By Lester Granger
On the surface, so far as Negro workers are concerned, the American Federation of Labor’s convention at Atlantic City was “just another of those affairs.” It is true that the stage was set for dramatic fireworks, with the San Francisco convention of 1934 as a background. Delegate A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and fiery leader of Negro workers, had demanded at that convention an end of evasive resolution-passing by the A. F. of L. on the question of racial discrimination in unions. He submitted a resolution which if adopted would have given unions the choice of dropping their barriers against Negroes or loss of their charters.
The resolutions committee of that convention, as was expected, reported non-concurrence, but when the eloquent Randolph took the floor in defense of his motion the response of delegates to his address was so enthusiastic that there seemed real danger of a defeat for the hitherto impregnable political machine of the old guard. A compromise, hurriedly adopted, appointed a committee to study the issue of racial discrimination and report its findings to the 1935 convention.
The Committee on Problems of Negro Labor met in Washington last July and called witnesses to present definite testimony. The National Urban League was represented at that hearing, as well as the N.A.A.C.P., the Joint Committee on National Recovery, and similar organizations, backing up the labor leaders who exposed subtle and flagrant Jim Crow tactics by local and international unions.
The findings of the committee were turned over to the Executive Council of the A. F. of L., which promptly buried them. No mention was made of the issue in the council’s annual report to the convention, and the committee’s report was referred to the tender care of George L. Harrison of the Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, an international whose constitution specifically bars Negroes from membership. Randolph’s efforts to get action from the floor of the convention were smothered with the usual parliamentary technicalities and the bland statement that “the Federation must not violate the autonomy of internationals with respect to their memberships.” This attitude from a group of officers who had just been defeated in their attempts to expel communists from unions affiliated with the A. F. of L.!
Thus described, the convention seemed truly “just another of those affairs.” But this bare report does not tell the real story. For instance, there is the fact that the Committee on Problems of Negro Labor, headed by John Brophy of the United Mine Workers, made an honest and courageous report to the Executive Council—much to that diplomatic body’s dismay. The report verified the justice of Negroes’ protests and recommended adoption of the Randolph resolution in substance.
Finally on September 15, 1935, another resolution which Randolph immediately submitted tied up business in the council and the resolutions committee for half a day, while their members debated on ways and means to bury this unwelcome ghost of a dusky Banquo. In the old days both report and resolution would have been brought out on the floor to be crushed speedily under the convention machine. This year, however, the old guard knew perfectly well that there were a hundred delegates at the convention who were waiting for a chance to support any resolution that would give a finishing blow to Jim Crow in organized labor. The politicians simply couldn’t take the chance of bitter conflict and possible defeat on this issue, leading the way to further and more fatal defeats on other convention issues.149
Several lessons to Negro workers, developed at the San Francisco convention, were brought out even more sharply at Atlantic City. First, that it is more and more inaccurate to speak of “A. F. of L. attitude” as if it were fixed or unanimous. Within the Federation, on the Negro issue as on other matters, there is a constant conflict between progressive and reactionary forces, with the progressives steadily growing in strength. Negroes who blindly condemn “the A. F. of L.” as being a Jim Crow body seriously embarrass their own champions within the ranks of organized labor. Intelligent and helpful criticism will distinguish between friends and foes and support the former.
Second, labor leaders are perfectly correct when they say that the problem of Negro workers will be solved eventually, not at the A. F. of L. conventions but within the internationals and locals. Though the Federation can and should set the pace toward labor democracy, the goal will not be reached without patient educational work in the ranks of organized labor. That work has been begun in the rank-and-file movement, so-called, in union locals, but it must be supported by active efforts on the part of Negroes themselves. The lobby conducted at Atlantic City by the Urban League disclosed many officers of internationals who were perfectly ready to vote for the Randolph resolution, but who were frank in stating that its results would be disappointing without thorough follow-up work in the internationals and locals.
Finally, Atlantic City showed again the need for a louder and better organized Negro voice within the Federation, on the floor of its conventions, taking part in its committee meetings. Six or eight colored delegates were in evidence this year, including A. Philip Randolph and Milton L. Webster of the Sleeping Car Porters. Every Federal local with at least a majority of colored workers should strain its resources to send a delegate to the convention. Merely the presence of Negroes, sprinkled throughout the meeting, is bound to influence the convention vote on issues affecting interests of Negroes.150
On the Negro question, on the issue of industrial unionism, as on that of a Labor Party, the Atlantic City Convention resolved itself into a struggle between an entrenched Old Guard of politicians and a newly-arising progressive faction. The Old Guard stands for conservatism, protection of fat jobs, extirpation of every tendency that seems militant—and therefore threatening to the Old Guard. And yet, the welfare of labor today demands more militancy, more radical departure from old ways than ever before. The Old Guard therefore is opposed to the A. F. of L.—the real Federation. It should not be difficult for Negroes to decide on which side they will line up.
Race, 1 (Winter, 1935–1936): 46–47.
By Charles H. Wesley
The Crisis, 45 (July, 1938): 223–26.
Weinstock, Certain of Election as District’s Secretary, Announces Program of Special Activity in Harlem
A new deal for Negro building trades workers became a distinct possibility yesterday when Louis Weinstock, leader of progressives in District Council 9 of the Brotherhood of Painters, running for secretary-treasurer, announced his platform.
The platform, which has the almost unanimous approval of the 10,000 organized painters affiliated with the council, provides as one of its eleven points.
“A special organizational drive in Harlem to organize the Negro painters without discrimination and to unionize the jobs.”
Part of Drive
Weinstock, a member of Local 848, estimates 1,500 Negro house-painters in Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island. He explained that the plan to pay special attention to Harlem is part of a drive which is to be instituted for the organization of all of the 20,000 unorganized painters in New York.
“There are now a scant dozen Negro members in the local unions affiliated with District Council 9,” Weinstock said. “It is not surprising to anyone who knows Negro workers that they have displayed devotion to the organization.
“Whatever the causes have been for the apathy of the union’s officials toward organizing the Negro painters, the membership will no longer tolerate it. They realize that the large group of Negro painters have always been used to hammer down standards. Such a situation could never have existed if some effort had been made to enroll them,” Weinstock said.
“It is not enough merely to accept the applications of those few Negro painters. From now on we’re going out to get Negro members and that means not merely the privilege of paying dues and attending meetings, but the willing and eager extension of the hand of brotherhood.”
The election will be held February 29. It was ordered as a result of the resignation of Philip Zausner, former secretary-treasurer of the District Council, following an investigation which substantiated the charges that Zausner and business agents of locals under his control had been fraudulently elected in June 1935.
Local 905 of the painters’ union, affiliated with District Council 9, has sent Joseph Lenoff as a delegate to the National Negro Congress which is being held over the weekend in Chicago.
Enthusiastic ovations greeted Weinstock when he appeared on Friday night before three local unions for the official opening of his campaign.
Unanimous endorsement of his candidacy by Local 905, with headquarters at 870 Freeman Street, Bronx, was the result of his first appearance of the evening.
Although he asked no vote of endorsement at any of the three local meetings in which he appeared, the overwhelming enthusiasm of his audiences indicated how completely certain is his election to office on Feb. 29.
“There is only one guarantee that our union is really entering a new era, a period of democratic reconstruction and unified effort to compel the bosses to live up to their agreements,” Weinstock said. “That guarantee is the unflagging vigilance of every painter in District Council 9.”
Weinstock emphasized that his election is not to be regarded as a victory for an individual or a group of individuals but for a program which has long been the dream of the vast majority of the membership.
Daily Worker, February 17, 1936.
Work At Smithfield Court Is Practically At Standstill
Contractors in charge of construction of the $2,500,000 Negro model housing project at Smithfield Court today awaited arrival of a Federal conciliator from Washington to settle the six-day-old strike of 150 workers on the project.
Work is practically at a standstill. A small number of plumbers are carrying on despite inclement weather.
A hundred common laborers went on strike Friday, demanding an increase in wages from 30 to 40 cents an hour. Fifty semi-skilled laborers quit work in sympathy with the others.
Representatives of Algernon Blair, Montgomery contractor in charge of construction of the superstructures for the project, said the Public Works Administration, which is furnishing funds for the work, has set wage scales and that they are abiding by these regulations.
The strike was called by G. A. Harris, president of the Birmingham local of the International Hod Carriers Building and Common Laborers’ Union of America.
Birmingham Post, January 20, 1937.
Black Skilled Workers in St. Louis Building $55,000 Theater to Prove They Are Qualified—Urban League Active.
ST. LOUIS, Aug. 26—(ANP)—As Negro skilled workers continued construction of a $55,000 theatre to prove themselves worthy of admission into the Building Trades Council of the American Federation of Labor, members of the workers’ council, an organization of Negro laborers, this week are picketing a construction job employing whites. Both building projects are in colored neighborhoods.
The pickets, carrying signs stating, ‘Job Unfair to Negro Labor,’ are stationed at a corner where stores are being erected. The construction firm is under contract to hire members of A. F. of L. unions.
The workers’ council is affiliated with the St. Louis Urban league, which is fighting to get recognition of Negroes in the building trades council for something other than common labor. Both the all-Negro construction job and the picketing are being done because of this fight.
John J. Church, white, secretary of the Building Trades Council, denied Negro skilled workmen are barred from membership, stating, “If skilled Negro workmen come up to the standards set by the union examining boards, they will be admitted to membership. It’s true there are no Negro members of the skilled workmen’s unions, but that’s not our fault. Several have applied for membership, but failed to pass the examination.”
But according to John T. Clark, Urban League secretary, “The Building Trades unions are hostile, evasive and unfair in their attitude towards Negroes joining them. Our criticism is not against the American Federation of Labor, which permits Negroes to join their building unions in other cities, but against the Building Trades council here.”153
He declared skilled workers have obtained transfer cards in other cities but the local council refused to honor them. Three of the bricklayers on the theatre job hold transfer cards the white unionists here have refused to recognize.
Pittsburgh Courier, August 28, 1937.
MEMPHIS, Tenn., Aug. 26—(ANP)—Because Negroes were employed in the same department in which they work, 15 white employees of the rug department of McCallum and Robinson, Inc., walked out of the plant Wednesday on strike.
After the strikers called at the office of Lev Loring, president of the Memphis Trades and Labor council, Loring said, “I’m going to do whatever I can to help them. They don’t have a complaint about wages. They said they received from 20 to 22 cents an hour. The complaint is they are afraid they will be replaced by Negroes who are already being brought into the division.”
W. W. Robinson, president of the company, said his white workers should have no fear of losing their jobs to colored inasmuch as a number of Negroes work in the same department with some having been there for over 10 years.
Pittsburgh Courier, August 28, 1937.
The Crisis, 45 (October, 1938): 331.
SAVANNAH, Ga., Oct. 13 (UP)—Negro longshoremen went on strike here again today several hours after they returned to work under a 48-hour truce pending conferences with deep-water shippers on a new union contract.
Officials of the International Longshoremen’s Association here refused to comment on the new walkout, but it was understood it was called because one shipper continued to work non-union stevedores.
V. E. Townsend, southern representative for the union, was enroute to Savannah from Charleston, S.C.
The strike did not affect coastwise shipping. Members of the union are demanding 50 cents hourly wages be increased to 75 cents, and greater subdivision of hatch crews.
The original strike became effective Saturday.
Daily Worker, October 14, 1938.
By Robert C. Francis
New Orleans is a quaint old city, noted for many things, chief among which is the river-front and the disturbances which have occurred there particularly since 1919. It may be well to recall, at this time, that the entire labor movement in this city is backward as compared with that of northern industrial centers. There is a greater union mortality rate, especially among Negro organizations than one encounters elsewhere. The story of unionism on the river-front, in which the black worker has played a significant role, is indeed replete with examples resulting from a state of development not far removed from the embryo.
A number of phenomena have united to make the plight of the black longshoreman precarious. The great amount of unemployment in recent years in New Orleans has decreased the Negroes’ opportunity to hold a job because, as elsewhere in the South, many of those jobs that only the colored man handled have been taken by the whites and in larger numbers they have looked for work on the river-front. Along with unemployment, politics has taken an increasingly important part in curtailing the range of Negro longshoremen, and this has only been offset by gains they have made by acting as strikebreakers. In a number of places it is believed that a few years ago Negroes lost out on certain docks and were replaced by white men as a means of obtaining votes for those in control of the state administration. Those persons who have learned from experience feel that the Negroes who picketed during the 1935 strike did so through ignorance, for they believe that after the settlement is made, white longshoremen will get the work.
The International Longshoremen’s Association, (I.L.A.) a strong organization, and one of the American Federation of Labor Unions which has no color bar, has been trying to effect a contract with the New Orleans Steamship Association for a number of years. Of course, in the southern seaports, the I.L.A. generally maintains separate colored and white locals. In New Orleans, a rather unique situation prevailed, i.e., the Negro organization was affiliated with the I.L.A. and known as Local 231. The white union was recognized by the national body through the black one. In New Orleans, both unions continued to exist between 1919 and 1923, although no contract had been signed. The agreement of the first named year, however, called for 60 cents per hour, while 80 cents was paid during the four-year period because of a scarcity of men. In 1923, the unions demanded a contract calling for 80 cents per hour, and at the same time, they asked the inclusion of the screwmen over which issue a controversy arose.
The function of the screwmen, before the introduction of the compressor, had been to tighten the loosely packed bales of cotton in the hold of the ship by means of a screw-press made for the purpose. Shortly before the World War, the compression of cotton in the gins relegated the task to the past, but for a time, as is usual in such cases, the screwmen held on. The strike of 1923, which ended in the defeat of the unions, was occasioned by their effort to negate the result of increased mechanization by attempting to have the occupation of the screwmen remain unmolested.
