By Langston Hughes124
White workers of the South:
I am the black worker.
That the land might be ours,
And the mines and the factories and the office towers
At Harlan, Richmond, Gastonia, Atlanta, New Orleans,
That the plants, and the roads and the tools of power
For me, no more the great migration to the North.
Instead: Migration into force and power—
Tuskegee with a red flag on the tower!
On every lynching tree, a poster crying FREE
Because, O poor white workers,
You have linked your hands with me.
We did not know that we were brothers.
Now we know!
Out of that brotherhood
Let power grow!
We did not know
That we were strong
Now we see
In union lies our strength.
Let union be
The force that breaks the time-clock,
Takes office towers,
Takes tools and banks and mines,
Railroads, ships and dams,
Until the forces of the world
Here is my hand.
We’re man to man.
Let us forget what Booker T. said,
“Separate as the fingers,
He knew he lied.
Let us become instead, you and I,
One single hand
That can united rise
To smash the old dead dogmas of the past—
To kill the lies of color
That keep the rich enthroned
And drive us to the time-clock and the plow.
Helpless, stupid, scattered and alone—and now—
Race against race
Because one is black
Another white of face.
Let us new lessons learn,
New life-ways make,
One union form:
Until the future burns out
Every past mistake.
Let us get together, say:
“You are my brother, black or white.
You are my sister—now—today,”
Southern Worker, February 10, 1934.
CENTRAL TRADES AND LABOR UNION
St. Louis, Mo. March, 1920
We wish to call your attention to the fact that the American Hotel and American Annex Hotel locked out their white Union Waiters in 1913 and replaced them with negro strike breakers. They also employ underpaid non-union Musicians, Cooks and Barbers. In 1915 they discharged their negro waiters who had the courage to join a union affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Efforts have been made by the Organized Labor Movement from time to time to try and adjust these differences.
The management of these hotels absolutely refuses to deal with the representatives of the different unions. They continue to employ underpaid negro waiters and parties and banquets are being served by underpaid negro women. You can guess what kind of service this means. In fact, it is unjust to the City of St. Louis to try and make visitors and others believe that the American and American Annex Hotels are up to the standard of our other hotels.
Therefore, we beg of you to investigate these statements and judge for yourself. We also request your organization or association to refrain from giving parties, banquets or in any way patronizing these unfair hotels until such time as they agree to be fair and just to organized labor and give the public the class of service they are paying for.
Pass this word to your friends. Place this notice in a conspicuous place where it can be read and publish it in your Magazine or Journal. Give it the utmost publicity from coast to coast and help us to make these unfair hotels comply with the request of Organized Labor.
Thanking you for past favors, we remain,
WAITERS’ UNION, LOCAL #20.
COOKS’ UNION, LOCAL #203.
COLORED WAITERS’ ALLIANCE, LOCAL #353.
BARBERS’ LOCAL #102.
MUSICIANS’ LOCAL #2, A.F. of M.
SOFT DRINK DISPENSERS’ LOCAL #51.
Endorsed by the Central Trades and Labor Union of St. Louis.
International Fur Workers’ Union Archives.
If we are charged with more than any one position, it is the optimistic spirit that characterizes the life of this publication and its editor, as well as the entire official family. We are not alarmists, nor are we of the pessimistic kind.
We have had in Alabama, and for that matter throughout the country, four years of plenty, the most lucrative years in all the history of our state and nation; men have made thousands and thousands of dollars; many poor laboring men have become good livers, secured comfortable homes and have a reasonable community, commercial rating. Some of our successful men have become known to the entire country because of the progress they have made in achievements. The signs now indicate a change. Many sections of the North are closing down their factories and material necessities are growing cheaper as time goes on. One of the chief products of the laboring man, cotton, has reduced in price so as to alarm the entire country; other things are gradually coming down. Labor is going to fall, not in proportion, but at a greater percentage than these necessities are reducing. The time is now for every man who is earning a dollar to exercise extreme carefulness, settle off your mortgage debt, clear up every liability, place the money that is left in the bank, put in every hour you possibly can and every day that you are permitted to work. Wages are coming down! Men will not pay more for labor than they can get for the thing that labor produces. It might be three, six, or eight months before we are affected by this necessary change; the time to protect one’s self is when the opportunity is offered. The opportunity is here today, and we appeal to every man, woman and child, who must work, and all of us should do some work, to save the money, quit putting it into flashy things, buy the necessities of life, and be prepared for the rainy day. It is as sure to come as night follows day.
There are a number of men in the district and throughout the state who have been persuaded off their jobs, told to quit work for the mere recognition of a Union. The colored man has no time for such rot as this, his backer is his muscle, his brain. His success depends largely on how much common sense he will exercise to hold the job and make the money, not how much he will be recognized in a union, but how well he can please the men he is working for and how much he can get for the work done. Anything else is against him and takes away that which he seems to have, and that is an opportunity to work, be happy on the job, take care of his family, educate his children, be independent in his own circle and with his own group.
Birmingham Reporter, October 9, 1920.
From an account in the morning paper, we gather that hundreds of Negro workers stampeded from the Welfare Department, and the Employment office when they were offered work.
It was not stated why they left, but the fact that these men were offered the magnificent wage of $1.25 per day for ten or more hours is the real reason for the refusal of these men to go to work.
A dollar and a quarter per day in these days! Why, it would not feed a healthy man, let alone his family; it would not pay the rent man, the furniture man, or any other creditor.
This action shows just what is being done by those who desire to employ labor; they have starved, forced to privation, and done all that could be done to cow men and workers into abject submission to the dictates of an intolerant employing autocracy, and now these people think that perhaps labor is hungry enough to go to work for a miserable pittance, less than enough to keep body and soul together, and the newspapers roast them because they refuse to accept such wages.
The public should be kept informed about these matters, so that it can judge impartially.
A dollar and a quarter a day! We don’t blame any person for refusing such wages.
Birmingham Labor Advocate, July 2, 1921.
The history of the Negro laborer and the Trade Union Movement is but another aspect of his struggle for status in the industries of Baltimore. Essentially he is a buffer between the employers and the unions. This is an unfortunate position, for there is no security in either stronghold. His relation to his job takes on the nature of a vicious circle. In the unionized crafts he may not work unless he belongs to a union, and the most frequent, specious argument advanced by the unions is that he cannot become a member unless he is already employed. The result is frequently that he neither gets a job nor joins a union. The labor union movement, although recognizing the necessity for removing the menace of strikebreakers though unionization with most astonishing inconsistency (a few instances excepted) deliberately opposes the organization of Negroes as a menace to the trade.
On the other hand, employers recognize in Negroes the most powerful weapon of opposition to the excessive demands of the unions. The impending shadow of Negroes as strike-breakers has staved off many strikes and lost for the strikers many others. As a further complication of an already bad situation, the most common procedure of the employers is to dismiss their Negro workers as soon as their purposes have been served. Bitterness of feeling between the white and Negro workers as a result of these tactics is inevitable.
The situation at present is one that admits little light. Employers may with generous grace pass the responsibility for exclusion to the unions, while the unions with equal grace pass it back to employers. However, it is a fact that in the “open” shops there is an almost complete exclusion of Negroes from the skilled positions and many of the semi-skilled ones for which the unions are in no sense responsible; and in practically all of the independent crafts, such as carpentry, brick masonry, plumbing and steam-fitting, there is an almost total exclusion for which the employers are not responsible. For in the former case union organizations are not tolerated, and in the latter employers willing to use Negroes have been definitely prohitibed by the unions.
The Baltimore Federation of Labor lists 114 locals in the city affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. This list divides itself into three parts: (a) those crafts in which Negroes are not employed; (b) those crafts in which Negroes are employed but are not admitted into the unions, and (c) those lines of work in which Negroes are employed and are permitted to organize separate locals.
Fifty-four unions fall into this first group. The second is made up largely of independent crafts unions—carpentry, brick masonry, plumbing and steam-fitting, painting and decorating, paper-hanging and mechanics—all of which exclude Negroes from membership.
In the third group are locals in which Negroes have membership but are organized without exception in separate locals. They are as follows:
These are affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.
There are other independent labor organizations as follows:
The Consolidated Hod Carriers No. 1;
The International Building Laborers Protective Association No. 3;
The National Hod Carriers and Common Laborers No. 124;
The Railway Men’s Benevolent and Protective Association.
The independent labor organizations, although figures on membership were not available, have a combined membership estimated at 1900. This totals about 3880.
The range of wages for Negroes at the time of the survey during March, April and May of 1922, averaged $14.50 per week for fifty-eight hours in the fertilizer works. Overtime, however, was permitted, and as much as $17.50 per week can be earned in this manner. A much higher range of pay is obtained in the metal trades. Although this rate varied widely between plants, the most common rate for unskilled work was twenty-five cents an hour; thirty-four cents an hour for semi-skilled, and from fifty to sixty-five cents an hour for skilled work. Although there was observed no important instances of discriminatory rates for whites and Negroes working on the same jobs and performing the same processes, it rarely occurs that the two races are mixed, and over 75% of all the Negroes working were confined to the branches of work yielding the lowest pay.
Despite the comparatively low range of income, the Negro population pays relatively the highest rents of any group in the city. Over 100% more Negro women are forced to work away from home than native white of mixed parentage or foreign born whites.
The experiences of employers of Negro labor indicate that in a majority of instances, satisfactory results have been obtained. There is, however, a disposition to avoid breaking with the tradition of using Negroes only for certain grades of work. The Negro propulation on the other hand, while chaffing under these restrictions, is immersed in the community’s policy of conservatism and their protests weak and scattered, as a result, have little effect.
Opportunity, 1 (June, 1923): 19.
By Chandler Owen
Two decades ago it was Booker T. Washington who said: “In the South the Negro can make a dollar but can’t spend it, while in the North the Negro can spend a dollar but can’t make one.” Here Mr. Washington was referring to the comparative ease with which Negro bricklayers, plasterers, painters, moulders, carpenters, and Negro mechanics in general, could get work in the South at their respective trades, but were so proscribed in their privileges of entering such places of public accommodation and amusement as theatres, restaurants, pullman cars, and the like as to amount almost to a denial of spending their money. At the same time he noticed that whereas the Negro might freely (?) spend his money in most of such places in the North, still there the labor unions had so completely shut out of the trades all but “white-black men” who could “pass”—to all intents and purposes the Negro could not make a dollar.
In all parts of the United States the Negroes are generally opposed to labor unions. They favor the open shop. It is not facetious to state that many Negroes understand the term “closed shop” to mean “closed to Negroes.” Though such is not its etymological history, in substance the closed shop has meant just about that. It still means that in a large area of labor circles. This is true of the railroad brotherhoods and the machinists, who with brutal frankness have embodied in their constitutions Negro exclusion clauses. Many other unions lacking the written boldness to “write out” their black, nevertheless “read him out” religiously in practice. The machinists put into their constitution: “Each member agrees to introduce into this union no one but a sober, industrious white man.” Part of this rule is not lived up to judging from the alcoholic breath which we have sometimes smelt at machinists’ meetings. Still it was white breath!
White Men’s Jobs
Among the various methods employed for keeping out Negro workers many unions have combined with their employers in proclaiming certain lines of labor as “a white man’s job.” For instance, conductor is a white man’s job. There is no question of efficiency involved here since all it requires to be a conductor is the physical power to clip and take up a ticket and a good memory. And every traveler will attest these are exceptional possession of the pullman porter. He can and often does collect tickets from the passengers, while his memory is so excellent he can quickly take in and bear in mind over several days each passenger and the baggage which goes with him.
Motorman—street car, elevated and subway—is a white man’s job. (Detroit is probably the only city in America which employs Negroes.) Yet Negroes make splendid chauffeurs. We submit, too, ‘tis much more difficult to run an automobile through a crowded city like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, where guiding and steering are demanded, than it is to run a street car, subway or elevated train chiefly down a straight track.
Next, railroad engineer is considered a white man’s job. We cannot resist the temptation to tell an incident which happened about two years ago when the railroad brotherhoods were conferring at Chicago relative to calling a strike. Southerners, of course, were present. At one time when the strike call seemed imminent, Southern delegates from Georgia and Texas, mind you, rose and opposed it. Said these gentlemen: “We cannot afford to strike, because my fireman is a Negro who can run the train as well as I can. In fact he does run the train most of the time. So if we strike the bosses will put the Negroes in our places.” It needs no comment that if the Negro can run the train, and does run it most of the time, he ought to get both the pay and the name or credit for being engineer. At the present time Negroes get everything but the pay and the public credit.
Moreover, telephone operator is a “white woman’s job.” Telephone companies nowhere employ Negro operators in the exchanges. We discover no justifiable reason—certainly no efficiency excuse. Colored girls in New York frequently operate switchboards for apartment houses which hold a population bigger than many American towns!
Again, even the telegraph companies attempt to make the messenger boy service a “no-Negro” service, notwithstanding the fact that colored boys can run across a city delivering messages as rapidly and as efficiently as white boys.
At the outset I stated white employers and white unions combined in propagating the psychology of certain jobs as “white men’s jobs.” An illustration of this came to us a few years ago in the building trades. A Negro electrician went to an employer for a job. The employer informed him: “We employ only union labor. If you get a union card we shall be glad to give you a job.” When the young colored electrician made application to the electricians’ union for membership, the union officials informed him: “We take in only persons who are working on the job. If you get on the job, we will grant you a union card.” Whereupon the Negro could get neither into the union nor on the job, because each party—employer and union—set up a condition which could only be met by the other.
Negroes Lost Confidence in White Unions
It is obvious the Negroes could not secure or retain confidence in white unions so long as everything—from pretext, ruse and evasion to brutal frankness—excluded them from the labor unions. Naturally and properly the man of color decided: “What care I how fair she be, if she be not fair to me?” It is better to have low wages than no wages! The Negro quite sanely prefers a lower standard of living, as a result of the closed shop!
Flirting With the Employers
Self-preservation is an instinct. All sentient organisms act upon this basic principle. The employers, understanding the psychology, have appealed to the Negro worker on the ground that white unions were the Negro’s enemies. Proof was never lacking; on the contrary, the evidence was abundant. For the paucity of instances of trade union fairness to Negroes presented by union advocates the bosses could marshal a plethora of hostile instances. Most Negroes could fall back on their own experiences. Nor was it difficult to make a test case in any city any day. (It is not difficult even now!) Consequently Negro workers were and are ever ready to take the places of union strikers. They are coddled by the employers and repulsed by the unions. White employers are and a large extent have been, the Negro workers’ patrons, while the white workers have been chiefly their competitors. Patrons aid while competitors fight. One is your friend, the other your enemy. Everybody likes to get in a blow at his enemy, revenge being sweet. Add to this sweet revenge the sweetness of economic income and the blow is sweeter! The labor unions of America have frequently felt this blow. Negroes have participated as strike breakers in most great American strikes. They have been a thorn in the strikers’ side in such big strikes as the steel, the miners’, packing, longshoremen’s, waiters’, railroad shopmen’s and other strikes.
Employers Put Negroes in Unions
In business there is first competition, then combination. From 1873 to 1898 was the period of large scale business in the United States. The period was noted for railroad rate cutting, clashes between the Standard Oil and other independent oil companies, steel, automobile, tobacco and banking “cut-throat competition.” Then came pooling, monopolies, trusts, syndicates—“combinations in restraint of trade.” Competition was said to be the “life of business.” It was really the death of more. Each business tried to destroy its competitor until the process grew so wasteful and destructive that those businesses which did survive decided that cooperation—combination, peace—was better than competition, opposition, warfare. Businesses then combined—business which had done all they could to kill each other.
The world of labor is little different from the world of business. White labor has constantly fought to keep Negroes out of the industries—not especially because of a dislike for Negroes but because to limit the supply of labor would increase the demand for white workers, raise their wages, shorten their hours, and extend their tenure of employment. The unions even try to limit white apprentices, also white women. But one day along would come a strike. White men walk out. They want more wages, shorter hours—some demand the employers are unwilling to grant. The white bosses send out an S.O.S. for Negro workers. The Negroes reply as it were: “We are coming, Father Abraham, hundreds of thousands strong!” White employers take on the Negroes, not because they (the white employers) particularly like the Negroes, but because they like black labor cheap better than white labor dear!”
Then is it that white workers learn the lesson of the bosses’ disregard for white supremacy. They (the white workers) see the Negroes in the industries. The white unionists cannot get them out. “How can the Negro workers be made to help us?” the white workers ask. “Lo and behold! the thing to do is to take them into our unions where we can at least get dues from them which will pay white officials’ salaries in good jobs and help the union generally.” And just as business is combining with its competitor does not do so because it like the competitor any better (but because it could not kill its competitor), so the union white men in admitting Negroes do not do so because the white men like the Negro workers better, but because they could not keep the Negroes out of the industry—that is, they could not destroy their colored laboring competitors.
Herein we are called upon to state a truth which we have nowhere seen expressed in the radical and labor literature: “The white employers and capitalists have placed the Negro workers both into the industries, and consequently into the unions, while the white trade unions have kept the Negroes out of both the unions and the industries, so long as they could!” This question must be faced by labor leaders and organized white labor. The Negro worker may not be able to state the philosophy and the theories underlying the situation, but he is well aware of the facts. We have just returned from a long trip to the Pacific coast, during which time we passed through Topeka. Here the Santa Fe Railroad put in Negro shopmen, machinists, etc., during the shopmen’s strike. The employers are keeping the Negroes in the shops despite labor union opposition. The unions are in a terrible dilemma. They cannot call upon the Negroes to join the unions because the unions exclude Negroes as members. The employers would no doubt discharge the Negroes if they did join the union. What inducement can the unions offer as presently constituted? And if the Negro workers are not right, wherein are they wrong?
Machinery and Labor Movement
There are two forces which capital is adopting today. Sometimes it moves the machinery or capital to the labor and raw materials. This is what generally happens as the result of imperialism in undeveloped countries like the West Indies, Mexico, parts of South America, Central America, Haiti and Nicaragua. Capital sends machinery right where the labor supply is overwhelming and the raw materials abundant.
The other method is to attract labor to the machinery, the raw materials and industry. That is what is going on in the case of the present large Negro migration. Negro labor, attracted from the South to the North by higher wages, is coming to the steel districts of Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Ohio, and Duluth, Minnesota; to the automobile center of Detroit; the packing districts of St. Louis, Chicago, Kansas City and Omaha; as longshoremen to the ports like New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Boston, and to the great industrial centers of the East and central West.
What Will the Unions Do?
The Negro workers at last are here. They are in many industries now; they will be in more shortly; eventually they will be in all. What will the unions do—take the Negroes in or permit them sullenly and inevitably to build up a veritable “scab union” ever ready, willing and anxious to take the places of the white workers?
We are face to face with a serious problem—the two chief problems of America—the Negro and organized labor. Most men, white and black, are working men. They are struggling for food, clothing, fuel and shelter; which means they are struggling for the means of life—the things upon which life depends. They do not fight because they hate each other, but they hate each other because they are constantly fighting each other. In the struggle to live each man usually decides his life is more important to him than anybody else’s. And where there is not enough work to go around, there will be a fight to secure the limited goods. It is a widely accepted opinion that there is some special, instinctive race hatred, peculiarly high between Negroes and Irish and Negroes and Southern whites. The explanation is to be found in labor competition. The labor being skilled, Negroes did not clash with the Jews who were in the men’s and women’s clothing, cap making, fur and jewelry industry. They did not compete with the German in watch making, coat making, machinist and engineering. Negroes did, however, engage in subway digging, longshoring, street cleaning, hauling and elevator running—the unskilled lines of work largely done by the Irish, also, and by unskilled white Southerners—unskilled chiefly because of the low degree of education given in Dixie.
Today we have Hampton Institute and Tuskegee both of which are representative of about 200 institutions in the United States where Negroes are trained to be skilled mechanics in all lines, and also taught scientific agriculture. The white capitalists have well endowed the two above named institutions. Seldom does a rich person die in the United States without leaving a goodly sum to one or both. There was, there is, vision in these gifts. The white capitalists are training Negro mechanics to hold in check the whites in the skilled lines, just as the unskilled Negro has done tremendous work in breaking strikes, and often so threatening that white men dared not call strikes.
We have far-reaching contacts with white organized labor. We have spoken before their central bodies from New York to Seattle and Los Angeles. Many unions are open to Negroes—some freely. The needle trades seldom show race lines in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, the Fur Workers, Cap Makers, Amalgamated Clothing Workers. We find in some sections Negroes in the bricklayers’, plasterers’, carpenters’, and painters’ unions. We shall not be satisfied, however, till Negroes are in all.
There is an objection, a criticism and complaint which all the unions—radical, progressive and conservative must share alike—the absence of Negroes in administrative capacities. The labor unions of America collect millions of dollars in dues and pay millions of dollars in salaries. So far as we know, however (and we have investigated it thoroughly inquiring from Mr. Gompers and other labor leaders) there is no full time decently paid Negro organizer or official in the American labor movement! The labor unions very nearly approximate the South in taxation of Negroes without representation—for that is all that dues paying without holding administrative positions means. This is not creditable or defensible by the American labor unions. Negro girls in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers (overwhelmingly Socialistic and radical), the Negro men in the United Mine Workers, the steel, packing, longshoremen’s, plasterers’ and bricklayers’, and the building trades unions in general, are too large in number, too variegated in ability and pay too much money in dues not to have representation among the officers, organizers, and business agents.
It yet remains for organized labor to show it is in practice fairer and more enlightened on the race question than organized capital!
