that even if the Executive Council awarded the Sleeping Car Porters to the Conductors, it is very doubtful if the Sleeping Car Conductors would get one porter. The porters would not submit to the jurisdiction and the reason is that the Sleeping Car Conductors have never made any effort to organize the porters. Moreover, there is, unfortunately, in the constitution of the Order of Sleeping Car Conductors, a color clause. That naturally creates a psychology which will cause the Sleeping Car Porters not to be favorable to placing their destinies in the hands of an organization that has a color clause in its constitution. These are facts that cannot be ignored and consequently, in conclusion, I want to appeal to the Executive Council that it award the Sleeping Car Porters an international charter, and, if that is done, the Sleeping Car Porters will be an organization which will be an asset and a credit and a contribution to the labor movement of America.
Of course I know the procedure on international charters and the awarding of charters of any sort by the Executive Council, inasmuch as the Executive Council has to delineate the lines of jurisdiction. Consequently, I am not arguing for a change in the recommendation of the committee.
Delegate Warfield, Sleeping Car Conductors: Mr. Chairman and delegates to the convention—The remarks made by Delegate Randolph being in a way in support of the committee’s report, make my position here a little easier. Of course I am speaking in favor of the committee’s report. I only want to say a few words to clarify the issues. Delegate Randolph has unwittingly, no doubt, made some statements that are not quite in accordance with the facts, and I want you to have the facts. He said that the contract that we hold with the company recognizes the proposition of operating porters “in charge” by having a rule providing that where two or more cars are operated then there will be a conductor, which is an inference that when there is only one car the porter may be the operator. We have no such rule. We have not been able to stop the operation of porters “in charge.” That is something that has come about recently. Of course for many years porters have operated on short parlor runs, but they were never operated in place of conductors. We took no exception to that practice, but in the later years, particularly since the beginning of the depression, the Pullman Company has changed its policy so that now porters are being substituted for conductors in many cases. There are probably five hundred operating at the present time, and every porter is required to familiarize himself with the duties of a conductor in order to hold his position as a porter.
We are not depriving the porters of an organization, we are offering them one, an international organization that will give them all the benefits that we have ourselves. He says there is a clause in our constitution about the color line. The clause to which he refers merely conforms with the requirements of the company for conductors. Only white men are eligible for the work of conductors. But the reason we have asked for jurisdiction over porters is this: on account of the constantly increasing number of porters taking the places of conductors we are faced with extinction of our class of service unless something is done. But we do not propose to stop that practice for that reason. What we do propose is to take jurisdiction over the porters so that it will prevent dual representation.
If the porters were to secure an international charter we would have the impossible situation of two international organizations within one company, both of them trying to write rules governing wages and working conditions for employes in the same class of service. So in order to make things operate more smoothly we have asked for this jurisdiction.
I want to say further that Delegate Randolph was wrong in saying we had never made any effort to organize the porters. We did make an effort back in 1919, but we were prevented from perfecting that organization on account of the jurisdiction claims by the Hotel and Restaurant Employes’ Association, so we had to drop it for the time being. We have never ceased our efforts to help these men organize, but the time has come when if we do not have jurisdiction over the porters we are going to have an impossible situation when it comes to writing rules governing wages and working conditions, because the two organizations trying to do the same thing for different classes of employes are bound to have friction. There can be nothing else.
Since Delegate Randolph has been willing to submit this to the Executive Council, I have no further remarks to make and I am willing that he and I should go before the Executive Council to straighten this thing out.
I thank you.
The report of the Committee on resolution No. 144 was adopted by unanimous vote.
Proceedings of the 54th annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1934, pp. 704-08.
Dear Brother Randolph:
I was not altogether surprised at an adverse decision from the Interstate Commerce Commission, and to some extent, I had the Chicago men prepared for an adverse decision. While on the face of the arguments before the Commission we apparently had the best of it; yet I have found that those government bodies are strong on following precedent and since this was the first time a case of this sort had been presented to it, we could not, with any reason of certainty, anticipate which way they were going to decide. However, since the case has been dismissed, we might as well forget about that angle of it and go ahead and prosecute the other part of the program.
The spirit here is unusually high. I had just sent out a notice to the membership to attend a special series of meetings and fortunately the letters were all delivered the morning after the decision was rendered. The house has been crowded to capacity every night since. For the first time in a long while we have had to take down the petition. The men are determined to stick, and we have taken in five new members in Chicago since the decision was rendered. I think that is an indication of how the Chicago men feel.
Brother Bradley writes me that the men have taken on a new life in St. Louis since the decision of the Commission. And I believe the men are determined to carry on a finished fight.
The Daily News wrote a very favorable editorial on the matter suggesting that we might apply to the Federal Trade Commission for relief. I talked to the man who wrote the editorial and gave him the procedure over the telephone. He got it a little twisted, however, I think it served the purpose.
I might suggest that it is my opinion that we must pursue a very vigorous program from now on. The enthusiasm seems to be higher than it has been for some time and I think the situation demands action. I don’t believe that we can hold the membership over another long wait and only through keeping things active and going, can we keep up the interest. I believe that we should immediately proceed to create the emergency, but, however I am of the opinion that the program should be definitely planned so that there will be no misconception on the part of anybody upon whom the duty is dependent to carry the plan out. It might be well to confine the actual directing of the taking of the strike vote to just a few men, say three or four. They would have definite instructions, thoroughly understand what was to be done and direct everybody in those territories to that man and in that way you would avoid any confusion incidental to the misinterpretation of the letter being sent out to the membership.
I believe that we should get at this matter forthwith, and so plan the taking of the vote that it will be completed at least within fifteen days of June first. I would like to hear from you at once as to what your plans are on the matter.
Relative to suggestion of your letter of the 7th of raising finance through the churches, I believe it is almost an impossibility in Chicago. Other means will have to be provided. I will arrange to make those talks over the radio as soon as I can get time. And also plan to hold a meeting under the auspices of the Citizens Committee. To be frank, I don’t think many of them are going to look with much favor on this strike proposition. However, I will call them together at an early date and sound them out on the matter.
Bennie Smith is already in Pittsburgh and we have several of our hardboiled members running into Pittsburgh and I believe that he is going to be able to get things whipped up in good shape there.
As soon as I can get a full committee meeting together, I will advise on my plan for raising funds.
I am invited to the Y.M.C.A. here, Saturday afternoon at a luncheon, as a member of thie Co-operation Committee that is to hold this Interracial Conference here. I will be glad to meet Mr. Arthur face to face.
I note your reference to retrenchment. And I would like to suggest that I do not believe it will be advisable to eliminate Brother Darby in Jacksonville at this particular time. It would mean that we would not have anybody there at all to represent the Organization which would register a complete victory for the Company in that territory. Jacksonville men who run in here seem to be in pretty good spirits and have considerable confidence in Darby. I would suggest retrenchment in some other place where we could probably get along without a man much better than we could without one in Jacksonville.
Indications are that our dues income are about to pick up materially and get back to normal. I might also make another suggestion Brother Randolph, and that is in relation to retrenchments. We might as well take into consideration, the only permanent funds the Brotherhood has is from its dues; and whatever effort is being put forth, the most stress should be laid on educating the members up to paying their dues. To raise money from outside sources, no doubt, relieves the temporary situation, but we cannot depend upon the success of those attempts and consequently, I believe much better results will be obtained by directing more attention to the payment of dues, than on the other hand, in rearranging the financial program of the organization. I believe that whatever program is mapped out should seriously consider both the immediate income and that which we might naturally expect in the future.
I am firm in the belief that upon the Pullman porter lies the responsibility of financing this movement and that if we are not successful in educating him up to financing it, it is not going to be done by outsiders. We have an example in many attempts in trying to get the public to finance other movements which have far wider publicity than the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
The reaction of the men here on the decision from the Interstate Commerce Commission is very favorable to us and I am of the opinion that if we strike while the iron is hot, we will be able to register some material results.
M. P. Webster,
Chicago Division Organizer
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Webster:
Supplementary to my previous letters, may I say that the program now is to speedily develop the morale of the men to the point where we can take a strike vote and get at least a ninety per cent response. Any less a response would represent a failure. The men must be informed of the fact that a strike vote is not a strike, nor does it necessarily mean that the porters will strike. But it does mean that the porters are determined to get their demands, and if necessary, strike for them. You may cite to them the fact that the Telegraphers took a strike vote on the Burlington, but did not strike. That every railroad union has taken a strike vote at some time, but that a strike did not always follow. We must, however, be ready for any contingency, for a show-down.
Also inform the men that no one will see the strike ballot except the United States Mediation Board. The Pullman Company will not have access to the ballots. They will be sent out by the Brotherhood and be wholly secret. Have them understand that the bigger response to the strike vote, the stronger the position of the Brotherhood with the Pullman Company, the United States Mediation Board and the Emergency Board. I am sending you outline of emergency plan. Now is the time for us to hit, and hit hard. We cannot lose, if the men stick, and the men will stick if they know the facts about the situation and the Organization keeps up an intensive drive.
A. Philip Randolph,
P.S. The leading Negroes of Chicago are bowing to the Brotherood at last because of its power. You are right about Brother Darby of Jacksonville. He is still with us.
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Strike Ballots and Strike Vote Record Sheet are being sent you under separate cover.
May I request and urge that you have every member of the Organization and non-member to sign a Strike Ballot in his own handwriting, for each ballot will be carefully scrutinized by the United States Mediation Board.
Let us execute our Strike Vote Plan with great dispatch, the quicker the better, so that we will be able to get action from the United States Mediation Board in recommending to the President the establishment of an Emergency Board. Let us not permit anything to daunt us in this work. We must get the Ballots signed. The men must be shown that they must sign the Ballots. A leaflet on WHY EVERY PORTER AND MAID SHOULD SIGN THE BALLOT will be sent you. Now is the time to hit and hit hard, for this is the decisive blow.