This, the operators refused to do. The two organizations proceeded to take a strike vote, which resulted in the Negroes deciding to work by a majority of 440 to 160, while the white longshoremen, 500 strong, went on record as unanimously in favor of a walkout. Hearing of the outcome of the vote, the white president led his entire organization to the Negro Hall, and at a joint meeting, overruled those who wanted to work. Many of the colored longshoremen who had voted against the strike, reported for work the following morning, but were unable to find employment because the foremen, all of whom were white, were on strike.
The strike is, of course, the strongest weapon of organized labor and yet it is costly to all concerned. In 1923, the colored longshoremen sustained a loss from which they have never recovered. At that time, they owned the premises known as the Longshoremen’s Hall, so in order to protect the property, twenty-five of the unionists, who were not in favor of the strike, obtained a Federal Injunction prohibiting those members who had struck from disposing of the property; moreover, the injunction stated that the Negro was not a scab, because his organization had voted almost by a plurality, to work; consequently, in so doing, he was only carrying out this mandate. This group, which is known as the Longshoremen’s Realty Organization, is still the owner of the Hall, but the split of 1923 has kept the majority of those working from using the building.
Just about the time the Steamship Association was beginning to wonder about a way out, one A. E. Harris, of New Orleans, approached the employers and told them that he would handle the work for them. Harris had worked on the riverfront in his earlier years, and knew the game. He rounded up a gang of men, none of whom had ever worked as longshoremen. The operators were dubious but desperate, so they agreed to his proposition. Harris’s men, all-around good hands, soon became familiar with the work; in fact, most of the members of Local 231 soon joined the new men. As a result after a few weeks, the strike was given up,—a complete failure.
A noteworthy gain was made insofar as individual workers were concerned, because previous to 1923, there had been no Negroes acting as foremen nor any in positions of responsibility. The close of the strike found 14 black men running gangs; at the present time, there are about 8 or 10. The decrease in the number may be accounted for in one way only—the men who have lost out were not capable of holding down the jobs. After the strike, Negroes were to be found driving winches, operating derricks, working as overside men, etc. At that time, there were about 27000 regular longshoremen—only 125 of whom were white. Between 1923 and 1927, longshoremen worked independently as employees of the Steamship Association. During the interval, Harris was given the task of supervising the hiring of all men. A badge system was adopted and only men possessing credentials given by the representative of the Steamship Association were permitted to work.
In addition to a great increase in the black personnel on the river-front, another distinct gain was made in the spread of the Negro over the whole field. Prior to 1923, there had existed what was known as “Nigger ships”—that is, all of those ships which came to port with cargo that was difficult to handle or obnoxious to the senses. White longshoremen would not handle these boats, but left that for the black man to do, while the former took all of the easier work. Boats loaded with creosote timber, iron ore, cement, sugar, cottonseed oil cake, and the like, were some of these ships. During the strike, the Negro proved himself to the extent that the employers became convinced that he could do the work faster, more efficiently, and seemed to withstand the heat of the summer better than the white man, who also, in contrast to the attitude of the black, would not do all types of work. Steamship owners did not continue to hire the Negro because of any love for the colored man, but for the simple reason that it was to their economic advantage.
In 1927, a series of events transpired;—events that were destined to keep the longshoremen in a state of upheaval that has had as a result the present trouble. That was the year in which Francis Williams ran for Mayor of New Orleans against Walmsley. An article was printed stating that the New Orleans Steamship Assn. had Africanized the water-front through A. E. Harris;—further that “N——-s were riding to work in automobiles while whites were starving.” Williams stressed these facts throughout his campaign, thus making the whole issue a political one. About the same time the remnants of the white organization, many of the former members of which had gone into other occupations, elected a person known as Terrence Darcy to the presidency. Their new president immediately attempted to make inroads upon the gains the Negroes had achieved.
In the meantime, under the leadership of Mose Johnson, who was president of the organization from 1925 to 1927, Local 231 was reinstated in the I.L.A. by paying up all of the past obligations. Johnson proved to be honest, and in his fourteen months in office the treasury accumulated $14,000. In 1927, when trouble was brewing, Johnson advised the men to have nothing to do with any dispute, but to continue working as usual. At that time, there were about 700 members in good standing in Local 231. The reason for the comparatively small number was because the initiation fee required for entrance into the organization was $66.00. (In contrast to this, the white longshoremen paid $1.00 to join their union). The high fee kept those who did not work rather steadily out of Local 231. Some of those Negroes who were outside of the Local gave Darcy a fertile field in which to work. And this he was quick to grasp.
Darcy organized what was known as the “Get-Together Club,” included in whose roster was a Negro named Sylvester Pete, a man who has played an important role in the affairs of the longshoremen. Each Sunday afternoon, members of the club, numbering about 2500, composed of colored longshoremen, roustabouts and others, hoping to get jobs, met at the white longshoremen’s hall. A plan was outlined by Darcy, calling for a strike and the assumption of the work handled by 231, by members of the “Get-Together Club.” Local 231 refused to take the members of the club into its fold as had the white union. Darcy, however, influenced Joseph Ryan, the President of the I.L.A. to force Local 231 to take the entire “Get-Together” membership into its ranks at $1.35 per man. Late in 1927, when this occurred, there was only enough work for the regular men in the local. The Sunday after the induction of the clubmen into the union, the former, following Darcy’s orders, voted to strike, while at the same time, white unionists decided to work. A very pretty trick designed to make it appear to the operators that Local 231 had caused the trouble, and to give the white union an opportunity once again, to control labor conditions along the water-front. But the New Orleans Steamship Association failed to see eye to eye with Darcy, so the white union failed in their plan to take over all of the work.
Johnson and Darcy, as presidents of their respective unions, were summoned to appear before the Mayor that he might ascertain whose was the responsibility for the calling of the strike. Johnson rightly claimed that the Negro longshoremen were not striking, but that the “Get-Together Club” was;—on the other hand, Darcy was able to show, in his union’s minutes, that its members had voted to work. The outcome of the whole fiasco was that Darcy succeeded in having Johnnson impeached. In the interim, between the deposition of Johnson and the installation of a man under Darcy’s control, old members of Local 231 approached Harris and asked him if they could work, to which he, as representative of the Steamship Association, replied that they “and any bona-fide white longshoreman” could work.
Spencer, the new President of Local 231, immediately attempted to carry out Darcy’s policy. His first act was to bring charges of insubordination against the old members of the local, some of whom were fined as high as $24.00. All of the men who were in this category, left the organization and worked as independents, the majority of them remained in the employ of the United States Shipping Board until it went out of business. The strike of 1927, succeeded in accomplishing nothing but the complete disruption of Local 231.
Things remained in this condition until 1931, when, because of the withdrawal of Shipping Board work, Negroes decided to work for 65 cents per hour. Darcy refused to agree to the terms, but demanded 80 cents per hour. Instead of responding, however, black longshoremen notified their superintendents that they would work. The strike of 1931, like the previous ones, was lost and the Negroes became more firmly entrenched.
Darcy then attempted another method; one in which politics was to play a significant role. He caused Spencer to have those remaining in Local 231 to adopt a resolution reading to the effect that no one but a certified registered voter could do work on the water-front. The fact that the individuals in the organization would do such a thing is commentary enough on their caliber. To date, less than 1,000 Negroes have qualified to vote in New Orleans. At that time, the number was less, and it is safe to say, not a dozen of them were working on the river-front. Darcy had tried, without success, to get Local 231 to do this before and had been told that he had “a lot of nerve coming into a Negro organization and into a Negro Hall with such a proposition.”
The proposition, stating in part, that only certified registered voters should be employed in “loading and unloading on publicly-owned and operated trucks, freight cars, ships, vessels, or similar vehicles within the territorial limits of the city,” was made an ordinance by the City Fathers. There was widespread and bitter protest. Negro longshoremen marched to the City Hall in a body, and they were joined in their protest by other Negroes representing all walks of life. The outcome was the changing of the original ordinance to require that a person must have a two year old poll tax certificate in order to be employed, as above mentioned. This would have made no difference, because Negroes, knowing they could not qualify to vote, did not bother to pay the poll tax. At the City Hall, Darcy made a public speech concerning the adoption by the New Orleans Steamship Association of a system where everyone employed regularly at every line had to wear a badge and be photographed as a means of identification, with the end in view to keep their regular men on the job. He held up a badge and a photograph and lamented such a disgraceful thing as a white man not being able to work on the river-front unless the N-gg-r A. E. Harris said he could do so.
Of all the attempts to get the Negro off of the water-front, this was the most flagrant. The effort to politicalize longshore work in New Orleans, was not a success because the important business concerns of the city prohibited the enforcement of the ordinance. It is necessary to use the wharves and thoroughfares in getting to and from the docks; moreover, most of the drivers of trucks and teams are Negroes, so 68 different injunctions were taken out against the City Ordinance by “big business.”
Local 231 had made a pretence of keeping up its obligations with the I.L.A., but after 1931, it became defunct. Thus, what was once a progressive Negro Union, passed into oblivion.
In 1933, under the labor clause of the National Recovery Act, the longshoremen again came together for union action in two separate groups known as the Independent Colored Longshoremen’s and Independent White Longshoremen’s Associations. The men in both organizations were old-time longshoremen, the present colored officers are former officers of Local 231 and would still be connected with it, had they been permitted to conduct their own business and not been subjected to outside interference. After the organizations had signed contracts at 75 cents per hour with the Steamship Association, President Ryan influenced them to consider re-affiliation with the I.L.A., which question, after due deliberation, the unions decided affirmatively. The Negro organization paid $300, the entire sum needed for reinstatement, while the white union paid $25, the balance of which was to be sent to I.L.A. national headquarters upon receipt of the charter. In the meantime, Darcy and his henchmen intercepted the granting of the charters to the two newly formed groups. Ryan rescinded his action on the grounds that he was unaware of a point brought to his attention subsequently, i.e., that the Independents were company unions and as such, could not be taken into an A. F. of L. Federation. The money was not returned to the outcasts and although entered in the 1934 directory of locals of the I.L.A., they have never actually functioned as such.
The strike which began on October 1, 1935, was called by the few remaining adherents of the I.L.A. led by the same Darcy, for the purpose of destroying the Independent unions. The walkout had been planned for earlier in the year, but was postponed until October, when I.L.A. officials decided their only hope lay in making trouble. At the outset it was apparent that of the 2700 Negro and 400 white longshoremen regularly employed, comparatively few blacks would stop work. The first morning a number of whites failed to appear along with 2 or 3 per cent of the colored workers, but there was a surplus of new men on hand, looking for jobs, and this has been true every day since October 1st. To date, in the neighborhood of 300 vessels have sailed on schedule—which proves decisively that the strike in the Gulf Ports, which had its inception in New Orleans and has retarded work elsewhere, has done nothing to slacken it there,—on the contrary, business for the port as a whole, has been greater for the past two months than in any like period during the past four years.
The men meet at a central point, (foot of Canal Street) before six A.M. There they are hired by the respective foremen and since the strike began, they have been transported to their respective jobs in trucks and tugs under police protection. For a few weeks they were returned to the hiring place in the evening, but the attacking of workers by the strikers, on their way home, caused the employers to send the men to the vicinity of their homes in police protected trucks.
Motivated by the outbreak of violence, which the police thought might develop into something serious, the Steamship Association put into effect an injunction which was granted in 1927. Its effect was instantaneous,—aside from quieting the strikers, it compelled the leaders to spend their time in seeking to have the order of the Federal District Court reconsidered under the Norris-LaGuardia Act. Despite the anti-injunction law, the employers’ weapon remained in effect, while what Professor Commons states in his recent book, “Institutional Economics” is a truism, namely: “If the courts would observe them, anti-injunction laws would keep the courts out of politics and place labor associations somewhat on an equality before the law with employers’ associations,” Professor Commons was considering the organized labor movement in its entirety, and not the problem of Negro labor in the South.155
The I.L.A. would have lost out completely in New Orleans weeks ago had it not been for the boycott which was carried on in other ports against the handling of cargo loaded by independent labor. As it is, the one thing that kept it from utter rout, was the appointment of a Mediation Board by the Secretary of Labor. It appears now that the organization will hold what it had before the strike, while the only possibility of its making a gain is this: The Board may succeed in effecting a compromise measure, in which case the Independent unions may again take up the banner of the I.L.A. A compromise, however, is never satisfactory and in that event, trouble may be expected in the near future. This has already been presaged by a recent petition filed in the Federal Court by the Negro and White Independent Longshoremen Associations for an injunction to restrain members of the I.L.A. from interfering with workers on the docks. In fine, the two non-I.L.A. unions are attempting to prepare against expected difficulties, for knowing the method of the International Longshoremen’s Association, they expect it to try again.
It is a pathetic situation that has existed in New Orleans, for most of the physical fighting was done by Negro strikers and Negro strikebreakers. This is brought more forcibly to mind, when we realize, as shown above, that every move on the part of the New Orleans representatives of the I.L.A. has indicated their desire to drive the black man from the water-front. There is no complaint against the I.L.A. as an organization, for theoretically it does not discriminate against the Negro. But the machinations of the representatives in New Orleans have made the colored longshoreman wary. The requests of the strikes, for an increase in the hourly wage from 75 cents to 85 cents straight time and for an improvement in working conditions, were felt to be quite sane and much needed by those who did not strike, but they did not want to see the crystallization of the main part of the plan—the ascendency of the International Longshoremen’s Association to absolute control of the labor market on the New Orleans water-front.
This type of guerilla warfare does not do the black or white laborer any good, but until the white laborer learns that his interest is identical with that of the Negro working man, we must seize every opportunity for momentary gain. In New Orleans, for the present at least, it is best for the Negro to be independent of the I.L.A.
It is well to remember that the South is still the South—and its prejudices are deeply rooted,—particularly where, in his efforts to gain a livelihood, the black man competes directly with the white laborer. In view of this, the Negro worker has to grasp every opportunity to make a living. Necessity has forced the black longshoremen to view affiliation with the I.L.A. from one aspect alone: Will they gain more by going into the organization or by remaining without? Unfortunately, the colored man is not a part of the Labor Movement in the South, and is only tolerated as a means of avoiding competition. He will never be a part of such a movement until a change of heart occurs on the part of the poor whites—if this is possible.