The Messenger, 5 (September, 1923): 810-11, 819.
Merits and Demerits
By William D. Jones
Secretary, Philadelphia Longshoremen’s Union
At this period and time when the world is in a condition of dissatisfaction and the cost of living is high, it is absolutely necessary that all workers, regardless of color, should join together in one solid union, in order that they may obtain better living and working conditions, and better support their families.
The Negro is a large factor in American industry. But the trade unions have been shortsighted in not admitting the Negro to membership, and by so doing have forced themselves into the conditions that exist at the present time—into the hands of the employers, who are forcing the open shop, and when necessary, using the Negro for that purpose.
The reason why the Negro has not been admitted to membership in the trade unions is on account of that distinguished slogan: Americanism. It is translated into what is better known as American race prejudice.
The merits of the mixed union are: that it eliminates the feeling of prejudice among the workers and establishes a congenial and most cordial feeling; it teaches each one that all have each other’s interests in common; that they can maintain for themselves the best wages and working conditions only so long as they do not allow themselves to be divided. This equality has nothing to do with private social intercourse as has been stated by the employers to keep the wonders divided. There is nothing to hinder an individual from selecting his or her social group or personal associates. The sooner the workers learn that they are workers, and that all workers are the same in the employers’ eyes, the better off they will be. The sooner they learn this, the sooner will they attain a higher plane of living for themselves and families. There is no way to accomplish such an end as long as the workers are divided on national and racial lines.
It is an undeniable fact that the employers will use one race or one group of workers to defeat the other group. Whenever the employers are successful in destroying the benefits achieved by the most advanced group by using the other group, they also destroy the chances of both groups for advancement. In so doing they succeed in lowering the standard of the workers to a level of poverty.
As long as the workers allow themselves to be used, one group against the other—preventing each other from maintaining a high standard of living—they will not be successful in accomplishing those high ideals and better things for which the human race craves. Not until all the workers are united into one union—and that union will see that each worker’s rights are protected regardless of race or nationality—will the working class advance to that higher standard of living.
Mixed unions are the only kind for the workers in this country. They will frustrate the attempt of the employers to use one race against the other. The workers become more interested in each other, and in so doing establish the very key to the situation: Solidarity. Wherever solidarity exists the object, victory which is in view is sure to be accomplished. Having had personal experience in a mixed union for the past ten years, the writer is in a position to know that within that time the members succeeded in advancing their wages and bettering their working conditions to the point where they were the best paid of all unions that are in the same industry in this country. This was on account of solidarity and proves the merits of the mixed union.
Now as to the demerits of the mixed union. In mixed unions there often arises internal controversy, especially when the epithet (“nigger”) is used which is the pride of Americans. This usually occurs when they want to take advantage of the other fellow. For instance, if something occurs that is to the advantage of one group and not to the other, there is jealousy and dissatisfaction, with the less fortunate group contending that discrimination has been used. This will keep up an eternal controversy. The best way to overcome such a condition is to use a mixed working force. Especially in selecting officers should this be done.
The writer does not believe in any Negro union that is not part of some craft or industrial union, unless it is in some of those loving states that make it a crime for a Negro to look at a white man or sit beside him. The workers should learn that such laws are to keep them divided and are a special benefit to the capitalist class. Wherever such laws exist the workers themselves should remove the condition by a joint committee to the Negro in being in a separate union. It is true that he would do his own bidding, and, should he receive the largest percentage of the work, there is no doubt that it would be the most laborious kind in the industry. He would be expected to produce more than the white unions and take a smaller wage.
One can readily see that would give the employer the opportunity to defeat both unions and in so doing would benefit only himself. The fact is that all Negro unions are failures, just the same as a craft union. The advancement of labor at this period must be along industrial lines if labor is to receive percentage of the industrial product. In order that the Negro, who is a strong factor in the industrial market today, may receive a fair consideration for his labor, he must be in mixed unions. Wherever a Negro union exists there should be efforts made to work in conjunction with the other unions to bring about energetic action to obtain higher wages and better working conditions for themselves.
Black and white labor today is learning more about their increased power when closely united to gain greater concessions under the present conditions. It is to be hoped that in the near future all labor will be united for one common cause. It is an undeniable fact that all labor has something in common: a desire for a higher standard of living. This can only be attained through interracial solidarity in the mixed union.
The Messenger, 5 (September, 1923): 812.
8. EQUAL DIVISION OF LABOR ON THE WHARF125
By the terms of the new wharf labor agreement, an equal number of white men and Negroes will hereafter be employed in loading and unloading ships at Galveston, Texas City, and Houston. Speaking for Galveston, the agreement is of greater moment than might appear on the surface. It applies a timely corrective to a condition that probably would have grown more unsatisfactory if allowed to continue unregulated. As The News understands it, the readjustment was dictated more in the interest of the general public than of the master stevedores. No question of relative efficiency was involved. It was simply a matter of bringing about an equitable distribution of the enormous payroll controlled by employers of wharf labor. So important is this source of local income, compared with Galveston’s population, that it reaches back into every channel of retail trade. The general consequences of the new arrangement are too well understood to require detailed discussion. For the past several years, about 65 per cent of longshore labor has been done by Negroes.
Several complications have heretofore stood in the way of this realignment. That they have at last been overcome is no small tribute to the fairness of all parties concerned in the negotiations. Both the Negro and the white locals were called upon to make concessions. For the Negroes it required a surrender of about 15 per cent. The white unions gave up the distinction they have hitherto drawn between the loading of cotton and other classes of freight. That was primarily a concession to the employers. It simplifies the conduct of stevedoring operations, since the same local will hereafter handle cotton and other cargo. The number of locals has been reduced from four to two.
It should be a source of gratification that relations between employers and employees are sufficiently cordial to permit a readjustment of this scope to be brought about without friction and with no interruption of work.
Opportunity, 3 (January, 1925): 24.
9. J. H. WALKER TO BEN F. FERRIS, APRIL 1, 1925126
Mr. Ben F. Ferris
1116 West 63rd Street
Dear Sir and Brother:
As I told you yesterday morning, they would, the three colored representatives voted against our Injunction-Limitation bill, in the house, yesterday forenoon. They did so, because they said that they dare not go home to their districts (my information is that they are living in districts that are largely populated by colored people) if they voted for any measure which the Trade Union Movement was supporting, on account of the fact that their people say that, the Trade Union Movement is trying to prevent them from making a living in Chicago, particularly citing the action of your local union which refuses to permit colored lathers to belong to their union, and which they say, even where they do belong to a colored local union of your international organization, prevents them from getting work in the general construction work in which the members of the labor movement are employed, in Chicago.
The Dunlap State Military Police bill will come up in committee this afternoon. On that committee is Senator Roberts (colored) from Chicago. He, like the three colored representatives, says he wants to vote for labor’s measures, that he would like to vote against this police bill, but he says that on account of union labor being opposed to it, that if he voted in opposition to it, that it would mean his political finish with his people; he says, they tell him that the unions are all against them in Chicago and the cite particularly the action of your local union as aforementioned.
His voting for that bill, will mean that it will come out of committee and be put on the calendar. The vote in the committee is so close, that if he were to vote against it, we could kill it in committee. It may mean that this one vote will result in the Dunlap Military State Police bill being enacted into law in this state, and I can imagine that the members of your local union will not want to be held responsible for the failure of the enactment of our Injunction-Limitation bill; and for the enactment of a State Military Police law. In the one case to prevent judges from breaking strikes, and in the other case, to prevent the enactment of a bill to create a military police force which will be used mainly, to break strikes. In addition to that, it means that these votes and these influence will be against every labor measure during the entire session, and for every measure to which organized labor is opposed.
I sincerely hope that you will be able to get your local union to change its attitude, because it is not only injurious to all the working men and women, and their families in this state, but it is wrong from the point of view of the Trade Unionists everywhere. The Trade Union Movement does not believe that a man should be discriminated against, just because of the color of his skin. It was founded for the purpose of protecting those who were unable to protect themselves—the weak and helpless, and it should not be used as an instrument of oppression or persecution of the weak and the helpless.
J. H. Walker, President.
Victor A. Olander Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
By T. Arnold Hill
National Urban League
James Bryce, writing in the revised edition of his American Commonwealth, published in 1911, wrote that the negro might “more and more draw southwards into the lower and hotter regions along the coasts of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico” and might consequently become a “relatively smaller and probably a much smaller element than at present in the population north of” the states of Florida and Louisiana, and parts of the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. But the eminent scholar did not know that the last war would check the gradual movement of the center of negro population toward the South and start it upward again in the direction from which it receded in 1880 when it was in the northeastern corner of Georgia. That the movement of negroes is toward the North, the whole country is aware. There has been a wholesale migration of more than half a million negroes from the South to the North during the past fifteen years.
This regimentation, singularly impressive in the light of facts which are now available on the industrial gains the race has made above the Mason-Dixon Line, presents enormous possibilities which both the employing group and the leaders of organized labor cannot afford to overlook. For the one, the concentrated mass of negro laborers, organized or unorganized, in the largest industrial centers North and South, provides adequate substitutes for immigrant labor, now cut to thirty-two per cent of last year’s supply; and for the other, negro workers, advancing daily from common laborers to skilled and semi-skilled operators in the basic industries of the country, provide an ever-increasing harvest for the spread of unionism. In fact the balance of power between capital and labor, may universally become, as indeed it has shown itself to be in several labor controversies, the enigmatic negro, who not infrequently has shown surprising dexterity and alacrity at opportune periods in our nation’s history.
Nine states: Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, Indiana, Michigan, and Kansas were the home of more than ninety per cent of the northern negro population in 1920 which numbered 1,472,309, one-half of whom were of southern birth. And there was not a wide distribution within these states, for the principal city within each of them housed more than sixty per cent of the total negro population, with the exception of the state of Ohio, as for instance in New York, seventy-five per cent of the state’s total negro population lived in New York City. Detroit and Chicago had sixty-eight and sixty per cent, respectively of their state’s population. The cities of the North to which negroes have migrated in largest numbers are shown from the accompanying table. Leaving out Kansas City and Baltimore, which have the reputation of being both North and South, every city in the list increased its colored population during the decade 1910–1920 by more than fifty per cent, except Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
It is not only that the northern population has narrowed itself to a few states and a few cities within these states that is significant, but also the fact that the concentration is in the cities where the North carries on its principle industries. And this is what gives importance to the future position of the colored worker both as regards his continuance in industry and his relationship to the trade union movement.
One-eighth of the workers in industry are colored men and women, who form only one-tenth of the country’s total population. This is a refutation of the charge of indolence and a factor worthy of consideration by the employing group and the labor group. It is not in size alone that the negro’s labor is a factor—this has long been true—but in diversity, a comparatively recent achievement. Of the more than three hundred classifications of occupations in the census reports of 1920, negroes were at work at all the principal trades, except one, in the largest cities in the country. In the building trades where labor troubles are always present, the negro has shown surprising advancement. Observe the tunnel workers building subways in New York and Philadelphia and you will get a fair sample of the utilization of negroes in trades that once were practically denied them. In the bituminous coal regions of West Virginia, in the steel districts of Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Gary; the meat-packing business of Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City; on the docks as longshoremen in New York, Baltimore, Norfolk and Philadelphia—in all of which the American Federation of Labor needs members to hold the gains it has made—there are more negro men and women at work than their population ratio of ten per cent. In West Virginia while the negro population is less than seven per cent of the total population, 23,000 negroes, more than eighteen per cent of the colored population are engaged as miners in the state’s thirty-five mining counties.
As long as three-fourths of the workers of this race were confined to two occupations—agriculture and domestic and personal service—they were not of much service to either industrialists or the American Federation of Labor, but when industrial and mechanical workers have jumped from 12.6 per cent in 1910 to 18.4 per cent in ten years, they can no longer be ignored. In Chicago, for instance where the negro population increased by 65,000 or 148 per cent from 1910 to 1920, the total number of porters, waiters and male servants increased a scant one per cent during that period. But in the building trades, the packing industry, the steel mills and founderies the male employees of color increased from 3.2 per cent to 20.7 per cent during the same period, and according to estimates of the Chicago Commission on Race Relations 70,000 negroes were engaged in industry in 1920 as compared with 27,000 in 1910. Statistics for other cities show similar advances. A certain plant in the middle west which in 1919 had eight per cent of its total workman colored had forty per cent colored four years later. Of 1,000 employees in a large wholesale manufacturing plant in the middle west 442 are colored and 547 are white. Of the colored employees there are 237 in skilled, 128 in semiskilled and 72 in non-skilled operations. The metallurgist is a negro, the chief chemist a negro girl, the nurse in charge of the dispensary, ministering to both white and colored, is a negro girl. More than half of the colored workers have opened savings accounts through the company’s office.
But it is this advancement which now presents the most serious complication in the negro’s industrial history. His very success may be his undoing. Having proved his efficiency, employers are hiring him in larger numbers and rewarding proficiency by promotion. The more he advances the more will he jeopardize the interests of organized labor if he is out of it, and the more will he benefit the labor movement if he joins it. But if he joins, what of his attractiveness to employers, who are not unmindful of his aloofness to union influence? In short, as union men, will they be wanted in the steel mills, packing houses, the building trades and in industrial pursuits generally? If negroes do not join the unions, 5,000,000 organized workers, many of whom are displeased that negroes are at work in the factories, will be a persistene and unconquerable foe. Thus the negro stands at the crossroads of his industrial future, pondering which of the two paths he should enter. Fortunately for him immigration from Europe, growing less yearly under governmental restrictions, gives him a breathing space. Both the labor movement and employers need the negro, one to attain the goal sought in campaigns for new union members, the other, to keep machinery in motion. It will, therefore, not be convenient or profitable to discharge, or curtail, the hiring of negroes because of their union affiliation, nor will it be expedient to be impatient if they do not fall in line with union propaganda as readily as some desire.
White public opinion condones racial separateness and forces the negro to think first and always of self as a necessary procedure of defense. The one regulatory consideration with all negroes—workers, ministers, educators, editors, authors, social workers and all who shape public opinion—will be, first and last which side, union, or non-union, will benefit the negro worker most? This would not be hard to determine in a country where the color of skin and texture of hair are not paramount to fairness and capacity. It is hard, however, in America, where, despite the negro’s often proved capacity and loyalty, he is never certain of his desirability, beyond the point where he serves as a tool or in a temporary emergency.
To reduce our formula to specific terms we must inspect the attitude of the two groups—employers and employees—with references to their treatment of negroes. There are plenty of facts pro and con on both sides, and it would take many more pages than we have at our disposal to enumerate them properly. Employers have hired negroes to break a strike or for temporary periods of business prosperity, only to discharge them when the exigency was over. Other employers, hiring them under the same conditions, have retained the efficient ones when the emergency had passed. Some employers offer advancement for meritorious performance, others will hire them in only the most casual operations, regardless of efficiency and length of service. Some pay the same wage to colored and white workers, other pay less to colored. As to the unions, some permit negroes to join, and some do not. Some go outside of their union affiliation to influence employers not to hire them, while others appoint union organizers and business agents without regard to color. Some, by constitution declare their organizations open to all workers, white and black, but exclude them by ritualistic provisions and various subterfuges. while others have colored officers and important committee members. And so on there are positive and negative facts on both sides. We can claim for neither, as a group, perfection. We know that many of the labor leaders are actuated by impartial and humanitarian impulses when they seek negro members, and we know the struggles that some of them have made, with considerable success, to break down the barriers against negro participation. We likewise are familiar with individual employers whose attitude toward negroes is beyond question and we have known of others to lend their influence to extend the utilization of negroes in trades and industries to shops of fellow employers.
The question must be decided upon broader grounds than race. It must yield to the test of humanity and justice. Collective bargaining has brought about reform. Workers lives are safer, the span of life has lengthened, laboring classes are more and more acquiring savings and comforts, recreation, a necessary stimulant to health, is assured through shorter working hours and child labor has decreased—all of which the labor movement, through many years of ceaseless struggle, has impelled. One-eighth of the workers of the country are negro men and women. There can be no attainment of labor’s goal as long as one-eighth of the workers, both those that are in and those that are out of the unions, are disgruntled or lukewarm. The good health of any nation can be affected by the poor health of one-eighth of its workers and a relatively small proportion of this one-eighth working for smaller wages than white workers, can endanger the welfare of all the union men in all the trade associations of the country. There are 5,000,000 negro workers, North and South, of whom not more than one per cent, or 50,000 are organized.
It is inconceivable therefore that union officials would wish to ignore colored workers. In justice to their own interest they cannot do so, and those recalcitrant nationals and internationals must see the folly of their position or force the entire American Federation of Labor to pay the penalty for their short-sightedness. The negro worker must make terms with organized labor, though it is easy to see why the “lack of interest,” to which labor leaders frequently refer, persists. The hotel bellmen and waiters’ strike in 1904 which proved so disastrous to colored men in Chicago, the policy of discrimination practiced by a few, yet important nationals, and the refusal of white unionists to work on the same jobs with their fellow colored unionists explain most of the “lack of interest” of the colored workers in organized labor. But the growing favor of the closed shop agreements with employers will force negroes out of work unless they are a part of these agreements. To be a boot and shoe maker in New England, a worker in a large clothing manufacturing establishment in Chicago or New York, a miner of anthracite or ibtuminous coal, a building tradesman, one is almost compelled to be a union man. Employers must recognize, even those who object to collective bargaining, that the only wise policy for negro workers to pursue, is to affiliate with those trades that are organized if they expect to work at them. Everytime an agreement is signed between a union organization and an employer, none but union men, as long as they are available, can work in the shop or shops covered by the agreement.
If no negroes belong to the trade union or unions involved in the agreement, then no negroes can hope for employment in the shops affected. And since this form of cooperation between capital and labor is increasing, and strike-breaking—heretofore beneficial to colored workers— is less popular than in the past, the need for affiliation with organized labor should require no reasoning more impressive than the facts. And who can say that a larger negro union membership might not have a very wholesome spiritual effect upon the whole relationship between capital and labor? The negro’s inherent patience and conciliation may provide the spirit of give and take which both sides so frequently stand in need of. Labor organizations are not strike bodies, but conciliatory and cooperative agencies, expressing the will and spirit of their constituents to those who employ them, with the one end in view of harmonizing the relationships between the two. The negro laboring man and woman, traditionally loyal, will interpret his loyalty to his employer and his union in a way that will make this ideal more nearly a universal reality.
American Federationist, 32 (October, 1925): 915-20.
By Roland A. Gibson
“Three cheers for the Negro workers!” Albert Weisbord, organizer of the United Front Committee of Textile Workers in Passaic, New Jersey, sounded the call. A thousand strikers from the United Piece Dye Works in Lodi responded with a will.
The meeting was held in Castle Park Hall on the Garfield side of the Passaic River, just across from the huge Botany Worsted Mills where the workers have been on strike for over seven weeks. A mile and a half the Lodi strikers had marched to hear their leader speak.
I was on the picket line in Lodi during the noon hour that day, March 10th. It was an inspiration to see two Negroes marching in the front ranks. Several hundred colored workers are employed in the dye works. They are paid 25 cents an hour and the conditions under which they work are miserable.
“Twenty-five cents an hour!” Boo-o-o!” we shouted as we passed the walls of the factory and the line of workers smoking and resting after their morning shift. Occasionally two or three would join the line and the exultation would be immense.
Later, at the meeting, Weisbord made an impassioned plea for solidarity of all nationalities and races to win the strike. One of the Negro brothers sat on the platform. “This is not a strike of American workers,” Weisbord declared, “This is not a strike of the foreign-born. This is a strike of all the workers to establish a working class union. I said yesterday that I should like to be the first to shake the hand of the first Negro worker who would join our ranks. Well, I am glad that I have had that privilege.”
This is a new phenomenon among strike leaders. Most unions bar colored workers and thereby encourage them to become strike-breakers. We can be thankful that a new school of labor leaders is arising which will shatter this tradition of prejudice and pave the way for a united labor movement of all workers, regardless of race and nationality.
The Messenger, 8 (April, 1926): 120, 127.
By Thomas L. Dabney
What should be the attitude of Negro workers to the trade union Movement? Should they join white labor or support the capitalists? Should they be opportunists and content themselves with the role of scabs and strike-breakers or should they form unions of their own?
These are some of the perplexing problems that confront Negro workers. And there is the great diversity of opinion on these questions. Not only the rank and file, but the leaders of the race, are hopelessly divided as to the action that Negro workers should take: Many Negroes, like Dr. Hubert H. Harrison of New York and Prof. Kelly Miller of Howard University, Washington, D.C., adhere strictly to the philosophy of social solidarity as opposed to class solidarity. Others like Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, editor of the CRISIS and Mr. Charles S. Johnson of OPPORTUNITY, subscribe to a more liberal policy. A few Negroes like A. Philip Randolph are proponents of the theory of the class struggle and are staunch unionists.127
Ten years ago the outstanding problem of Negro workers was that of breaking into the trades held exclusively by white workers. Although this is still fighting ground, the advance made by the race during the years since the war has precipitated new problems. So long as Negro workers were confined to the less competing and comparatively unimportant jobs and trades in which trades unions have made little head-way, the question of organization was not paramount.
War Brought Changes
Today the situation has changed. The war, with its consequent increase in demand for skilled and unskilled labor, greatly aided the efforts of Negro workers to secure more and better jobs in industry. And Negroes proved to be such good laborers that their permanency in the skilled and semi-skilled trades now seems assured. And the race is making advances along these lines every year. In 1920 between 400,000 and 500,000 Negroes had secured jobs in the industrial cities of the North. Most of these were migrants from the agricultural districts of the South, particularly Mississippi and Louisiana!