I would advise each and every porter and maid be given a thorough talk on the question. It means everything to win one man over completely, for he will win others.
Forward to victory.
A. Philip Randolph,
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Randolph:
Things are moving along pretty good here this week. Meetings are very well attended and the men are anxious to get started on the strike ballots. I believe from all indications that we will be able to pull a good strike vote here in Chicago.
I received your outline of the zone matter and also the instructions relative to carrying out the strike program. We are already here, just awaiting the arrival of the ballots.
A newspaper writer connected with the Chicago Daily News has kept in constant touch with me and I have given him the entire history of the fight, as well as some of the preliminary steps that lead up or provoked the organization of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He apparently has been interviewing the other side also. The only thing concrete that I have been able to get so far is the fact that the Pullman Company is broadcasting the story that five thousand ex-Pullman porters have been hired to replace the porters that are going out on the strike.
Of course the story cannot be printed until such time as I can give him something that makes news. If you could give me some details in connection with Perry W. Howard, I think it could be used to our advantage, because I think if the news gives us a big story, the other newspapers will be clamoring for more details and I will be able to get pretty much all of our matter over in the big dailies in Chicago. This writer could not understand why more publicity was not given to the situation in Chicago. However, I think we will be able to get it over big.
The Chicago Whip continues to burlesque us under the direction of Harry Hull, but those attacks are absolutely harmless.
I am planning a large meeting just as soon as I can get the Citizens Committee together and sound them out on this matter of strike. I don’t know how they are going to feel toward it. However, regardless of how they feel, I will pull the meeting anyhow. I will try to get some hardboiled labor leaders, as well as one or two prominent Negroes to talk on the program and put this strike proposition up to them in plain terms.
I have started out to raise some additional finance. It was a rather difficult proposition to get the committee to take action on it but they are all of the opinion that they would raise the finance in the same way they did before and I will advise from time to time how it is developing. Of course the first night we got a fairly generous response, however, since that time it has not been so good. In fact many of the men haven’t any money and it is a physical impossibility to comply. However, we will do all that we possibly can to contribute a reasonably large sum.
I believe the enthusiasm of the men is higher now than it has ever been at any one time in our career. I don’t believe it would insure to our benefit not to capitalize this enthusiasm to the utmost, as this is the last blow which must be effectively struck and I believe it can be done if we act immediately.
I will keep in touch with you.
M. P. Webster,
Chicago Division Organizer
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Webster:
The men are signing the strike ballots here in fine fashion. May I request that you don’t permit a single porter to carry a ballot home with him, but require him to make it out then and there or not at all.
When you begin taking your strike vote, may I urge that you give an interview to every big daily in Chicago, giving them all of the facts about the Brotherhood from the beginning to the present time. I would call them up and surround it with an air of mystery and let them know that you will be in your office to be interviewed between certain hours. We ought to get big publicity out of this move.
As I see it, our job is to convince each and every man of the necessity and value of the strike vote, as he will convince others. The men simply must be made to sign the ballots, and I think they will, if the trend here is any indication.
I heard that the Company is hiring old men here also. That’s supposed to be a scare for us. We are starting Brother Bennie Smith, Crosswaith and Totten on their first zone trips in a few days. This will add great interest also.
I think you are right, that if we act immediately, we will put it over. More power to the Chicago division. Forward to victory!
I’ll see if I can get any information on Perry Howard for you.
A. Philip Randolph
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Randolph:
Have not received ballots yet. They should have been sent special so that they would have been delivered immediately. There has been quite some disappointment among the men because they have not been here. The men are coming to the office daily looking for them and I feel that we will be able to cast a good strike vote here in Chicago.
Do I understand that you are not to notify the Mediation Board of the taking of the strike vote until after the vote has been complete, or are you to notify them immediately after you begin taking the vote? As I recall, the Trainmen on the Pyramid Marquette notified Governor Morrow that they were going to take a strike vote and before they had completed the strike vote the company had agreed to submit the matter to arbitration. I would like to be advised on just what the procedure is along that line.
I note the instructions in your information on the strike vote and I think if everybody carries them out will be able to put the vote over big. Three weeks ought to finish up the voting proposition. We are putting forth a strenuous effort here and I am only entitling the taking of the vote to a few loyal men. The company has already been trying to get some of the men to bring them a strike ballot. There isn’t any question about it but that they are very much alarmed. I have the utmost confidence of ultimate success.
The financial returns here has not been so great. We had a little upward sputter, but have come back again to the lower level. There is considerable enthusiasm around the place but the question of paying dues is one that is hard to solve. However, we will continue to plug away. But I think that some of the lack of financial cooperation is due to the fact that the men are not making the money. Just as soon as conditions improve I believe that we will be able to get a larger number of men paying dues. Responses to the $5 assessment has not been as liberal as one might expect. The men all agree to pay it, but I guess that just haven’t got it.
I haven’t been able to do much with this Citizens Committee. They seem to have all gotten cold feet since we commenced to talk strike. However, I plan to stage a big mass meeting on the 15th of April. I would stage it before, but I have not the time to give to the detail work until after the primary election. I am going to try to get the hardest boiled labor leaders in Chicago to speak in an effort to get strike votes and raise funds for the strike. If possible to finance the proposition. I will try to arrange to have a big dance the following Monday for the benefit of the strike fund and just as soon as I can work out the details I will advise. If you are out of New York round about that time, I don’t think it will be a bad time for you to be over here, because this is where the big fight is anyhow. I will give you more information on this in the next few letters.
The spirit seems very high and the men are not at all afraid to approach the strike proposition. I have a story all set and in the hands of the Chicago Daily News, but he wants to see the strike ballots before the story starts. I will also make a release to the other newspapers. Things otherwise are about as usual.
I am using the utmost care in carrying on the work of the organization and we have smeared up the windows so that the people cannot see in here from the outside and it is amusing the amount of curiosity that that alone has created.
I will keep in constant touch with you.
M. P. Webster,
Chicago Division Organizer
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Webster:
Thanks for your information about a newspaper man seeking to adjust the dispute of the Brotherhood and the Pullman Company. I shall be ready to meet any one who may come to take up this matter. Most of the Eastern newspaper men are friendly toward me and the Organization, so that it is difficult to surmise as to which one it will be. Do you know whether he is colored or white? Yes, I really believe that the Pullman Company wants to settle this dispute, but it wants, of course, to try to save its face. The Brotherhood has undoubtedly got the Pullman Company licked and it knows it. This publicity is killing the Company.
It is interesting to note that out of all the extraordinary stock inflation recently in Wall street among practically all classes of stocks, railroads, radios, etc., the Pullman Company stock was not mentioned as rising to any levels, and it is due to the influence of the strike talk which the Brotherhood has the papers carrying.
There is no doubt about the Brotherhood being able to cripple the Pullman Company materially, if a real strike is necessary. The Pullman Company could not stand such a blow, and it knows it. Of course, it is going to bluff us to the very last minute, if it can, and it is quite likely, too, that it will call for a real showdown to see just how far the men will really go.
I plan to be in your section around the 18th or 20th, as I shall speak for Totten the 16th at a big mass meeting. I shall stop in Chicago on my return from Kansas City and spend a couple of days with you, so that you can plan to arrange some membership meetings for that time.
I am sorry about Brother Stewart being pulled off. I shall write him relative to his case.
The men are signing the ballots here in splendid form. There is nothing new. I am addressing a letter to the United States Mediation Board informing them of the fact that we have begun taking our strike vote. While I do not think that they will take any action as result of it, still as you say, it is no harm to have them officially informed of the existence of this maneuver. Quite a number of the non-members are signing the ballots here too.
I hope that you will use every opportunity to get over to the public the facts about the fight, so that it will be ready for a real strike at any time. Public opinion will strengthen the men materially according as it shifts for or against us. Our chief work, however, must be in steeling the backbone of the men so that it will stand firm regardless of public opinion.
If you want to hold a mass meeting in addition to the meeting among the members, I shall be available around the 20th or 22nd.
Everything moves promisingly forward.
A. Philip Randolph,
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Webster:
In this week’s issue of the Pittsburgh Courier an article is carried entitled IS RANDOLPH TO RESIGN? It includes the substance of a conversation which I had with its Editor, Robert L. Vann. He wanted to know if I would get out of the Brotherhood if the Pullman Company agreed to recognize the Brotherhood and sign an agreement with it. He said that he understood that the Company would recognize the Brotherhood, but that it wouldn’t recognize me because I am a Socialist and too radical.59
This shows that the Pullman Company is thoroughly beaten and that it is ready to kick in and recognize the Organization. It will even recognize me as its head, if we stand firm and fight harder, but naturally, it wants to save its face and of course, it would like to deal with the Brotherhood with me out of it, because it believes it would be able to get a better bargain in the deal. Of course, I should be perfectly willing to resign from the Organization if the Company made a bonafide agreement with the Brotherhood and recognized it fully and completely just as other railroad unions are recognized, if the men wished me to resign. But I shall abide by the wishes of the men.
Our only problem now is to stand firm and fight harder, because it is evident that the Pullman Company is ready to abandon the fight and give in. But we must also be cautious and careful so as to prevent the Pullman Company from putting any trick over on the Organization. You may depend upon me to see to it that nothing will be done except that which will securely and legally completely and absolutely bring victory to the Brotherhood. I am not personally concerned about my future relations with the Brotherhood. I am not important in the matter. I am only thinking of the best interests of the Brotherhood and the porters. I should be willing to make any sacrifice which would advance the cause of the Organization. Let us push the strike ballots. Get the men to pay dues and new members.
A. Philip Randolph,
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Randolph:
Supplementary to my letter this morning, may I advise that I think we should immediately readjust the organization machinery to the new situation. We will have to eliminate surplusage anywhere it exists and so organize to keep in actual touch with Pullman porters in all districts. This, I believe, must be done immediately in order to get the desired results. You will also have to take into consideration the idea of building a treasury, that is, lay aside certain funds at stated intervals that will not be disturbed except in an extreme emergency so that whenever a situation such as this exists, we will not find ourselves in this predicament.