Opportunity, 14 (March, 1936): 82–85, 93.
10. JOHN FITZPATRICK TO WARREN N. CLARK AND SHAILER MATHEWS, CHICAGO CHURCH FEDERATION, MAY 26, 1937156
We received your letter of May 21st, requesting information in reference to the attitude of labor unions towards Negro workers and in answer to your first question, “Are Negroes admitted to any or all unions in Chicago? will say:
The answer is that this matter is determined by employers. If employers employ Negroes, we strive to bring these Negroes into our unions, if for no other reason, than out of necessity to maintain our hour and wage standards.
In reply to your second question, “Are there special units for Negro members?” we would say that fundamentally, the labor movement is opposed to special privileges under any and all circumstances. Where white men and Negroes are employed in the same employment, they are accepted into the union on an equal footing, but if only Negroes are employed, they can secure a charter just the same as if the group were all white. In other words, there would be nothing in the charter to indicate that it was issued to Negroes or white men.
In reply to your third question, “Are there restrictions as to where they may work, if Negroes? the answer is yes and no. The unions do not inject any restrictions, but the employers do. Employers can and do restrict their employees to all Negroes or all whites. We have no say in such cases. We just proceed to organize the workers, regardless of creed, color or nationality.
In reply to your fourth question, “Are there wage differentials of any sort?” The labor movement declares for equal pay for equal work, whether performed by men or women employees. Employers, on a basis of 99 out of every 100, try to punish the Negro because of his color. Organized labor is the only institution that stands for equality for the Negro as far as his economic interests are concerned.
I hope I have given understandable answers to your questions. If I have failed to make myself clear, point out such instances and I will be glad to try again.
I may add that in each recurring convention of the American Federation of Labor for the past forty or more years, some resolution or some declaration has emanated therefrom, urging organization of Negro workers as the only means of preventing exploitation of the Negro by employers and the only means of safeguarding the standards of life and labor secured by white workers.
The Negro worker is more “prone” to “Jim Crow” himself than to be “Jim Crowed” by white workers. The Negro worker attempts to secure special consideration because of his color and in order to prevent the Negro from “Jim Crowing” himself, we accept him on an equal footing with white workers.
As workers, our problems are exactly the same. We have a common cause and as some one said, “A house divided will surely fall,” and we do not propose to let our house fall because of such division.
Out of 106 National and International unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, I know of only two organizations whose constitutions declare “This is an organization composed of white men,” and these organizations have been urged to change this language. We are in hopes that they will soon see the wisdom of making this change.
If the foregoing statements call for further clarification, please let me know and I will be glad to go into further detail.
Yours very truly,
CHICAGO FEDERATION OF LABOR.
John Fitzpatrick Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
A recent joint meeting of the Commission on the Church and Industry, and the Commission of Interracial Relations of the Chicago Church Federation heard a presentation of the difficulties encountered by Negroes in securing employment, especially in skilled trades.
In the discussion following the presentation the Commission felt the need of factual data to guide appropriate action. It was therefore ordered that your organization be addressed with a request for a statement of its policies regarding Negro labor. Are Negroes admitted to any or all unions in Chicago? Are there special units for Negro members? Are there restrictions as to where they may work, if members? Are there wage differentials of any sort?
The commissions would greatly appreciate your statement in order that they might have a clear picture of the Negro’s problem as regards organized labor.
Chairman, Commission of Church and Industry
Chairman, Commission on Interracial Relations
John Fitzpatrick Papers, Chicago Historical Society.
By Russ J. Cowans
DETROIT—Chief battleground of the sit-down strikers, Detroit last week saw workers in many other fields adopt this latest form of labor protest which has practically riddled the automobile industry.
Most outstanding was the strike at the Newton Packing Company, under A. F. of L. auspices, in which more than fifty colored butchers, sausage makers, cutters and slaughterers joined.
Efforts of Sheriff Thomas Wilcox to serve an arrest order on the group met a setback when Circuit Court Judge Allen Campbell on Monday announced that he would withhold decision on a petition for permission to deputize 600 men for the task.
Shortly before, Judge Campbell granted the Chrysler Corporation an injunction restraining strikers from occupying the Chrysler plant after Wednesday.
Many of the 3,000 colored employees of the firm were among the group ordered to evacuate. Other thousands are helping to retain possession of the Dodge, Plymouth, DeSoto and Hudson plants.
The ranks of some 10,000 colored automobile workers are seriously divided over the question of affiliating with the United Automobile Workers, division of John L. Lewis’s Committee for Industrial Organization.
While many thousands readily fell into line, other thousands remained definitely aloof, while many are in a quandary as to the best policy.
John King, Dodge employee, who sought to leave the plant last week, was severely beaten by strike guards who have been thrown around the plant to frustrate any attempt on the part of workers to abandon the sit-down campaign.
Pay Held Up
Approximately thirty colored workers stormed the Chrysler plant, Saturday morning, in an effort to get their pay from the paymaster. They had to club their way through the strong guard stationed at the gate, but were unable to get their pay as the paymaster told them the records were in the office held by the strikers.
Although no sit-down strikes have been pulled in any of the restaurants and beer gardens in the colored districts, plans are already afoot for the unionization of the waiters and waitresses.
Frank Loftis, official organizer for the waiters’ and waitresses’ union, an affiliate of the A. F. of L., has been working in this direction.
Edwards on Committee
Marshall Edwards, 29, was chairman of the strike committee and a member of the negotiating committee which was in conference with officials of the Michiga Malleable Iron Foundry before the settlement of the strike there, last week.
The workers in the automobile plants are asking a minimum wage of 75 cents an hour for men and 65 cents an hour for women. They are also demanding that the United Automobile Workers be recognized the sole bargaining agency for the employees.
Baltimore Afro-American, July 20, 1937.
DETROIT.—Filing out of the Newton Packing Company, 5075 Fourteenth Street when 400 policemen and deputy sheriffs, armed with tear gas, dislodged the 82 sit—downers, including 20 women, were 8 colored employees of the company.
Along with the other strikers, these eight were taken to the county jail, where they were held until a preliminary hearing before Judge Allen Campbell of the circuit court, who suspended sentence on the men upon their plea of guilty to a charge of contempt of court.
Judge Campbell last week issued an injunction ordering the strikers from the plant, but they refused to obey.
As the officers broke into the plant, 100 of them lined up outside prepared to fire tear gas. A search of the first floor of the office building revealed only one man, guarding a door leading to a large yard between the office building and refrigerator plant.
Had Improvised Weapons
The sit-downers, including the eight colored workers, were standing in the yard, armed with clubs, milk bottles, red-hot meat hooks, small cleavers and large ones that needed two hands to swing them. Some of them had short lengths of pipe.
A fire was burning in the yard, in which the hooks had been heated.
The officers ordered the strikers to line up against the wall. Those with the hooks refused to move. When the police approached they shouted, We are American citizens. You can’t touch us.”
The officers rushed the strikers, dislodging them from the large drums, and lined them up with their companions, their weapons abandoned.
The doors and windows had been barricaded with boxes and other obstructions. Officers found mattresses on desk tops on the second floor. Also laid on the floor were rugs and canvas bags, used for pillows.
Strikers Fare Well
Ben Downey, 24, of 973 East Warren Avenue, said he had fared well during the twenty-four days the sit-downers had occupied the plant. Officers said they had discovered a large ham boiling in a pot over one of the fires.
In the meantime, those colored workers in the Chrysler, Dodge and Hudson plants, are preparing for a raid on the part of the police, sometime this week. The Chrysler officials have secured an injunction order for the eviction of the workers from the eight plants now being held. . . .
A sit-down strike at Frank and Seder Department Store was averted when police dislodged the sit-downers less than an hour after an organizer had blown his whistle in the store to announce a strike.
It would have involved several porters and maids employed at the store.
Baltimore Afro-American, March 27, 1937.
By Cyril Briggs157
Support for the work of organizing Negro workers into the American labor movement on a basis of full equality and for the fight to break down the jim-crow barriers that still exist in some of the A. F. of L. unions was pledged by prominent trade union leaders of New York, and by Norman Thomas, Socialist leader, at the dedication of the new Harlem Labor Center, at 312 West 125th Street, on Sunday afternoon.
The dedication ceremony, held in the beautifully-equipped center, was attended by 500 workers, most of them Negroes, with Jacob Mirsky, president of Bricklayers Union, Local 37, presiding.
The meeting was opened by Noah O. A. Walters, secretary of the Socialist-led Negro Labor Committee who, before introducing Mirsky, gave a brief outline of the organization of the committee six months ago, its work in combatting discrimination in the labor movement, and its achievement in creating a center “for the use of all trade unionists, Negro and white, in the community.”
Mirsky sounded the keynote of the meeting with a call for “unity of black and white workers for betterment of economic as well as of social conditions.”
The meeting gave a tremendous ovation to Norman Thomas, Socialist leader, and vigorously applauded when the chairman praised the Socialist Call, spokesman of the newly constituted City Central Committee, which is leading the fight in the Socialist Party against the Old Guard.
Thomas praised the work of the Negro Labor Committee, and declared that there is no chance, whatever, that this country will escape fascism unless the unity of Negro and white workers is forged. The beating of three labor organizers in Tampa, which resulted in the death of Joseph Shoemaker, Socialist leader, is an example of what the workers of the United States will have to face, unless colored and white workers are organized in the labor movement without discrimination, he said.
Urges A.F.L. Boycott of Tampa
He urged that all A. F. of L. workers exert pressure on the A. F. of L. Executive Committee to force a change in its plans to hold the next A. F. of L. convention in Tampa.
Fascist Italy’s robber war on Ethiopia was vigorously assailed by Luigi Antonini, First Vice-President of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, who was one of the delegates from this country to the recent World Congress of Italians abroad, demonstrated last Saturday night against the fascist meeting in Madison Square Garden, at which Mayor La Guardia and several New York State judges spoke.
The meeting heard a message read from William Green, president of the A. F. of L., in which the A. F. of L. head declared that “Negro workers were turning to the A. F. of L. with increasing conviction,” and “were becoming more responsible trade unionists,” but was silent on the burning issue of continued discrimination in many of the A. F. of L. unions, and the responsibility of the top leadership by the progressive and the rank and file movement in the A. F. of L.
Frank Crosswaith, chairman of the Negro Labor Committee and an organizer of the I. L. G. W. U., expressed appreciation to the numerous unions and individuals that were supporting the work of the Committee. Scoring the continued hostility to Negro labor of the reactionaries in the A. F. of L., Crosswaith declared that the working class “cannot win power by remaining divided on a basis of race or craft.”
Other speakers, all of whom pledged support to the fight to root out prejudice and discrimination from the labor movement included Thomas J. Curtis, a former vice-president of the A. F. of L., Thomas Young, Negro vice-president of Building Service Workers Union, Local 32B; Sascha Zimmerman, Business Manager of Local 22, I. L. G. W. U., Murray Baron, Business Manager of the Suitcase, Bag and Portfolio Workers Union.158
Telegrams of greetings to the meeting were received from Leo Krzycki, chairman of the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party; Clarence Senior, National Secretary of the Socialist Party; Jack Altman, temporary chairman of the newly constituted City Central Committee of the New York Socialist Party and Morris Feinstone, secretary of the United Hebrew Trades.159
Daily Worker, December 17, 1935.
ST. LOUIS, Sept. 16—(By ANP)—A special probe of protests by Negro organizations that members of the race skilled in building trades are being discriminated against by A. F. of L. unions of skilled mechanics is being conducted under orders of William Green, national president.
Investigating the charges is Al Towers, white, organizer for the International Moulders’ Union, at Erie, Pa. For over a month Towers has been conferring with officials of the Building Trades Council, and with representatives of Negro groups. Other meetings are planned for the near future, after which Towers will submit a report to Green.
The president acted after receiving protests from locals of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Dining Car Employees’ Union and other A. F. of L. affiliates which have colored members here. They pointed out that for years skilled Negro workers have been trying without success to gain admission to the Building Trades Council here, although the council has taken in Negro hod-carriers and laborers.
Just what official standing the conferences will have is doubtful. Towers explained that international unions affiliated with the A. F. of L. are autonomous and each has the right to determine its own standards of eligibility, so that apparently all that can result is a “recommendation” as to policy in St. Louis. The unions in the Building Trades Council admit skilled Negro workers in some cities, but in others do not.
Pittsburgh Courier, September 18, 1937.
Content removed at rightsholder’s request.
The Crisis, 46 (September, 1939): 273.
The Crisis, 48 (November, 1941): 343.
Walter White Raps American Labor Federation for Refusal to Recognize Colored Persons
RACIAL DIFFICULTIES ATTRIBUTED TO SETUP
National Association Secretary Cites Menial Position of Race in Address at Central High School
Refusal of the American Federation of Labor to recognize the colored people of America in industry was cited as one of the chief reasons for difficulty in racial relations by Walter White, secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in the final lecture of the Civic Educational Forum last night in Binghamton Central High School.
Speaking under the auspices of the Binghamton Inter-racial Commission and the Civic Educational Forum committee, Mr. White said that the drawing of the color line by the A. F. of L. and the subsequent wholesale lack of employment for colored people is one of the biggest barriers in the path of better racial relations.
“In the recent depression,” he pointed out, “the Negroes were forced out of even the positions which have always been occupied by colored people, such as bootblacking, porter work and other menial tasks.
He called attention to the fact that there is not a single Negro employe in many of the major industries of the country and said that the people of America must begin to realize that qualified Negro workers must be recognized in industry if we are going to solve the racial problem.
“Lines of demarkation in the skin and color problem are of little importance in the light of the major problems which face the entire nation, white and colored.