The success of Negro workers in industry is attested by the fact that a great many plants retained them, despite the falling off in production since 1922 and 1923. In the latter year there were something like 16,000 Negroes, or 21 per cent of the total number of workers, employed in the steel mills in and around Pittsburgh. Following the war-time peak of production, when the plants began to reduce their labor force, many Negroes were dropped from the pay-rolls the same as the whites, but in several cases they were retained in large numbers. Thus, the A. of M. Byers Company kept their entire force of Negro workers, and the Clark Mills of the Carnegie Steel Company had in 1923 a Negro labor force equal to 42 per cent and in 1924 a force equal to 56 per cent of their total labor supply.
Negro workers have made a decided advance in other industries. In New Jersey, for example, they have become an important factor in the building trades. A large number of them have jobs as hod carriers, brickmasons and carpenters.
The fortunes of Negro workers vary from city to city and to some extent in regard to trade. Even in New Jersey, where such an advance has been made in the building trades, a Negro cannot become a licensed plumber or steamfitter. In St. Paul, Columbus and other cities—especially the smaller industrial centers—Negroes are greatly opposed by white labor, who fear their competition. In Kansas Negroes cannot secure jobs in plumbing, electricity and printing.
The conflicts in recent years between Negro workers and white workers are symptomatic of the present strained relations between thest two groups. The race riots in Chicago in 1919, the outbreaks more recently in Detroit, Carteret and other localities have strong economic implications. They show that white labor is not at all friendly to Negro labor on the job, despite the professed friendliness and interest on the part of certain labor leaders. True enough, Negro workers have made great gains in industry, but these gains have not been made without increases suspicions, enmity and conflicts between the races.
Employers, quick to profit by any unfavorable developments within the working class, have taken advantage of the strained relations between Negro and White workers, and in some cases, no doubt, have abetted the movement among white workers to antagonize Negro workers in certain plants.
Barring the Negro
Some trade union leaders have done just as bad if not worse than the capitalists. Certain trade unions have barred Negro workers because of their avowed opposition to the bugbear of social equality.
Last winter the writer sent letters of inquiry to a large number of trade unions regarding their attitude to Negro workers who nominally fall within their jurisdiction. My letter to the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks brought the following reply.
In reply to my question as to the reason for the organization’s opposition to Negroes as members Mr. Mufson wrote: “You can answer . . . yourself. It’s social.”
Charles S. Johnson, director of the department of research and investigation made an extensive investigation of the relation of various trade unions to Negro workers. Mr. Johnson made his report at the annual conference of the National Urban League last February. According to Mr. Johnson, “While but eight local unions still expressly bar the Negro from membership—there are less than 115 to which he is yet admitted without any lines being drawn.” Many unions that do not have constitutional provisions against Negroes as members have other means of barring them.
Some trade union leaders explain that the majority of Negro workers cannot join trade unions because they are not working the organized trades. Others along with the rank and file oppose them in certain plants because they are not organized. The American Federation of Labor puts the issue up to the various crafts and internationals.
Meantime, Negro workers are receiving all sorts of advice and admonition from White and Negro leaders and the capitalists. The latter say that they have no objection to hiring Negro workers. They lay claim to an impersonal interest in the matter; but maintain that White workers are making the objections. On the other hand, some trade union leaders say that Negroes are not organizable—because they do not adhere to the principles of trade unionism and because many are not employed in the organizing trades. And finally there are some Negro leaders who warn Negroes against making common cause with the White trade unionists. Some Negroes, who advise the race against joining the trade union Movement, are men of prominence and influence. Prof. Kelly Miller128 of Howard University wrote an article for the AMERICAN MERCURY for October, 1925, in which he said: “Logic aligns the Negro with labor, but good sense arrays him with capital.” A goodly number of Negro editors do not believe that Negro workers should support White labor as against the capitalists. Certain Negro organizations have advised Negro workers against connecting themselves with trade unions or any radical organization or Movement. Typical of these is the Improved Protective Order of Elks of the World. This Negro fraternity passed the following resolution at its convention in Richmond, Virginia in August 1925:
Whereas, it is clear to those of us who have studied the bad results of other like movements where those of our race-group lose positions through union agitators and strike leaders, that unionism is calculated to do our people all sorts of harm and injure them with the employing class in America; therefore be it
Resolved, that we recommend that the methods used by the great industrial organizations of the country in relation to employee representation plans be used as a pattern to form organizations of workers within our group, wherein the interests of both employer and employee will be presented, and be it further
Resolved, that it be the sense of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World in Annual Convention assembled to discourage Bolshevism, Sovietism, Communism and the like within the race; and be it still further
Resolved, that it be the continued policy of our people everywhere to live up with best class of American citizenship, which in the last analysis all over our great country constitute the large employers of labor. And we emphasize the value to our race group of standing squarely back of capital in this country, to the end that we may continue the economic development set in motion during the last five years. And finally, be it
Resolved that it be the policy of the leaders in the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World, in their efforts to husband, strengthen and further the industrial destinies of our people, that we discourage and discredit all forms of unionism and economic radicalism as presented to us by white labor agitators, and their tools, and that we pursue only those policies which will hasten the day of brotherly love amongst men of every race and color and creed and nationality to the point where we can all of us sincerely sing, “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”
“The Voice of Danger!”
Steel, iron, coal and other cardinal necessities for modern life must be produced and these great industries have been opened up to you in spite of the labor unions that seek to bar you and shut the door of opportunity in your face. Unions have barred you from most of the building trades and if the great industries had not opened up you would have been forced to hang your head and turn your face to the land of quiet and oppression.
You have been able to thrive in the great industrial and railroad centers of the North and unskilled and untrained men have been able to kook up to a bright horizon of life. You have caught the spirit of progress and you are buying your own homes, developing your own business and educating your children. The wealth of America gave you the chance.
Should you now listen to the voice that demoralized Russia and brought starvation to millions of men, you will defeat your own purposes. Sit tight in the saddle and you will eventually work out your own destiny. The world is watching and should you prove ungrateful to those faithful few who broke the shackles of peonage and serfdom; you will be unwise.
Ten thousand of you are now earning livelihoods from the great arteries of traffic and travel—the railroads. Ten thousand of you are getting closer and closer to the heart of humanity because of your faithful service and intimate contact. The railroads and the common carriers have given you a new perspective on life. Do not jeopardize your position, nor your strategic opportunity. The future is rosy for you if you are level-headed.
The voice of the labor union is the voice of danger, betrayal and destruction. Do not heed it. Much is in store for you, either prosperity and happiness or trouble and disaster.
Such statements as the foregoing are partially true—true enough to keep Negro workers in a state of indecision and quandary. Thus Negroes blunder along with no clear-cut policy in any direction, hoping all the while that labor will change its policy of opposition and indifference.
Many of the leaders and members of trade unions do not understand the psychology of Negro workers with respect to the Labor Movement. In principle and theory Negro workers to a considerable extent favor trade unionism. The philosophy of the Labor Movement has a tremendous appeal for them; but they have learned by bitter experience that the theory of trade unions is one thing and their practice is another. There are cases where Negro trade union members were loyal and faithful to the organization, going out on strikes and supporting the campaigns for higher wages and better working conditions only to lose their jobs when the settlement was made with the employers.
OPPORTUNITY for February last published the following item relative to the action of a certain union towards its Negro members:
“During the strike of April, 1924, the union went around and scouted all of the colored—by ruse to join the union, they collected $3.00 for an application to join and after the strike were kicked out.”
This is the situation which White labor must understand and face. It is not a question of Negro workers preferring a revival church meeting, as Hilmar Raushenbush intimated last year in a series of lectures on the problems of the coal industry at Brookwood Labor College; but it is largely one of whether Negroes can depend on the professed friendship and interest of White workers in the face of their narrow, selfish and discriminatory practices.129
200,000 in Unions
That Negro workers are amenable to the philosophy of trade unionism is attested by the fact that more than 200,000 Negroes belong to trade unions. The majority of them are in the trades in which Negroes have a monopoly or are engaged in large numbers such as railway workers, longshoremen, hod carriers and building laborers.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters organized August 25, 1925, has had a marvelous success. Something like 7,000 of the 10,000 Negroes employed on railroads as porters have joined the Brotherhood. The writer has attended several of their public meetings in New York and can say from experience that speakers seldom meet such enthusiastic and responsive audiences as were present at these meetings of the porters.
The Brotherhood of Dining Car Employees has members on twelve railroads and include under its jurisdiction 4,000 men—3,00 of whom are members of the Brotherhood. In Norfolk, Virginia and vicinity above 1,900 Negro longshoremen belong to the International Longshoremen’s Association. There are approximately 25,000 Negroes in the International Hod Carriers’ Building and Common Laborers’ Union of America.
Because of the attitude of the conservative element in the American Federation of Labor, Negro workers seem to be skeptical of the Movement. Taking advantage of this situation the more radical groups are the most vigilant and energetic.
With such an outlook before them, what should Negro workers do? Should they remain loyal to Capital or join Labor despite the past and present attitude of White labor? Should Negro workers continue their policy of conservatism or accept the proferred offers of the radicals? What Negroes are likely to do is of more interest than what the reclused learned sage thinks they should do.
Labor Age, 16 (February, 1927): 8–10.
By Ira De A. Reid
The American labor movement has long regarded the threat of Negro strikebreakers as one of the banes of its existence. For years there was a most unhealthy attitude on the part of organized labor toward this powerful, docile, unskilled labor force that was controlled by only such economic factors as were the antithesis of labor principles. Finchers Trades Review of July 1863 tells of a riot at Buffalo, N.Y. when the bosses attempted to replace the white longshoremen with black workers. As a result of this escapade, two black men were drowned, one killed, and twelve seriously beaten. It was at this time that the oppositon to the Negroes in unskilled labor was most bitter. It caused strong complaints from the whites who said that the Negroes cheated them out of all the easiest ways of making a living and this opposition led to riots and massacres of colores workmen.
The Negro worker has been, in the main, an opportunist. When many unions closed their doors on him, when employers refused to hire him in normal times, he found the doors in industrial freedom shut in his face. Though supply and demand governed the normal labor group, the Negro found injected into his employment this quasi-economic law of supply and demand plus that of race. Thus, when white workers sought greater freedom and justice in their employment and used the strike method, the Negro was the most available group and the group most mentally prepared to receive the preferred opportunity. It was his chance to have organized labor recognize him as a more potent factor in its existence.
Some Prime Factors
Let us glance at some of the outstanding situations affecting the Negro and strikes:
1. A strikebreaker is a person who is hired or who volunteers to take the place of a worker on strike. Owing to the difficulty of securing such persons in the immediate vicinity of a strike they are often imported from other states or neighboring regions. The Federal Commission on Industrial Relations in a staff report stated that practically without exception, either that the strikebreaker is not a genuine workingman but is a professional who merely fills the place of the worker and is unable to do steady work, or, if he is a bona fide worker, that he is ignorant of conditions, and compelled to work in durress.
2. The period of the World War noted in practically every country for the extraordinary increase in strikes. This period ran concurrent with the increase in Negro migration from the South. Between the years 1916 and 1921 there was at least 19,970 strikes.
3. The Stockyard Strike, 1904, in Chicago was broken by the use of Negroes. This was the opening wedge for the admittance to the Union of the large number of Negroes which followed. No organization thereafter could hope to amount to anything in the yards, unless it took in Negroes.
4. Although the interest that employers in securing Negroes has not always been merely the granting of an opportunity for work where Negroes have entered as strikebreakers, they have usually remained. This recent entrance into industry has made him for the first time, a considerable factor, and he feels that the unions recognizing his importance to the accomplishment of union aims are making appeals to him for membership, not out of a spirit of brotherhood, but merely to advance their purposes.
Cooperation On Competition
5. In the year 1921 at an industrial convention of Negro organizations controlling the employment of thousands of Negro workers, it was decided that Negroes would not be sent as strikebreakers to places where the striking unions accepted Negroes, and that they would advise Negroes to join the unions wherever possible; but, that where Negroes are offered positions by employers in trades where Negroes are excluded from the unions, they would not be advised to forego the opportunity.
6. The Negro minister is still the leader among the people. Until recently Negro ministers knew very little about unionism except that employers are opposed to it. This was enough to influence Negro ministers to urge Negro workers to stay out of unions and thus demonstrate their loyalty to the employer who had given them a chance in industry.
7. The decline of some Negro leaders, who were willing to oppose unions for certain considerations given them by employers, public pressure from the Negro population having become too strong.
8. During the strike feeling runs high, and the word “strikebreaker” or “scab” carries with it a decided stigma among the strikers. White workers ordinarily did not try to understand why the Negro acts as he does. They do not reason that the Negro is often loyal to the employer because he feels that the employer has opened to him industrial opportunities which means better living conditions for himself and family. White workers feel that Negroes who serve as strikebreakers are helping to earn for their race the stigma of being a scab.
The Chicago Commission’s Proposals
9. Recommendations of the Chicago Commission on Industrial Relations: (a) That qualified Negro workers desiring membership in labor organizations, join unions that admit both races equally, instead of organizing separate Negro labor unions; (b) That it is an injustice and a cause of racial antagonism for employers who having hired Negroes as strikebreakers, discharge them when the strike is settled to make places for former white employees; (c) That the practice of self-seeking agitators, whether Negro or White, who use race sentiment to establish separate unions in trades where existing unions admit Negroes to equal membership with whites, is condemned.
10. The International Union of America in 1878 stated that race was being arrayed against race, and that the competition was retarding the progress of all workmen.
11. In January 1856, the Stevedores of New York engaged in a strike for higher wages, and Negroes were used in their places. Today, this occupation offers a large opportunity for Negro workers, and they are members of unions.
12. Between 1882 and 1900 there were fifty strikes against Negro labor listed by the Department of Labor of which 11 were successful and 39 failed. Twenty-three of these were against the employment of Negro male workers; 10 were to secure the discharge of Negro workers; 7 were opposed to working with Negroes; and 1 was against the employment of a Negro foreman.
13. In 1880 a strike among the miners of Pennsylvania led to the importation of Negro workers. Such conditions caused greater activity in the organization of Negro labor.
The Negro strikebreakers may be said to be on the decline for the following reasons: (a) Because of the increase of industrial opportunities for Negro workers, (b) The exposition of militant industrialism by supporters in the Negro group; (c) A more serious consideration of the economic basis of life through its publications; (d) A more aggressive assault upon the stronghold of American organized labor by Negro leaders and organizations; (e) Organization of Negro labor independent of white labor; (f) Use of Negro organizers.
At the same time the use of Negro strikebreakers will continue for the following reasons: (a) Because of the rank indifference of the American Federation of Labor and its subordinate bodies to the problem, despite their many resolutions and platitudes; (b) Because of the refusal by international organizations and others to admit members under charters of these internationals; (c) Unfair attitudes on the part of unions after Negroes become members; (d) Failure of the American Labor Movement to seek to inform and educate Negro labor; (e) Failure to encourage organization of the Negro group.
If Negroes perform, as has been asserted, one-seventh of the labor in the United States, labor organizations of America can never be effective until the great mass of Negro workers is organized. The complaint could not be made continually that the Negro does not take to the unions, and that he is not a union man. No workingman who finds it to his interest to remain a non-union man will ever give up the privilege. Membership in a union should offer some advantage to the Negro. To every white workingman the Union offers superior advantages. When union men strike, non-union men have large opportunity. These instances have been the occasion upon which Negro labor has entered openings which were hitherto closed to it. The Steel Strike of 1919–1920, the Coal Strike of 1922—both of these led to the realization that Negro workers should be organized. The migration with the resulting transfer of Negroes from agriculture to industry has increased the necessity for action, and not finely declarations by organized labor.
Industrial Opportunity Opening Up
The transition to an industrial activity and an economic position which will bring the Negro group to a place comparable with other race groups in America has not been completed. It is a continuous process at the present time in Negro life. Thousands of Negroes are coming into urban centers, and industrial opportunities are open to them, but they are often unprepared for them, since their former contacts have been in rural communities and in agriculture. The education of the Negro worker looms up as one of the large problems of the present and the future. The tide of prejudice has been continuing where colored and white workmen meet and an increasing spirit of cooperation must be developed, so that each group may realize that the successful solution of the Labor problem from the point of view of the worker lies largely in the worker’s cooperation without regard to race or sex. The use of the Negro as a strikebreaker, and his increasing employment shows the great danger to Labor from the lack of organization. The variations often made in wage agreements between the races likewise argues for the unionization of Negro Labor. The tradition of the absolute racial inferiority of the Negro should be examined by all workers, and an open-minded attitude should be adopted. Negro business men should lend their efforts toward the building of enterprises which will give employment to Negro workers and both in the quality of the product as well as in labor itself. Negro labor would demonstrate its efficiency. Capitalism through human bondage, a debasing wage slavery, and a restricted occupational life has made possible and the continual exploitation of its black workers, who struggle not only against the usual obstacles of the average American workingman but also against the special handicaps of race and color. One need not wear the role of historian and essay the role of prophet to realize that the future of Negro labor would be immeasurably advanced by education, cooperation, organization, and racial self-help. The history of the past economic development presages a greater advance in the immediate future. These facts present the view at the threshold of a closed door which is now slowly being pushed open by Negro labor—the door to larger industrial opportunity.
New Leader, April 21, 1928.
By Charles S. Johnson
For several years after the great exodus of Negroes from southern agriculture to northern industry began, no one knew how many Negro workers had been taken in the unions, or what the status of colored workers was in relation to organized labor. This confusion prompted a study of Negro workers and the unions, which is still in progress, sponsored by the American Fund for Public Service through a grant to the National Urban League. What I set down here is merely a preliminary report.
Peculiar difficulties enter into the Negro situation. Where relations are most friendly the disposition has been to disregard race and color, classing colored workers as “Americans”. This policy, the final objective of those who insist upon full inclusion of Negroes in labor unions, makes it hard to gauge the present degree of this inclusion. The United Mine Workers, with 500,000 members, the United Garment Workers and, to a lesser degree, the International Brotherhood of Longshoremen, the Hod Carriers and Building Common Laborers are cases in point. The survey so far includes the locals of forty-eight national and international unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor with a combined membership of 1,527,248; Negro membership in locals in Chicago, New York, Detroit and Washington, D.C., and in the states of New Jersey, Delaware, Minnesota, Idaho, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio; the mine workers of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, organized under the United Mine Workers Union, which has a membership of 500,000 not included in the total above; the three large independent Negro unions, the Railway Men’s Independent Benevolent Association, the Dining Car Men’s Association, and the new Pullman porters’ organization.
The total Negro membership in these various organizations is 65,492. This number, while derived from several sources, has been carefully checked and should be regarded as a minimum figure. The largest numbers of Negroes are members of the Longshoremen’s Union, with about 15,000; the Hod Carriers and Building Laborers, 8,000; the musicians, 3,000; the garment trades, about 6,000; the Hotel and Restaurant Employees, 1,000.
Questions raised today concerning Negro workers and trade unions are much the same as those that arose when emancipation of the slaves made Negroes a sudden menace to free labor. The Knights of Labor, predecessor of the American Federation of Labor, received Negro workers more cordially than they are now received. The liberal policy was prompted as much by fear as by fellow-feeling. The debate on the admission of Negroes before the historic Baltimore congress, just after emancipation, brought out the statement that “Negroes will take possession of the shops if we have not taken possession of the Negroes.”
The menace of Negro workers was for several decades lessened by foreign immigration in the North and by the gradual crowding out of skilled Negro workers in the South.
The first labor organizations were in the skilled crafts, and many of these began as lodges which excluded Negroes on the broad principle of social inequality. Also, early labor organizing was done in sections of the country in which there were few skilled Negro workers and in lines of work in which Negroes were not engaged. The War checked immigration and created a scarcity of labor. At the same time it brought about a tremendous shift in the Negro population from the South to industrial areas of the North.
At the Atlantic City convention, nearly fifty of the 110 unions affiliated with the A.F. of L., in response to the urging of the Executive Council, reported that they raised no barrier against Negro workers. The convention authorized the formation of federated locals of colored workers refused membership in any international. Although only eight of the member organizations of the A.F. of L. now expressly bar Negro members, their status has not changed greatly in fields from which they were originally excluded. The recent policy of the A.F. of L., in favor of the unionization of Negroes, has been a coldly logical one, without the force of general agreement or official power behind it.
In our study, we have found eight types of union relations between white and Negro workers.
Eleven international unions exclude Negroes by constitutional provision or ritual. This group, which includes the railway unions, the boiler makers, the machinists and the commercial telegraphers, has a total membership of 436,200 and controls a field in which a minimum of 43,858 Negroes are employed.
There is little difference between this forthright exclusion and the policy of a second group which, having nothing in its constitution against Negro membership, yet discourages it and succeeds in keeping the numbers small. Outstanding among such unions are the electrical workers, with 142,000 members, practically none of them from among the 1,343 Negro electricians; the sheet metal workers, with 25,000 and no known Negroes; the Plasterers Union with less than 100 Negroes among its 30,000 members in a trade having some 6,000 colored workers; the plumbers and steam fitters with 35,000 members, and a long history of successful maneuvering to avoid Negro membership, though there are 3,600 Negro workers in the trade.