From observations, I believe we could have taken down 80 per cent of the men in Chicago. The company was scared stiff and they are still having the yards and depots guarded by private detectives and insist upon the men getting off and getting on at the station. I learn they did not feel a bit good about the announcement coming from Green. They realize that they have got a gigantic group to deal with now. In reply to a question this afternoon propounded to Mr. Carey by a newspaper man on the situation, he replied that he had nothing to say. I answered his statement that we were a bunch of outside agitators and gave the public the facts as to just how the Brotherhood was run and the Daily News gave it the utmost publicity and I think it discredited, in the eyes of the public, the attitude taken by him.
Thirteen new members have joined the organization since yesterday morning. Most of them young men, six and seven months in the service. The situation looks good and I will be very glad to have your new program and I believe in a very short time we will be able to build up a gigantic organization whose power will be felt not only in the interest of labor but throughout the country.
I guess I will have to forgive the Chicago Defender. I did not release anything to them and their reporter came around and happened in at the time we had the biggest meeting we have ever had in the history of the organization. The crowd was so big that they were down in the street. They gave us a big headline and a rather minute detail of what was said and done at the meeting. I guess they have really fallen out with the Pullman Company for keeps.
I will try to get away tomorrow or by Sunday morning, anyhow, to attend the conference of the Chicago Forum Council at Waukegan. It will be a good opportunity for me to get our stuff about discrimination and prejudice as disclosed in the action of the United States Mediation Board.
M. P. Webster,
Chicago Division Organizer
Sleeping Car Porters Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Webster:
I am indeed glad to know that the spirit of the men in Chicago is high and that the Organization is stronger than ever before and that the conditions there are extremely favorable for building a more powerful machinery.
Our strategy has completely overwhelmed the Pullman Company and it is at sea and does not know what to do. Your comment on Mr. Carry’s statement that the Brotherhood was an outside agitator was capital and effective.
It is splendid that thirteen new members joined the Organization since Friday. That shows that the men are aroused and awakened and are ready to go to the bat. They have been steadily joining here too.
It is encouraging to know that you feel that 80 per cent of the men would have stepped down in Chicago had the strike gone through. I am satisfied that we would have been able to paralyze the Pullman Company practically completely here, for the spirit has been higher than ever before in the history of the Movement. The night before the strike, we had the biggest meeting ever.
When you plan to come to New York, we shall have a series of membership meetings, so that you may be able to give them some strong, solid, militant, Chicago dues-paying talk.
I am glad that you will go to the Chicago Forum Council at Waukegan. I would make a strong attack on the Mediation Board, a statement on the present situation and the determination of the men to win. I wish you would try to get them to pass a resolution in favor of the Organization. That body is so organized, that such could be done.
Your suggestions on the program are very good. I will have it worked out in a very few days, so that we can hit immediately.
A. Philip Randolph,
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Just a word of explanation on the postponement of the strike. It was done as a matter of strategy in the interest of all the men in the organization. The United States Mediation Board turned us down cold and their decision was so abrupt that it convinced us that we could expect no further cooperation from that body. It meant that after the United States Mediation Board ruled that 6013 bona fide Pullman porters could not create an emergency—that is, threaten the interruption of interstate commerce to a degree that would deprive any section of the country of this essential service—it is almost certain that if we actually interrupted interstate commerce and did deprive the country of this essential service, they would have assured a “Hands off” policy which would have meant that we would have been face to face with the millions of dollars of the Pullman Company, which would have been not the wisest thing for us to have done, and as Mr. Green, President of the American Federation of Labor advised, we would be playing directly into the hands of the Pullman Company. That is the thing they expected us to do as one superintendent remarked, he was so sorry we did not do it. Had we walked into that trap, the organization would have been severely crippled, and as it is, the machinery of the organization is intact and the enthusiasm of the men is higher than it has ever been since our beginning and we feel that we have acted in the best interest of all men and hope that the membership will appreciate that situation.
Am immediate program is in the making and will be announced from headquarters at a very early date. Chicago men are still 100 per cent. A few nights ago fully four hundred men crowded into the hall. I had to stand upon a chair in order to talk. I explained the situation to them and every man held up his right hand and swore allegiance to the Brotherhood and the continuance of the vigorous fight. Our dues income jumped up by leaps and bounds. Sixteen new members joined the organization this week, and the highest spirit has been manifested on the part of the men here and from information that I get from other territories, I am under the impression that the same condition exists everywhere.
Now we anticipate early affiliation with the American Federation of Labor and with that additional backing, which is the greatest that we could have gotten, I think the future of this organization is assured and that we have demonstrated to the world that we are on a solid foundation and are here to stay.
Much of the solidarity that now exists in the Brotherhood is due to the unyielding determination and spirit manifested by you in carrying out the program of the organization. You can rest assured that the confidence that you have inspired in the men will be appreciated. Chicago is solid behind you and we hope that you will carry on in the future as you have in the past.
Extend our greetings to the brothers on the Pacific Coast.
M. P. Webster,
Chicago Division Organizer
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Webster:
If you cannot make the trip before July 4th, it will be all right. You will get the immediate program which I am drafting in the next mail.
I was down to the United States Mediation Board Wednesday, and I went into the whole situation with them. They claimed that their conviction was that there was no emergency. I asked them what did they consider an emergency? They said a condition fraught with danger was an emergency. I asked when was a condition fraught with danger? They said when it was certain that men would walk out and substantially interrupt interstate commerce. I asked what enabled them to be certain that men would walk out and substantially interrupt interstate commerce? They were then stalled and hedged. I asked wasn’t the strike vote an evidence of this certainty, and the only evidence that they would act upon? They said it was a part of the evidence. I wanted to know why they accepted such evidence with the Kansas City, Mexico, Orient Road and not with the Brotherhood? They said that the Kansas City, Mexico, Orient Road was a different situation, as in that case the carrier itself petitioned for the Emergency Board to prevent the men from walking out and that the shippers also petitioned the Board to appoint an Emergency Board to prevent the men from walking out. Then I asked if the Emergency Board was established only upon petition of carriers. This floored them. They replied, of course not. I asked them if organizations of the traveling public were to petition them for an Emergency Board in our case, would they have set up one? They said that they could not say, that they would have to take into consideration all factors.
It is obvious to me that the Pullman Company got a man who was big enough to go to Washington and tell that Mediation Board and perhaps the President himself, that the Pullman Company was not going to stand for any Emergency Board; that it was going to stir up the Negroes of this country and make them cocky, so that they would feel their power and that this would cause the business interests to have trouble with their Negro workers. Of course, the members of the Board, together with the attorney, assured me that no carrier could influence their action, but they would naturally say that. I gave them some straight, hard talk.
They felt offended about our statements in the press that the Board was partial in our case. I was advised by them to write a statement on the situation, giving my views on the matter and send it to the Board, and the Board would take official cognizance of it and write me a reply. They said that the next session of the Board would be in July. I am writing out such a statement for them. I will also give it to the press and will send you a copy, so that you may use it in Chicago. The Board does not want us to make known anything they said to me until they receive my statement and reply to same so don’t make anything public yet. That is their comment to me on their decision.
Your handling of the publicity in Chicago was magnificent. Our maneuver went through like clock work. There was no hitch.
I feel that we will have to prepare to face some reprisals of the men by the Company. To that end I would advise them that if the Company officials were to ask them whether they will strike when it is called for them to say no, they are not thinking about any strike. This will throw them off their guard.
As soon as William Green returns from the Democratic Convention I am going to take up with him in detail various plans for securing the cooperation of the American Federation of Labor in our organization work. He assured me that in the next meeting of the Executive Council, which would take place in July, that a recommendation would be made to the Convention of the A.F. of L. on the question of our affiliation and receiving an International Charter. He said that their constitution provided that only the Convention can alter a charter of an International. And since the charter of the International Hotel and Restaurant Employees Alliance and International Bartenders League will have to be modified before we can get our International Charter, we will have to await the action of the Convention, but if the Executive Council recommends that such a modification be made in the charter of the Hotel Workers Union, the Convention is certain to ratify it. I feel that our securing an International Charter will represent virtual victory, for when we stage our strike, we will have the active support of all the labor bodies in the A.F. of L. in the several districts.
I wish to advise that you keep on your guard against the Communists. They have circulated propaganda round in New York that Randolph and Webster sold the Brotherhood out to William Green of the American Federation of Labor. Of course, this is ridiculous, but they are trying to stir the men up and get them to strike before they are ready to strike. I would keep them out of the meetings and keep their propaganda from the men. They went so far as to picket one of our meetings here, but they will not make any headway. I will send you a copy of the paper in which they are attacking you and myself. Of course, we haven’t got to lose any sleep over this matter, because the men will pay them no mind, but we have got to keep their propaganda out of the hands of the men to prevent confusion.
I am glad to know that The Chicago Defender gives you such good support and cooperation. I shall be glad to get some of the clippings of the Chicago papers. Undoubtedly, we got a million dollars worth of publicity, and it is breaking the backbone of the Company. We got our aims on wages and working conditions before the entire country. The big dailies are writing editorials in our favor, therefore, we are stronger than ever before.
Now, I think the next move of the Company is going to be to stage a wage conference to give the men more wages because of the public and the Brotherhood. We must prepare to kill this conference before it begins. This we can do.
I am glad to know of the fine success Brother Puckett is making. Everything moves promisingly forward here.
Brother Totten has written me about the situation in Kansas City. I am planning to make some changes in the work there. He wants to come to New York very soon. May I request that you send him $50.00 on his transportation at your earliest convenience? I shall appreciate this greatly. When you come to New York, we can hold the Policy Committee Conference, since the majority of the members will be here.
A. Philip Randolph,
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Received your letter today. I am sorry to learn of the situation you referred to about the young men in your office becoming converted to the worker’s party, so to speak.