“If the present spirit of bigotry and intolerance which exists today in the South is allowed to continue we will find that infamous Ku Klux Klan back at work. Denial of justice and opportunities to the Negroes will only complicate the situation by increased crime and the country will eventually pay the bill.”
The speaker saw a glimmer of hope in the fact that the collapse of the cotton market in the South has brought the poorer classes together in poverty and is creating a better understanding between some white people and Negroes.
“Negroes are always permitted to pay taxes but are discriminated against in the spending of the revenue obtained through these taxes,” he said.
He explained that amounts of the appropriations for education in the South are very unevenly distributed, favoring the white children.
Mr. White urged taking of Negroes into industry in order to improve their economic condition and give them a fair opportunity away from partiality and bigotry.
Birmingham Sun, March 12, 1937.
At a meeting of representative trade unionists and other Negro leaders held at the Harlem Y.M.C.A. last Sunday plans were made for a nationwide attack on discrimination against Negro railroad workers in the matter of jobs on railroads and membership in railroad unions. Immediate action on a national scale was declared necessary if the Negro is to hold his own in employment in the railroad industry.
The plans made at the meeting include: (1) Conference with leaders of railroad unions to urge a change of policy towards Negroes; (2) Court action to compel federal labor boards to act in the matter; (3) Injunctions to prohibit unions which bar Negroes from having the benefit of the protection of federal legislation; (4) A nationwide campaign for legislation to protect Negro railroad workers.
Local actions around specific problems faced by Negro railroad workers are also planned. James E. Baker Jr., chairman of the Greater New York Federation of the National Negro Congress has already begun to rally other groups to the defense of Negro railroad workers of New York City. Other localities have begun to plan similar action.
The meeting was held in response to a letter sent out to national leaders by John P. Davis, secretary of the National Negro Congress and James W. Ford. Representatives of Negro Railroad groups were present at the meeting and other national leaders sent messages pledging cooperation. These latter included George Brown of New York City and Layton Weston of St. Louis, Missouri, representing Locals 370 and 354 respectively of the Dining Car Employes Union; T. Arnold Hill of the National Urban League; A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Roy Wilkins, editor of the Crisis magazine.
Barred From Jobs
Pointing to the use of membership color bars as effective devices for keeping Negroes from jobs in the industry, speakers at the meeting pointed out that recent federal legislation governing labor relations on railroads made it imperative that speedy action be taken against the color bars if the Negro worker is to keep his hold on jobs in the industry.
Typical working agreements between railroads and unions were discussed. Many of them were found to provide for no further employment of Negroes and for the gradual elimination of those already employed. “If these working agreements continue to be made and remain in force,” declared John P. Davis, “it will be a matter of but a few years before practically no jobs exist for Negroes in the railroad industry. Already as a result of these contracts the number of Negroes employed in the industry has seriously declined, leaving thousands of Negro workers and their families unemployed.”
These working agreements, it was pointed out, are enforced in the courts and are aided by federal legislative acts, although they are against public policy and serve to deny to Negro workers their constitutional rights.
Particularly vicious in their terms are clauses in the constitution of the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, it was indicated. In this union, Negroes are forced into separate locals where they pay dues but where they have no right to elect Negroes to represent them.
Daily Worker, March 12, 1937.
Railway Employes Department Convention Is Sent Appeal Asking Clauses Against Negroes Be Eliminated From Constitution
Eight prominent Negro leaders of unions and organizations yesterday addressed a letter to the National Convention of the Railway Employes Department of the American Federation of Labor now in session at Hotel Morrison, Chicago, appealing that action be taken to eliminate from constitutions of affiliated unions clauses discriminating against Negroes.
The letter mentioned nine unions in the railroad field which have such discriminatory clauses or practice devices which have the same effect.
The letter follows:
“Your Convention is meeting at a grave moment in our country that calls for the unity of all forces of labor to protect and defend all the workers’ interests and rights.
“We, the undersigned, representatives of the Negro people and of Negro labor, wish to call your attention to the special injustices that face Negro workers in the railroad industry. These injustices are the following: (a) the barring of Negroes from employment in the industry and an alarming tendency to eliminate them completely; (b) the lack of seniority protection and promotion rights for them where they are employed; (c) the failure to admit them at all or to full membership in unions of the railroad industry, with consequent failure to extend union protection to their wages, working conditions, etc.
“Several of the organizations affiliated to the Railway Employees Department of the A. F. of L. have clauses in their Constitutions specifically barring Negroes from becoming members, while others use various discriminatory devices to the same effect. Among these unions are the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen, the Switchmen’s Union of North America, the Order of Sleeping Car Conductors, the Order of Railway Telegraphers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the International Brotherhood of Blacksmiths, and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.
Ask Practice Condemned
“We wish to protest to you that these discriminatory practices against Negro workers violate the collective bargaining provisions of the Railway Labor Act and the Wagner Labor Relations Act, and thereby also the rights of Negroes as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. They are also against all principles of democracy upon which our country is based.
“Moreover, such discriminatory practices are injurious to white labor as well as to Negro workers on the railroads. The employers have resisted, over a long period of years, the efforts of Negro workers to break down Jim-Crow practices against them in the unions and in the industry. But Negro workers have become trade union conscious and are now a big factor in all struggles of labor, both trade union and political. They are supporting organized labor wholeheartedly wherever bars are dropped from against them in the unions. The railroad labor organizations cannot afford to reject such powerful, potential support.
“We request your convention to condemn these discriminatory practices against Negro railroad workers and to call upon your affiliated organizations to eliminate their Constitutional clauses or other practices that bar Negroes outright from union membership and limit them in such membership, and that your convention take the necessary steps to see to it that the question of the rights of Negro workers on the railroads is placed before forthcoming conventions of your affiliated unions.
“John P. Davis, Secretary, National Negro Congress of Washington, D.C.
“Roy Wilkins, Assistant Secretary, National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples.
“George E. Brown, Regional Director, Dining Car Employees Union, A. F. of L. Local No. 370.
“Ashley L. Totten, Int’l Secretary-Treasurer, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
“Manning Johnson, Business Agent, Cafeteria Employees Union, Local 302.
“William Gaulden, State, County & Municipal Workers of America, C.I.O.
“Bill Russell, Painters District Council 9, Delegate.
“A. C. Powell, Jr., Pastor, Abbysinian Baptist Church.”
Daily Worker, April 8, 1938.
Brooklyn Committee Seeking Jobs for Negroes Told Stores Have ‘Closed Shop’ with A. F. of L., But Union Says Books Closed
After fourteen weeks of run around the Citizens Civic Affairs Committee was still making attempts to break through the anti-Negro policy of Dilbert Bros., Inc., operators of 45 food stores in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.
The committee, which represents a number of civic, labor, church and fraternal organizations interested in promoting equal job opportunities for Negro people, has been picketing the company’s stores. Signs carried point out that the company hasn’t a single Negro among all its employees and refuses to hire any, although certain of its stores depend mainly upon Negro trade.
After several vain attempts for a conference with company officials, the Citizens Committee was finally told that “Negroes would be hired if business requires them.” At the same time the committee was referred to Local 1204 of the International Retail Clerks Protective Association of the A. F. of L., with whom the company claimed it has a “closed shop” contract. This was in May.
Union Books “Closed”
Since then, the committee has made efforts to break through an equally air-tight discrimination wall of Grocery Clerks Local 1204 of the A. F. of L., which operates under the guise of a “closed shop” contract.
Frank Ella, business manager of Local 1204, told the committee’s representatives that the “closed shop” contract forces the company to employ only union people, but the union’s books are “closed” to new members,
Mr. Elia did, however, hasten to assure the Citizens Committee that his union does not discriminate against Negroes and offered to unionize any Negro clerks under a “sub charter,” in a separate local that would be “autonomous” and “you could run it yourself.” The dues would of course go into Local 1204 and the International’s treasury, it was explained. This offer of a jim crow local was declined by the committee.
Inquiries among workers of the Dilbert chain gave some details on how Local 1204 obtains its “closed shop” agreements. As the United Retail Employes of the CIO made rapid headway organizing stores in New York, Dilbert Bros. was one of the firms that sought protection from the Retail Clerks Protective Association of the A. F. of L. A conference between company and union officials struck a bargain whereby every worker is to be forced to join 1204, dues to be checked off by the company.
Seldom are any meeting or election held in the local. The agreements are first entered into with employers, then the union officials get acquainted with the members they are to take in.
Daily Worker, July 28, 1938.
In the Pullman Building in Chicago, Illinois, Friday, April 18th, a revised Agreement for Pullman Porters, Maids, Attendants and Bus Boys was negotiated and signed by Champ Carry, Executive Vice-President for the Pullman Company, and A. Philip Randolph, International President, for the Brotherhood. . . .
After long and hard debates day in and day out, definite progress was reflected in the settlement upon rule after rule, including monetary compensation as well as the clarification and refinement of working rules, observed the International President of the Brotherhood at the International Headquarters in New York City. Rules were secured increasing the in-charge porter’s rate of pay from $13.50 a month to $20.25, which is a 50 per cent boost. Attendants confined to kitchen work also received a differential of $20.25, which represents a differential of this amount above what they formerly received. Whereas before, attendants only received the established monthly rate of pay for work when confined in the kitchen. Porters assigned to training student porters and private car porters will also receive the in-charge differential of $20.25 per month. Attendants confined to kitchen work will receive an increase of $20.25 per month.
The basic work month remains the same, but the elapsed time prior to compensation of punitive time at time and one-half was reduced from 20 hours to 10 hours. This change represents a considerable increase in income to the porter, especially those engaged in troop movements. Attendants deadheading, who formerly received the standard car work rate, under the revision of the contract will receive the established attendants’ rate of pay, which is higher. . . .
According to the representatives of the Brotherhood and Mr. Randolph, one of the most important features of the revision of the contract is that it was consummated through direct negotiations between the Management and the Pullman Company, which showed a splendid spirit of cooperation, and the Brotherhood, without the intervention of the National Mediation Board. . . .
The Brotherhood insists upon this arrangement so that the Organization’s hands will not be tied in the event that a wage movement is begun among railroad workers for pay increases. Under the present arrangement, if a wage movement should begin in the railway industry in the next six months or year, the Brotherhood can move in to secure these wage increases for the Pullman Porters, Maids, Attendants, and Bus Boys upon 30 days’ notice, without difficulty, concluded the porters’ leader.
Members of the Agreement Committee that negotiated the contract for the Brotherhood were the International President; First International Vice-President, M. P. Webster; Second International Vice-President, Bennie Smith of Detroit; Third International Vice-President, E. J. Bradley of St. Louis; Fourth International Vice-President, C. L. Dellums of California; T. T. Patterson, Claims Adjustor for the Eastern Zone of the Brotherhood, and Vice-President of the New York Division; and Ashley L. Totten, International Secretary-Treasurer.
The Negotiating Committee for the Pullman Company were represented by the Executive Vice-President, Champ Carry; George Kelley, Vice-President Public Relations; B. H. Bowman, Assistant to the Executive Vice-President, and H. R. Larry, Director, Industrial Relations.160
The Black Worker, April, 1941.
Union Votes Down Proposal For Group To Fight Jim-Crow
TORONTO, Oct. 22—Despite the annual eloquent and dramatic plea of A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the 62nd convention of the American Federation of Labor, meeting here for its annual session made no definite attempt to solve the far-reaching discriminatory practices against Negroes which exist within the organization.
Randolph Assails A. F. of L. Leaders
For 20 minutes the delegates last week heard A. Philip Randolph assail AFL leaders for “dodging” a proposal that the group create a committee to fight jim crow.
“We have heard many grand and splendid speeches at this convention, and if a man from Mars had come here he would have thought most of the speechmakers believed in democracy. When he learned that many of the same men denied Negroes the right to join their unions he would reach the conclusion that these speeches are baloney!”
In one minute, Randolph was voted down as his proposal was rejected. The only dissenting vote came from Milton J. Webster, his co-delegate from the Porters’ union.
Tobin Blasts Randolph
Daniel Tobin, head of the Teamsters’ union, let loose a blast against Randolph the next day in answer to his speech when he accused the race delegate’s speech of “helping to light the torch of dissension and destruction among a large section of the population.”161
Tobin also condemned Randolph’s plea for immediate independence for India, wherein the Sleeping Car Porters’ president had said:
“It is proper, fitting and timely that the American Federation of Labor, which has been under attack from open shop, anti-labor, big business interests and some labor-baiting government officials, should raise its voice in behalf of the freedom and independence of India and its downtrodden, over-taxed, debt-ridden, half-starved peasant masses.
When Randolph attempted to gain the floor to answer Tobin, he was ignored by AFL President William Green, who is now starting his 19th year as head of the Federation.
Webster Asks Support For FEPC
Milton Webster, first International vice-president of the Sleeping Car Brotherhood, and a member of the President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practice, asked the convention’s support in calling for a restoration of the FEPC to its original status of independence and responsibility to the President. He indicated that the committee was handicapped by lack of funds and a small staff with which to police the Executive Order 8802.
As Randolph was swept under in the protest of unfair treatment of Negroes in AFL unions, he listed four types of bias within the AFL, including 15 unions which have “color clauses” barring Negroes, many others which have unwritten understandings to keep Negroes out, internationals which have no written clauses but permit locals to do as they like, and unions which create “undemocratic auxiliaries” or jim-crow units for Negro members.
“Wait For Educational Processes”—AFL
The official answer to Randolph was embodied in the AFL Resolutions committee report, which said:
“We are doubtful whether any other method than the educational one can make the progress which is necessary, for experience has been that where compulsory methods are applied, prejudices are increased instead of diminished.”