A third group of unions admits but does not encourage Negro membership. These include the carpenters, with 340,000 members and only 592 Negroes. The unions are not wholly responsible for the racial situation in this class of labor organization. When skilled Negro workers in independent crafts outside factories place themselves under union jurisdiction and cease bargaining individually, all other white workers are given preference over them both by employers and officials who have the assignment of jobs. If the Negro works for other than union rates, in order to work at all, he is subject to a fine or suspension. In cities where these unions are in control, it is extremely difficult for Negro workers to gain admittance.
A fourth group includes unions like the musicians, hotel and restaurant employees, journeymen barbers, United Textile workers, cooks and waiters, and the American Federation of Teachers, which admit Negroes freely but only to separate unions. The most successful of these are the musicians, who find an advantage in separate organization, and the regulation in certain locals making the Negro union subservient to the rules of the white local does not seem to interfere with the freedom of Negro members.
A fifth type of regulation admits Negroes freely to mixed or separate unions. In these are included the largest Negro membership, the longshoremen, hod carriers and common building laborers, and tunnel workers. These are not skilled trades, or trades requiring apprenticeship, and they are lines of work in which Negroes are freely employed.
The United Mine Workers and the garment workers admit Negroes only to mixed unions. In the first, discrimination among members and locals is discouraged with the threat of a fine. In the second, because the clothing industry centers about New York and Chicago and is largely Jewish and foreign-born in membership, racial sentiment against Negroes is not strong.
Among the independent Negro unions are the Railroad Men’s Independent and Benevolent Association, a protest union composed of railroad men barred from the regular craft unions; the dining-car men’s association; and the new Pullman porters’ organization controlled by white men. Practically all dining-car men are Negroes and there is no question of competition. The policy of the Pullman porter is still unsettled.
Finally, there is a group of unions organized in fields where few Negroes are definitely barred. This includes Pullman conductors, railway engineers, pattern makers, operative potters, leather workers and others. Here Negroes suffer from lack of skill and the lack of opportunity to gain skill because of restrictions imposed by employers who will not hire them and union members who will neither instruct nor work with them.
Where the trade unions have been open to them, Negroes have entered as freely as white workers. In Chicago, the proportion of Negro men in labor organizations is more than twice their proportion to the total population. This, of course, is partly because there is relatively a larger proportion of Negroes in industry. But in considering whether Negroes can be organized as easily as white workers, it must also be borne in mind that the great mass of Negro workers are employed in fields which are not yet unionized. For all classes, agricultural and domestic workers (unorganized lines) constitutes 34.5 per cent of the working population; for the Negroes, 67.3. Again, the greatest degree of organization is to be found in the North, and four-fifths of the Negroes live in the South. The skilled trades are those most thoroughly organized, but three-fourths of the Negroes are unskilled.
One reason for the hostility of white to Negro workers is the fear of them as strike breakers. The fear is warranted, for not only is there a menace to union objectives in the availability of Negro workers, but it has so happened that many of the greatest advances which Negroes have made in industry, many of their first opportunities, are due to strikes and their part in breaking them. They were used to break the stockyard strike, and they have been employed there ever since; they were largely responsible for the failure of the steel strike, and they now make up 10 per cent of steel mill workers; they were used in the great railroad strike of 1922, and about 700 Negroes, mostly skilled, are still employed by one system alone. They are being used at present in the anthracite coal strike in Pennsylvania and in the strike of bakers and confectionary workers in Chicago. The list could be continued indefinitely.
Precisely the opposite situation has occurred when Negroes have been inside the unions. In the West Virginia coal strike of 1922 there was the peculiar situation of the mine owners putting their faith in Negro recruits and the miner’s union depending on the stamina of its Negro membership to hold its position. As longshoremen they have stayed with their organization in times of conflict, in spite of the fact that Negro strike breakers were used against them. Union officials agree that as union men, Negroes are as faithful in their obligations as are white members.
The really important fact is that Negro workers, a million strong in the North, with other labor supplies limited, are having their first real contact with skill. They are increasingly eligible for admission to the old crafts which are still disposed to think of them as usurpers, taking white men’s jobs. The gaps being made in skilled lines by promotion, retirement and death cannot be filled entirely by native white workers or the reduced immigration. It is the pressure of this situation, taut and vital, that has promoted this study, the final results of which may enable Negroes, employers and unions to take the next step with their eyes open.
The Survey, 60 (April 15, 1928): 113-15.
By Will Herberg
The Crisis, 40 (July, 1931): 227-28.
Displace Colored Workers in Many Lines Due to Higher Wages
NEW PROBLEM WEIGHED
Wage Differential Suggested, but Dr. Moton Clings to Principle of Parity
By Julian Harris
New York Times, August 27, 1933.
Sellouts of U.T.W. Officials Also Teach Mill Workers Need for Rank and File Union
By a Textile Worker Correspondent
OLINVILLE, VA.—I am a textile worker who has been sold out several times by the United Textile Workers officials. Will say I have woke up and will do all I can to show up the leaders of the United Textile Workers Union and the A.F. of L., for they are a lot of no-good leaders. They will tell the workers anything to keep them in slavery.
Why don’t the bosses care if you join the U.T.W. union? Because if they can fool the workers into their sell-out unions they can control them.
Believe me, the white workers and the colored workers have done woke up. They have learnt if they ever get out of slavery they will have to fight together like brother union members. The boss class for all these years have always made the white worker hate the colored worker and therefore the colored worker was scared to say anything to the white worker. But that is the thing of the past, for the white and the colored worker have found out that they will have to fight together before either one gets up.
Now these so-called U.T.W. leaders said they could call out 300,000 textile workers on strike, but when the time came they called it all off.
Now workers think it over and see if you can find any way to get away from slavery without forming a union. There is no other way except to join a union which is run by the workers not the bosses.
Now, white worker, tell the colored worker that you and he have got to pull together if you ever get out of slavery. The colored worker is waiting for you to tell him and believe me you don’t have to be afraid of him for he knows he can only get out of slavery with the help of the white worker. And the best way to get together is through the National Textile Workers Union.
So workers think back what Gorman, the U.T.W. vice-president, said in Danville, Va., back in 1931 and 1932. He said Mr. West was a good friend to him. He also said Mr. West would have a good job with the Riverside and Dan River Cotton Mills some time. Now Gorman knew what he was talking about, for Mr. West is now president of the Riverside and Dan River Cotton Mills. A labor leader said a company man was a friend of his.132
Daily Worker, July 4, 1934.
Mr. H. L. Kerwin
Director of Conciliation
Department of Labor
Dear Mr. Kerwin:
It looks like a strike in the laundries of Birmingham. The workers have held off for two or three weeks, on the chance that the laundry operators would come to reason, but their patience is exhausted and the bosses show no sign of a break. Consequently the workers are having a general meeting tomorrow night, when they intend to take a strike vote. The sentiment among them in favor of a strike is overwhelming.
The workers, through their three unions (inside white workers, inside Negro workers, and route men), are asking recognition of the unions, a closed shop, and small wage increases. They are willing to bargain and make concessions on some points. The laundry operators absolutely refuse to recognize the unions or to meet their committees or to sign anything—with the exception of two smaller ones, which are already signed up and may be the means of breaking the backbone of the hold-outs in case of a strike.
Five or six of the largest laundries dominate the business, and they appear to have banded together with the intent of resisting and perhaps destroying the unions. The president of one of the strongest has told me he wanted a fight, and the president of another big place tells a local intermediary he is itching for a strike. On the other hand, the unions have postponed action for weeks, hoping negotiations would bring a settlement. They presented proposed contracts to the operators and got no response whatever from any but the one I mention above as having already signed up. These latter signed after a little negotiating, one of them granting a slight raise of wages, a closed shop, and a check-off, and the other granting the check-off.
The main problem has been getting the operators to meet the contract committee of the union, or any committee. It has not been possible for me even to get the operators together—and they flatly refuse individually to meet the committee. With the help of Mr. Ike Robinson a state representative of the American Federation of Labor, I got the cooperation of Mr. Victor Wertheimer, president of the now disbanded Birmingham Laundry Owners Association. Mr. Wertheimer agreed to canvass his associates in the business and try to persuade them to hold a meeting and consider dealing with the unions. Though he has been at this for more than a week, as his time permitted, he tells me daily he is making practically no progress, and doubts that he will. A disinterested third party, Mr. Ira F. Randall, the head of a credit association here who has done considerable organization work and who has taken an interest in the laundry dispute, voluntarily came into the picture and attempted to induce the operators to meet the workers. After talking with two of them he informed me he thought it useless. I had previously talked with all the laundry operators, attempting to persuade them to see the workers, or even to meet and consider the workers’ proposals, without receiving the workers themselves. They refused this and informed me that their minds were already made up. They also let me know that they did not welcome any Government intervention. This was due to what they called the injustice of a settlement made by the Atlanta Regional Labor Board a year ago, after a strike in the laundries here last March. They abused the Board, in their talks with me, and made statements about it which I have learned from its Director, Mr. Frank E. Coffee, to be absolutely false. Mr. Coffee remarks about them as follows in a letter I have received from him:
“I don’t think I have ever had any contact with a group that compares with the Birmingham laundry operators. From the very beginning they have acted more like a bunch of children than business men. No two of them ever agree on anything.”
Mr. Coffee also sends me a copy of a letter from one of the principal operators, written after the Atlanta Board made the settlement a year ago, in which that operator praises the settlement and the Board. This worthy, I may say, is one of the chief gripers now—the one who says he wants a fight.
I first called on the laundry owners with Mr. John G. Towles, president of the Birmingham Dyers and Cleaners Association. Mr. Towles wanted their cooperation, since all of them either do dry cleaning or else accept it and let it out to other concerns. The chief ones showed no wish to cooperate, and in one or two instances they indicated they wanted to fight the unions. Presently the dry cleaners arrived at a settlement with their workers, which I have previously reported. I enclose herewith a copy of the contract which their association has signed with the unions. After this, I visited all the laundry operators, trying to get them to meet the union committee or even to meet with one another, but they declined. In the mean time I appealed to the unions to hold off, on the chance that negotiations would accomplish something. They did this; in fact they have all along acted, in my judgment, with sanity and even with conservatism. Then I obtained the cooperation of the Mr. Wertheimer mentioned before, and after this the Mr. Randall made efforts too. I am making a last try with the operators, more as a formality than anything else, since I have no reason to think they will budge. And tomorrow night the laundry workers are going to vote on striking.
In my opinion a strike is the only thing that will bring the troubles here to an issue. And in any case it seems unavoidable now. I think, however, that because two laundries are signed up and will operate during whatever strike there may be, and also because one or two others will possibly sign, it will be possible to bring the operators to terms reasonably soon after the strike comes off.
There are thirteen laundries involved in the dispute, including one of the two that have signed up. These thirteen went before the Atlanta Board at the time of the strike a year ago. The decision, or “Award,” made then, terminated on March 15, 1935, but contained a provision that a period of 30 days after that date would be allowed for negotiating an agreement for the ensuing year. About 1,000 workers are directly involved. The laundry workers gave notice to the operators, January 14, 1935, that they wanted to renew the Atlanta agreement, with a few changes. The operators made no response. It is over this renewal proposal, and also over the changes the unions want, that the present dispute has arisen. The changes are the closed shop, check-off, and wage increase I have mentioned previously.
Peter A. Carmichael
Commissioner of Conciliation
[U.S. Department of Labor]
Philip Taft Papers, Public Library Archives, Birmingham, Alabama.
653 Preston Place
Mr. H. L. Kerwin
Director of Conciliation
Department of Labor
Dear Mr. Kerwin:
I have returned to my home after failing to accomplish an adjustment of the labor troubles in the laundry industry of Birmingham, Alabama. It was very evident that nothing I could do would bring the laundry proprietors and their employees together in a peaceable settlement, and it was also evident that the employees had lost their strike, since the laundries were pretty well filled with new workers. Furthermore, a number of attempts at mediation by Birmingham citizens and officers had failed. It seemed useless to me to remain there any longer, and so I departed for home, having no other assignments.
In previous reports I have told you of attempts by Birmingham people to reconcile the two sides. I should like to add now that City Commissioner Lewey Robinson called on the laundry owners to meet the contract committee of the laundry unions, but they refused. City Commissioner W. O. Downs a little after this volunteered his services as a mediator, but the laundry owners would not respond. The city Chief of Police put some pressure on the owners to settle the trouble and so free his officers from policing their places, but this also failed to move them. I obtained concessions from the unions’ contract committee, in respect to wage increases and a check-off, which they were asking, and drew from the committee an authorization for Commissioner Downs to present these concessions to the owners, but the latter still remained unresponsive. I tried to induce the Chamber of Commerce to use its unfluence on the owners for a settlement, but it was unwilling to become involved in that way. I proposed local arbitration, but the laundrymen refused that too. They were absolutely set on fighting the matter out with the unions, and the leading ones openly said so. They were also hostile to Government incercession, on the ground that they had submitted similar difficulties to the Atlanta Regional Labor Board a year before, for arbitration, and had gotten the short end of the deal (though this complaint was unjustified on the record and was in fact belied by a letter from the largest laundry owner in Birmingham, who praised the Atlanta Board’s ruling very highly).
Not all of the proprietors held out in that way. I had meetings with five of them and the unions’ contract committee. The result was a signed contract, providing for a closed shop, check-off, and higher wages, in four of the cases, I have little doubt that if the other laundry owners, operating nine plants, had met with the committee and made a reasonable effort to settle, the whole affair could have been adjusted. That was the case with the dry cleaners of Birmingham, who freely met the same contract committee, chosen to represent both laundry and dry-cleaning workers, and finally came to an agreement signed by every member of the Birmingham Dyers and Cleaners Association, which has now forty members.
The laundry business in Birmingham has been hard pressed for some time, on account of the severe depression in that city and also, I learned, on account of the fact that the laundry facilities are beyond the city’s requirements normally. The spread of the union movement, which has been great in that vicinity within the past two years, looked to the laundry owners like a new peril to their business. Last year it led, with the tactics of the owners themselves, to a general laundry strike there and to the subsequent decision of the Atlanta Regional Labor Board. All this made the stronger laundrymen thoroughly determined to check the rise of the unions. Nothing outside of force could have turned them from that determination, I feel certain. The principal laundry owner of Birmingham told me the first time I visited him that he wanted a fight with the unions, and others who had banded together with him told me virtually the same thing. It became clearer and clearer that the one issue was union recognition. And since even to meet the union committee would constitute a certain union recognition on the part of the proprietors, they resolved not to meet it. They have stuck to their resolution, and have apparently whipped the unions.
I was asked by union men in other lines, while in Birmingham, to take up other cases. Two of these involved clay-manufacturing plants, and a third involved a small dairy. I believe the negotiations which followed, in a rather informal way since I had not been officially assigned to these cases, may lead to a peaceable adjustment in one of the cases, and possibly in two.
In case you do not assign me to another case shortly, I expect to visit Washington in a day or two to talk over with you the propriety of my taking up cases which you have not assigned to me. The Birmingham area is full of such cases, and I was requested to take up quite a number of them, by labor leaders.
Peter A. Carmeichael
Commissioner of Conciliation
[U.S. Department of Labor]
Philip Taft Papers, Public Library Archives, Birmingham, Alabama.
The Crisis, 42 (June, 1935): 183.
By Frank R. Crosswaith
The Crisis, 42 (June, 1935): 166-67, 187.
By Frank W. Crosswaith135
Executive Secretary, Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers
Onward sweeps the industrial tide of America carrying in its resistless rush, many of the accumulated beliefs and attitudes long held by a large portion of organized labor in regard to the Negro worker. This sweeping tide is also away the myth that this is a classless country in which every man has a chance to become a bank president, an oil magnate, a coal baron, a landloard, or a railroad czar.
Having been, upon his landing in America, soldered as it were to the soil for over 250 years, while around and about him was growing up the industrial system which has now spread throughout the length and breadth of the land, the Negro worker was for many years looked upon by organized labor as being outside the pale of its concern.
The general opinion was that he—the Negro—was definitely and for all time to do no more than hew wood and draw water, consequently, no worthwhile efforts were made to reach him with the message of unionism, because, the early trade unionists held the common belief that, due to certain physiological and psychological distinctions the Negro would never be able mentally to “fit in” to the growing and complicated industrial system; that the natural habitat of the Negro, in chattel slavery or out of it, was the farm. Be that as it may, it is now a fact that with ever increasing rapidity the Negro is being introduced into industry both as a skilled and unskilled worker and as a result of this fact, two other facts stand out as clear as a noon-day sun.
1. In almost every important strike lost by organized labor within the last fifteen or twenty years, the Negro worker has played a conspicuous role in its outcome and he is destined to play a still more important role in the future. In the collapse of the workers fight in the great steel strike of 1918, the Negro strike breaker was very much in evidence; in the stockyard fiasco of 1922 the unorganized Negro worker was found on the side of the great packing interest; in the railroad strike of 1920 the Negro worker was on the side of the railroad owners. It is even claimed that Negroes helped to defeat the printers in their “rump strike” two years ago in New York City.
2. The gradual realization on the part of organized labor that its own existence, its own best interest was at stake and that unless the Negro workers are organized as well as the white workers are, the strikes won by union labor in this country would become fewer and fewer with the passing of years; because of these facts we have seen from time to time some feeble efforts made to get Negro workers organized; these efforts have not always brought the desired results, of course there is a reason, which I do not desire here to discuss, but will do so in a future article on “labor and the color line.”
Nevertheless, to expect that the accumulated ideas and impressions made upon the minds of the white people of this country through 250 years of chattel slavery, would be suddenly changed by the simple process of a worker joining a labor union, os to expect entirely too much. And so, after white trade unionists, lashed by the whip of self-interest were forced in many instances to admit the Negro worker, we find the left-over ideas and impressions from chattel slavery moulding the unions’ attitude toward the Negro worker. For instance, where he was permitted to enter the unions the following practices were perpetrated upon him; first he had to have a special Negro local (of course with white officers in control) in distinct contrast to the white locals, and incidentally the members of the white locals were usually less unemployed than were the members of the Negro locals; where he was taken into a white local, he quickly realized that his main function there was to pay dues; from certain official positions in the union he was barred whether these were elective or appointive, these positions being considered “white men’s jobs;” the higher the salary and the greater the privileges attached to these positions the stronger was the conviction that they were “white men’s jobs;” the Negro also found in many cases that whenever there were jobs to be had his white brother would invariably get them, while he would be sent to a job only when all the whites were employed; when the “lay-off” period set in the Negro was the first to get that most unwelcome ultimatum; as a result of these experiences the Negro worker reacted by becoming suspicious of all unions and all union organizers.
However, the present stringent immigration laws which cut off the supply of European and other foreign labor, together with the rapid urbanization of the population of the United States resulting in thousands of workers leaving the farms every year for the industrial centers, the farms themselves becoming highly industrialized with the aid of modern farming instruments, are among some of the factors that have forced white labor to search itself and assume some concern about the Negro worker.
About a year ago a group of Negro and white trade unionists and their friends met at the Civic Club for an exchange of ideas on the question of the Negro worker and his relations to organized labor. At this gathering were present justice are well established, such men as Dr. Norman Thomas, Dr. Harry Laidler, Cedric Long, Thomas J. Curtis, Max Danish and such women as Mrs. Gertrude E. McDougald, Mrs. Kenneth Walzer and others too numerous to mention. There were also present some who apparently did not fully understand the question and the principles under discussion and whose attitude seemed rather opposed to organized labor because of the latter’s past neglect of the Negro worker, nevertheless, out of that gathering was organized a committee consisting of the following: Thomas J. Curtis, General Manager Compensation Bureau of the Building Trades; Samuel A. Irving, Carpenters Union, Secretary; Frank R. Crosswaith, Union Organizer; Max Danish, Editor of Justice, the organ of the I.L.G.W. Union and Mrs. Gertrude E. McDougald, Teachers Union.
Mrs. Walzer was elected chairman of the committee and its consequent success is due in large measure to her industry and her untiring devotion to the task assigned her. After a period of many months spent in ascertaining the attitude of the unions toward the matter, a conference was decided upon. This conference met at Arlington Hall, May 23, 1925; over 25 local and international unions were represented by delegates, many which had shown interest in the matter and signified their intentions to be present were unavoidably kept away.
The principal address was made by Mr. Hugh Frayne, New York representative of the A.F. of L. He spoke in very interesting and sympathetic terms of the Negro worker, and pledged the full support of the A.F. of L. to whatever constructive effort the Conference would decide upon. Mr. Frayne’s enthusiastic address was a true reflection of the general spirit of the delegates who seemed clearly to realize the tremendous size and seriousness of the task facing them. The determination everywhere was that never again must organized labor lose another strike in New York City through the activities of unorganized Negro workers. The Conference voted to create a permanent organization to be known as the “Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers,” whereupon Mr. Thomas J. Curtis, President of the International Union of Tunnel Workers and Manager of the Compensation Bureau of the Building Trades was elected Chairman and Treasurer. Mrs. Gertrude E. McDougald, Assistant Principal of Public School No. 89, and representing the Teachers Union, was chosen vice-chairman; Frank R. Crosswaith and A. August Marquis were elected executive secretary and assistant secretary respectively.
An executive committee was also chosen, its membership besides those above named, is as follows: Ernst Bohm, Bookkeepers, Stenographers, and Accountants Union; Ed. Brown, Jr., Elevator Operators and Starters Union; Eugene J. Cohan, Teamsters Union; Samuel A. Irving, Carpenters Union; L. Rosenthal, Laundry Workers International Union; James J. Cunningham, Carpenters Union and Joseph Kesten, International Ladies Garment Workers Union.