That group, is a group of opportunists who have no apparent destination and according to reports, are supposed to have actually originated in Russia and they are believers of accomplishing the purposes of labor by actual force, that is my say, by fighting. I think Brother Randolph cautioned all the organizers about this matter before the strike situation was developed. However, it is well to stay shy of them. We have an organization here in Chicago and also one in New York of the same group which have been broadcasting the story that Randolph and Webster sold out the Brotherhood to Green. That is all tommy-rot because Green does not need the Brotherhood and there wouldn’t be anything accomplished by selling out to Green, but it is just simply a bal hoo of a group of opportunists who insist that we should have gone on the strike regardless of whether or not it would have been to the best interest of the organization.
I don’t think you need worry about those people because they are not of much force and effect and if the gentleman insists on going with them let him go, but be sure to make things plain to your members as to what the situation is.
Where on earth before did you ever hear of one labor organization selling out to another labor organization? I think if the men will read the literature that has been sent out from headquarters on the reasons why the story was postponed, they can readily see the advisability of postponing the strike at this time. The strike, however, has been postponed and not called off, so there may be an opportunity for the men to strike if conditions do not warrant a change in the program.
They held a meeting in New York, also and denounced the Brotherhood, particularly Randolph and I, and now they are coming forward as a saviour of the Pullman porter. Their efforts however are so feeble and following so small, that I don’t think we need worry at all about anything that they do but protect your membership and be sure they are acquainted with the facts in the case and be sure that everybody reads the literature that is sent out from headquarters.
I would get in touch with the various members of the organizing committee and explain things to them in detail and you might read this letter to them. All these folks want is a chance to raise a roughhouse, regardless as to what merits would be. Just inquire what they have accomplished by those methods and that will give you an idea of just how much force and effect their program has. There are a number of them in all large cities, and it is their desire to keep up as much trouble as possible. Just ask them what facts have they got upon which to base the charge that the leaders of the Brotherhood have sold out! Ask your men that question!
I do not think I would waste any time with them or attend their meetings, but I would devote all my efforts in making the thing plain to the members of the Brotherhood because it is on the members of the Brotherhood that depends its success and not on any daily workers, or communists or anybody else.
Things in Chicago are in good shape. I expect to go down east to spend a few days with the Chief and consummate new efforts and map out the new program and I will let you hear from me while down there or immediately after I return however, you can write me here at the office and my mail will be forwarded. Be sure and keep an eye on that other group down there.
M. P. Webster,
Chicago Division Organizer
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Webster:
Just a word to thank you for your telegram informing me of the nefarious activities of the Communists in Oakland, California. I have sent air mail letters to Brother Dad Moore and Brother Dellums and all the members of the organizing committee. I shall also send letters to the general membership. We cannot temporize with this Communist menace. It’s a sinister and destructive crowd which will stop at nothing in order to realize its aim which is to wreck and ruin every organization which is not Communistic.
I hope you will have a good talk with all of the men who come into Chicago from Oakland and warn them against the Communist outfit.
Also instruct Brotherhood men who run into Oakland to denounce and condemn the crowd. We shall kill this reptile at the very outset. Its the best propaganda the Pullman Company could subsidize and the Company will subsidize it and it may be subsidizing it for all we know.
I would suggest that you get something in the Federationist condemning the Communists. All the A.F. of L. organizations are bitter on the Communists because they have almost wrecked some A.F. of L. unions. Everything moves promisingly forward.
A. Philip Randolph,
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Webster:
The strike strategy of the Brotherhood represents a signal and overwhelming victory for the Organization. It has completely swept the Pullman Company into consternation and despair. Baffled, outwitted and outthought in every encounter, the Company is on its last legs, but is trying to hold on with a vain and vanishing hope that the Brotherhood will go crazy and lose its head and result in victory for the Company.
From the most hard-headed, seasoned, responsible and experienced labor leaders come the assurance that we have thoroughly licked the Company, and that we have only to hold our ground and extend our line of vantage by organization of the 4,000 men outside of the Brotherhood, and build up a dues-paying psychology among the membership.
Our maneuver with the American Federation of Labor and the Railroad Brotherhoods is bringing us unprecedented, extraordinary and remarkable power which is certain and sure to compel surrender on the part of the Pullman Company. But we must realize that it will take some time and every Pullman porter must be educated and shown that the Brotherhood has been in existence but a short time and that it is not to be expected to right in three years the wrongs which have been heaped up for sixty; that they need only to exercise the patience with the Brotherhood which white workers have exercised with their organization, and we will build the most powerful citadel of Negro achievement ever erected in the history of the world.
At all times present to the men the most vigorous optimism, hope, faith, confidence and assurance of victory. These qualities will reflect themselves in the mind and spirit of the porters. Time, right, justice and truth are on our side, and it is impossible for the Brotherhood to lose if we exercise just the mere common sense of standing firm.
I am sending you under separate cover some propaganda material to be used among the white public. You will know how best to utilize this material in your local district.
A. Philip Randolph,
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Webster:
Your letter relative to the discharge of Brother L. Hampton received. I recall him very well. He is a man of strong spirit and determination. I have written him relative to his situation and made certain suggestions to him that might help him to adjust his matter with his local Superintendent. When I hear from him again, I shall then know how to utilize him in doing some work for the Brotherhood in that section. It is simply another instance of intimidation as result of the fear of the Company that a strong man will influence the rank and file too completely.
In reference to your letter relative to signing of petitions, “yellow dog” contracts and vote for the Plan, may I say that your opinions are quite cogent, and there is much to be said for the argument you present, however, we shall go into this thoroughly when you come East. It will be splendid for Brother Smith to come along with you. I should like to know the exact date you will arrive here, so that we may hold a membership meeting, as your presence will present something new to the local membership, and it will arouse interest. Brother Smith’s presence with you will add to the interest.
Your opinion about retrenchment is entirely sound. We must make some very definite and drastic retrenchment, and your suggestion about the St. Louis office is absolutely correct, and some such adjustment will have to be made. We will talk over this matter also when you come East. Of course, I have already settled on it, but we have the problems of method which is important in doing anything of this sort.
May I advise that you get the Citizens Committee to adopt a statement condemning the Communists efforts to break up the Brotherhood. I want to get our various Citizens Committees to condemn this group, so that we may use these statements for publicity and also to get the cooperation of the American Federation of Labor and the Big Four Brotherhoods in our organization campaign.
Both of these groups have been greatly disturbed by the Communists, and they are bitter on that crowd. When you get the Committee there to adopt a statement condemning the Communists, you can give it to the Chicago papers, and they will be glad to get it, because it is good news to know that Negroes are aware of the menace of the Communists and are determined to route them.
I shall send you a copy of the statement which we are having adopted by the Citizens Committee here. You may use it with some modifications to suit the local situation, so that it will be news to the Chicago papers.
A. Philip Randolph,
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Webster:
Thanks for your letter of the 4th inst. Yes, I see where the Communists are starting a world-wide drive to organize the Negroes. They are redoubling their attacks here in New York on the Brotherhood, and especially the Strike Committee which called off the strike. However, they won’t make any headway among the men. Mr. Richard Moore, who was out in Chicago, has challenged me to a debate, but of course, I am not going to debate with anybody about the Brotherhood.60
We held a great meeting Sunday afternoon, July 29th where the presentation of the proceeds of the Benefit was made. We had a band of sixty pieces and a fine programme. It was like one of the great meetings in Chicago, not quite as many people, however.
I hope you will be able to get your release on B. C. Forbes in the American. It will be very effective, because it will get our angle before the public. I wired you immediately on return from Atlantic City that your release was O.K. I appreciate your attitude on the matter of a centralization of the publicity.
I wish to advise that your idea of sending a letter to the men urging them to pay up their dues, since we are going into the American Federation of Labor is a capital one and will have some effect. We can let them know that our standing in the A.F. of L. will be based upon the number of members who are in good standing as dues payers. It is true that the larger the dues paying membership we have, the greater influence we will have in the Organization. I think, too, that it will have great influence on the dispensation and splendid effect on the whispering campaign for new members.
The letter from the International Labor office requesting a statement from you on earnings of the Pullman porters is legitimate. They are a responsible group. I would not give them anything on our constitution, however.
I have just received a letter from Mr. J. Finlay Wilson, Grand Exalted Ruler of the Elks, that he will grant me the privilege of speaking before that body any day I may desire during its session. He wants to know, however, whether I am an elk. I suppose this will have something to do with it, so I am planning to get into the Order, if possible, before the Convention, so as to be able to appear before them. I am sure that if we can get before them, we will not only get their endorsement, but a contribution of a thousand dollars.
Everything moves promisingly forward.
A. Philip Randolph,
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
Dear Brother Webster:
May I advise that you proceed with a whispering campaign informing the men of the fact that the Brotherhood is going into the American Federation, but that the main qualification necessary is that a large number be up with their dues. Point out to them that the strength, power and influence of the Brotherhood will depend upon the number of members who are financial. Let them know that Negroes have been hollering about the American Federation of Labor discriminating against them for years; now the opportunity is here for a Negro organization to gain great power by getting a charter from the Federation, and the main question which must be answered is, are we ready to meet the test by paying our dues as the white union men do?
Let them know that when the Brotherhood is in the Federation, the Standard Railroad Unions, such as the Big Four will be more obligated to protect and support the Brotherhood men than before, but they will want to know whether these men are financial. And unless a Brotherhood man is financial he is not entitled to protection from the American Federation of Labor or the Standard Railroad Unions any more than a member in a lodge is entitled to protection from that lodge if he is not financial. I feel that they can understand the force of this argument if it is persistently and vigourously impressed upon them. I would not mention any date as to when we shall get our charter, as a date has not been fixed, but that we will get it, we are quite sure.
Urge all of the men, too, to bring in a new member. I would also suggest that you make a drive to sell gold and silver stamps among the men. This will appeal to their sense of race pride, and I think they will be inclined to respond.