Pittsburgh Courier, October 24, 1942.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 31—Replying to a letter from President J. G. Bigelow, of Local 689, Amalgamated Association of Street, Electric Railway and Motor Coach Employees of America, AFL, in which he said he was confronted with the race problem in his division and requested information regarding colored men in other divisions of the association, W. D. Mahon, international president of the union, made emphatic his position in the matter.162
Mr. Mahon urged Local 689, which has a contract with the Capital Transit Company of this city, “take into consideration the fact that we are now engaged in a war in which the colored man is called upon to do the same line of duty that the white man is called upon to do.”
Mr. Mahon further said:
“Our organization is a part of the American Federation of Labor whose policy is not to discriminate against a fellow worker on account of creed, color, or nationality—that’s the policy of this organization that you must always keep in mind when dealing with this matter.
“I know of no complaints in our organization anywhere over this matter. There was some little complaint in San Francisco some time ago, but that has disappeared and there is nothing of it at the present. In many places, colored men are employed in this line of transportation and in many of our organizations there have been colored men holding memberships for years.”
Finds Races Equally Efficient
Mr. Mahon, answering Mr. Bigelow’s request concerning the Negro’s accident record, declared that, as far as he could ascertain, there is no difference in the accident record of white and colored operators.
The President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practices was officially notified Tuesday, Dec. 22, that the Capital Transit Company, which has been declared a war industry, will abide by the directions issued to it to bring the employment policy of the bus and trolley system into line with Executive Order 8802. This order forbids discrimination against war workers because of their race, color, creed or national origin.
Pittsburgh Courier, January 21, 1943.
ATLANTA, Ga., Jan. 28—Director Wendell Lund of the Labor Division of the War Production Board pictured in glowing terms to the South here last week its great industrial importance in the present war crisis and emphasized that, in 1943, it would be necessary to double the production of the previous year.
According to Rob F. Hall, who covered the American Federation of Labor’s Southern War Labor Conference here, Mr. Lund is calling the attention of 11 Southern states to their new responsibilities.
Must Use All Available Labor
“If we are to achieve these goals, we must expand our labor force. Five to six million war workers—women, older workers, handicapped workers, Negroes—loyal Americans of every race, creed, color and national origin—must be added to our present labor force. To win the war this must be done and I know you will do it.”
Mr. Lund said there are labor shortages and that these bottlenecks in production must be eliminated by two methods: (1) integrating more available manpower and (2) by working longer hours without basically changing the conventional forty-hour week.
Nation Aware Of “Bottlenecks”
“The nation knows where labor stands on work stoppages and that labor will not tolerate them in the critical year,” Mr. Lund asserted and he received loud applause from the more than 5,000 delegates when he concluded by saying:
“Nor can there be any toleration of those who would exploit the ‘no-strike’ pledge of labor while the common enemy stands at our door.”
Pittsburgh Courier, January 30, 1943.
By Herman Hill
(Courier Coast Correspondent)
LOS ANGELES, Calif., Mar. 4—Several hundred Negro workmen affiliated with the American Federation of Labor Boilermakers’ “Auxiliary,” who are employed in the California Ship and Consolidated shipyards and the Western Pipe and Steel Company at the Los Angeles harbor, united in protest last week against the “taxation without representation” policy of the union. Colored members, it is alleged, are herded into the jim crow Local 92, but pay the same dues and receive less insurance benefits, little or no protection, and are, in most cases, the last persons to be upgraded.
For some time the present strife has been brewing and finally burst into the public eye last week, when the employees in question enlisted the aid of civic organizations and the press. Previous protests to union heads here have resulted in nothing but promises and buckpassing to the main headquarters in Kansas City. The AFL has a closed shop agreement with the plants in question. Protest wires have since been dispatched to the Committee on Fair Employment Practices headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Other Jim Crow Locals
The AFL has already set up such auxiliaries in Portland, Ore., at the Kaiser Shipyards and at other coastal points.
Filipinos and other nationalities are permitted to join the regular union body at the three plants. It is further claimed that there is no racial exclusion clause in the union constitution or by-laws, but, rather, the jim crow rules have been self-willed by the various locals. Pointing out that such un-American tactics are injurious to the all-out war efforts, the protestants are demanding complete integration.
One Such Local Clicking
The signal success of the all-Negro Boilermakers’ Local 26 in Oakland, which boasts of more than $20,000 and a membership of more than 500 workers, has been suggested by some as a solution to the problems of the Southern California group. Although labeled as a jim crow local by certain factions, the Oakland Bay Region local was born of a desperation of a pioneering few who felt the Negro should be given a share of skilled and semi-skilled jobs in defense yards and plants in the locale. Battling tooth and nail for a foothold, the Northerners have won the respect of both management and labor alike. They have affected many reforms, such as insurance rate adjustments and wages and hours. Its housing committee, working in conjunction with Federal and city housing authorities, is making a determined effort to solve the Bay Area’s desperate housing situation. A short while ago, Local 26 purchased its present location. When officials of the local visited Los Angeles last month, a hue and cry went up that they were planning to “move in” here. This accusation was firmly denied later.
Torn between the schools of thought, the Los Angeles auxiliaries are exploring all angles and are deliberately and carefully plotting their futures.
Pittsburgh Courier, March 6, 1943.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (ANP)—The National Urban League was asked by President William Green, of the American Federation of Labor, to submit to him immediately its idea of the type of machinery which should be established within the AFL designed ultimately to secure full recognition of, and status for, the Negro worker as an integral part of the labor movement.
Green promised to lay the proposal before the mid-winter meeting of the Federation’s executive council, which was scheduled to convene in Miami on Monday, and to give it his support.
Says Conference Was Significant
This comes probably as the outstanding development growing out of the hour and a half long conference which executives of eight branches of the league and officials of the national office held here on Wednesday with Green. At the conclusion of the meeting separate statements were made by the labor leader and by Lester B. Granger, executive secretary of the league.
“I attach deep significance to this conference,” Green declared. “I am of the opinion it will serve to promote co-operation between the Urban League and the AFL. Such co-operation will be in the interest of both Negro workers and the membership of the AFL.”
Pittsburgh Courier, January 22, 1944.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27.—In a precedent-setting move, a National Labor Relations Board trial examiner yesterday threatened to cancel the collective bargaining rights of an AFL local unless it immediately abolished a jim crow local for Negroes.
The ultimatum, directed to the AFL Tobacco Workers International Local 219 at Richmond, Va., is the first of its kind issued by the NLRB. Heretofore, all such cases have been handled by the President’s Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). The examiner’s findings may have sweeping repercussions in the South where AFL unions frequently maintain segregated locals.
Establishment of the Jimcrow local at Larus & Bros., Inc., Richmond, runs counter to the President’s executive order banning discrimination, contravenes NLRB regulations by denying Negro workers adequate representation, and violates American constitutional policy the examiner, Frank Bloom, held.
The case came before the NLRB through the petition of the CIO Food & Tobacco Workers which asked the board to rescind AFL certification at Larus Bros. and to schedule a new election there.
The AFL had won a collective bargaining election at the plant March 14, 1944, defeating the CIO union 315 to 179. Two days after the election, George Benjamin, an international vice-president of the AFL union, himself a Negro, met with Negro workers and advised them to apply for a charter for a separate local. This was later established as Local 219–B.
Hearings held by Bloom revealed that management, which signed a contract with Local 219, did not consider itself bound contractually to the Jimcrow unit, which was not a party to the agreement.
Daily Worker, February 28, 1945.
The AFL’s practice of Jim Crowing its Negro members into class B locals where they are deprived of their full union rights, is under attack in a case brought before the Natl. Labor Relations Board by the CIO Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers. Hearings on the charges started this week in Washington.
The case involves the formation of an AFL union of a separate local for Negro workers at the Larus & Brother tobacco plant in Richmond, Va. After preliminary hearings on the case last February, NLRB Trail Examiner Frank Bloom, recommended that certification of the AFL local be withdrawn unless the union notified the Negro workers that they were eligible for membership in the white local and cancelled the Negro local’s charter.
The story of unionization at the Larus tobacco plant dates back to 1937 when, at the request of the AFL, the NLRB held an election based on two units—white and Negro. The AFL won bargaining rights for the white workers, and the Negroes voted for the CIO.
In March, 1944, a new election covering the entire plant was held at the request of the AFL. The AFL local won and was certified by the NLRB as the union for both Negro and white workers. Instead of including the Negroes in the regular local, the AFL set up a separate B local for the Negroes with its own officers and committees, which was not mentioned in the union contract.
The issue presented in the case is considered of great importance for the labor movement. A resolution supporting the FTA’s fight was passed at the April 12 meeting of the Natl. CIO Executive Board. The NLRB’s action in the case, the resolution stated, “will represent a vital test of the Wagner Act at a time when this country is engaged in a bitter struggle for democracy and against racial discrimination.”
FTA Pres. Donald Henderson declared that “the fundamental principle of democracy in the trade unions is involved in the Larus case. The CIO firmly believes that you cannot exclude any group of workers from the benefits of collective bargaining without jeopardizing the rights of all workers.”
CIO News, June 25, 1945.
Content removed at rightsholder’s request.
Chicago Defender, January 6, 1945.
Negro Labor Organizer
Resolution No. 80—By Delegate A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, Aroused and victimized by the depression sentiment for trade union organization among negro workers throughout the country is stronger than it has ever been before; and
WHEREAS, the heroic fight of black workers in the ranks of trade unionists, such as the needle trades workers, miners, longshoremen, teamsters, motion picture operators, musicians and building trades workers, etcetera, has demonstrated that negro toilers will and can battle for union conditions against the employers, and no more desire to be strike breakers than the white workers; and
WHEREAS, There is no negro organizer now under the direct supervision of the American Federation of Labor, and since previous conventions have only given perfunctory approval of resolutions calling for an appointment of negro labor organizers, but have actually never done anything about it; therefore be it
RESOLVED, That the fifty-sixth annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, assembled in Tampa, Florida, go on record as authorizing President William Green to appoint one or more paid negro general organizers so that they may help promote, in cooperation with the national, international and federal unions, a program of organization and education among the black and white workers of America.
Your committee recommends that the resolution be referred to the Executive Council.
The report of the committee was unanimously adopted:
The Scottsboro Boys
Resolution No. 84—By Delegate A. Philip Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, The Scottsboro boys have become a symbol of American persecution and torture of the American Negro, since these nine boys have been sentenced to die in the electric chair, despite overwhelming evidence to establish their innocence of the crime of which they have been accused, and have languished in prison for more than five years, with a recent tragic and unhappy attack upon one of the boys by a guard; and
WHEREAS, Every respectable national Negro organization, religious, civic, economic, political and social service, have endorsed the fight for the release of these boys, and a National Committee, headed by Rev. Allan Knight Chalmers, Pastor of the Broadway Tabernacle of New York City and Colonel William J. Schiefflin, treasurer, with a large number of outstanding citizens, have examined the evidence in the case and are convinced of their innocence; and
WHEREAS, The continued imprisonment of the boys and their death would tend to injure the cause of working class solidarity between the black and white workers, and since a large section of white workers in Alabama desire the boys’ release, and since the case of the boys will come up for trial in the courts some time in January; therefore be it
RESOLVED, That the Fifty-sixth Annual Convention of the A. F. of L., assembled, in Tampa, Florida, go on record as condemning the cruel persecution of these boys, and call for their unconditional freedom.
In lieu of the resolution your committee finds that despite the action taken by the Alabama Courts in these cases, that the Supreme Court of the United States has, on two occasions, reversed the procedure and the law as applied to them, an action clearly indicating that the nation’s highest judicial tribunal was active and definite in protecting the constitutional safeguards of every citizen, regardless of color or of membership in a minority group.
As a result of the United States Supreme Court’s decision, these cases are to be brought to trial again in the Courts of Alabama.
In view of this impending trial your committee is of the opinion that this convention should not inject itself upon a due process of the law, unless it becomes evident that the defendant’s legal and constitutional rights are being invaded.
A motion was made and seconded to adopt the report of the committee.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman and delegates of the convention, I do not think that the reasons assigned by the Resolutions Committee for its refusal to affirmatively concur in the resolution are sufficient. As a matter of fact, there are cases that have come before the convention before that were similar to the Scottsboro case and they were before the courts, and yet resolutions favoring those cases have been concurred in—for instance, the case of Tom Mooney.
Moreover, the convention has not followed that policy in relation to measures pending before the courts of law. Take for instance the Wagner Labor Disputes Bill, and the Railway Retirement Act. If we follow the policy of not taking any action upon a case until that case has had final action in the court, the implication of that position is that we will not do anything about the matter until the individual is convicted. That certainly does not seem to be a sound policy for the American Federation of Labor.
On the matter of the due process of law aspect of the resolution, that especially is inadequate in relation to the Negro in the South. All of us know that the Negro in the south has no rights in the courts of law. As a matter of fact, the Negro is convicted upon his color when he appears in court. The Negro has no right to secure proper representation by way of counsel.
This case of the Scottsboro boys is a case of mob rule, of lynch terror. There are some outstanding facts in connection with it. For instance, when the case was being tried there in the court they had a condition which was calculated to create an emotional outburst against the boys. The attorneys against the boys appealed to the basest passions of the jury. They attempted to inflame and stir up the people against them. Threats were made against the boys. As a matter of fact, it was a shot gun, lynch law atmosphere in the court. The Judge himself virtually slobbered vengeance against the boys, and they had absolutely no proper and fair consideration in the court. There was a bloody shirt spirit against them.
This is one outstanding reason why this convention should take some action on this case. Second, one of the girls who it is alleged the boys had attacked testified to the innocence of the boys, and yet there was no disposition to seriously consider that testimony by the court.
Third, the United States Supreme Court has reversed the opinion of the lower courts and remanded the case back to them, but that certainly is not going to have any great effect upon the courts of Alabama in relation to this case. Nothing but mobilized public opinion can save the boys.
We find, for instance, another important aspect of the case, and that is the torture and the terrorizing of these boys in prison. They have been tormented in a barbarous and inhuman way by the guards. In one instance one of the boys had part of his face shot off by one of the guards. This is a case of terrorism against the helpless and defenseless boys, and therefore, it seems to me that this convention, composed of working men who themselves have been victims of persecution, should take an affirmative position on the resolution.