Headquarters have now been opened at 2380 7th Avenue, Room 504, and within a short time the organization will begin to make its presence felt in the economic life of the Negro workers of New York City. Too long has it been a truism that the Negro is the last to be hired and the first to be fired. Too long has the Negro worker’s dinner pail been almost empty while the dinner pail of the other workers has been comparatively full. The future of the Negro is inextricably bound up with that of labor and consequently, the sooner this fact is realized by both black and white workers the faster will speed the day of emancipation from economic slavery of all who usefully work whether by hand or by brain.
“The Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers” will adopt as its slogan, “Union hours, Union wages and Union conditions for every Negro worker in the City of New York.” The task the Committee faces is by no means an easy one, it must do both educational and organizing work; it must organize the unorganized workers and it must aid in education both Negro and white workers toward a realization of their common economic interest. It must not alone get Negro workers into the unions of their trades, but it must also stand by them in the fight for justice inside of their unions; it will serve the Negro workers as the Woman’s Trade Union League serves the women Trade Unionists as the “United Hebrew Trades” serves the Jewish workers and as the Italian Chamber of Labor serves the Italian workers.
This Committee ought to receive the instant and genuine support of the far-seeing men and women of the race. It must be plain to all that in strengthening the earning capacity of the workers of our race, we are directly strengthening the entire race; for when the Negro worker’s dinner pail is full, when his pay envelope is fuller, it is then that the professional men of the race, the fraternal organizations of the race, the churches and other institutions of the race will be greatly benefitted and their pernament prosperity more assured, to say nothing of the social and educational improvements which will come to the group, and lastly, “the Committee” needs financial support; this support it will not get and does not want from those whose selfish interests are protected by having the Negro workers unorganized where they can be more effectively abused and exploited. It does not want and it cannot get, financial support from the enemies of organized labor. It is to organized labor and to the sympathizers of organized labor that it must look for support; every race-conscious and class-conscious Negro in particular, ought to come forward now and aid in this the worthiest of all attempt to bring relief to the hard pressed and brutally exploited toilers of our race.
Checks and money orders should be made out to the treasurer, Thomas J. Curtis and addressed to the Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers, 2380 7th Avenue, New York City, Room 504.
All Negro workers desiring to join the union of their trade should come to our headquarters and consult the secretary.
The Messenger, 7 (August, 1925): 296-97.
AT ROCKLAND PALACE
155th Street and Eighth Avenue, N.Y.
Sunday, January 6th, at 3 P.M.
The recent San Francisco Convention of the American Federation of Labor made history. Negro and White Labor MUST UNITE to win for all peoples Economic and Social Justice. Only by organization and education of Negro and White Labor can we save ourselves from the swamps of poverty, unemployment, lynchings and race prejudice. JOIN THE BONA FIDE UNION OF YOUR TRADE—NOW!
WILLIAM GREEN, President, A.F. of L.
WILL PRESENT A SPECIAL MESSAGE TO NEGRO LABOR
Vice-President American Federation of Labor, Pres. International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union
A. PHILLIP RANDOLPH
President, Brotherhood of of Sleeping Car Porters Union, American Federation of Labor
President, Building Service Employees’ Union, Local 32-B
New York Representative, A.F. of L.
FRANK R. CROSSWAITH
Chairman, Harlem Labor Committee; General Organizer, International Garment Workers’ Union, A.F. of L.
Special Program—MAXIM BRODY The Celebrated Radio Tenor-Artist WILL SING
For information on How to Join Your Union. Consult HARLEM LABOR COMMITTEE, 2005 Seventh Avenue.
Flier in possession of the editors.
Call to local unions affiliated with the A.F. of L.
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
As an alert unit of the organized labor movement of this city, you are aware of the efforts of the Harlem Labor Committee to bring to the Negro worker the message of trade unionism and remove him beyond the reach of open-shoppers, anti-labor and these impatient elements who constantly seek to use Negro labor in their game to break labor standards and disrupt organized labor. Space will not permit a full recount of the Committee’s service to the Negro worker and organized labor, but the Central Trades and Labor Council of Greater New York at its last meeting highly commended our work and all enlightened sections of the labor movement have recognized its value.
It is becoming increasingly clear to all, that if labor is to conserve the gains already made and add to them, the Negro worker must become more truly an integral part of the labor movement. We feel that the invaluable service which the United Hebrew Trades and Women’s Trade Union League are rendering to labor among their respective groups may be duplicated among Negro workers with equal advantage to the organized labor movement.
In order to create the agency which will apply the principle of the United Hebrew Trades and Women’s Trade Union League to the problems of the Negro worker, a conference will be held on: Saturday, July 20, 1935, at 1 P.M., at the Renaissance Casino, Seventh Avenue and West 138th Street.
Therefore, we, the undersigned, call upon your organization to select two (2) delegates to represent it at this conference. Please notify us immediately of the identity of your delegates. A fee of $1.00 is requested for each delegate to cover conference costs. The conference will be representative of only trade unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.
Frank R. Crosswaith, Chairman, Harlem Labor Committee
Morris Fienstene, Executive Secretary, United Hebrew Trades
James J. Bambrick, President, Building Service Employees Union, 32-B
A. Philip Randolph, President, Bhd. Sleeping Car Porters
Julius Hechman, Vice-Pres. International Ladies Garment Workers Union
Noah C. A. Walter, Jr., Secy. Arrangements Committee
Invitation to Fraternal Organizations:
Enclosed is a Call for the first Negro Labor Conference to be held on Saturday, July 20, 1935, at the Renaissance Casino, 138th Street and 7th Avenue. The Conference will consider the problem of the Negro worker and his relationship to the organized labor movement, with a view of establishing an agency that will serve the Negro worker in his efforts to organize as an integral part of the legitimate labor movement.
Because of your well known interest in matters affecting the well being of the Negro worker, we are calling upon your organization to have an representative attend the Conference as a Fraternal Delegate.
Frank R. Crosswaith, Chairman
Noah C. A. Walter, Jr., Secretary
Negro Labor Committee Papers, Shromburg Collection, New York Public Library, New York.
Sponsored by the Negro Labor Committee
Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, N.Y. Joint Board
American Federation of Musicians, Local #802
Amalgamated Ladies Garment Cutters Union, Local #10, ILGWU
Bakery and Confectionery Workers Union, Local #507
Blouse and Waistmakers Union, Local #25, ILGWU
Bookkeepers, Stenographers, and Accountants Union, Local #12646
Bricklayers Union, Local #37
Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
Brotherhood of Carpenters, Local #385
Brotherhood of Painters, Local #261
Building Service Employees Union, 32B
Building Service Employees Union, 10B
Building Service Employees Union, 149B
Capmakers Union, Local #1
Carpenters and Joiners Union, Local #1888
Celluloid, Catalin, Galalith Workers Union
Children’s Dress and Housedressmakers Union, Local #91, ILGWU
Cloak, Skirt and Dress Pressers Union Local, #35, ILGWU
Cleaners, Dyers, and Pressers Union
Cloak, Dress Drivers and Helpers Union, Local #102, ILGWU
Cloak and Suit Tailors Union, Local, #9, ILGWU
Cooks and Kitchen Workers Union, Local #69
Corset and Brassiere Workers Union, Local #32
Dining Car Employees Union, Local #370
Doll and Toy Workers Union, Local #18230
Dressmakers Union, Local #22, ILGWU
Dress and Waist Pressers Union, Local #60, ILGWU
Excavators and Building Laborers Union, Local #731
Greater N.Y. Council International Building Service Union
Italian Dressmakers Union, Local #89, ILGWU
Joint Council Knit Goods Workers Union
Joint Board Cloak, Suit, and Shirtmakers Union
Joint Board Dress and Waistmakers Union
Ladies Apparel Shipping Clerks Union, Local #19953
Ladies Neckwear Workers Union, Local #142, ILGWU
Ladies Tailors and Theatrical Custom Workers Union, Local #36, ILGWU
Laundry Workers International Union
Laundry Workers Union, Local #290
Millinery Workers Union, Local #24
Mineral Water Workers Union, Local #331
Motion Picture Operators Union, Local #306
Painters and Decorators of America, Local #848
Painters, Decorators, Paperhangers of America, District Council, Local #9
Pocketbook Workers International Union
Paperbox Makers Union
Retail Dairy, Grocery, and Fruit Clerks Union, Local #338
Retail Hat and Furnishings Salesmen’s Union, Local #721
Suitcase, Bag and Portfolio Workers Union
United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners Union, Local #2090
Upholsterers’ Carpet, and Linoleum Mechanics International Union of No. Amer., Local #140B
United Hebrew Trades
Van Drivers and Helpers Union, Local #814
Fraternal Organizations Represented
Home Relief Bureau Employees Association
Ministers Union National
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
National Urban League
Problem’s Cooperative Association
Union Mechanics Association
Workmen’s Circle - (Branches 66, 66B, 277, 500, 543, 536, 417)
Workers’ Unemployed Union of Greater New York City
Ashland Place Branch, Brooklyn, Young Women’s Christian Association
Noah C. A. Walter, Jr., Harlem Labor Committee
Ernest Cherry, Motion Picture Operators Union, Local #306
Isabelle Harding, Dressmakers Union, Local #22, ILGWU
P. A. Moore, Dining Car Employees Union, Local #370
Winifred Gittens, Blouse and Waistmakers Union, Local #25, ILGWU
Norman Donawa, Dross and Waist Pressers Union, Local #60, ILGWU
Brother William Mahoney, N.Y. State Organizer of the A.F. of L. was introduced, and spoke as follows:
Mr. Chairman, Fellow Members and Fellow Officials of the A.F. of L.:
I see before me a great many familiar faces. I want to apologize for my vocal condition, which is the result of a strenous battle the other day to get six workers out of jail. They put me in an automobile with my clothing soaking wet with perspiration and the result is the loss of my voice.
There is a communication from President William Green which will be read to you by one of your representatives, and it will much more clearly set forth the position of the Federation with regard to the Negro workers. This matter of proper organization into the bona fide Labor movement in America of the Negro has been mighty near to our hearts for many years. It is about time that something was done along that line. Only too long have the greedy employers used Negroes against whites and whites against Negroes. It is part of a carefully laid plan to keep them from organizing as workers, both Negro and white.
Now I am glad this movement has been started. It has been needed for many years. By the roster call of delegates there is no question but what the Labor movement is standing behind you. I am going to be brief. You know the need. Nobody knows it better than our brother, Frank R. Crosswaith, and Brother Randolph, who only recently, after ten years of struggle finally achieved victory in forcing recognition of the Pullman Porters Union. It is pretty evident that the need is great.
Some months ago I attended a meeting of the Negro Vaudeville Actors. In my organization there are no Negroes, but of course, they have never been barred from my organization. From the beginning we took everybody regardless of color. I have only attended the meeting of the Vaudeville Actors once, and I can see the necessity of pointing out the need for organization of Negro workers and Negro artists. It is a long needed.
I want to promise this group that as the Organizer of the New York Branch of the American Federation of Labor, and in behalf of William Collins, if you should need us at any time to address a meeting or be helpful in any way at a conference or anything concerning you, pleast call upon us. As President Green’s letter clearly states there shall be no discrimination against fellow workers on account of creed, color, or nationality in the A.F. of L. All workers have only too long been bled against one another. That day is passing. All sections of Labor are standing under the banner of the bonafide movement which is the A.F. of L. The working class has been exploited. So, pack up shop. There is plenty to be done. It is going to be a tremendous task.
I shall look back in future years and be proud of the fact that I was able to speak at the opening of this meeting. God bless you! And, go to it!
The following officers were nominated and elected:
Chairman: Frank R. Crosswaith
Vice-Chairman: Albert Perry and Jacob Mirsky
Secretaries: Noah C. A. Walter, Jr. and Clifford McLeod
Note:- Brother A. Philip Randolph was nominated as Chairman but declined in favor of Brother Frank R. Crosswaith.
Acceptance Speech of Brother Frank R. Crosswaith.
Brothers and Fellow Workers:
Permit me to express my deep and sincere appreciation of your kindness in electing me to preside over this most important and significant event. I hope, that during the course of our deliberations, we will keep in mind one particular thing. We want to make a record here this afternoon—we want to demonstrate to those who do not yet know that a group of Negro and white trade unionists can meet for the purpose of legislating on matters of common vital importance, not only to themselves, but to the entire working class movement of the United States, and do it intelligently and with dispatch. I am pleading with you now, that as we go along to meet our minds on the various questions to come before us, let us keep out of our discussions any rancor or bitterness. We want to be as decorous and tolerant to each other as organized and disciplined men and women; so that after the adjustment of this Conference, we can feel that we are leaving a momument in procedure and intelligent deliberation to the movement of which we are a part.
You heard Brother Mahoney in his brief opening address say that the effort we are now making has long been needed in the working class movement of this city and nation. May I not remind those of you who have forgotten, and also those of you who may not know that ten years ago right here in this segregated section of New York City a group of trade unionists established an agency which dealt effectively with the problems that then faced the Negro workers of this city. Out of a Conference held on May 23rd in the lower East side was born the Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers. In that Conference the honor was paid to me of selecting to serve as Executive Secretary of the Committee. Those of you who are newcomers in the labor movement of this city ought to know that in the brief span of four months the Trade Union Committee was actively organizing Negro workers. Hundreds of them were inducted in the unions of their trade. Those workers were accustomed to long hours and low wages without any protection on their jobs. One of the outstanding achievements of the Trade Union Committee was the bringing together of the Negro Motion Picture Operators, who were working in the city but not within the folds of the union. Through the efforts of the Committee, these men were able to find their rightful place in their unions receiving the benefits and privileges, and sharing the responsibilities that go to trade union men and women. We have come together again for the purpose of reviving the effort we then made. We have new ideas, we have grown, and some of us have a particular desire to retrace the grounds we once trod. Apart from the importance of uniting the working class, black and white, we have kept before our mind’s eye the fact that no matter how narrow-minded and bigoted and blind may be some members of the organized labor movement in this city and in other cities, we, nevertheless, have everywhere some who are intelligent and emancipated. They are convinced that white workers never will and never can be free until, and unless, Negro workers also are free. We want an organization to teach Negro workers that they must not be shunted off on some ground and hope to battle effectively in this modern industrial hell without the aid of the organized white working class. And, because, we recognize the common interest of the two groups, we are determined to foster and shape an agency that will serve to unify the working class of both races, as well as for the purpose of eliminating from the arena of the American labor movement, all forms of racial prejudice and discrimination in any section of the A.F. of L. I am convinced it is the only way to meet the problem. We know this is America, and we know that race prejudice and segregation and all other such dastardly and evil things sprout from the 245 years of slavery. We expect opposition to our efforts. But we must go forward regardless of opposition. You know it was Anatole France to whom the group of newspaper men once went while he was making137 an address at the Sorbonne in France. The newspaper men approached him and said, “Monsieur France, we want you to describe for us the most fascinating picture your eyes have ever beheld.” Those newspaper men, because of Anatole France’s ability to make his language sing, expect him to paint in words an alluring picture of a landscape or a sunset, or some house resting upon the rim of rolling hills, or the rippling waters of a sea or lake. But Anatole France looked them in the eyes for a few moments and replied: “The most fascinating, the most alluring picture I have ever seen is the picture of a man standing at the feet of a mountain with his coat turned up, his teeth grit, his head bent forward, attempting to climb that mountain in the midst of a raging storn.” “That to me,” said Anatole France, “Is the most fascinating picture I have seen, for it bespeaks courage, faith, and the will to do.” This conference this afternoon is indicative of that spirit, the spirit of the new Negro and the spirit of the emancipated white trade unionists. We are at the foot of the hill, our teeth are grit, our coat collars turned up, our heads bent forward, and we intend to climb this hill come what may. We are going to climb together for the good of the Negro workers of this country and the general good of the workers of the United States. As Negroes we need to appreciate the fact that ever since we have been emancipated we have spent most of our lives on our knees begging for mercy or justice. Yes—our pleas and tears and cries have reached the clouds in the skies, if you please, but in spite of our pleas and tears, what has happened—we are still being lynched, still being brutalized, still being segregated in American life, and in certain sections of the labor movement our fundamental rights as workers are still denied. We are here to give evidence that a new type of Negro is now standing for equality, shedding his swaddling clothes and about to step out upon the stage of American life; A Negro in whose makeup there is no place for pleas, for mercy; a Negro with no tears to shed, but a Negro who appreciates the fact that we are living in a world of wolves and if he is to survive he must develop his own claws, and he must have courage. This new Negro is a result of certain economic and social conditions; and just as these conditions produced this new Negro they have also produced the new white man—the new white man who has left the old moorings of race prejudice, and who recognizes that labor is the common denominator of us all. To advance the economic interests of all mankind is the supreme purpose of this conference—solidarity between the new Negro and the new white man in the American Labor Movement is our goal. I have heard it said that what the Negro needs is education. Well, there are many educated people in this hall, I am one of those unfortunately who did not have a chance for a formal education. When I was 13 years old my father died and his death took me out of the school room—at the age of thirteen in the fifth grade—and I have been working ever since. Nevertheless, I appreciate the importance of education, but I want to confess that there is something more important than education, and that something is courage. I know many so-called educated people who are without courage, but if you have courage you can acquire an education.
I have before me two letters addressed to the Conference, and another addressed to me. The one addressed to me is not so important but the ones addressed to you I want you to hear. The first is from President Wm. Green of the A.F. of L. It reads as follows:
TO THE OFFICERS AND DELEGATES IN ATTENDANCE AT THE NEGRO LABOR CONFERENCE.
My Fellow Workers:
I sincerely regret because of the multiplicity of duties I am called upon to discharge in an official way it is impossible for me to accept the invitation extended to me to attend and address your conference. However, I wish to assure you that I am deeply interested in the purpose of the conference and in the economic and industrial welfare of all those who may be in attendance and of those they represent. It is the purpose and objective of the American Federation of Labor to organize all workers regardless of creed, color, sex, or nationality. Notwithstanding what those may say who are constantly assailing its policies, principles and procedure, there is no organization in America which stands more firmly for the protection of the economic rights of all classes of people regardless of creed, color, or nationality. We are constantly endeavoring to promote a condition where all international unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, clothed with autonomous authority, will conform to the declarations, procedure and principles of the A.F. of L., itself regarding the admission of members without regard to race, creed, or nationality. We are certain that time, patience and good judgment will bring about a solution of our vexed problem.
In the meantime it becomes the duty of the representatives of all workers to cooperate together not in denunciation of each other but in a common purpose to compose all differences and to solve our economic and industrial problems.
I repeat my assurance of an official and personal interest in the welfare of the Negroes everywhere and particularly of those who are in attendance at your conference and those whom they have the honor to represent.
William Green, President
American Federation of Labor
The other letter is from Mr. David Dubinsky, President I.L.G.W.U., which reads as follows:
“I greet the idea of your Negro Labor Conference and the objections which it strives to attain—the expansion of the trade union movement under a directing and coordinating agency—because of the experience we, in the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union, have had with organizing Negro workers in our industries and of the highly satisfactory results we have achieved in this direction.
“Our International Union through all the thirty-five years of its existence has maintained a tradition of open door to all races, languages and nationalities. And we are happy to declare that this platform of genuine equality has been rewarded by a loyalty and a devotion on the part of our Negro brothers and sisters which is not excelled in the fraternity of organized labor in America. Though comparatively newcomers—as far as large numbers are concerned, in the I.L.G.W.U., our Negro fellow workers have proved themselves to be valiant fighters in the trade union cause and a true asset to the organization.
“In wishing you success in your undertaking, may I express the hope that other unions may benefit from our experience so splendidly demonstrated in New York City and in other centers, which permits no other conclusion but that it is the sacred duty of all labor organizations to offer the widest opportunity and cooperation to the unionization movement among the hundreds of thousands of Negro wage earners as a powerful lover for solidifying and strengthening the cause of organized labor in America as a whole.”
David Dubinsky, President
International Ladies Garment Workers Union
Here also is a telegram received from Mr. Max Danish, editor “Justice” official organ. Int’l Ladies Garment Workers Union:
To FRANK R. CROSSWAITH, CHAIRMAN NEGRO LABOR CONFERENCE RENAISSANCE CASINO 138 ST AND 7th AVE.
GREETINGS TO YOUR DELEGATES ASSEMBLED TO LAY CORNERSTONE FOR CENTRAL BODY OF NEGRO LABOR IN NEW YORK STOP YOUR CONSTRUCTIVE OBJECTIVES INSPIRE THE UNFLAGGED CONFIDENCE OF COUNTLESS FRIENDS IN YOUR ABILITY TO MAKE HISTORIC CONTRIBUTION TO THE CAUSE OF MILLIONS OF NEGRO WORKERS IN AMERICA.
MAX DANISH EDITOR JUSTICE
The Chairman then introduced Mrs. Elise McDougall Ayers, Principal of Public School No. 24, and a former Vice-President of the Trade Union Committee for Organizing Negro Workers, who spoke as follows:
Mr. Chairman and Friends:
I feel at a decided disadvantage as I am not an orator such as Mr. Crosswaith. I am simply a school teacher whose contact with the working people occurs each and every day, and I think it is a point which is very dear to the hearts of the working people—their children.
As a teacher I cannot fail to take a keen interest in the working people because I am a worker—a teacher-worker with the heart of a worker. I see every day, especially at this time of economic stress, the great evils of low wages and long hours—evils that will be reflected in the future generation—and the handicaps that low wages and long hours, poor food, little food and poor health will mean to the worker of the future. I think the greatest evil of all the economic ills is the one that touches the child.