Keep up the good work.
A. Philip Randolph,
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
My dear Brother Webster:
August marks the first birth-year of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Hard-headed labor men are unanimous in their opinion that we have made marvelous progress, yet great is the work yet to be done. We are in our swaddling clothes, but we shall and will grow to manhood. We are the strongest “one-year-old known” to the labor movement.
We are now in the midst of our referendum, upon the completion of which we shall call for a conference with the Company, upon the refusal of which we shall take up our case with the Mediation Board. May I urge that every man bestir himself in getting both members and non-members to sign the questionnaires and return them immediately. We are also getting a citizen’s petition signed in various cities where porters are, endorsing the fight of the Brotherhood for economic justice. These petitions will also be presented to the Board. They will constitute a formidable force of public sentiment which the Company and the Board will be compelled to reckon with.
May we ever keep our eyes on the lighthouse of economic victory. We are building not only for the present but for all time. Remember, brethren, what other railroad workers have done, we can and will do. Let us demonstrate that fact. But we must realize that our work has just begun. Our salvation lies in our own hands. No one can defeat us but ourselves, and if we are honest, conscientious and determined, we cannot fail. Let us fight with the flaming, unconquerable zeal, devotion, loyalty and sacrifice of the early Christians who were forced to drink the bitter dregs of persecution for their ideals and principles. By solidarity we triumph! Long live the Brotherhood! Long live the spirit of your stalwart Committee! Long live the New Negro in his fight for freedom! You are the pioneers in a great struggle for economic justice for oppressed peoples of color. May we ever remain true to our sacred trust and fight on till death.
Accept my congratulations upon your splendid work the past year. Let us renew our faith and courage and rededicate our hearts and minds to the unfinished task of economic freedom and justice for Pullman porters in particular and the race in general.
Your faithful servant,
A. Philip Randolph,
Sleeping Car Porters’ Union-Chicago Division Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
August 21, 1920
The Special communication for Aug. 14–15 was delayed as a matter of necessary policy while I had to go on an emergency trip South. I shall announce to all the International membership to attend meetings on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 29, 30 and 31. The Announcement will be through this week’s Plain Dealer and The Chicago Defender. Subjects to be placed before the members are:
1. The policy after Sept. 1st, 1920.
2. The fight to be made to legally break the contracts of Brotherhoods and the white mechanical unions of the A.F. of L.
3. The special assessment to finance the legal battle; to place a year round International lecturer and Auditor in the field; and to gain publicity helpful to the Negro Railway workers from big daily papers.
4. A special annual death per capita of $1.00 to be voted by the convention which will add several hundred to the $100.00 paid each beneficiary of deceased members.
5. No salaries of International Officers to be raised over what is paid now.
6. Shall we separately organize our insurance company to take over accident and sickness insurance now carried by white companies? This question will have the local vote, Yes or No, and make the vote a part of the Delegate’s instructions to Convention!
After September 1st, negroes, especially skilled and semi-skilled workmen in shop, engine or transportation service must stand together as a man in order, (1) to prevent white unions from removing us completely from these jobs; (2) in order to get proper pay and working conditions from the railroads, everywhere in the skilled crafts you see what the white man intends so argument from us is unnecessary. GET TOGETHER. Get all mechanics of color together. Send as many delegates to the convention as you possibly can. If we can go to our Fraternal conclaves at our own expense we surely can come to our bread and butter convention at Local and personal expense. I want 400 delegates at Chicago September 25th.
Our plans for legal battle must be kept secret. All our lawyers are being called to Chicago. If you are not here by delegate you will be a bigger enemy to colored railway men and the race than the white enemy.
The Board of Directors in order to go the limit in court against the white union contracts or to secure of our own for all crafts has ordered a special “Contract War Assessment” of two dollars to be levied on each member and payable in two installments of $1.00 (one dollar) each, the first by September 15, 1920, the second by October 15, 1920. The law requires that all assessments be paid before dues or a member is unfinancial.
The lecturer and Auditor is to gather facts for contracts. Instruct the member and handle local grievances on the spot. That is the greatest present need of this association. I have needed help all this year. I, or not any other man could live through another year of what I have had to face alone during 1920. Instruct your delegates to vote for an International Lecturer and Auditor whose position shall be appointive by the president and the board of directors. If we carry the Negro Railway Workers’ position to the public through the Daily papers we will show up the White unions. It all takes money hence, the assessment. If your job is worth having it is worth fighting for. It took billions in Liberty Bonds to win the war. It will take money to hold your jobs.
Let every local have its members consider and instruct the delegates to vote for a special annual death per capita tax of one dollar to be applied in this way to wit: If ten thousand members pay it there will be ten thousand dollars in addition to the REGULAR DEATH FUND. If 50 members die during the year their beneficiaries will be paid the regular $100.00 at the time of death and in addition 75% of $100.00 or seven thousand five hundred will be divided between to widows or orphans at the end of the year, making each get an additional sum of $150.00 for the payment of only $1.00 per year in addition to a regular monthly endowment of 50₵ or $2,500 to go to the general fund and help keep down extra assessments. I believe every man can see this and will vote for it. I urge you to instruct your delegate to vote “Yes” as it will mean a possible $250.00 instead of $100.00 and only for $1.00 extra.
I am flatly against increasing any salaries of International Officers. The contract War Assessment above referred to and which is binding in all locals and every individual member of this association from the date August 21, 1920, is not needed to pay present salaries and will not go for same. It is to put more men in the field. Men like T. C. Jefferson, E. F. Roberts, Holmes, Phillips, Jones, Glover, Scottland, and Webster. Our people need encouragement and instruction. We need an auditor to keep all locals straight in their books. We need contracts. We need tax fund. That is what the assessment is for. Pay it!!!
Are we going to continue to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to White accident insurance companies and furnish work for white girls and boys or shall we organize a “Mutual” company of our own? Instruct your delegate to vote “Yes.” I will have our lawyers do the rest. Remember! Yours is the most powerful organization of negro laborers in the world. Everything I have asked you to do above you can easily do and if we hold what we have won, if we care to keep on our jobs and keep jobs like ours open to our children, we must STICK AND FIGHT. We must pay for victory by loyalty and with money. We need brains at the head and we must pay for it. We have it in the race among railroad men and we should use it. What about September 1st, you ask? We can get more after September 1st if we STICK AND FIGHT than we have now. We can upset some of the nasty white contracts. WE WILL WIN. If your delegate’s credentials are not in this office by September 10th your men will not get proper committee appointments. Send them in NOW. Congressman M. E. Madden has accepted my invitation to be at our opening day speaking on September 28th. Be in Chicago for the smoker Monday night. September 28. Let us fight as well as pray for Victory.
BE AT HEADQUARTERS SEPTEMBER 27th.
R. L. Mays,
Bulletin from Robert L. Mays in the Chicago Historical Society.
Monday morning, May 17th, marked the opening session here of the first Grand Lodge meeting of the National Order of Locomotive Firemen, headed by Osie L. Long, prominent citizen of Birmingham as president. It will be remembered that the National Order of Locomotive Firemen was permitted here in December when a large number of railroad men from various sections of the country gathered, directed by R. L. Mays, of Chicago, President of the International Benevolent Association.
The sessions this week were held in the K. of P. Hall and two hundred or more delegates from various sections of the country were in attendance, a large number of friends headed the open session held in the auditorium of the 16th Street Baptist church. Officers of the organization are: Osie Long, National President, Birmingham, Ala.; W. H. Penny, First Vice-President, North Carolina; Sam Malone, Second Vice-President, Montgomery, Ala.; Robt. B. Glover, Third Vice-President, Raleigh, N.C.; E. F. Roberts, of Birmingham, is National Treasurer.61
International President R. L. Mays, J. H. Eiland, President of C. of E., met with the delegates and committees, and the International Trainmen and C. of R. E. Trainmen be affiliated permanently, with representation on the executive council. The meeting was in session three days, when all phases of the work inspecting conditions of railroad men and their respective duties were discussed and explained. Many strong addresses were delivered by delegates. The Order of Locomotive Firemen has national reputation and branch organizations in many sections of the country. The membership now numbers several thousand and is rapidly increasing. A delegation from Macon, headed by W. L. Grant, had not led the meeting Wednesday morning but were on their way. President Long and Treasurer E. F. Roberts together with other officers, are pleased with the record made by the organization in constructive work.
The Birmingham Reporter, May 22, 1920.
He attacks vigorously certain publications that attempt to coerce Negro workmen in white unions. Would rather be tool of capital than a tool of certain labor men.
Mr. E. F. Roberts, Secretary-Treasurer of the National Order of Locomotive Firemen, with offices on the third floor of the Pythian Temple, Birmingham, Ala., has addressed a letter to a publication here in Birmingham in which is expressed much sentiment, thoughts, truth and logic. Mr. Roberts tells us that some of the letter was left out. This idea of forming a separate organization to represent the interest of Negro firemen is a sane one and is resulting in great good. The Secretary further explains that the publication endorsed the American Federation of Labor and induced Negro firemen to cooperate, explaining that the “color line” had been wiped out. If the utterance of Mr. Roberts, as shown in his letter, is true, the statement made by the attacking publication is erroneous and cannot be substantiated by the facts. “Color lines” and “race lines” will never be abolished; they are more pronounced in some sections and with some nations than they are with others, but wherever civilization is, color lines and race lines are noticeable. They cannot, on earth, be wiped out. Thousands of years ago even families were distinguished by the different tribes, races were distinguished as they are now by names, race lines are in the early history. These distinctions may not always mean that one race is better than another; it may not be distinction of color, or texture of hair; advantages sometimes make a very grave distinction. This is true with the Negro race today; disadvantages and limitations are more against him than his inability to accept the advantages and merited opportunities.62 That the Negro is less intelligent on the job, is born of an ignorant source, it comes from a baby mind; any concern that employs labor will state without hesitation that the average Negro is more intelligent, more worthy of consideration and advancement than the average white man doing the same job, and if some of these would-be leaders and labor dictators would talk with some of the men who work with their hands, who are largely responsible for the safe return of these locomotives as they leave the various depots, they would have a different vision and a clearer knowledge regarding matters affecting the labor interests in the South. One of the great troubles with at least a few of our publications within the race is that the chief editors of these concerns have no editorial sense and no place to put any. A newspaper without an editor is a dangerous publication, and that is the position in which some of our newspaper men find themselves, the editor’s name appearing on the editorial page has but little to do with the editorial work and this duty is performed by a bunch of fellows, one trying his hand this week and the other trying his next week, thus the muddle that Mr. Roberts is now attempting to straighten out.