In connection with this case we have a national committee composed of prominent citizens throughout the country seeking to bring about the liberation of the boys. The head of the committee is Rev. Allan Knight Chalmers, pastor of the Broadway Tabernacle Church of New York. There is also Colonel Schiefflin, who is Treasurer of that committee. Colonel Schiefflin is the Chairman of the Citizens Committee of New York and head of one of the largest drug companies in New York.
Now, my friends, in view of the fact that practically every outstanding Negro organization has endorsed the plea of these boys, knowing that they have no right before the Alabama court, it seems to me this convention ought to take some action in their behalf. This case involves the whole question of liberty and democracy, not only for the Negroes but also for the White workers.
This terrorism and the attitude of hostility against the boys is transferred to practically every institution in this section. For instance, since myself and my colleague, Brother Webster, have been here in Tampa, Florida, when we went to the Floridan Hotel to register one of their uniformed representatives stepped up and said, “Now we will conduct you to the place where you register.” In other words, they did not want us to ride up on the elevator. We did not give them any attention. We stepped on the elevator and rode up. But there is this studied and deliberate attempt at discrimination, insult and humiliation which is characterized in the-persecution of the Scottsboro boys.
I hope this convention will vote down the report of the Resolutions Committee. I don’t cast any reflection upon the spirit of the committee. I think the report of the committee does not reflect the logical analysis which we ought to expect from the able leadership of that committee. It seems to me that the report is skimpy and nondescript and fragmentary. It does not meet the issue. I don’t know why we should be afraid to face this thing here because we are in the south. I hope the convention will see the great importance of this case and take the proper action. If these boys cannot plead with the American Federation of Labor for help, where will they go? There are high forces in the south opposed to the liberation of the Scottsboro boys, the best people, the capitalist people. Let us give the workers of Alabama some encouragement in fighting for these boys.
You know what the attitude generally is when there is any question raised with respect to lynch laws. Whenever that matter is raised on the floor of the Senate, somebody steps forward and raises the doctrine of state’s rights and in the name of the liberal traditions.
The best capitalist people, as a matter of fact, do not participate in lynchings, they do not soil their hands in the blood of the black victims, they do not listen to the screams at the burning of the negro. They stand in churches and they listen to the preacher say “Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall see God.” They make their contributions to foreign missions and such as that. No, they don’t soil their hands in the blood of the black victims, but they soil their souls, and I hope the American Federation of Labor will not soil its soul by pandering to the sentiment of the lynch spirit of the south, in not taking an affirmative position upon this resolution.
Delegate Watkins, Fire Fighters’ International Association: Mr. Chairman, I regret very much that it becomes my duty to speak on a subject so foreign to what should be considered in this convention, but before I go into that matter I desire to state that I am speaking as a delegate to this convention and not as a representative of my international union. It is my privilege to concur in the report of this committee. I want to congratulate the committee on its decision. I think it has acted wisely in non-concurring in the resolution.
I regret that this resolution should have been brought here by someone who does not recognize the right of democracy. The Alabama State Federation of Labor has held conventions annually for the past five years in which this case has been under trial and in course of disposition by the court, and in not one instance has the Alabama State Federation of Labor seen fit to intervene in behalf of the Scottsboro boys. There has not been a resolution before that convention. Neither has there been a resolution sent from that State Federation to the American Federation of Labor. I believe that the Alabama State Federation of Labor is capable and has sufficient courage to protect the rights of any citizen of Alabama, and I believe, as they believe, that if an injustice is being done in this case they would have appealed to this body for some support.
Mind you, my friends, in the last two conventions of the Alabama State Federation of Labor at least one-fourth of the delegates have been negro delegates, and they, too, have not up to this time made any mention of the fact that there has been an injustice done to these Scottsboro boys. I believe they have sufficient courage and sufficient intellect to appeal their case to the American Federation of Labor if the colored delegates in the state of Alabama to the Alabama Federation convention had felt there was an injustice being done.
Not a single one of this group of boys is a member of the American Federation of Labor. It is a matter entirely without the jurisdiction of the American Federation of Labor until such time as the courts of Alabama have tried these men and found them guilty or not guilty, and if the American Federation of Labor feels that an injustice has been done.
It has been mentioned here by the previous speaker that a negro has no right of representation in the courts of Alabama. I deny that fact, I deny that emphatically. It is not a fact and it is made, not in the interests of justice to this or any other case, but to prejudice the minds of this convention against the courts of Alabama. These negro boys had their representatives. The American Defense League of New York sent Count Von Lubowitz down there and spent much time and money in this case in an attempt to give these boys justice, when, as a matter of fact, in my opinion, they did not want justice, neither do they want these cases disposed of. They want to exploit the negro of the entire country.
I have in my mind a general subscription being taken up all over the United States for the defense of these negro boys, and that is true as far west as California, and you heard the man say it had been done in New York. So why is all this? They have had their counsel. I make the claim to this convention that the continuous interference with state’s rights of Alabama is not doing the Scottsboro boys any good, and it will in the end do them an injustice. I feel that this convention, in the name of democracy, in the name of the courts of Alabama, in the name of justice, should concur in the report of the committee.
Secretary Frey: Mr. Chairman, the committee had referred to it a resolution. After examining the whereases and the resolves, the committee was of the opinion that approval was impossible. But the committee was unwilling to bring in a report of non-concurrence because then the action of the committee would have been misunderstood and would have been misinterpreted. Now the action of the committee was to bring in a report in lieu of the resolution which would make it clear that this convention intended that if there is any evidence at the next trial of these Scottsboro boys, or any action by the authorities which indicated an invasion of the rights as American citizens, then we would interfere. But the committee called attention to the fact that the case now is about to proceed under orderly forms, that the Supreme Court of the United States on two occasions, because of questions raised, had referred the case back to the Alabama courts.
The committee, in defending this report, had no intention of examining the record or of making reference to some of the unfortunate instances which are happening. Certainly we intend to make no reference to what preceded the shooting of one of the Scottsboro boys, because he is still on trial for his life. Let me call your attention for a moment to what this resolution asks us to do, and what it says. First of all it tells us that every respectable national negro organization and others have approved of the purpose of this resolution. No evidence has been submitted to your committee that such is the case. Then another whereas says that the continued imprisonment of these boys and their death would do what? Injure the cause of working class solidarity between the black and white workers.
Your committee was unable to see anything in connection with the case, anything in connection with the alleged injustice and the miscarriage of justice which in any way had any bearing upon the relationship between white and colored workers, and particularly in our trade union movement.
Then what does the resolve ask this convention to do, in view of the fact that this case is about to go on trial in the duly constituted courts of Alabama? It asks us to prejudge what that court will do and to declare now and here in convention that we, having no confidence in this court, intend to determine what the result must be. I want to read the language to you. I am sorry that it is necessary for your committee to go into the body of this resolution, so unfortunately and ineptly drawn, if I understand the purpose of those who introduced it. Listen to this language:
“That the fifty-sixth annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, assembled in Tampa, Florida, go on record as condemning the cruel persecution of these boys, and calling for their unconditional freedom.”
This convention is to prejudge what the court is to do itself and take action before the court again has heard this case, and as an American Federation of Labor, commit us to the proposition that we now, before that trial, demand their unconditional freedom.
It seemed to your committee that the American Federation of Labor, never put itself in such a position before, should not now attempt to set aside due process of law and substitute the opinion of this convention. And so your committee presented a report to you which we think adequately safeguards the rights of these Scottsboro boys. It puts itself on record as supporting the action of the United States Supreme Court in referring the case back twice to the Alabama courts, and then it concludes with the statement that if anything in that trial should indicate that these boys have been denied every right of citizenship, we will then again voice our opinion.
So I hope that the committee’s report will be heartily supported.
The report of the committee was adopted.
At 12:30 p.m. the convention adjourned at 2:30 o’clock p.m. of the same day.
Proceedings of the 56th annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1936, pp. 234–36, 631–35, 657–64.
Report of Committee on Organization
President Green: The Chair now recognizes the Chairman of the Committee on Organization, Vice President Duffy.164
Vice President Duffy requested Secretary Ozanic to come to the platform.
President Green: When we adjourned yesterday afternoon we had under consideration Resolution No. 9, introduced by Delegates A. Philip Randolph and M. P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
Vice President Duffy: When we adjourned last night the committee had submitted its report on Resolution No. 9. At that time Delegate Randolph was on the floor, and President Green asked him if he would mind holding over until morning, which he agreed to do. The question is now before you.
Resolution No. 9 and the report of the committee are as follows:
Protesting Constitutional Provisions of Trade Unions Barring Negro Membership
Resolution No. 9—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, M. P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, The color bar and various subtle forms of race discrimination, some open and others disguised, operate to curtail the right of Negro workers to various jobs, without regard to skill, training and experience; and
WHEREAS, Race discrimination by trade unions tends to divide the workers upon a basis of race and color, thereby playing into the hands of the employer who fundamentally cares no more for a white worker than he does for a black worker; and
WHEREAS, Whenever a trade union excludes a worker merely because of race or color, such exclusion weakens the entire labor movement, and lessens its power to fight for decent wage rates, humane hours of work and improved working conditions that will assure living standards commensurate with health, comfort and decency; therefore be it
RESOLVED, That this 58th Annual Convention, assembled in Houston, Texas, go on record calling upon all national and international unions and departments to eliminate the color bar and all forms of discrimination which serve to exclude workers from membership on account of race or color; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the President and Executive Council of the American Federation of Labor call upon the conventions of national and international unions whose constitutions have color clauses and that practice discrimination against Negro workers, to create a committee to report on the question of the color bar and various forms of race discrimination to their next convention, for discussion and abolition.
Your committee concurs in the intent of this resolution and recommends it to the Executive Council in the spirit in which it is submitted.
President Green: The Chair recognizes Delegate Randolph, who will speak upon the resolution and upon the committee’s report.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman and delegates to this convention—I rise to support the report of the committee and to add a few remarks. The members of the committee discussed this question to some extent. There were no dissenting voices, although there was some expression of apprehension with respect to the question of autonomy of national and international unions. However, I explained to the committee that I thought the convention could at least call upon the national and international unions to eliminate the color bar and provide some basis for discussion of this question by this convention, and so the committee concurred in the resolution.
Now the American Federation of Labor itself has frequently taken a position on this question of negro workers. Whenever the colored workers have been excluded from national and international unions, Federal charters have been issued and these negro workers brought into the American Federation of Labor. Of course Federal charters are not always effective agencies in organizing the workers, especially if the locals are small, because of the lack of financial resources. Nevertheless, it must be stated that the Federation as such has always taken a position in favor of organizing the negro workers.
There are about twenty national and international unions that exclude negro workers by the color bar and various other forms of discrimination. There are many international unions that take in negro workers. There is Vice-President Joe Ryan’s organization, the International Longshoremen’s Association. There are several international negro vice-presidents of that organization. There is the Hod Carriers and Building Laborers’ organization. They have had a negro international vice-president for some time. The International Hotel and Restaurant Employees have recently seated and elected a negro international vice-president. The Musicians’ Union has thousands of negro workers in its ranks.165
But as I have before indicated, there are twenty or more unions that do not permit negro workers to join at all, and it is an outstanding disgrace to the trade union movement. There is no doubt about this matter.
There is no international president who would himself attempt to justify the exclusion of a worker merely upon the basis of race or color. I have had some of the international presidents tell me that they are in favor of negro workers joining their union, but that their southern constituency was opposed to it, that the southern members would not stand for it. And so this resolution is calculated to help educate the workers in the South to realize that they have everything in common with their black brothers and nothing in opposition.
As a matter of fact, the black men and the white men of the South are both in proverty. We are being exploited and oppressed and outraged by the employers, and they have everything to gain through power that can emanate from organization. Therefore, the black brothers and white brothers of the South should not fight each other. Their salvation lies in helping each other, and that is the purpose and intent of this resolution.
I think this resolution is a distinct improvement upon the handling of this question by previous conventions, and it is calculated to have a wholesome and educational effect upon the negro people of the country.
May I say that President Green has always responded to the call of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, its officials and members have a deep affection and high esteem for President Green. Even before we had Federal charters he came to the rescue of the organization in giving co-operation.
And so the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters takes the position that in order to help bring the negro workers into the American Federation of Labor, some bona fide attempt must be made by the American Federation of Labor itself to get negro workers in. That is why I hope this convention will adopt this resolution, because it certainly will work for the betterment and the advancement of the relations between the negro and white workers throughout the nation.
President Green: The Chair recognizes Delegate Davis, of the Teachers’ Union.
Delegate Davis, American Federation of Teachers:
Mr. President, on behalf of the organized teachers of America, I rise to support the motion by Brother Randolph. If there is any one principle that the American Federation of Labor has always stood for, it has been the principle of equality and brotherhood and against prejudice in any of its forms. One of the greatest obstacles to the solution of exploitation is class prejudice and race prejudice.
Another great principle which the American Federation of Labor has stood for has been opposition to Fascism. I have just returned from Europe, where I have seen the Fascist countries in action, and one of the basic principles of Fascism is racial prejudice. I saw it in action in Germany, where they shaved the heads of the Jews, where they put them in concentration camps, where they smashed the labor unions.
Prejudice is one of the basic factors in the Fascist system which the American Federation of Labor has frequently gone on record against. Now we cannot speak against prejudice in Fascist countries while we retain in our own country prejudice in any international union of workers. Therefore, it is essential that while we stand absolutely opposed to dictatorship and Fascism abroad, we should also stand absolutely opposed to any form of prejudice within our own ranks.