The Trade Union Movement is again looking toward the organization of Negroes in all trades, and the meeting in 1925 had the appearance very much of this meeting. There were delegates representing many unions and they were sincere delegates, willing to give time and money. The work started off very auspiciously. There was just one difference. The movement then did not originate with the Trade Unions. It was really the brain-child of philanthropic and welfare organizations. But the soundness of the thing of organizing Negro workers was appreciated by the Trade Union although it did not originate with them. I think perhaps what makes this more favorable for success is that this is originating in the minds of Trade Unionists, themselves.
Between 1925 and 1935, Mr. Crosswaith has grown and he has become a responsible official within the union movement! and Mr. Randolph has grown. Both of these men, as well as myself, have seen the tricks and deceits and hypocracy. I think that both are even better prepared than they were ten years ago to save the ship from going on the rocks. It was simply overwhelming trickery and underhanded deception that made the other Trade Union Committee fail. I do not believe it was because of lack of interest on the part of the Trade Unions. The Committee was well started. The money began to come in from the Trade Unions. They were supporting the union and constantly called upon Mr. Crosswaith to help them solve some problems where the Negro workers were concerned. But the enemies that constantly seek to defeat the working people, by one trick or another, became very active and strangely enough, Mr. Green, a letter from whom we have just heard, listened to the welfare people more than he did to the Trade Union workers, themselves. In a short time the movement died for lack of nourishment. This time I believe that won’t happen. I think President Green has probably found out that Negroes have grown with more determination; that Negroes are not going to be satisfied to be shoved aside. They have enough friends in the Trade Unions and there is more understanding by Negroes of what the Trade Union means than there was ten years ago. For that reason I came here to congratulate you, the representatives of many unions; Mr. Crosswaith and Mr. Randolph for their persistence and courage. It will take a great deal of these two things to get the Trade Union movement launched among Negroes.
Personally, my work takes me back to the children, and I am hoping that I am going to be able to do something with the youngsters to make them more conscious. I think we probably spend too much time in schools teaching things that are not real. I believe children should learn just as well from real things. I am fooling around as I go for some way of bringing real things to children, even as young as I handle, as we teach only through the sixth grade, to start to create a consciousness that there is more to it than a job—the protection of the job. We must start early to make them conscious and not let them grow up in total ignorance, because Negro children do not hear it in their homes as a great many white children do. White children’s fathers and mothers talk about it. Not so much is heard about organizations of that kind in Negro children’s homes.
Mr. Crosswaith very wisely said he wished only a short address, and I am going to limit myself. I shall stop just where I am, but wish to offer my time and interest and what experience I might have that would come in handy to this movement. I wish to assure Mr. Crosswaith, as ten years ago, that we can put our heads together and decide things.
Now Mr. Crosswaith is equipped and in a better position to do many things, and with the help of Mr. Randolph who is our most experienced fighter along these lines, I am sure this conference will be not only successful, but the work that follows will not die, be killed off or strangled. They now have wisdom.
Mrs. Ayers speech was followed by:
The Report of the Organization Committee
“Because, of the deepening crisis in modern capitalism of which the existing industrial depression is an acute manifestation, the workers of America, Black and white, face a decisive challenge to grapple not only with the immediate problems of work, wages and relief but also with the deeper question of ultimately achieving industrial democracy.
“At present all workers are the victims of economic insecurity, and social and political terrorism; however, because of the fact that various historical conditions have made the Negroes a marginal worker—being the first fired and the last hired—and because of the existence of a vicious and brutal system of American jim-crowism, segregation and discrimination Negro workers find themselves doubly exploited and oppressed.
“According to the 1930 U.S. Census there are nearly 11,000,000 Negroes in America and it is a matter of common knowledge that the great majority of Negro people are workers, securing their living by the sale of their labor power on the market from day to day.
“In New York City according to responsible social service agencies while the Negro constitutes 5% of the total population, the Negro jobless represent more than 19% of the unemployed. According to conservative estimates there are not more than 12,000 Negro workers embraced in the trade union movement of this city. Therefore it is obvious that the great mass of Negro workers are without collective bargaining power with which to protect their economic interest and assert their rights.
“A continuation of this tragic condition is not only harmful to the best interests of the Negro worker but plays into the hands of the exploiters of all labor and the enemies of the labor movement.
“Because, of the forementioned conditions existing in relation to the Negro workers, workers coming from various trades and callings in this conference do herewith announce and proclaim their belief and commitment to the creation of an instrumentality that will promote the cause of the organization of Negro workers into the existing bonafide trade unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.
“It is the sense of this conclave that such an instrumentality take the form of a Committee representative of the spirit, sentiment and trade union policy reflected in these deliberations.
“It is the collective judgment of this body that this Committee shall be known by the name of THE NEGRO LABOR COMMITTEE.
“THE NEGRO LABOR COMMITTEE shall be composed of 25 Negro and white members of various bonafide trade unions.
“The officers of THE NEGRO LABOR COMMITTEE shall be: Chairman; 5 vice-chairmen; executive secretary; financial secretary; and others not herewith stated to be appointed by THE COMMITTEE.
“The financial support of THE NEGRO LABOR COMMITTEE shall come from those trade unionists and bonafide labor organizations who are in accord with the policy and program of THE COMMITTEE.
“The general program and activities of THE NEGRO LABOR COMMITTEE shall conform to and be in harmony with the policy and program of the American Federation of Labor.”
The Committee on Organization:
A. Philip Randolph, President of Sleeping Car Porters
Thomas Young, Vice-president Building Service Employees Union, 32-B
Elica Riley, Dressmakers’ Union #22, I.L.G.W.U.
Jack Butler, Taxis Chauffeurs Union #19795 A.F. of L.
William Alex. Conaway, American Federation of Musicians, #802
Before this report was voted upon, a general discussion from the floor ensued. A part of which follows:
Brother Mirsky (Bricklayers Union):
“I feel that I should have something to say in the matter, and I hope that this will not turn into whether or not this labor organization will create Jim Crowism or discrimination. The paragraph reads, “The Negro Labor Committee shall be composed of 25 Negro and white members of various bonafide trade unions.”
It is possible that some people may have applied to the A.F. of L. for a charter, and did not get it, but the fact remains in the eyes of the bona fide trade unions that such persons will not be officially recognized as bona fide members of unions until they are chartered. There is nothing to stop them from applying or getting the same rights as bonafide members get now, when they are chartered. It certainly would be doing both of us harm by refusing them their charter. I am speaking for a few conservative organizations, and my own unit, and the entire building trades industry.
We are part and parcel of the A.F. of L., and if they do anything illegal to you and us, we still insist that the A.F. of L. is the bonafide labor organization, and we will not recognize any organization unless it is affiliated with the A.F. of L.
I don’t want that presumption to stand that there is discrimination; and if there is—and I say that any movement organized for union endeavor is far from being infallible—but if there is, this Negro Labor Committee, as it functions, will overcome those things. But don’t create an ill feeling at the very beginning. Let’s organize. Let’s get together as proposed by the Organization Committee. All these differences will be ironed out after we grow up, but if we are setting out to create friction, let’s quit!”
“I fully agree with Brother Mirsky. True, there is discrimination. If we didn’t have discrimination, and if the Negro workers were organized, we would not be here this afternoon. We would not try to organize this conference. But it is the purpose of this Negro Labor Committee to organize Negroes to existing bonafide trade unions, and to oppose any form of discrimination and battle for the rights of all labor. I believe those who want to bring in an issue at this time in order to use the organization at its very inception to force themselves into the A.F. of L., means the breaking up of the efforts of this Conference this afternoon. Don’t use this organization for that purpose. I don’t know why the A.F. of L. refused your application for a charter, but I know this—if this organization grows in strength it will become a factor in the labor movement, and whereover black and white laborers may be they will shake hands as brothers and recognize each other as such. Then this organization will be able to come to the A.F. of L. and tell of the wrongs done to them. You have something. Use it for your own purpose. But to use it at the very beginning as a side door to break in is wrong because it is not motivated by that brotherly spirit of creating something.
I know wrongs are being done by the A.F. of L., and President Green himself, states it very often; but they are trying to adjust this matter, and this conference if successful and cooperative, will get all the unions in the A.F. of L. to have their say and get their just due if wronged. But don’t use it at the very beginning and break up before you start. It is really the only thing that may win the support and sympathy of the entire labor movement of America.
Regarding the paragraph which reads: “The Negro Labor Committee shall be composed of 25 Negro and white members of various bonafide trade unions;”—What does it mean? Just this: If we organize the Negro workers and try to bring them into the A.F. of L., and they are refused, there must be a cause, and if there is no cause, we have reason to put up a fight because this conference will speak in the name of so many thousands—in the name of the A.F. of L., and our voices will be heard. So accept it right now as it is. Work with us for the common interest of all.”
The Chairman then recognized A. Philip Randolph, President Brotherhood Sleeping Car Porters Union and Chairman of the Organization Committee, to close the discussion.
Brother Randolph’s Remarks:
“In commenting on this aspect of the resolutions, I might say that the Committee is in sympathy with some of the ideas expressed by the first speaker, but the Committee believes the only way to adjust this matter is by developing a machine that represents some strength, and in order to develop such a machine it must be composed of some existing organizations that already have the support and recognition of the A.F. of L. When we develop such an organization then we can go out and fight for the very cause that was expressed by the first speaker.
As a matter of fact, the relief workers represent a most important group in America at this time, because labor is beginning to direct its attention to the organization of relief workers. We are concerned with them, because relief workers contact relief clients and therefore can be of great service to Negro and white employed workers seeking relief.
This organization will work with various groups of workers, with all Negro workers, to organize them and get them into the A.F. of L. We realize their logical place is in the A.F. of L. and the program is to develop a policy where this may be effected. There is no disposition to exclude any group of workers from the Negro Labor Committee. In answer to the statement that there are no color bars in unions affiliated with the A.F. of L., you can find them—clauses of race, and color barriers against Negro workers. We recognize it—President Green recognizes it. The only way to change them, however, is by developing the Negro Labor Committee. That is the purpose of this conference. We can’t do everything in the beginning, but I am making a broad and general statement of the policy and the general work to be carried on. It is our general purpose to include all workers. It shall be the efforts of this organization to go out, organize all workers, and then go to the A.F. of L. and demand that they be admitted or find the reason why.”
Note:- (The above discussions arose from an intemperate attack upon the A.F. of L. and the Conference by a fraternal delegate representing the Relief Employees’ Association. Neither he nor his organization had been originally invited to the Conference. Through an error he was given a credential instead of a visitor’s card. His was the only discordant note in the Conference).
Upon a motion, the report of the Organization Committee was adopted by a vote of 72 for—and 3 against. After the vote was announced, the Chairman then presented A. Philip Randolph.
Brother Randolph’s Speech:
Brother Chairman, Delegates and Fellow Workers of the Negro Labor Conference:
“I am indeed glad to see the remarkable interest in a conference of this nature. The workers of America are facing the most serious period in their history, and, of course, the Negro workers who represent the group that is the weakest, they are facing a doubly serious period in their life. As a matter of fact, we are facing the decline of a system, viz., the disintegration of modern capitalism. This is the result of tendencies inherent in the system. Beginning over a period of some twenty-five years ago, these tendencies have become sharper and sharper, until today, we have reached a period where it is practically impossible for modern capitalism to function in meeting the needs and conditions that are essential to its own existence and perpetuity. These disintegrating tendencies handicap, stife, and tend to destroy all the forces of civil liberties—forces that make for the development of the labor movement. In Germany today there is no trade union movement. Twenty years ago, if you would have told anyone that the trade union movement of Germany would have gone into decline, they would have looked upon you as a lunatic. Today that great organization of workers has been smashed and driven underground. What is true of Germany is also true of Italy. In America and England, forces of Fascism are developing with remarkable speed. In America, Negro workers face this danger because already we are victims of exploitation, and oppression in the South, with its vicious system of Jim Crowism; of segregation and discrimination, lynching and mob law; the elimination of Negroes from the public school system; this has been going on in the south for the last fifty years. Consequently, what the fascist movements are bringing to the workers in this section are those tendencies and condition which have existed for Negroes ever since the passing of the slave system. The passing of slavery did not result in the complete emancipation of the Negro worker. As a matter of fact, the Civil War was not a complete revolution. It did not bring to the workers universal suffrage, the right to participate in the public school system in the democratic parliamentary structure. More than any other group in America, Negroes need to develop economic strength and organize with white workers to fight and abolish all forms and forces that attack their rights as workers.
Unless workers develop organized power, to fight militantly for their rights, we shall soon find there will be no workers organization in America, and that all workers will be treated like the black laborer in Georgia and other sections of the south. Think of Tom Mooney who has been rotting in prison for 15 years or more; and Angelo Herndon who faces the chain gang in Georgia; of the Scottsboro boys—and others.
We must meet that situation, by developing power on the part of labor, black and white. We must wipe out all forms of discrimination, segregation and Jim Crowism in the A.F. of L. These evils are not always in the Constitution. But everybody admits it. Only recently a conference was held in Washington for the purpose of going into this question. That conference brought out many facts about discrimination by one group of workers against another. By virtue of that hearing, no doubt some serious attempt will be made to remedy these conditions. Hearings should be held in all parts of the country so that informed persons may be able to appear and tell of the difficulties Negro workers meet when they attempt to come into the A.F. of L.
That Conference was the outcome of a resolution adopted at the A.F. of L. Convention in San Francisco on the question of the relation of the Negro to the Federation. This indicates to you the necessity of some organization such as we propose which can go to the A.F. of L. with petitions and demand that a national or international union having a color bar be expelled from the A.F. of L.
There can be no solidarity if one is considered a black worker and another a white worker. He should be considered just a worker. We intend to abolish discrimination and segregation. Our fight is not against the A.F. of L. As a matter of fact, we are concerned about strengthening and building the A.F. of L., making it a more powerful organization to fight for the interest of all labor. The purpose and aim of this organization is to bring this about. So, my friends, the meeting here this afternoon, to my mind, marks an important stage in the workers’ life—black and white. It should have come into existence long ago.
I want to pay tribute to Comrade Crosswaith whose instrumental genius, spirit, courage and fortitude, devotion and loyalty to the cause of the worker is responsible for this fine, constructive conference. As a matter of fact, he has been engaged in the labor movement for twenty years, fighting side by side with the white workers in the interest of developing organizations for the workers. He has gone on the picket line, and to jail; engaged in strikes; done everything to carry labor’s message to all workers.
This is the crystallization of these struggles he has made. It is very timely that all sections of organized labor realize the necessity of getting behind this movement. We will get no consideration unless we have power. So, my friends, we have come to a very auspicious period in the life of the Negro. He is the downtrodden worker in America. Negroes represent a great force in the South. Unless they organize in the South, there will be no enduring labor movement.
There is now a tendency on the part of the black and white workers in the South to organize. You have read of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, where there are black and white, in Arkansas, Georgia, and Mississippi, fighting against their common enemy Capitalism and Landlordism. I think it is one of the most significant movements in America. An organization like this can be helpful in supporting a fight of this kind, and in sending organizers into those regions.
This organization can carry on an effective campaign of education among workers—not education in the ordinary sense, but around some control and vital question. All of the problems that will arise can be dealt with, but we must have something with which to fight—a weapon—an instrumentality. An attempt will be made to build such out of this conference. When this is done, we can come forth and throw our strong arm of protection around every worker, whether they are workers before the courts, the school system or in the home. You will have an organization which will go out and attempt to fight for workers in order that they will be able to enjoy their rights regardless of race, creed, or color.
We have waited for the unions to do this work. We have waited for half a century. Some instrumentality has got to be developed to do this work with force, courage and militancy. The Pullman Porters have thrown their lot with you because they know what it is to suffer. They have been set upon by gunmen and gangsters, and made to shed blood before railroad yards. A movement like this faces a hard struggle. This will be no easy task. First, you have got to fight organized business, and secondly, race prejudice in the unions everywhere. You do not find many Abe Millers, Morris Feinstenes, James Bambricks, or Jacob Mirskys, who believe in the solidarity of the workers.
My friends, I would not want to exist in this world if I did not have the capacity to recognize the justice of organizing all workers, regardless of their race, nationality or religion. In America, the Jews, although they have more strength than Negroes, plus the advantage of being white of skin and consequently not picked out as easily as Negroes, nevertheless, there is a deep, anti-semitic current in America developing feeling against Jewish workers. Here in Harlem, we have serious problems. I note a tendency to transfer the opposition of Mussolini to Italian workers. This is dangerous.
There is also a movement in Harlem—I have watched it with care—it is a dangerous anti-semite movement. I think it will be necessary for some intelligent Negroes to take the field and fight that movement. An organization such as this can offset it. I believe that movement is backed by unseen forces. I do not know who they are, but we must find out. I am ready to take the field against any movement seeking to victimize any group of workers.
In conclusion, I want to speed you on with the realization of this epochal beginning. It is necessary that the workers in Harlem recognize that their class interests are with workers wherever they are—even those that discriminate against you; those that have color clauses in their constitutions—because they are not enlightened and it is your duty to enlighten them. They are the victims of exploitation and false education.
I am leaving for Chicago for the purpose of making an agreement with the Pullman Company covering wages and hours. After ten years of fighting and tribulations borne by the Pullman Porters, the Company is ready to accede to meeting in Conference the Pullman Porters. The fight was won by the Pullman Porters, not by me. The Porters were willing to give up their jobs, go hungry, be evicted, put on the street. The Pullman Company is controlled by a Board of Directors composed of some of Americas most powerful financial kings. It is one of the mightiest financial aggregations in America, and the militant porters and maids conquered it.
What the Pullman Porters have done, other groups will do; and Comrade Crosswaith I bid you onward and upward. You are doing a work that will secure a new place for black and white workers, and I hope all workers will give their conscientious support to this struggle. The question of strategy and tactics will be worked out in the struggle itself.
The Chairman then called for a report from the Resolution Committee. The following resolutions were reported to the Conference in their order, and unanimously adopted.
Resolution #1 the A.F. of L. and the Negro.
WHEREAS, at the Convention of the American Federation of Labor a year ago in San Francisco there was adopted a resolution calling upon the Federation to appoint a Committee to consider the question of the Negro workers relation to the A.F. of L. and
WHEREAS, such a Committee has now been appointed by President Wm. Green and one meeting was held on July 9th in Washington, D.C., and
WHEREAS, it is becoming increasingly clear to enlightened labor and to friends of labor that unity in thought and action is essential to the promotion and protection of the economic interest of all workers be they Jews, or Gentiles, Negro or white, and
WHEREAS, it is a fact that the Negro worker has been a victim of racial discrimination in some units of the organized labor movement resulting in a more or less general hostile attitude of the Negro worker toward organized labor, such an attitude plays into the hands of labor’s enemies and weakens labor in its fight for economic and social justice,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that this Negro Labor Conference of Negro and white trade unionists declare its unyielding opposition to all forms of racial prejudice and discriminatory practices in any part of the organized labor movement and pledges itself to combat this evil wherever manifested.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Conference call upon every section of the labor movement to remove from their constitutions by-laws, or rituals wherever such exists and all other references that reflect unfavorably upon racial groups and thus tend to maintain an unwholesome division within the ranks of organized labor, and
BE IT STILL FURTHER RESOLVED that this Conference call upon labor everywhere to close ranks and effect that greatly to be desired solidarity of labor without which there can be no salvation for either Black or white labor.
Resolution #2 The 30-Hour Week.
WHEREAS, because of the great increase in the productivity of American labor due to the technological and scientific improvements, and
WHEREAS, this increased productivity has resulted in throwing millions of Negro and white workers on the breadlines to become paupers with further result that today the estimated number of unemployed workers is about 15,000, 000, and
WHEREAS, one very definite way to increase the industrial life of the nation would be to radically reduce the work day’s length for these now employed, thereby creating the need for more workers, and
WHEREAS, at the last convention in San Francisco the American Federation of Labor declared itself in favor of the 30-hour work week,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that this conference of Negroes and white trade-unionists assembled in the Renaissance Casino, 138th Street and 7th Ave., New York City on July 20, 1935 herewith endorses the fight of organized labor for the 30-hour week.
Resolution #3 Child Labor.
WHEREAS, in spite of claims to the contrary, child labor is still prevelant in many parts of the country, especially in the Textile industries in the South, and
WHEREAS, the employment of children tends to lower the wage level and lengthens the work day of adults. Thus child labor is a definite part of the program of the anti-labor union employers and open-shoppers, as well as a serious challenge to our claims of being civilized, and
WHEREAS, statistics point to the fact that the largest percentage of children taken from homes, schools, and playgrounds in their tender years and made to work long hours, for low wages, are the children of Negro workers.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS Negro labor Conference go on record condemning the Legislature of New York State for failing to ratify the Child Labor Amendment, and joins in support of the nationwide fight of organized labor to have the Child Labor Amendment enacted to the U.S. Constitution with the view toward abolishing forever the exploitation of children, and advance the interest of organized labor.
Resolution #4 Workers’ Rights Constitutional Amendment.