Roberts is a man of experience, intelligence and has a substantial character. The work that Mr. Osie Long, as president of the organization, and Secretary E. F. Roberts have done in the past few months, being directed by that matchless organizer of men, R. L. Mays, has wrought wonderfully for the Negroes in this district, and is the first big job that has been done for the Negro since the World War, the next substantial effort was the organizing of the Republican Club of Jefferson County by W. B. Driver. These are outstanding features of the Birmingham district and both have been criticized by a few interlopers and community destructionists. We wish to congratulate Mr. Roberts on his fine sense and duty of his office, and his quick answer to an attack made on the principles and purpose of his movement. Here is the letter.
To the Editor Times Plain Dealer:
There appeared on the forefront of your paper last week in big headlines, “American Federation of Labor wipes out ‘color line;’” An account of which was given by the National Negro News Press Association. In that article the writer attempted to explain the action of the annual convention of the American Federation of Labor held in Montreal, Canada on June 10, in which it is said that the convention passed a resolution recommending that the component organization wipes out color line. Such resolution having been passed does not mean that it has become a law, binding upon the National and International Trade Unions affiliated with the A.F. of L.
The fact remains that this is the third time that false statements of this kind have been published. We may refer to the convention held in St. Paul, Minn., in 1918, and also last year at Atlantic City, N.J. If the resolution had become effective in either of these conventions, why was it necessary to even mention it in the convention held at Montreal?
Why Should Not All Working Men Get Together?
The above is an extract from an editorial, in which the writer endeavors to impress upon the Negro working man that it is to his best interest to join white unions. Thus he says: “We have longed for the day to come when the colored workingman would have the foresight to see that he must for his own benefit join hands with the white workman and cease to be exploited and used as a tool by the capitalist to defeat the effort of his more intelligent and organized ally—white workman.”
The writer may be possessed with a perfect store of knowledge on science and literature, but he is absolutely ignorant of the industrial conditions and the operation of the government of trade unions. He charged the colored workman with being a tool for the capitalist.
I wish to say that it is not the intention of the colored workman to be a tool for anyone. However, we are quite sure that we would be better off if we were tools for capitalists than tools for the white workmen. Furthermore, the writer of the editorial asserts that the white workmen are more intelligent than colored. This he does not know and cannot prove.
Many White Trade Unions Do Not Admit Negro Membership
As to this matter, we may say with exception of the Maintenance of Way Organization, which give to the Negro workmen an allied membership, not only of the other fourteen (14) National and International Unions of the A.F. of L. accept colored workmen’s membership.
It has been suggested by some of our professional men that we accept charters of the A.F. of L. and be organized into separate locals, but should we consider that the color line was abolished under such terms? What about representation in the district and grand lodges? The fact remains that the Maintenance of Way Organization is the only one of the trade unions of the Railroad Department of the A.F. of L. that admits Negro membership. It sets a precedent in its constitution which provides that “allied (Negro workmen) lodges shall have representation in the grand lodge only through the general chairman of the system in which he is engaged.” The general chairman is white, therefore this legislation debars colored representation from the grand lodge.
It is quite reasonable to suppose that if they legislate laws to keep you out of their grand lodges they will not enact laws in favor of us in the grand lodge. Whatever may be the opinion of the professional man, we know what is best for us.
The doctor may know how to examine his patients’ diagnosis and treat it successfully. The lawyer may know how to grant legal information and also defend his client. The minister may understand how to deliver the divine message and lead his membership, but their knowledge will fail them when they attempt to apply it to a trade unionism.
This fact was demonstrated through the columns of the last issue of The Times Plain Dealer as it was through other Negro publications when they declared that the A.F. of L. had wiped out the color line.
E. F. ROBERTS
The Birmingham Reporter, July 10, 1920.
Negro Deceivers Are Being Checked by Real Negro Citizens and Patriots Special Call Meeting is Being Held
When President Mays Explains the Work of the Organization; Long and Roberts, Two Other Officers, Make Addresses
Leaders among railroad men of the Negro race have on constructive plans for the advancement of the craft throughout the district and the Order has now a national reputation and is recognized by the United States Government in the Federation of Labor as directed by the Government.
In the last few days many important conferences of Negro railroad men have been staged in this community to formulate and launch a campaign of a protective nature against what is considered misleading statements of the paid organizers of the Negro race who have been placed in this territory especially ordered to disseminate a half truth and doctored statements relative to the aim and intention of the organized white union of railway workmen, as a result of the action taken by the recent Montreal convention of the A.F. of L., and whispered intentions of at least one of the members of the four big brotherhoods. It is generally known at Montgomery, Atlanta, Chattanooga and other points at the convention of Negro men in railway service and in and about the shop and sheds, these men have appeared and have preached as truth what is in fact a minority impression of the few liberal-minded men in the great but as yet discriminatory Federation, and so far as the railway department of the same is concerned.
It is further reported that at points where these men have met Negro men acquainted with the facts as a result of the conditions actually existing and where the policy of discrimination is so strong that the white railway unions are seeking to displace Negro men from jobs they have held for many years and to prevent the future employment of others to new jobs, these paid organizers are meeting with no success.
They are reported to be carrying about with them abbreviated copies of the Constitutions of various white railway unions showing the absence of the famous “color clause.” They are further reported to be conveniently leaving behind them the full copies of the constitutions which contain the elegibility to membership clause showing definitely that at the present time that the membership is limited to “adult males, white.”
Those who have had personal contact with these men assert that the men are either dupes and ignorant of the things they are telling Negro men or that they are baseless knaves bent on deceiving their people for the sake of the money paid them as organizers.
President R. L. Mays is On the Scene
A counter campaign of enlightenment has been vigorously conducted by a personal visitation to the South on the part of the International President of the Railway Men’s International Association, R. L. Mays.
Mr. Mays is continuing a straight-forward campaign of organization among Negro men which is designed to secure absolute industrial equality for Negro men in railway service and similar treatment from the employing companies. This simple policy for full and fair consideration has been so cleverly conducted that at no time has organized labor—white—been able to point to Negro men as scabs. And because the doctrine of greater personal and mass efficiency, productivity and dependability is continually held up to Negro men as the target to shoot at the companies have been unable to find fault with this great Race organization and have in fact given the representatives of the men of this association every fair and reasonable consideration.
Some Facts Made Plain
A significant fact to report is that in the month of May past the application of the Colored Association of Railway Employees, consisting of colored brakemen, switchmen and trainmen which was placed before the A.F. of L. by John Henry Eiland, the Grand President, was returned to Mr. Eiland by Secretary Frank Morrison of the American Federation of Labor with a note stating that because to grant such a charter to the colored men would be an infringement on the “jurisdiction” of existing unions the application had to be refused.
Yet some paid colored organizers are saying that the doors of the brotherhood are open to black men.
A large number of firemen, their wives and prominent citizens met President R. L. Mays Sunday evening and listened to a forceful address on the work of the organization. Mr. Mays exposed in very plain language the work of race parasites. He told of the accomplishments of the national order of locomotive firemen.
The Birmingham Reporter, July 17, 1920.
By Associated Negro Press
Chicago, Oct. 7.—The Railway Men’s International Benevolent Association is holding its 7th annual session here. Delegates representing railroad workers of every section of the country are in attendance. The following officers were elected for the ensuing year: Robert L. Mays, of Chicago, succeeds himself as President; M. P. Webster, 1st Vice-President; C. G. Bernard, of Boston, 2nd Vice-President; E. F. Roberts, Birmingham, 3rd Vice-President; A. F. Peters, A. E. Storum, of Philadelphia, and A. E. Phillips, of Chattanooga, Tenn., 4th, 5th, and 6th Vice-Presidents; W. C. Wright, Financial Secretary; M. O. Bousfield, Corresponding Secretary, and J. W. Monroe, Treasurer.
Among the speakers were Attorney E. A. T. Watkins, Frank Gillespie and Roscoe C. Simmons. This organization is one of the most flourishing in the country. Besides the general sessions of the convention which were crowded with constructive work, plenty of social entertainment was provided for the visitors, closing with a mammoth ball at the Eighth Regiment Armory. President Robert L. Mays is one of the most progressive organizers of the country. He is a young man who has literally “come up from the bottom,” and he has produced an organization of railroad men which is a credit to the entire group. The National Headquarters of the organization is in Chicago, where they own a splendid piece of property, 3441 Wabash Avenue, having paid cash for it.63
The Birmingham Reporter, October 9, 1920.
By Associated Negro Press
Chicago, Ill., Oct. 28—The attitude which colored trainmen would take in the event of the threatened strike has been a matter of public interest. The following order has been dispatched to the members of the Railroad Men’s International, the largest union effort among colored railroad men by President Mays. “All members of all crafts of this organization, having taken no strike ballot, will not officially participate in any strike or walkout of railroad employes.”
“Former instructions will be followed. You will remain at work as long as conditions will permit you, and your own safety or the safety of the public is not endangered or by so staying you will not contribute to any lawlwssness in the communities in which you live and work.”