One of the methods of demonstrating to the world that we are genuinely opposed to every Fascist method is to pass the resolution proposed by Brother Randolph. I could have wished that we might have adopted this resolution from the floor of the convention, but it seems to me it is a great step forward. We can pass this on to the Executive Council for them to take constructive steps in really building brotherhood and fraternity in fact in every union affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, as we always do in theory. I therefore hope this resolution will receive the support of every delegate.
The motion to adopt the committee’s report was carried by unanimous vote. . . .
Protesting Discriminations Against Negroes
Resolution No. 5—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, M. P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, The Negro people are the victims of varied forms of discrimination which result in limiting their right in the purchase and use of property; and
WHEREAS, Race discrimination serves to deny their right to certain types of employment, thereby creating the unfair and unAmerican practice known as “white man’s jobs,” regardless of merit and ability, which makes for the economic impoverishment of the Negro people; and
WHEREAS, Hotels, restaurants and theatres, colleges and universities, hospitals and recreational facilities, together with railway carriers and other means of transportation and places of general public convenience, licensed by city, state or federal agencies, refuse the Negro people accommodation on account of race or color, or humiliate and exploit and rob them by segregation or jim-crow practices that are extremely despicable and offensive to Negroes of a similar plane of culture and education of the white people that have access to such conveniences; and
WHEREAS, The denial of these elemental and necessary privileges of accommodation to the Negro people, involves their basic civil rights, guaranteed by the federal constitution; and
WHEREAS, Negro blood, brain and brawn have helped to make these United States of America what they are today; and yet the Negro people are disfranchised by various unconstitutional devices, and held in peonage; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That this 58th Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, assembled in Houston, Texas, go on record for the abolition of all forms of discrimination on account of race or color, and call upon the Executive Council, State and City bodies, as well as federal locals, national and international unions and the various departments, to express their definite moral opposition to this sinister and destructive practice of race discrimination, and to support the fight for legislation which purports to secure for the Negro people their civil and political rights.
The resolution relates to discrimination against negroes, but the principle involved applies with equal force to all other groups against whom a passive or active form of discrimination exists in our country. Such discrimination exists in our country. Such discrimination is to be regretted.
Involved in these discriminations are questions of individuals and group preferences and the social intercourse between individuals. It is not for your committee to discuss the origin of these discriminations, but rather to face the practical fact that they do exist, but that most fortunately they tend to modify themselves.
Your committee is of the opinion that there are elements in the field of racial discrimination which cannot be adjusted by law, but must find their solution in the intelligent thought of those who recognize that the solution of some human problems depend primarily upon time and experience rather than upon legislative enactments.
The position of the American Federation of Labor upon the question of racial discrimination, and specifically discrimination against negroes, has been definite from the time we were organized as a federation in 1881.
In 1932 there was an exhaustive report presented to the convention on this subject, the report containing a review of the action taken by preceding conventions of the American Federation of Labor on the subject. The 1920 convention of the American Federation of Labor declared that
“The American Federation of Labor has never countenanced the drawing of a color line of discrimination against individuals because of race, creed, or color. It recognizes that human freedom is a gift from the Creator to all mankind, and is not to be denied to any because of social position, or the limitation of caste or class, and that any cause which depends for its success on the denial of this fundamental principle of liberty cannot stand.”
Your committee recommends that this declaration of the 1920 convention be reaffirmed in lieu of Resolution No. 5.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman and delegates of the convention—The report of the committee is rather involved and somewhat indefinite. The committee sets forth the position that you cannot legislate race prejudice out of existence or abolish discrimination against the Negro people by law, or something to that effect. However, the resolution calls for legislation that will prevent the Negro people the right of access to public conveyances, public utilities, places that the public use from time to time, for instance, the hotels, the restaurants, the various surface cars, the trains and all of the various agencies that the public generally use.
The committee does not seem to realize that, as a matter of fact, civil rights laws have been enacted in a number of states of this country. You have a civil rights law in New York and in the recent constitutional convention a definite provision was made that no discrimination shall be made against a group of people on account of race or color. That is in the new constitution of the State of New York. And you have civil rights laws in Pennsylvania; you have them in Ohio and in a number of other states. Why cannot the American Federation of Labor convention go on record in favor of the enactment of laws against all forms of discrimination against people on account of race and color? Why should Negro people any more than any other sort of people be denied access to any public agency? Why should Negro people be denied these rights in Texas or any other Southern state? Why should they be denied access to the hotels in Texas? They are citizens, they have fought in every war from the time of the War of the Revolution for the establishment of the United States of America and the independence of this country. Why, then, if people can be used in wars to defend the nation they should not enjoy all the various civilizing agencies of the nation just like any other people?
Now, the delegates of the Brotherhood of Sleep Car Porters call upon this committee to endorse the resolution that there be no discrimination of any kind because of race and color. When Brother Webster, my colleague, and myself came here and went to the Rice Hotel in order to get our badges and to deposit our credentials, some people said, “Why, Negroes don’t go in the front entrance of the Rice Hotel.” Think of it! American citizens not allowed to go in the public entrance of a hotel! It is ridiculous, it is preposterous! As a matter of fact, it stands as a point of division of the American labor movement, and the American labor movement will not develop solidarity until it puts its foot down squarely on this question and not pussyfoot about it. Brother Webster and I went into the Rice Hotel and asked the colored man in front, “Where do the delegates go?” The colored man looked scared, he wouldn’t say a word.
We walked by him and went into the hotel. Then I went to the information desk and asked the man there, “Where is Mr. Morrison’s office, the Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Labor?” And the white man at the desk was scared, too, and he began fumbling with paper and pencil and said something about asking the management where Mr. Morrison’s office was. Everybody knew where it was. Here was a negro, a delegate to the American Federation of Labor, and they did not want to permit him to have the rights of other delegates because of the question of color.166
Now, my friends, the South has taken this position. We know something about the historic background of this question. The South has taken this position for economic reasons. As a matter of fact, demagogic congressmen and Southern senators rise in Congress and defend this discrimination against people because of race and color. Cotton Ed Smith of North Carolina, Senator George of Georgia, and various other Southern senators and congressmen come out and tell the people that we must oppose the Negro people. Now they are not workers. They don’t work for a living, but the common white workers in the South where they come from are considered poor white trash. They are looked down upon, they are spat upon, as a matter of fact, the common white longshoremen and the common white teamsters of the South have no more in common with Cotton Ed Smith than they have with Hitler in Germany, and if it is right for you to put your foot down against the discrimination against Jews in Germany by Hitler, it is right to put your foot down against this discrimination of the Negro people of the country.167
This is an important question; it is labor’s question and, as a matter of fact, you cannot legislate virtue into the people and vices out of the people, but who has ever taken the position that he does not have power to bring about corrections of evil? You are making a great demand for the amendment of the National Labor Relations Act. If it is necessary, my friends, to use legislation in order to protect one group, it is important to use legislation in order to protect other groups. I don’t know whether workers in the Rice Hotel are organized or not, but I want to say to the International Hotel Workers Union that if the workers in the Rice Hotel are organized, you ought to talk to them and say something to them, say that no union workers should lend themselves to discrimination against other workers because of race or color, and that was practiced by the workers in the Rice Hotel.
There are 15,000,000 Negroes in America. There are more Negroes in America than there are people in Canada, there are more Negroes in America than there are people in Czechoslovakia, and you cannot ignore 15,000,000 of any race.
I know the American Federation of Labor is not responsible for this condition of race prejudice. I know that the American Federation of Labor is not responsible for discrimination and things of that sort. President Roosevelt has appointed a Commission to investigate conditions in the South, maintaining that the South is the Nation’s No. 1 problem. Is there any reason why you would not have an economic burden on a section where you have economic duplications? Certainly not, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, realizing the importance of this question, realizing that the American Federation of Labor has always opposed discrimination, asks for the adoption of this resolution. It is certainly not the intention of the delegates to charge the American Federation of Labor with responsibility for this condition, but we are calling upon the American Federation of Labor to use its moral power to break down this condition, and there is no better place to begin than right here in this convention.
A few days ago we had Congressman Thomas from Houston, Texas, on this platform. In a part of his speech he told stories about the Negroes, holding up the Negroes as a joke before the nation. We resent any kind of jokes being told that hold the Negro people up as objects of fun and ridicule, and we want to tell the people of Houston, the delegates, and everybody now that we don’t like it. And so, we presented this resolution, not only for the benefit of the Negro people, but for the benefit of the poor white people of the South. Poor white women wear gunny sacks for dresses and poor colored women wear gunny sacks for dresses; poor white children go barefoot and poor colored children go barefoot. And so you have demagogs in politics playing upon the passions of the people to keep them divided in order that they won’t unite and fight for better conditions.168
And so in raising this question to abolish discrimination, it is in the interests of greater solidarity, it is for the purpose of making a stronger labor movement in the nation. You can’t do it by putting your foot down on one worker, because he happens to be black or white. Booker T. Washington once said that one of the reasons for the backwardness of the South is that you don’t keep a man down in the ditch unless you stay down in the ditch with him, and that has been the very situation and the result of the practice of this discrimination against the negro people of this country.
And so I know that the members of the Resolutions Committee themselves are certainly opposed to discrimination and things of that sort, but the report of the committee is involved, circumlocutory and rather indefinite, and I should like to have the committee come out very frankly, very candidly and very unequivocally and say that they are opposed to all forms of discrimination against the negro peoples and that they are in favor of the enactment of civil legislation to protect the interests of American citizens who are born here.
I was born in America. My people were born in Florida. My forebears go back as far as any man’s forebears who sits in this convention, and the Negro people have a right to be here. They are not here on sufferance.
And so the delegates of the Sleeping Car Porters have presented this matter to this convention because the conscience of the American people will realize ultimately that in order that there may be peace, harmony, prosperity, and plenty and real brotherhood of man, no man because of color shall be down and another man up because of a different color.
I thank you.
Delegate Frey, Secretary of the Committee: Mr. Chairman and delegates—Mr. Chairman, the delegate has not attacked the committee’s report, but he has left the inference that the committee in its report endeavored to avoid the issue. We are dealing with a reality. We are endeavoring to lay down principles broad enough and definite enough to cover the entire subject contained in the resolves of the resolution.
Your committee, however, noted that the delegates who introduced the resolutions sought to avoid making their own resolution all-inclusive. The third whereas reads—and here the delegates introducing the resolution enumerated the specific places where they wanted discrimination removed and abolished—“hotels, restaurants, theatres, colleges and universities, hospitals and recreational facilities, together with railway carriers and other means of transportation and places of general public convenience, licensed by city, state or Federal agencies.”
Now those who understand the unfortunate and difficult problem which the delegate has just discussed so eloquently recognize the fact that one very definite form of discrimination was omitted from their resolution, and that is the segregation of whites and the negroes by some of the largest Protestant denominations in the South.
I have never yet in these conventions heard any representative of the Negro race raise a question for the convention to pass upon because the Methodist Church South and the Baptist Church South have churches and pastors and congregations for whites and they have a similar condition for the negroes. I don’t hear the negroes raising any question about religious discrimination in the South.
I think it is unfortunate that the inference is left from the remarks just made that this American Federation of Labor tries to evade, through a committee’s report, what the issue is. The delegate knows what is is. It has been growing in this country from the time his remote ancestors came over here.
So far as negro churches and negro pastors in the Methodist, Baptist and some other Protestant denominations are concerned, the delegate recognizes that that cannot be changed by law. Now, in fairness to the committee, I wish the delegate would withdraw that statement that the committee used circumlocutory language for the purpose of evading an issue. We have not. Instead of that we have brought in a recommendation in lieu of the resolution which is as strong as detailed and as definite a pronouncement upon racial discrimination as has ever been adopted by any convention of any organization in the United States.
For the information of the delegates may I reread the latter portion of the report:
“The American Federation of Labor has never countenanced the drawing of a color line of discrimination against individuals because of race, creed or color. It recognizes that human freedom is a gift from the creator to all mankind, and is not to be denied to any because of social position, or the limitation of caste or class, and that any cause which depends for its success on the denial of this fundamental principle of liberty cannot stand.”
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: May I say I think I have made it definitely clear that the American Federation of Labor was not responsible for this condition and that the American Federation of Labor has in convention after convention taken positions against discrimination against the negro people. But I have reference to that part of the report dealing with the futility of the law in trying to correct some of these conditions.
I said that the part of the report was involved, and it is involved. Delegate Frey and Delegate Woll know that. It is not definite, it is not clear. As a matter of fact, they know that the law has been employed for the protection of the civil rights of negro people in other states, and all we are asking for is that that position be taken here.
Now, so far as the separation of negroes and white people in the Protestant churches in the South is concerned, for the delegates of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters we are opposed to that. We are opposed to any kind of separation. We are opposed to any kind of segregation because we know it is unsound, and we know that it plays into the hands of the ruling class, it plays into the hands of employers—and it is not our fault that you have a negro Methodist Church and a negro Baptist church. They were here and they are being carried on because of certain conditions, but as far as we are concerned we are opposed to any kind of segregation, and I want that to be clear.
Now there is no question with respect to the attitude of the American Federation of Labor and their spirit on the matter of negro people, but I am talking about this particular aspect of this report—and Brother Frey knows that the report is indefinite—in speaking about the futility and impossibility of a law to make certain corrections of social evils.
As a matter of fact, why seek any kind of law? We are not able to abolish crime, for that matter, but does that mean that we do not adopt laws against crime? Certainly not.
Consequently, the Sleeping Car Porters call upon the convention to take a position for the adoption of legislation that will make for the elimination of all forms of discrimination.
Delegate Frey: I would like to ask the delegate a question.
President Green: Delegate Randolph, will you please answer?
Delegate Randolph: I will.
Delegate Frey: Is it the opinion of the delegate that state or federal legislation would abolish the present segregation of certain denominations in the South?
Delegate Randolph: I am not certain to what effect any legislation would have on the question of religious relations. That is highly a speculative question, and I think Brother Frey knows that neither he nor I can answer that question.