WHEREAS, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the NIRA and the Frazer-Lemke Act unconstitutional thereby establishing conclusive proof that the U.S. Constitution in its present form is increasingly being utilized to protect the rights of property and the interest of employing classes and to block legislation which may interfere with profits, and give genuine protection to industrial and farm workers, and
WHEREAS, if labor is to protect its interests and quicken the steps of human progress an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that will reflect the interest of the industrial and farm workers, is absolutely essential,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that this Negro Labor Conference of Negro and white trade unionists endorses the following HILLQUIT WORKERS RIGHTS AMENDMENT to the U.S. CONSTITUTION, known as “Article XXI”
Section 1. The Congress shall have power to establish uniform laws throughout the United States to regulate, limit, prohibit the labor of persons under 18 years of age; to limit the work and establish minimum compensation of wage earners; to provide for the relief of the aged, invalidated, sick and unemployed wage earners and employees in the form of periodical grants, pensions, benefits, compensations or indemnities, from the public treasury, from contributions of employers, wage earners and employees, or from one or more of such sources; to establish and take over natural resources, properties and enterprises in manufacture, mining, commerce, transportation, banking, public utilities, and other business to be owned and operated by the Government of the United States or agencies thereof for the benefit of the people, and the consumers.
Section 2. The power of the several states to enact social welfare legislation is unimpaired by this Article, that no such legislation shall abridge or conflict with any Act of Congress under the Article.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Conference call upon the Federal representatives and senators from this state to actively promote the fight for the immediate passage of this amendment. Be it Still Further Resolved that this Conference join with organized labor throughout the nation in the campaign for the adoption of the above Amendment.
Resolution #5 Negro Clergymen.
WHEREAS, we note with pleasure among the organized clergy an increasing liberal attitude and sympathetic concern with the economic and social plight of the people, and
WHEREAS, the vast majority of the Negro church parishioners are workers who earn their living from the sweat of their brow and from whose meager income the church derives its support, and
WHEREAS, the problems of the church are increased in proportion as the problems of the workers increase, and
WHEREAS, it is only along the lines of enlightened economic action can the problems of the people be ultimately solved and the stability and continued usefulness of the church to minister to the people’s spiritual needs be assured, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED that this Negro Labor Conference of Negro and white trade unionists hereby call upon all clergymen, Negro and white to devote at least one Sunday per month in consideration of the economic plight of their worker-parishioners with a new toward enlightening them to the efficacy of united economic action, and to encourage them to join bona fide trade unions as a means of advancing their economic and social interest.
Resolution #6 the Negro Press.
WHEREAS, it is an established fact that over 90% of the Negro population of the U.S. earn their living by working, and
WHEREAS, in the nature of American custom and tradition all Negro institutions—business, fraternal, and otherwise—of necessity depend upon the support of this 90% in order to maintain and develop, and
WHEREAS, the Negro press, with few exceptions, specializes in news and feature stories dealing with sports, theatricals, religion, and the lighter social activities of the Negro, without developing any definite policy competently and sympathetically dealing with the economic problems of Negro workers.
THEREFORE BE RESOLVED that this conference of Negro and white labor hereby call upon the Negro press to recognize its responsibility to Negro workers by supporting and encouraging the efforts of Negro workers to effect bona fide trade union organization to advance their economic and social interests.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this conference is happy to note the one outstanding Negro journal that is manifesting increasing interest and sympathy with the industrial and social-economic problems of the Negro workers is the New York Amsterdam News, and we hereby compliment the editor-publisher and employees of the said New York Amsterdam News for its attitude in these promises.
Resolution #7 The Int’l. Ladies Garment Workers Union.
WHEREAS, ever since its formation, thirty-five years ago, the Int’l. Ladies Garment Workers Union has taken a consistently high and socially enlightened position regarding Negro workers in particular and the problems of the workers in general, thereby establishing in the American labor movement a record that is unequalled and unique, and
WHEREAS, in line with this tradition, at its Convention in Chicago a year ago the Int’l. Ladies Garment Workers Union bravely assaulted the ogre of American race prejudice when the Convention proceedings were removed from the Medinah Club to Morrison Hotel because the Club’s management objected to the Negro delegates to the convention,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that this Negro Labor Conference composed of Negro and white trade unionists congratulate the officers and members of the Int’l. Ladies Garment Workers Union upon its edifying example of labor solidarity—regardless of race, creed, color or nationality and hope that other labor units will emulate its example for the good of all labor.
Resolution #8 The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, after 10 years of the most heroic struggle and sacrifice, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union has won the fight of the Pullman Porters and maids to self-organization and collective bargaining, and
WHEREAS, the fight of the Pullman Porters marks the first time in modern history that a group of Negro workers under Negro leadership successfully overcame the most cruel and relentless opposition of one of the nation’s mightiest industrial and financial institutions, and by so doing contributed much to further discredit the iniquitious Company Unions,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that this Negro Labor Conference of Negro and white trade unionists congratulates the officers and members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and extend to them in their hour of success Fraternal Greetings and the hand of Fellowship.
May the victory of the Brotherhood encourage other workers, Negro and white, to organize and destroy Company Unions—the evil incarnate of modern industrial workers.
WHEREAS, there exists in Harlem and in other parts of New York City hundreds of thousands of Negro workers who are unemployed and who exist on miserable relief, and
WHEREAS, the problem of organization and protection of the rights of the Negro worker is affected by this great unemployment problem, and
WHEREAS, President William Green of the A.F. of L. has urged all unions affiliated with the A.F. of L. to cooperate with the Workers Alliance of America of which the Workers Unemployed Union is the New York City affiliate.
BE IT RESOLVED, that we, the assembled Negro and white trade unionists in this Conference urge the organization and full cooperation of the organized trade union movement in the organizing of the unemployed and relief workers of New York City into the Workers’ Unemployed Union, to the end that the economic interests of Negro and white unemployed may be protected and advanced.
WHEREAS, this FIRST NEGRO LABOR CONFERENCE is the first in the history of the local labor movement to attempt to effect a permanent agency to assist the bonafide trade union movement in bringing into its support the full cooperation of both Negro and white labor.
BE IT RESOLVED, that the complete minutes and proceedings of this first Negro Labor Conference be sent to all local A.F. of L. unions represented in this Conference and if the funds permit to all local unions in Greater New York affiliated with the A.F. of L. and to all respective bodies representative of the A.F. of L.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the minutes and proceedings of this first Negro Labor Conference be read in the membership and executive board meetings of the respective local unions represented in this Conference.
Several Resolutions covering the following subjects were introduced from the floor:
Resolutions for “Freedom of Angelo Herndon,” “Tom Meeney,” and the “Scottsboro Boys.” Resolution on “Organization of a Labor Party,” “Against Fascism,” and the “Ethiopian War Crisis.”
Upon a motion, the Conference referred these resolutions to the Negro Labor Committee for appropriate action. A lengthy discussion ensued. After which, the Secretary of the Resolutions Committee introduced the following motion which was adopted.
Resolution #1 to Refer.
WHEREAS, no disagreement is anticipated upon the following resolutions on Freedom of Angelo Herndon, Tom Meeney, and the Scottsboro Boys, and For Organization of an Independent Labor Party, Against Fascism, and Ethiopian War Crisis,
BE IT RESOLVED that the mentioned resolutions be referred to the Negro Labor Committee for consideration and action.
Ivan Glasgow, Union Mechanics Assn.
Murray Baron, Suitcase, Bag and Portfolio Workers Union.
Edith Ransom, Dressmakers Union, Local #22, I.L.G.W.U.
Lysa Sixto, Ladies Neckwearmakers Union, Local #142, I.L.G.W.U.
Murray Gross, Dressmakers Union, Local #22, I.L.G.W.U.
Clifford McLoed, Building Service Employers Union
Norman Denawa, Dress and Waist Pressers Union, Local #60, I.L.G.W.U.
Brother Crosswaith then relinguished the chair to Brother Mirsky one of the elected Vice-chairmen. A motion that the Conference adjourn for ten minutes was defeated.
At this juncture, Arnold Johnson, Fraternal delegate, representing the Emergency Home Relief Employees’ Assn., gained the floor. He claimed that he was not invited but had applied as an organizer for participation in this conference. He also claimed that his organization was a bona fide organization recognized by the City Admimistration of New York in a collective bargaining agreement. He explained that he had had great difficulty in gaining admission to the Conference as a fraternal delegate. After paying the tax of $1.00 which was the fee of all delegates from a bona fide union, although his organization’s application for affiliation had not been accepted by the A.F. of L. He charged the Conference with practicing discrimination.
Sister Gittons for the Credentials Committee explained that after quite a lengthy and disagreeable discussion at the door, at which time it had been explained to that particular delegate that only delegates from bona fide unions affiliated with the A.F. of L. would be able to vote, but fraternal delegates, i.e., organizations not affiliated with the A.F. of L. would be given the privilege to speak but not to vote.
The Chairman then called attention to the rules governing the Conference, which were read at the beginning of the Conference by the Convenor, and stated that if there was any unreadiness or disagreement with these rules, the time ot have spoken was before their adoption. He then ruled the discussion “out of order.”
Election of members of the Negro Labor Committee. In the absence ob Brother Randolph, Brother Thomas Young of the Organization Committee presented a list of candidates to compose the Negro Labor Committee.
He explained that in going over the list, his Committee had tried to pick individuals who were available, and to take them from various trade unions. After reading the names, a motion was made that the submitted list be accepted. Upon unreadiness, various opinions were expressed. Some delegates claimed that nominees should be presented from the floor. Chairman Mirsky explained that the list submitted was only a suggestion to be voted upon, pro or con. Finally, Brother Mirsky, tabled the recommendations of Brother Young, and opened the floor for nominations to the Committee.
Before the nominees submitted from the floor were voted upon, Brother Mirsky, asked that as a point of personal privilege and respect to the Chairman of the Conference, Brother Crosswaith be given the opportunity to address the Conference.
Brother Crosswaith then spoke and in concluding presented the list of names with the explanation that when they decided to establish the committee they had carefully considered the available material with an eye to certain possibilities which the committee would have to face. In order to face these problems and overcome them, he felt that the committee should consist of persons who have had experience and training and who occupy strategic positions in the labor movement, as well as ability to handle labor problems.
After Brother Crosswaith’s explanation, Mrs. Weissman, a delegate of the Women’s Union Label Club of the Bronx was recognized, and spoke in part as follows:
“In view of Mr. Crosswaith’s past and present interest, his wisdom shown in trying to solve the problems of labor, black and white, his undying efforts to gain emancipation for the laboring class from the teeth of the capitalist, I feel that we should show him the expression of our faith in him by accepting the list which he has presented. At the same time, I wish to express the good will of my union, and I promise all the support, morally or financially, which we might be able to render. In conclusion, I ask for the support of striking bakers in three stores located at 2794 Eighth Avenue, 639 Lenox Avenue, and 391 Lenox Avenue, where the Bakers’ Union was trying to cooperate with the Negro workers in Harlem against efforts of an anti-union boss to destroy the Bakers’ Union.”
Brother Gross, a delegate from the Union also spoke on the issue of accepting Brother Crosswaith’s nominations, and urged the others to do so.
Upon a motion, the list of names submitted by Brother Crosswaith was accepted by a vote of 54 to 11.
Following are the names of the members elected to the Negro Labor Committee:
Frank R. Crosswaith, Gen’l. Org., ILGWU and Chairman Harlem Labor Committee
A. Philip Randolph, President Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union
Thomas Young, Vice President Building Service Employees Union, 32-B
Julius Hochman, Vice President ILGWU, Gen’l. Mgr. Jt. Bd. Dressmakers Union
Abraham Miller, Exec. Sec’y. Jt. Bd. N.Y. Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union
Noah C. A. Walter, Jr., Secretary Harlem Labor Committee
Winifred Gittons, Blouse and Waistmakers Un. #25, ILGWU (Member Exec. Board)
Murray Baron, Mgr. Suitcase, Bag and Portfolio Workers Union
I. Laderman, President Int’l. Pocketbook Worker’s Union
Clifford McLoed, Chairman Harlem Council Bldg. Serv. Employees Union, 32-B
Wm. Alex. Conaway, American Federation of Musicians, #602, (Member Exec. Bd.)
Jack Butler, Taxi Chauffeurs Union, #19795, (Member Executive Bd.)
Joseph Machey, Int’l. Representative Int’l. Laundry Workers Union
Norman Donawa, Dress & Waist Pressers Un, #60, ILGWU (Member Executive Bd.)
Edward Richardson, Van Drivers and Helpers Union, #614, (Member Executive Bd.)
Edith Ransom, Dressmakers Union, #22, ILGWU (Member Executive Bd.)
B. F. McLauren, Nat’l. Org. Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union
Lysa Sixto, Ladies Neckwear Workers Union #142, ILGWU (Member Exec. Bd.)
P. A. Moore, Bus. Agent and Org. Dining Car Employees Union, #370
L. Levinson, Jt. Council Knit Goods Workers Union (Member Exec. Bd.)
Bertram Taylor, Bus. Agt. & Org. Union Mech. Assns., Vice Chmn. Harlem Labor Committee
Jacob Mirsky, President Bricklayers Union, #37
Jack Wolheim, Motion Picture Operators Union, #306
Gordon Haynes, Pres. Union Mech. Assn., Mem. Exec. Bd. Carpenters & Joiners Union, #1888.
Morris Feinstene, Exec. Secretary, United Hebrew Trades
Theorore Poston, N.Y. Newspaper Guild
After the election of the Committee, the relief worker, Arnold Johnson, again gained the floor and complained that he had been denied the right to vote since he was only a fraternal delegate. He accused the Committee of conducting the conference in a “gag fashion,” and practicing discrimination. After a vituperative speech he left the conference with threats of a possible revolution.
Brother Crosswaith, who had resumed Chairmanship of the meeting, replied to him after which, Brother Abe Miller, General Secretary and Treasurer of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, was introduced and spoke as follows:
“I realize and appreciate the fact that you are all anxious to get out of here. So am I. If the Chairman had not announced before that he wanted me to say a few words, I probably would have been happier not to do so. However, before the conference is officially closed, I just want to say a few words. I came here today very happy to be present at a gathering where a movement is launched to organize the Negro workers. I am sorry, however, that some people came here with the idea that we were either organizing a political party or something else.
The remarks made a few moments ago, by the brother who thought he conquered God knows what, and about the “gag rule” that existed here, was terrible. I am sorry that this thing happened, but I am glad that we have enough constructive labor men here who understand their job, and their job is and will be to begin at the very foundation to teach the Negro workers the principles and fundamentals of Trade Unionism—for the time being—not anything else.
If I had been told that we were going to discuss anything else but to lay the foundation for an organization that would teach Negro workers Trade Unionism, I would not be here. I daresay, that would have been no calamity had I not been here. But I am glad a foundation was laid.
I do not want to take any more of your time except to say that my organization the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, and myself, personally, have for a long time been very much interested in furthering labor organization among colored people. I have known Frank Crosswaith for fifteen years. I have known A. Philip Randolph for a long time. We have done everything we possibly could years ago to help organize colored workers. Whenever we speak of the Labor Movement of this country, we note that we are not sufficiently organized. Of the 40 million industrial workers only 10% to 15% are organized. If that is true of white workers, it is also true of colored workers who have been the weakest link in the American Labor Movement. Someone has said, “No chain is stronger than its weakest link.” The Labor Movement is weakened by not having this strong, influential movement among colored people.
I am very happy to see that you have chosen a group of people who are interested in this movement. Despite the fact that they are busy with their own problems in their respective unions, they are willing to share and do everything to further this movement.
I am also happy that I am one of the Committee, but it would not have been a calamity if you had left me off. It seems some people clamored to be on that committee. I want to assure you that I have plenty to do outside of Harlem. I would have been just as happy if you had left me off.
I am very glad you accepted Brother Crosswaith’s suggestion. You do need people who have had some training and experience in Trade Unionism, and most important of all, people who are interested in this movement, not only names, but people interested in the Negro worker, and in all workers.
I want to congratulate you upon your good, sound judgment and desire to start a movement that will be beneficial to the colored workers of this country, and eventually to the entire Labor Movement to the extent that it will embue them with the spirit of the Labor Movement. Only to that extent will real progress be made in the Trade Union of America, and future of the American people.
Let us roll up our sleeves, get down to the job, stop quibbling; but teach these exploited workers the fundamental and basic principles of labor action. I thank you!
The delegates then listened to a brief address by the Chairman in which he emphasized the historical significance of the Conference. He also paid tribute to the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, for the moral and financial support they had given. Naming several members of Committees who had worked devotedly and efficiently to make the Conference a success, he thanked them and all the delegates for their cooperation.
The Conference was adjourned at 8 o’clock, with the delegates singing “Solidarity.”
Negro Labor Committee Papers, Shomburg Collection, New York Public Library, New York.
By Ernest Calloway
Since the early days of that small group of courageous Philadelphia cordwainers, who combined together to form the first American labor union, and more recently so, since the Emancipation Proclamation and the National Labor Union, the problem of Negro labor has consistently dominated the background of the whole movement of American labor.
It is not coincidental that the American labor movement was not able to gain status on a national scale until after the Civil War and the “freeing” of the slaves. The uneven development of American economy retarded the progress of any movement on the part of labor or potential labor. England, by comparison, having gone through all the regular processes of economic and industrial development, had a well established working class movement at the time the American working class formed their first union of national importance. American economy, at that time, operating within the confines of its agricultural base, was slowly going through an internal revolution. The continuous conflict of economic forces led to the social revolution, sometimes called the Civil War, which, if American history is viewed with greater perspective, was not an isolated conflict but merely a continuation of the social revolution of 1776. These revolutions were not confined to the American continent but similar ones had taken place in Europe, and in passing, had their origin there. All were the results of the sweeping tides of the Industrial Revolution and the new economic theories of the laissez-faire school. The rising middle class threw off the yoke of the landed aristocracy and in doing so, created a new and distinct class in world society, the wage earner.
After the Civil War and the submerging of the American landed aristocracy for a short period, the economic reorganization of the nation got under way. American economy shifted its agricultural base to a new industrial base and in the shifting process the Negro chattel slave became a wage earner and entered the competitive labor market. Thus with American economy established on its industrial base and the cessation of chattel slavery, the American labor movement, as we know it today, began its belated historical course.
William Sylvis, a moulder with convictions, dominated the National Labor138 Union during its brief existence. He viewed the problem of Negro labor in its relationship to white labor with greater clarity and deeper insight than any of the future aspirants to the leadership of American labor. His contacts with progressive thought gave him the proper perspective to view the working class movement in its entirety and its future relationship to modern industrial society. Sylvis felt that if the Negro was excluded from the movement, or if no efforts were made to bring the Negro into the movement, it would result in the crumbling of the economic foundation of both the Negro worker and the white worker. The Negro worker, plagued with the usual array of self-styled Negro leaders who felt that economic determinism was of lesser importance than their political fortunes, was hog-tied to the conservative, monopoly conscious wing of the Republican Party. Thus at the legal birth of the American trade union movement, the Negro worker unconsciously aligned himself with the extreme forces of reaction, while organized labor in its toddling infancy groped in the dark for a solution to the newly created era of industrialization. The untimely death of William Sylvis and the subsequent disintergration of the National Labor Union left the American working class bankrupt as an organized social and economic force. This continued bankruptcy led American Labor into the swampy mysticism of the Knights of Labor.139
Ideologically the Knights of Labor was a revolt of the American petit bourgeoisie against the rapid spread of industrialization. It brought to light the first seeds of American middle-class decadence. The inclusion of professionals, shopkeepers, small manufacturers and their employes was a travesty on unionism. The present day opponents of industrial unionism ofter refer to the Knights of Labor’s failure as an industrial organization failure. This contention is based on ignorance or an utter disregard of the historical development of American industry and economy. The very nature of the Knights of Labor’s make-up and philosophy rendered it powerless to analyze the problem of Negro labor with any degree of realism. The utopian premise on which the Knights of Labor based its existence ran contrary to all the laws of dynamic social forces.
Out of this pell-mell of confusion emerged the craft conscious American Federation of Labor. Let it be said, that the philosophy of craft unionism, as such, with all its present day defects, represented a far more progressive philosophy of trade unionism during the historical period in which the American Federation of Labor was formed, than the fraternalism of the Knights of Labor. Yet this philosophy, for all practical purposes, soon found itself in daily conflict with the quickly changing industrial order. On practical application this circumscribed unionism not only excluded the mass of skilled and unskilled Negro labor but large sections of white labor as well. The theory of job control, going hand in hand with the organization of the select few highly skilled crafts, created a suicidal illusion within the minds of this select few. The illusion of aristocracy. The consequences of this illusion resulted in a blinding antagonism to any change in the structure of the American Federation of Labor, which was imperative if labor was to become an independent entity in our complex industrial organization.
The turn of the century also marked a decided turn in American economy. The Spanish-American war had been fought for the Hearst newspapers at the expense of the American taxpayer. The United States had begun an era of unprecedented financial expansion. American capitalism had entered the warmongering stage of imperialism and its arch-deacon had been placed in the White House. The complete trustification of capital had submerged the farmer and small business man. Monopolization at home as well as abroad had artificially “povertyrized” the large mass of native population as well as colonial population. The introduction of finance-capital gave banking control of industry. The search for sources of raw materials and the mad rush for world markets had created international competition. And the emergence of the assembly line of mass production in American industry had given greater significance to the industrial union form of labor organization. Labor, as a commodity, felt the suffocating strangulation in the mad whirlpool of the changing composition of American capital. Thus American labor enters another historical period in the development of the trade union movement. A period in which the basic contradictions of an economic system had brought in to full view its glaring inequalities.