“Should a strike be called on the road for which you work by the craft of which you are a member and a shut down seems eminent as a result, you will report to your immediate superior official that you are ready for work when conditions make the same possible and ask for a leave of absence to begin the day of the shutdown and to end the day the dispute has been settled to the satisfaction of all parties concerned, and with the assurance of public peace. Local chairmen or local presidents will call joint meetings of all the men of all crafts of this organization in their respective communities. They will elect a steering committee of three, whose duty it will be to keep in touch with the company officials and with the local chairmen of the striking workers in order to ascertain the exact hour of settlement and to be in position to advise the men when to return to work because of the adjustment of the dispute and the automatic termination of the leave of absence.”
“Our men will remain away from railway properties during their leave of absence and will report twice a day at their meeting places to receive instructions from the chairman of the steering committee. These meetings should be at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily.”
“In the meantime, all members are urged to prepare to support the organization to make a stiff fight in supporting all other organizations against a further reduction in railway workers’ wages until and unless railroad freight rates have first been reduced in proportion to the wage reduction order of July 1, 1921.”
“Further instructions by confidential letter now in the hands of all local secretaries. Local meetings called for Monday, October 24th, to receive further instructions.”
The Birmingham Reporter, October 29, 1921.
The International Benevolent Association, held here last week, under the direction of Railroad men, directed by Mr. Robert L. Mays of Chicago, the International President, was a success from every viewpoint. Railroad firemen from nearly every section of the South were present and discussed fully the situation as it confronts the colored man in the industrial fields of America. Osie Long of Birmingham was made President of the Association, and E. F. Roberts was made Treasurer. The conference lasted here three days and nearly one hundred men were in attendance. All branches of organized and unorganized labor respecting railroad men were called into this meeting and their respective conditions were discussed and explained. The name of the organization perfected at this conference is The National Standard Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. Pres. Mays states the purpose of the organization is to promote efficiency among colored men and keep them intact for continuous and helpful service both for themselves and for the Companies.
The organization now represents some twenty-three thousand members throughout the country, and Birmingham will be designated as the Southern section for the National Head with Osie Long as President. E. F. Roberts, a well-known Fireman on the Frisco Railroad, left the conference for Springfield, Mo., where he met the officials of the Frisco Company in interest of the colored firemen on that railroad, and he returns with favorable and satisfactory reports coming from that body, and they have agreed to meet a conference of the colored firemen in Birmingham at a very early date.
The organization has a national reputation now and its branches are in nearly every section where colored railroad men are employed. The officers elected at this conference are as follows: Osie Long, National President, Birmingham, Ala.; W. H. Penny, first vice-president, Rocky Mount, N.C.; Sam Malone, second vice-president, Montgomery, Ala.; Robt. B. Glover, third vice-president, Raleigh, N.C.; E. F. Roberts, National Treasurer, Birmingham, Ala.; E. M. Johnson, Vicksburg, Miss.; Y. and M. V. Railroad; J.S. Washington, Shreveport, La.; V. S. and P. Railroad; W. J. Simmons, Augusta, Ga.; C. and W. C. and Ga. Railroad; Ernest Cobb, Henry Hardy, Fitzgerald, Ga.; A. B. and A. Railroad; John Vailis, G. M. and N. O. Railroad; G. W. Duncan, Savannah,
Thomas C. Jefferson, Savannah, Ga., was appointed International Deputy Grand Organizer.
The Birmingham Reporter, January 10, 1920.
By Associated Negro Press
Brookhaven, Miss., Nov. 27.—Four well-behaved Colored workmen of the Illinois Central Railroad were accosted by a masked white man near the Merchants Grocery Company and warned that they had only three days more to work, with the result that they did not return to their employment the next day. The four had been in the railroad’s employ from five to twenty-one years respectively.
The Birmingham Reporter, December 3, 1921.
By William N. Doak64
United States Secretary of Labor and Member of the President’s Cabinet
Content removed at rightsholder’s request.
The Crisis, 30 (July, 1931): 225.
By Floyd C. Covington
Whether clothes makes or unmakes the man is not altogether the mooted question. Fashion Park satellites would, however, insist that clothes form a very large part of the making.
It is a wide graph, fashionably speaking, from the correct, formal attire of the well-dressed man to that of a dining car waiter in white duck dinner jacket, trimmed in ornamental brass buttons; or the unpretentious white apron, with dangling kite-tail strings, worn by a railway cook. The siginificance is not in the disparity of the comparison—as incongruous as it is—but in the realization that one purports the enhancement of dignity, while the other connotes the mein of servility.
The presence of a swarthy black donned in a waiter’s jacket, purveying esculents to and from in a dining car, is not an uncommon sight. Nor, is the fact that the concoction of good food be more or less dependent upon the jovial, bluffy-faced, ebony cook, enclosed in a diner’s “hell-hole,” a startling discovery. When, however, hundreds of these ubiquitous servers in brass buttoned jackets, and scores of these grease bespattered cooks join hands and consent to tie apron-strings—all in a common cause, nothing short of the miraculous could be the result. Tuxedo-garbed stewards, standing at omnipresent attention to insure the “is-everything-all right . . . ?” atmosphere of Sir and Madam traveler in legion rolling dining salons, could only marvel and look at their strongholds.
For, Africa had come out of the kitchen to discuss common grievances. A new union style was created: black labor had moulded the sentiment of white coats and aprons into a standard garb of cooperation. As someone aphoristically put it: “Bees don’t whine. They hum while working. They cooperate. The result: Honey!” Thus, some two hundred workers buzzing the note of discontent, cooperated that the effect of their combined sting should inject sufficient virus into the veins of a gigantic corporation that it should be forced to rub the spot where it had been bitten.
May 4th, 1926 may well be considered an anniversary of emancipation. On that day, in the city of Los Angeles, at the Bronx hotel in the heart of the black belt the D.C.C. & W. Union (Dining Car Cooks and Waiters Union), local 582, was born. Its chances for a normal adolescence were already questioned due to the reason for its inception and the environment in which it was to be nurtured. Parents are, however, very determining factors in the life of any off-spring. An infant labor union was no exception. The Dining Car Cooks and Waiters Union placed its destiny into the hands of a staff of nine officers with Fred G. Thornton, Sr., president, and Clarence R. Johnson, a fiery young chef, as its first secretary.
The principal reasons for the conception of local 582 of the D.C.C. & W. Union as framed in the minds of its organizers, were:
1. To elevate the living standard of Dining Car cooks and waiters.
2. Obtain a working agreement and other conditions which would insure this elevated standard.
3. To equalize existing working conditions and remove the disparity between cooks and waiters, as compared with stewards.
A seething unrest had been brewing for sometime among the cooks and waiters of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company, but had not been made really vocal until the Union assumed the burden for certain grievances. The point of eruption was over the policy that all dining car employees were supposed to be working under a 240 hour per month basis. In the case of stewards this was maintained. But with cooks and waiters, they were required to work 285 hours per month to guarantee 240 hours of pay. From November, 1925 to October 1, 1926 the case of cooks and waiters had been presented before two federal agencies, interspersed with various conferences, in an attempt to get some response from railroad companies. At this period no agreement relative to working conditions existed between company and employees, hence it was not mandatory that said company should abide rigidly by any of its promises. It was not until March 10, 1928 that this agreement was made and signed by representatives of company and employees setting forth rules to govern hours and pay. During this interim—1926-28—the D.C.C. & W. Union had attempted to secure a higher rate of pay for all classes of employees under its jurisdiction. The union’s representatives were successful in gaining a 5-1/2 per cent increase for all classes. This victory was two-fold; it had given the employees the recognition of choosing their own representatives; and it meant an ecomonic consideration of $200,000 per year to be divided among 1500 employees. And it may be said, with no attempt at braggadocio, that the present agreement with the Southern Pacific Company and its employees is considered one of the finest working agreements in operation with workers of this class.
The consolidation of white coats and aprons in the D.C.C. & W. Union did not benefit that group alone, even though that may have been its primary purpose. The Union had gained for its members: employee recognition; an established working agreement; and an increase in pay and other rights. Following in the wake of these benefits came specific gains to the railroad company. What was once a scattered horde of disgruntled workers had now become a more proficient class of employees. A tremendous annual loss (amounting to thousands of dollars) of linen, silver, and dishware resulting from carelessness or a non-interest was decreased as if my magic. What had once been considered the property of a wealthy, heartless corporation had now become the possessions—to be guarded and saved—of a paternal employer. Out of the kitchen and pantry came a higher type of service to company and public due to a more content employee personnel.
To be unionized or not unionized is a question; one fraught with many dangers and superstitions. Some men always choose to undergo hardships which they know rather than change to evils that they know not of. In 1926 the union claimed for its membership eighty men who found in unity—strength. Since that time more than eighty-two per cent of the men working in the capacity of cook or waiter for the Southern Pacific Company have joined the union. Their ranks now number more than one hundred and fifty. The small group of men who are not in the union have basked in the sunshine of its victories. The pioneers who built a shelter for themselves at the same time erected a roof over the heads of those who still questioned the union’s value. Though questioning, they are sheltered from the turbulent winds of the industrial storms which beat about their workhouses built upon sands of indecision.
A single stick may be easily broken, but a bundle requires an altogether different approach. To see a handful of men acquire a clubhouse and secretary’s office and purchase equipment to exceed $5,400 in less than five years is more than fascinating. These denizens of dining coaches (many of them fathers of families) wanted a place to loaf at their idle moments where the atmosphere would be conducive of home surroundings. They did not fail. Few homes are better appointed than this workers’ clubhouse where men may bring mother, wife, or sweetheart and be assured of every courtesy to her. From card table to billiard nook on the second floor to the grand piano and radio on the main—everything seems to reflect the gentle touch of the hand of a woman rather than a rendezvous of varicolored rail-riders. There is not, however, exhibited here the idle gesture of flaunting extravagance. These men have learned too well the value of the dollar. Economy is in their program. It is where expended dollars mean victory that they are turned loose unbegrudgingly. The financial cost of handling their cases involving grievances with the Southern Pacific Company exceeded $14,000. With liberty at stake no price seemed too great.
Nor, are they content to spend and spend alone. June 10, 1930 is the red letter day of their desire to save as well as spend. The second Credit Union organization among Negroes was formed by the D.C.C. & W. Union on that day. This, by the way, is the first credit union among Negro workers in the West. Its membership in June was thirty. At this writing it has exceeded one hundred and twenty. Of this number approximately one-fourth is represented by stewards, chefs, and officials who are white. More than $3,000 has been accumulated with approximately $2,000 out in loans. During this interim of the Credit Union organization surplus funds have been invested in Negro enterprises such as the Liberty Building & Loan Association of Los Angeles.
Supporting this credit union plan is a woman’s auxiliary with fifty members who perform a great deal of social service among the members of the union. These wives of union members have created a commissary from which they take succor to needy applicants.
Like a small boy tearing an alarm clock to pieces to see what makes it go, one is inclined to ferret out the motivating force of this organization.
On any morning between the hours of eleven and two-fifteen, at the D.C.C. & W. Union’s clubhouse located at 1158 East 12th Street, Los Angeles, one may find—after cutting through a deep fog of tobacco smoke, circling heavenward—a man seated behind a desk, partially inundated with papers.
To some 400 cooks and waiters up and down the coast, a host of friends and admirers he is simply, “Clarence,” a big brother and a friend. To a great company with legion officials, small and large, he is “Clarence, the best chef on the Owl;” a man to be feared; a man to be respected. Loved by all his co-workers; feared by those who would be irregular; relentless when fighting in the cause of his constituents is Clarence R. Johnson, chef-secretary of the D.C.C. & W. Union. This man has guided its destiny since its birth. To raise a question for its successes, its accomplishments; its brilliant victories is to find in him the answer. Having worked for a decade as cook—two years as fourth and eight years as chef—for the great Southern Pacific, no man is better qualified to voice the sentiment of his followers or cope with the problem of his employers.
To know him is to believe that Negro labor can find its place in the industrial sun.
Thus, union organization, with no attempt at the fastidious, has set a new style; garbing white coats and aprons into a sturdy fabric of black cooperation.
Opportunity, 9 (July, 1931): 208-10.
By Rienzi B. Lemus
For three continuous, unusually hot days in May, 1920, the ever helpful New York Urban League functioned with great difficulty—but successfully—in surrendering its premises and office staff to two recently organized groups of dining car cooks and waiters seeking amalgamation. With their intense self-consciousness of the necessity of unity, given impetus, encouragement and assistance by the National Urban League, the conferees accomplished their mutual desire and the result is a successful all-Negro protective trades-union—the Brotherhood of Dining Car Employees of ten locals and a Grand Lodge, presently called respectively, “coucils” and “Grand Council.”
From one point of view dining car service is fundamentally the most vitally important department of railroad operation because of its intimate relation to digestion, the “basis of orderly progress.” And the final, successful impress of this fact upon railroad General Management is the major achievement of the Brotherhood of Dining Car Employees. For, hitherto, the dining car was to the General Management, a necessary “white elephant” and, like Topsy “just growed.” This laissez faire attitude imposed upon the great majority of essential employees (cooks and waiters) not only the burden of operation but also the status of hindmost for the devil to catch; which from the devil’s point of view, left nothing to be desired!
Measured not by heights reached but distance traveled, this organization’s achievements give it an important place in American Trades unionism. In three years, acting on the principle that a man best tells his story, without assistance of “labor leader” or attorney, it has lifted its membership and the Craft from nonentity to the recognized status of essential group; maintained the wage rates from 75 to 100 per cent above the pre-war level and achieved the “8-hour-day,” with pay for “overtime” against formidable opposition of management; obtained sanction and respect of the Railroad Labor Board and the active moral support of the elite Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen (biggest of the “Big Four” group); cooperated with the sixteen standard railroad labor unions in securing reappointment of a member of the Labor Board and in furthering the candidacy for Congress of a “Trainmen’s” Vice-President to the extent of sending a Grand Officer to actively engage in the campaign among colored and white voters, and, most important of all, assured to the accused cook or waiter his “day in court” with counsel and witnesses—hitherto impossible.
Agreements governing the pay and working conditions of the cooks and waiters, now in effect on the Boston and Albany, Boston & Maine, New Haven, New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads, East, were made by the Grand Lodge—the representative being the only non-employee admitted to a conference with the management of the Pennsylvania System (excepting the “Big Four”) since the passage of the “Transportation Act, 1920.” And the Agreements with the Seaboard Air Line and Norfolk and Western Railroads were drafted by the Grand Lodge.
The Brotherhood of Dining Car Employees is a democratic organization; control is vested in the locals each electing three delegates to make up the Grand Lodge. Some of the locals pay sick benefits. The Organization is however, primarily and essentially a labor union; and as such, it can with modesty, claim to be successful.
Opportunity, 1 (May, 1923): 21.
Content removed at rightsholder’s request.
Chicago Defender, January 14, 1933.
Negro firemen on the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad, a subsidiary of the Illinois Central, are being systematically eliminated by murder. In the past few years some score have been fired upon by unknown assassins and nine have been killed in cold blood. Each one of the remaining firemen knows that each run may be his last. And yet these men have long and honorable records of service, have wives and children to support, homes to maintain.
Unwilling to sit idly by while they are murdered one by one, these workers, through their union, have hired counsel and detectives to learn the identity of the murderers. So far they have been unsuccessful in a large way, although some whites have been arrested and are to be brought to trial. Informed persons who have followed the course of events, are convinced that the whites who have done the shooting and killing are merely instruments; that behind them there is a sinister force supplying the inspiration and the money. It is generally believed that this force is a white firemen’s union. Many white firemen, all union men, are unemployed, and what more natural than an effort to get for themselves the jobs held by Negroes?
Pittsburgh Courier, February 4, 1933.
By Hilton Butler
The Nation, 137 (July 12, 1933): 44.
The Nation, 137 (September 6, 1933): 273.
By T. Arnold Hill
During recent years considerable new Federal legislation has been enacted to improve the railroads and to promote the welfare of employees working on them. Concurrently with this legislation, the condition of Negroes engaged in train and yard service has grown steadily worse. So rapid has been the replacement of Negro firemen and brakemen that if the unfair policy now in vogue continues, few will be left employed. The courts have refused to abrogate agreements between labor unions and the carriers whereby only union members will be appointed as firemen when vacancies occur. There are records of numerous discharges for trivial offenses or technical infractions of the laws, and regulations which have made the jobs of train porters burdensome and humiliating.
For more than twenty years there have been numerous efforts to check and curtail the employment of Negroes on railroads. The chief proponents of this policy are the four major railroad transportation brotherhoods, whose unions are open to “white men over twenty-one years of age.” This practice of elimination by the brotherhoods reached such an extent that in 1932 white firemen on the Louisiana Division of the Illinois Central Railroad asked for a 5 per cent reduction in the number of Negro firemen. Their demands were acceded to. an additional cut of Negro employees was later requested. This request was not immediately granted and a reign of terror set in. Negro firemen retorted to the threats of violence by saying that they preferred to “take a chance on being shot to starving to death.” They were shot to death, for seven Negro switchmen, brakemen and firemen have been murdered on the job and more than ten others have been wounded.
The Pullman porters have not been without their difficulties. They, too, are losing the club cars, admittedly the best positions for “tips,” to Filipinos. Even though the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters is officially connected with the American Federation of Labor, the porters have struggled in vain for union recognition, for a 240-hour work month and a living wage. In this they have been fought by the company and the company’s union. They have lacked the encouragement of the railroads and their alliance with the American Federation of Labor has been of little or no practical advantage. Unlike all other union train employees, the Pullman porters labor without formal union agreement between themselves and their employers.
These are but a sample of a long list of persecutions Negro railroad men have been forced to suffer. Such discriminatory methods have robbed colored workmen of one of the most lucrative occupations open to them in the South. Figures for Alabama show that there were 1,962 firemen in 1920, and only 661 in 1930. There were 590 brakemen in 1920, and only 348 in 1930. Georgia had 1,204 Negro firemen in 1920 and 878 in 1930. Throughout the South there have been losses of this character among the switchmen, brakemen and firemen.
But the various laws, commissions and boards established to improve the property and personnel relationships of the railroads have somehow managed to steer clear of responsibility in conncection with Negro workers. It is for this reason that there was held recently in Chicago a conference of representatives of various organizations of Negro train and yard employees. At this conference the dining car employees, freight handlers, firemen, engineers, and yard workers were represented. From all sections of the country delegates came from unions with members of from 150 to 1,000 each. The meeting adjourned after adopting a resolution urging delegates to secure the approval of their organizations on behalf of a plan to hold a conference in Washington, D.C., for the purpose of forming a national organization of Negro railroad employees.
Significant in the proceedings were reports of delegates who told of the results in local areas that had followed protests from their union groups. “Thus,” said one of them, “we did something locally that you gentlemen are here today trying to do nationally. We withdrew from the company organization and set up an independent Negro local. Out of 151 votes of all of the employees of color . . . we carried 136.” This procedure will furnish railroad men the opportunity of welding into a single federation the various units or organized train men scattered through the country. Those who are advantaged by reason of successful local union organization may thus combine their experience and technique for the relief of those not so well protected and at the same time strengthen their own position.
Anything short of such an organization is to invite further losses, and ultimate elimination. There is no reason to hope that the dominant labor groups in the transportation service will rescind without coercion the historic practice of refusing membership to Negroes. There is no hope that railroad officials or governmental officials will listen to anything but a consolidated appeal. There is no other way to command public respect or make effective protest. And even if there were some other vehicle, there is no logic in remaining unorganized and, in fact, disorganized when the modern procedure for getting benefits for workers is through the instrumentality of organized effort.
Opportunity, 12 (November, 1934): 346,350.