All past revolts, whether real or fancied, have been treated by the ordinary historian, with the flourish of the dramatic and a flair for romanticizing the whole era of historical change. These historians have had a greater desire to entertain their immediate readers than to make a convincing analysis for future posterity. This has been the prevailing attitude with the present day over-crowded field of newspaper commentators, mild labor historians and the non-labor “authority” on the working class movement. Their whole treatment and shallow evaluation of the present crisis within the American labor movement has resolved itself around the desires of two personalities, William Green and John L. Lewis. They see in William Green the stickler for tradition and see in John L. Lewis the reincarnation of Daniel DeLeon and “Big Bill” Haywood. And the movement for industrial unionism goes up with the wind, which has resulted in the uninformed, unorganized worker getting an untrue and warped picture of the state of affairs of organized labor.140
To correct some of the misguided “legendized” conceptions of the Committee for Industrial Organization, it is necessary to review briefly the past fifty-five years of the American Federation of Labor and its efforts to organize the 30,000,000 American wage-earners. Although organized in 1881 it was not until 1896 that the A.F. of L. could claim a membership of 500,000 which was the result of an extensive organizational campaign pushed by Sam Gompers. This steady growth continued until 1913, and it reached a high mark of 2,700, 000. Due to the war and stimulated by the government, the membership rose to approximately 5,000,000 between 1916-20. After the war membership declined to its 1913 mark. The A.F. of L. lost about 2,000,000 members in a short period of two years. In 1933 the membership of the A.F. of L. totaled 2,900, 000. In twenty years the trade union movement had only gained 200,000 members. A twenty year period which is highly significant, for it was during this period that trustification of industry reached its peak.
The supporters of craft unionism are determined in their convictions that the craft type of organization will accomplish more in the long run and its practicability is far superior to that of any other method of organization. They also maintain, in the era of huge industrial combines, that the industrial union form of organization is merely a visionary panacea and the organization of the American worker is a slow process. They ask, why the sudden panic on the part of certain elements within the trade union movement? The craft unionists continue to revel in the fact that they restored trade unionism to the wage earner.
The issue of industrial unionism, based upon an analysis of industrial combinations, has been before the American trade union movement for almost a half century. Back in the ’90s Sam Gompers and Daniel DeLeon fought tooth and nail on the same issue. DeLeon, highly versed in the industrial character of modern society but totally naive on the psychology of the American worker, formed the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance, which completely isolated the industrial union movement from the American worker. DeLeon’s uncompromising hostility to the American Federation of Labor resulted in the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance becoming the small sectarian group for which it is remembered today, and ultimately labelled the industrial union movement with a tinge of “redness.”
The Industrial Workers of the World, or commonly referred to as the “Wobblies,” can trace the failure of their attempt to gain a lasting foot-hold in the trade union movement to the lack of a sound approach to the American worker. Although the activity of the I.W.W. enjoyed a certain measure of success among migratory workers for a short period, it was utterly devoid of trade union realism.
During the latter part of the 1920’s, the Trade Union Unity League embarked upon its suicidal course of revolutionary dualism. Although the affiliates to the T.U.U.L. were industrial in character, the issue of industrial unionism, as such, was submerged in a maze of ill-advised revolutionary activity. Their only claim for existence was the mechanical transference of policies and program of the Red International of Labor Unions of which the T.U.U.L. was not only an affiliate but whose policies and activities were dictated by the R.I.L.U. The T.U.U.L. failed to profit by the historical errors of the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance and the I.W.W., for it combined the mistakes of both organizations, which led to its disintegration, and isolation from the mainstream of American labor.
The above mentioned forces confined their activity, in the main, outside the American Federation of Labor. Within the Federation agitation for industrial unionism through the proper channels has been going on for a number of years. One union, outstanding for its progressiveness, has led a militant fight for the structural reformation of the A.F. of L., namely the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which is semi-industrial in make-up but wholly industrial in outlook. Another union, recently admitted to the A.F. of L., the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, also joined in the agitation for industrial unionism. Both unions have been pillars of progress in the American labor movement for some time. During the NRA code hearings, the I.L.G.W.U., the A.C.W.A. and the United Mine Workers with the bulk of their industries strongly organized were more or less able to dictate their own terms to the code authorities, while workers in many other industries accepted the verdict of their combined employers.
At the San Francisco (1934) A.F. of L. convention, resolutions were adopted to the effect that the A.F. of L. would stimulate organization among the steel workers. (The code authority for the steel industry had been the American Iron and Steel Institute and still remains so, despite the death of the NRA). The union that felt the greatest pressure from the unorganized steel workers was the powerful industrial union, the United Mine Workers of America. This pressure on the organized miners was due to the close alliance of the coal industry to the steel industry. The captive coal mines of the steel industry have been and still remain a thorn in the side of the United Mine Workers. Its success as the spokesman for the American miner is constantly menaced by the unorganized steel workers. The resolution of the 1934 convention concerning the organization of the steel workers remained on paper throughout the ensuing year.
Atlantic City and the 1935 convention of the American Federation of Labor was a memorable convention. Its significance has been increased daily in view of the probability that it was the last convention of a unified trade union movement in America. At this convention a number of resolutions were introduced which revolved around the industrial-craft controversy such as craft unions “raiding” industrial unions for members (case of International Association of Machinists and the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers’ Union); settlement of jurisdictional disputes (case of the Brewery Workers and the Teamsters’ Union); outright appeals to the convention for an industrial charter (case of the Automobile workers and the Radio workers); and hundreds of resolutions of a general nature on industrial unionism. Charles P. Howard of the Typographical Union made the minority report of the resolutions committee on the issue of industrial unionism and offered a motion for its adoption. After hours and hours of debate the motion was defeated by a vote of approximately 11,000 to 18,000. This 11,000 represented the largest vote the industrial union forces had received in the whole history of the A.F. of L.141
Later John L. Lewis resigned from the Executive Council in protest against the Council’s policies toward the steel organization campaign. Thereupon the U.M.W.A., I.L.G.W.U., A.C.W., U.T.W., the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers’ Union and the Cap and Millinery Union formed the Committee for Industrial Organization. Its object at first was educational, but with the conclusion of the recent convention of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers, it was indicated that the activity would not be confined strictly to agitation but concrete plans would be made to organize the mass production industries. The suspension of the C.I.O. unions by the Executive Council of the A.F. of L. was one of the most flagrant violations of trade union democracy in the entire history of the labor movement.
With the Committee for Industrial Organization unequivocally committed to a definite stand on industrial unionism, and well on its way, let us turn to the problem of Negro labor in its relationship to industrial unionism. Many students of labor problems contend that industrial unionism holds the solution to many of our present day social and economic ills. These practical students should not make the mistake of becoming “panacea conscious.” Upon a searching analysis of many of these social and economic ills, this may be a far too sweeping statement. And to continue making such long-range statements makes it difficult to maintain that healthy required equilibrium for examing social and economic defects. Of course, one of the important assets of industrial unionism, many will agree, is that it has the necessary factors towards the creation of a great labor compactness among the many racial working groups.
With this theoretical premise, let us make a practical examination of the attitude towards the Negro worker of some of the unions that form the C.I.O.
1-UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA—With a membership of 500,000 it is the largest union in the country. Its racial composition is varied. Native whites, Negroes, Italians, Welsh, Hungarians and many other national groups. Everyone is admitted to the union on a basis of complete equality. The West Virginia coal fields probably constitute the largest Negro membership in the U.M.W.A. West Virginia is strongly organized with the possible exception of Logan County, Kentucky has a large Negro membership and is strongly organized with the possible exception of Harlan County, Alabama, Virginia and Tennessee have large Negro memberships. Throughout all the locals leadership is proportionately divided between Negro and white miners. West Virginia has probably made the greatest contribution to the cause of Negro-white unionism. In the U.M.W.A. the racial question is submerged by a greater desire to keep their economic declaration of independence constantly before the combined financial interest of the coal industry.
2-INTERNATIONAL LADIES’ GARMENT WORKERS’ UNION—With a membership of 225,000, it is the second largest union in the C.I.O. group. This is predominantly Jewish and Italian, with a number of Negroes and other nationalities. With the exception of one local (Local 89, which is the Italian local and is based on a language difference and not a racial difference) all are admitted also on a basis of complete equality. Local 22, under the guiding spirit of the militant Charles S. Zimmerman, has become the most progressive single local in the entire labor movement. With a membership of 30,000 including every racial group (with the exception of the Italians) in the New York City dress industry, it forms a model in unionism. The International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union has been in the forefront of American labor in working out the solution of the Negro—white labor problem. This is done through extensive workers’ education program under the leadership of Fania M. Cohn and Mark Starr.
3-AMALGAMATED CLOTHING WORKERS OF AMERICA—Membership 150,000. This union has a well defined attitude towards the Negro worker similar to that of the I.L.G.W.U. The bulk of the men’s clothing industry is located in northern metropolitan areas and the number of Negroes in the industry is very small. This union, last year in Norfolk, Va., made history in the field of race relations in its conduct of the organizational drive on the Finkelstein Co., which employed a large number of Negroes as well as white workers. The Amalgamated campaign among the Negroes, under the capable leadership of George Streater, assisted by Tom Dabney, and among the white workers, the crack A.C.W.A. organizers, Edith Christensen, Elizabeth (Zilla) Hawes and Hilda Cobb, resulted in bringing together the two groups, which astounded the staid community of Norfolk and the feat was recognized as the best achievement in the field of race relations during the year of 1935.
4-UNITED TEXTILE WORKERS—Membership 79,200. This union, although conducting one of the most militant strikes in trade union history—the 1934 general textile strike—has not been as praise-worthy in handling the Negro-white problem as the above mentioned unions. The Textile industry formerly located in New England but of late a large section has moved South to escape unionization of its employees in the north; also the attractive financial inducements offered by city councils and chambers of commerce in southern communities have been important factors in the shift, without mentioning the guarantee of cheap contented labor. The textile industry for years has been considered the “sick man of American industry.” It has for many years thrived on government subsidization. As the industry has been the “sick man,” the textile union has been the problem child of American trade unionism. In the South where attempts have been made to organize Negroes and whites, the union has given way to local prejudices, which resulted in the creation of separate locals. Of course, any one can see that the move is self-protective, which is very good argument from the organization point of view, but it does not bring us closer to the goal of creating a healthy labor solidarity on the part of Negro and white textile workers. Another organization in the South that has to contend with the same type of psychology and prejudices has been able to break through this wall with a great degree of success. An outstanding example is the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union, under the courageous leadership of Howard Kester, McKinney, H. L. Mitchell and hundreds of other valiant Negro and white share-croppers. Another organization needs mentioning in its struggle for southern labor solidarity, the southern committee of the Workers’ Alliance, led by two southerners, Hilliard Bernstein of Virginia and Dave Benson of Florida; and not forgetting the “missionary” work of the Highlander Folk School and those militant “missionaries,” Miles Horton, Jim Dombrowski and Zilla Hawes.142
5-UNITED AUTOMOBILE WORKERS—Membership 80,000. This union is the “baby” union of the A.F. of L.-C.I.O., only receiving an international charter about two years ago. All the other unions we have discussed had something to offer the Negro in the form of protection against wage slavery by reason of their strength and long experience in the labor movement, but with the automobile workers the Negro has a chance to repay that debt. He has the opportunity to make a wonderful contribution to the trade union movement. In discussing the previous unions, we have discussed the attitude of the union towards the Negro. The table turns. We shall discuss the attitude of the Negro towards the union. Ernest Rice McKinney, Negro organizer for the Steel Workers Committee, wrote quite correctly when he commented on the reluctance of Negro steel workers joining the steel union. The statement could be applied to every unorganized Negro worker in the country. He said, “Some day Negro steel workers may allege that an organized steel union has passed them over in the selection of officers and organizers, or they may complain that the union is not paying enough attention to the matter of protecting Negroes from the onslaughts of the company. But these complainants will have to ask themselves what had been their attitude towards the union. Did they join in the early days of the union, help build it, make sacrifices, pay their dues promptly and participate loyally in the union struggles? Or did they hang back and let the white workers make all the sacrifices, do all the hard work, take the knocks and render all the services to the union? In other words, will Negro steel workers, after the union has been built up, still be demanding that they get something for nothing” (italics mine, E.C.). This, in no uncertain terms, reminds the writer of the attitude of the bulk of Negro automobile workers in the Buick plant at Flint, Mich. There the local union has offered every inducement possible to the Negro auto worker, electing two Negroes to the local executive board. These two Negroes were actually condemned by the Negro community for betraying the race and the Buick company. In Cleveland, during the auto strike of 1935 at the Chevrolet plant, not a single Negro face was seen in the auditorium of the metal trades council during the many strike meetings. In Cleveland again, during the strike of the Battery Workers, a picket line had formed around the plant. A few Negroes coming to work tried to break through the line and were begged to get in the picket line and join the strike but to no avail. They kept a sharp eye on the front window of the boss’s office. These irresponsibilities on the part of Negro workers will not further the cause of unionism. This attitude towards unionism must be changed if Negroes are going to seek admission to unions on a basis of complete equality. The Negro Workers’ Councils of the Urban League, under the progressive and sincere leadership of Lester B. Granger, has the possibilities of becoming an instrument through which the Negro worker could be made more trade union conscious and the development of the sense of responsibility that is required towards the building of a strong labor movement.
6-AMALGAMATED ASSOCIATION OF IRON, STEEL AND TINWORKERS—Present membership unknown. This union is in the midst of a rebirth. Its past attitude towards the Negro has been one of vacillation, if not open disregard to the problem of the Negro steel worker. Today under the leadership of the Steel Workers Organizing Committee of the C.I.O. its policies and structure have been changed completely. The attitude of the S.W.O.C. towards the Negro really needs no discussion. The Committee is waging one of the greatest campaigns in the history of the labor movement to bring the steel worker into the union. A number of Negro organizers have been put in the field to work among Negro steel workers, and it is another case of the attitude of the Negro towards unionization. The S.W.O.C. is planted deep in the soil of progressive traditions of American trade unionism, and with its present rate of success the steel workers union is destined to become the base of the future trade union movement.
This discussion of the attitude of industrial and semi-industrial unions toward the Negro, finds itself pushed to the background, on examining the economic gains of industrial unionism and its general tendency to break down the wide gap in living standards between many white workers and Negro workers. It is agreed that the very nature of industrial unionism makes it possible for the Negro to enter the union on a footing of equality with that of his fellow white worker, which paves the way to destroy that vicious system used by employers of playing one racial group against the other, through wage differentials. From this point it is possible to bring the standard of living of the Negro worker, as it compares to that of the white worker, out of the theoretical realm of abstraction, and into the field of practical economics of the every day bread and butter variety.
In discussing living standards, one must necessarily consider two important factors, monetary wages and real wages. One is the amount of money a worker receives for the sale of a given amount of labor power. The other is the amount of goods (food, clothing, shelter, education, insurance and amusements) the worker is able to purchase for the amount of labor power sold. Of the two, the real wage determines the living standard. The solution to the problem of the real wage lies in independent political mass action on the part of labor, which we are not discussing at this point but will be discussed in a future article.
Opportunity, (November, 1936): 326-30.
By Lester B. Granger
By his brilliant speech at the last convention of the American Federation of Labor, his subsequent sponsorship of the Committee for Industrial Organization, and the dramatic coup which brought his resignation as Vice President of the American Federation of Labor, John L. Lewis has assumed the driver’s seat on the band-wagon of industrial unionism and has captured the American public’s imagination with his direct and savage attack on the time-worn craft union machinery of the A.F. of L.
Many Negro leaders, seeing advantage to Negro workers inherent in his program, have shown great alacrity in climbing on the Lewis band-wagon in the hope that the new movement spells the end of political maneuvers which have thus far kept Negroes out of many bodies of organized labor. In fact, some racial enthusiasts have gotten out on the road in advance of the band-wagon and are jubilantly rushing toward what they assume to be a new day for Labor and a new organization to take the place of the A.F. of L. There is grave danger that such premature adulation might still further confuse the issues involved in the Negro’s fight for union protection, and might obscure in a cloud of “racialism” the best interests of a considerable portion of black labor.
Most progressive students of the American labor scene are in agreement, it is true, with the position of Lewis. They are convinced that the best interests of workers in modern industry can no longer be adequately protected by the old-fashioned craft type of organization that groups workers according to their particular craft skills without regard to the industry in which they are employed. This type of union, critics declare, had its origin in the early days of the labor movement, long before the gigantic corporate structure of organized and interlocking industries had come into being, and it now outmoded.
John L. Lewis, by virtue of his position as President of the United Mine Workers of America, the nation’s largest union, has for over fifteen years been a dynamic and imposing figure among the labor leaders of the country. He is a brainy man, with an instinct which amounts to pure genius for keeping his finger on the pulse of labor’s rank and file. He has tremendous political skill and possesses also an actor’s flare for the dramatic, coupled with a gift of oratory unsurpassed in public today. His militant leadership of the industrial union forces caught public attention in 1934, gathered momentum at the 1935 convention, and has rushed into full swing during the past few weeks, bringing him into the limelight to such a degree that beyond all question he is at the moment the greatest single figure in the American labor movement.
It is not hard to see the advantages for black workers in the spread of the industrial union idea with its traditions of inclusiveness instead of exclusiveness because of race, and its greater concern for the organization of unskilled workers. It is natural and helpful for Negro leadership to endorse the position of Mr. Lewis and to pledge cooperation in carrying forward the program of the Committee for Industrial Organization. The danger which has been referred to above lies in the possibility that the enthusiasm of Negro leaders for the “new crusade” may cause them to close behind them doors of approach which have previously been open and alienate friends who have been steadfast in their support of the Negro’s right to be admitted into the trade union movement. It can be too easily a case of “off with the old love, on with the new.”
After all, Mr. Lewis is still a member of a union which is part of the American Federation of Labor, as is true of the other members of the Committee for Industrial Organization. Mr. Lewis being likewise a very clever political strategist, has not the slightest intention of sacrificing his position as an A.F. of L. leader until definite advantage can be shown in splitting away from America’s most important labor group. Such advantage is not apparent at the present time. As long as the Committee for Industrial Organization is a body within the A.F. of L., it will respect Federation procedures and conventions. It is possible for Negroes to get too far out in front of the band-wagon, and find that the parade has changed its line of march behind them without their knowing it.
Moreover, while Mr. Lewis has made emphatic public declarations against racial discrimination in unions, and while his Committee includes the heads of some of the most liberal of our international unions, there is no clear-cut pro-Negro or anti-Negro issue involved in the struggle between industrial and craft unions. It is not merely a case of separating the sheep from the goats, for there are a good many sheep remaining on the side of the craft-union forces, while in the ranks of the industrial unionists there may be found a few suspiciously goat-like individuals.
Organized labor may be forgiven for remaining skeptical regarding the value of any assistance that traditional Negro leadership may give, for the past attitude of the race’s intellectuals has been lukewarm on the matter of Negro membership in unions. Their protest against racial discrimination by unions has been vociferous, but due more to race pride than to economic urge. Few racial organizations have sought to impress black workers with the need for joining even those unions without color prejudice. The failure of Negro workers to organize has been partly due to hostility in some unions, but it has been even more due to apathy on the part of Negroes themselves. As an official of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porter says, “There’s no color bar in the Brotherhood, but even so it was a ten-year struggle for us to get most of the porters in.”
In short, the present conflict between industrial and craft union forces does not in the slightest degree alter the essential task for Negro leadership —which is to impress upon black labor the need for independent, worker-controlled organization, and the necessity for cooperation between white and Negro workers in the same crafts, the same industries, whether in craft or industrial unions. This objective will not be gained by communications or protests addressed to William Green, to John L. Lewis, or to any other of organized labor’s hierarchy. It will be gained through a long-time, patient and heart-breaking program of workers’ education such as is being carried on by the Negro Workers’ Councils throughout the country, the Harlem Labor Committee in New York City, and workers’ education classes which a few enlightened leaders are sponsoring elsewhere.
Simultaneously, for this program to be effective, there must be carried on a similar educational work among white workers, by leaders of both races. It is idle for Negroes to believe in and practice interracial cooperation between workers unless they can find whites who are willing to reciprocate. The most enlightened unions have recognized this fact, chief among them Lewis’s own U.M.W.A. and the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union. The miners, with Negroes composing at one time forty per cent of their membership and still represented with a larger enrollment than any other union, have a number of Negro organizers and officers in mixed membership locals. In time of labor crisis and union action, there is never any question of whipping up Negroes’ support or of guaranteeing the whites’ cooperation. All that is taken for granted in a union which has “come up the hard way,” where black and white men have fought together, have starved together, and have been shot down together in their struggle for a security in America’s most cut-throat industry.
This is the lesson which the I.L.G.W.U. is assiduously teaching its members through its educational department with Mark Starr, Fannia Cohn, and similar veterans of the trade union movement. It is a lesson which has not yet been absorbed by several industrial unions with large Negro memberships. The United Textile Workers have 10,000 dark-skinned members, but the union has made no serious effort to attack a situation where Negroes are confined to rough laboring and poorly paid jobs for the most part, even though union members. By the manner in which unions of textile, tobacco, oil and petroleum workers, and similar bodies of industrially organized labor face this race question, Negroes in industry will judge the effectiveness and good faith of the industrial union movement. In laying the groundwork for its program, it is to be hoped that the Committee for Industrial Organization will not overlook this excellent chance to enlist the support of America’s ninth worker—to build for industrial democracy.
Opportunity, 14 (January, 1936): 29–30.
By John P. Davis
The Crisis, 43 (September, 1936): 262-63, 276.