Delegate Frey: One more question. That being so, the committee would like to know whether the delegate will recommend to this convention that it seek legislation to abolish that division between colored and white in these Protestant denominations.
Delegate Randolph: Yes, I would be in favor of seeking legislation that will make for the elimination of any form of segregation or separation of the races. Now that is all-inclusive.
The report of the committee was adopted.
Resolution No. 6—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, M. P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, Ethiopia, one of the most ancient kingdoms of Christiandom, has been cruelly betrayed and “sold down the river” by her alleged allies, and, especially, England, with a smirk and genteel hypocrisy, resulting in the murderous usurpation of the sovereignty of a free and peace-loving people by the barbarous legions under the pompous dictator, Mussolini of Fascist Italy, in contravention of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the various declarations of the League of Nations, the Good Neighbor policy of President Roosevelt’s Administration and all principles of international law; therefore, be it169
RESOLVED, That the 58th Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, assembled in Houston, Texas, go on record as condemning the ruthless policy of aggression by Fascist Italy against an orderly nation, expelling and exiling its great Ruler, Hailie Salassie, the Lion of Judah, the heir of King Solomon, and demand the restoration of Ethiopia to the people of Ethiopia, and urge the United States, the League of Nations and civilized society never to recognize the Italian conquest of Ethiopia.170
A motion was made and seconded to adopt the report of the committee.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman, I just want to make a few remarks on this matter because we have talked a whole lot about peace in this convention. Only a few days ago the world was disturbed about the question of Czechoslovakia. People were all aroused over the possibility of Hitler going into the Sudeten territory and taking it away from the Czechoslovakian people. Now, then, the question was raised that people have the right of self-determination. Of course they have, but this question of self—determination has not just risen. It arose when Mussolini, with his Fascist legions, rode into Ethiopia and murdered the people there and destroyed their sovereignty. As a matter of fact, England is unquestionably the most hypocritical, the most deceptive, the most unreliable government in the world so far as keeping its word is concerned, an international pact—and I make a distinction between the British people and the British government—but it is a matter of record that England sold the people of Ethiopia down the river. There is no question about that, and the corpse of Ethiopia must be placed upon the doorstep of No. 10 Downing Street, in co-operation with France.
And so after Ethiopia was raided, after the sovereignty of that great people was destroyed, then they took over Austria, and from there the Fascist legions went on into Spain. Then you have had Japan taking territory from China. In other words, this whole question of the self-determination of smaller nationalities has been practically disregarded.
But we did not give any thought to the question of Ethiopia. We did not care very much about Ethiopia, because they were not white people.
And so I want to raise this matter to the delegates here, that the question of democracy, the question of the principle of self-determination of smaller nationalities, must be applied to peoples without regard to race, creed or color. Unless that is done, then what will happen to Ethiopia today will happen to Austria tomorrow, and from Austria to some place else.
And so the delegates raised the question in this convention some time ago, but not very much notice was taken of it. We called for the boycott of Italian goods, just as you are boycotting the goods of Germany, because of the action against the Jews. But we could not get the convention to go on record in favor of boycotting Italian goods. Now we see what the result is, and who knows where it will lead to? Austria is destroyed, Czechoslovakia is destroyed and perhaps it may result in another world war.
The motion to adopt the committee’s report was carried.
Protesting Displacement of Colored Railroad Maids
Resolution No. 11—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, M. P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, Colored Maids have been taken off the Union Pacific trains and are gradually being taken off all of the railroads, and are being replaced by white Stewardess Nurses in utter disregard of their seniority, some of the Colored Maids having put 25 and 30 years in the service, and
WHEREAS, The Colored Maids performed practically all of the duties now being performed by the white Stewardess Nurses, besides giving the additional service of manicure and hairdressing; and therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 58th Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, assembled in Houston, Texas, condemn this violation of the principle of Seniority for which the trade union movement has fought so long and hard, by the Union Pacific Railroad and other railway systems, as unfair to a group of maids regardless of color or race, who have given the best of their life to a railroad company, only to be thrown upon the scrap heap, into the discard in order to experiment with some fad of service, while these maids walk the streets, with no prospect of ever getting employment again, and yet deprived of the old age service pension benefit; and be it further
RESOLVED, That the delegates of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters do not make this protest against the Stewardess Nurses being placed on the trains because they are white, but because their being placed there has broken down a well established trade union principle of Seniority. The Brotherhood delegates would protest against Negro Stewardess Nurses displacing colored or white maids who have given satisfactory service for a quarter of a century or more, and may we add that these maids were union maids of the Brotherhood and affiliated with the American Federation of Labor; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That President Green be authorized by the convention to address a letter of protest to the President of the Union Pacific Railroad and other railway systems, against this outrageous abuse of the Seniority rule which organized labor so dearly prizes, the abrogation of which has resulted in the elimination of the Colored Maids and the substitution of white Stewardess Nurses.
Secretary Frey: So that the committee’s report may not be misunderstood, it may be well to read a part of the resolution, beginning with the first “Whereas”:
“Whereas, Colored maids have been taken off the Union Pacific trains and are gradually being taken off all of the railroads, and are being replaced by white stewardess nurses in utter disregard of their seniority, some of the colored maids having put 25 and 30 years in the service; and
“Whereas, The colored maids performed practically all of the duties now being performed by the white stewardess nurses, besides giving the additional service of manicure and hairdressing; therefore, be it
“Resolved, That the Fifty-eighth Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, assembled in Houston, Texas, condemn this violation of the principle of seniority for which the trade union movement has fought so long and hard, by the Union Pacific Railroad and other railway systems, as unfair to a group of maids, regardless of color or race, who have given the best of their lives to a railroad company, only to be thrown upon the scrap heap, into the discard.”
So much of the resolution gives the delegates the import of the resolution.
This resolution calls for jurisdiction over employes based on color and race. The basic policy of the American Federation of Labor, from the beginning, has been that there should be no discrimination because of race, color, or religion. The adoption of this resolution would be to declare that one occupation should be given exclusively to Americans who are members of one race. Such action would be definitely establishing racial distinction. For this reason your committee recommends non-concurrence in the resolution.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: The committee evidently misread the resolution. Now the resolution said definitely that the Sleeping Car Porters would be opposed to displacing black stewardess nurses on a basis of color, that we were not taking the position in this case with regard to race, but clearly from the point of view of the seniority rule. Now, read the resolution in full, and you will see that very definite statements were made to the effect that the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters would be opposed to displacing any group of workers on a basis of race alone. But this is a question of seniority. The colored maids have been on these trains for 25 or 30 years. They just incidentally are colored, that’s all, and the only way to describe them was to say that they were colored. But so far as the race question is concerned, that is not involved at all. I think the Resolutions Committee evidently misread this thing. They did not read the entire resolution because the thing is very explicit, very clear, very definite, and there is no element there with respect to race, calling for any action in the interest of those maids because they are colored, but because of the fact that they have seniority rule, seniority rights, and that those seniority rights have been ignored.
Let Brother Frey read the resolution in its entirety to the delegates in this convention, so that they will understand that the delegates of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters are not trying to raise any race question here in favor of the colored maids. We used the word “colored” merely to describe the maids, that is all. But the principle of seniority rights is the only principle involved, and the Resolutions Committee certainly know that.
Secretary Frey: The delegates have copies of the first day’s proceedings and they can all read the resolution. It is true that a part of the resolution is based upon seniority rights. It is equally true that under these seniority rights white maids could not go to work on these trains where the management desired to employ them. White maids never would be able to be employed on these trains if the resolution as a whole were adopted and the railway companies would be guided thereby. You don’t have to read the entire resolution to find out what the purpose is. If the delegates will read the resolution they will find that in a very able way the question of seniority is used to cover the question of establishing employment by the one race in one occupation, and that is why the committee recommends nonconcurrence in the resolution.
Let us read the first “Whereas” once more:
“Whereas, Colored maids have been taken off the Union Pacific trains and are gradually being taken off of the railroads, and are being replaced by white stewardess nurses in utter disregard of their seniority, some of the colored maids having put 25 and 30 years of service” . . . the substance of all that follows is in that first “Whereas.” The delegates can read that. They have the proceedings in their hands.
Bringing in a question of seniority is done to mislead the purpose of the first “Whereas,” and it is astounding to your committee, and it must be surprising to the delegates after the years during which we have heard the eloquent delegate discuss discrimination, that he should subscribe to a resolution which would establish discrimination against whites and prevent their employment so that the negro race would have the exclusive right to work in a certain occupation.
Delegate Davis, American Federation of Teachers: I rise to support the contention of Brother Randolph. If the delegates will read the resolution as a whole, they will find that the delegates of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters do not protest against the stewardess nurses being placed on the trains because they are white, but their being placed there has broken down a well-established trade union principle of seniority. The Brotherhood delegates would protest against negro nurses displacing white maids who have given satsifactory service for a quarter of a century or more, and may we add that those maids were union maids, and affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.
Now I think it is the clear sense of this resolution that the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters have no objection to the railroad employing white maids if they wish, but solely because they are employing white maids to displace negro maids who have had 25 years of service. Therefore, it seems to me in fairness to Brother Randolph we should concur in the resolution, which merely asks authorization for President Green to protest the seniority rule to the President of the Union Pacific Railroad.
Delegate Webster, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman and delegates to the convention—The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and its delegates wish to clarify the situation which has been stated to you here by Delegate Frey, raising the issue that it was the intention of the delegates of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters to cover up an effort on their part to bring about the employment of colored maids specifically and exclusive of all other nationalities in connection with this resolution.
It has been the purpose and the principle of this organization to approach these problems from their economic point of view, rather than from their labor point of view, and in our negotiations of our agreement under which these maids and porters work the most controversial point wherein we had a threatened strike was over the question of insisting upon one other nationality which was hired to work in these capacities being included in this contract.
It might be interesting for the delegates here to know that the white barbers employed by the Pullman Company and operating on the various trains throughout the nation have made application and have been accepted in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. There is absolutely no desire on the part of this organization to dictate what race, nationality or color of employees should be hired by these particular corporations. The idea was that these maid that had been working on these cars 25 or 30 years had established certain seniority rights and that they had been very definitely relieved of that job by the introduction of this other service.
We believe that those maids who have served the public long and well, who are good union maids and members of this American Federation of Labor should not just be eliminated by the stroke of a pen, and we brought this resolution to this convention in the hope that we might be able to get some co-operation in trying to emphasize upon the Union Pacific Railroad and other railroads that some consideration should be given to these maids by virtue of the long years of faithful service they have rendered to the railroad industry.
There was no intention on our part at all, and we submit that we are not inconsistent with our general policy of promulgating that workers should be considered, not with reference to their race or nationality, but with reference to their position on the job. We hope the delegates will understand our position in that matter. We happen to have in our organization not only negroes, we have Chinese, Filipinos, and as I stated a moment ago, fifteen or twenty white barbers operating on the Pullman cars throughout the nation have made application and have been accepted as members of our organization.
Secretary Frey: Mr. Chairman, in view of the explanation which has just been made by the introducers of the resolution, and the very definite commitments just voiced, the Chairman and the Secretary of the Committee, if it is agreeable to the other members of the committee, will move that the entire subject matter be referred to the Executive Council.
Vice President Woll, Chairman of the Committee: I second the motion.
President Green: You have heard the motion offered, that in view of the explanations regarding the true intent and meaning of this resolution, it be referred to the Executive Council for action.
The motion to refer the subject matter to the Executive Council was carried.
President Green: Let the Chair make this statement, that so far as the American Federation of Labor is concerned, we will do everything that lies within our power to preserve the seniority rights of workers regardless of color or creed. That is a very fundamental principle, and particularly on the railroads. I understand it perfectly well, and I can assure you that this resolution, referred to the Executive Council, will be taken up, and in the light of the interpretation placed upon it we shall be glad to co-operate with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in protecting the seniority rights of their members.
Resolution No. 7—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, M. P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, Court trials and investigations have demonstrated that the nine (9) Scottsboro Boys were the victims of an infamous frame-up, having been tortured almost a decade in jail; and
WHEREAS, Rescued from Alabama judicial and mob terror by the United States Supreme Court, at different strategic times, the stricken conscience of Alabama, under the pressure of an aroused public opinion, was forced to set free four (4) of the Scottsboro Boys charged with the very same crime the five (5) boys are charged with that are still held in prison awaiting their doom; and
WHEREAS, It is clear and obvious to friend and foe of the boys that it was fair and just to give four of the Scottsboro Boys their freedom, when the State of Alabama contended that the nine (9) boys were guilty of the same crime, then it is just and fair to release from the Alabama prison dungeons the remaining five boys, some of whom have suffered from the brutal assaults of prejudiced prison guards; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 58th Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, assembled in Houston, Texas, call upon the state of Alabama, in the name of justice and humanity and fair-play, to let the other five Scottsboro Boys go, and cleanse the hands of Alabama from the blood of the innocent Scottsboro Boys.
Your committee recommends concurrence with the resolution.
The report of the committee was adopted.
Resolution No. 8—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, M. P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, Lily White Primaries in Southern states are unconstitutional since, by denying Negro citizens the right to vote, they are a violation of the 14th Amendment to the Federal Constitution; and171
WHEREAS, Lily White Primaries elect representatives to city, state and federal offices that make laws and hand down decisions that affect all of the people of these Southern states, and yet Negro citizens, a part of the population, are not permitted to vote in these primaries, whose results are equivalent to election, merely because of race or color, which is a flagrant form of taxation without representation, which was the cornerstone of the American revolution which resulted in the independence of the thirteen colonies from the tyranny of King George of Great Britain; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 58th Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, assembled in Houston, Texas go on record as condemning the Lily White Primaries as un-American, unjust and unfair, and against the principle of trade union organization as represented by the American Federation of Labor, since Lily White Primaries divide the workers upon a basis of race and color, and call upon the Southern states to rid themselves of the stigma and disgrace of the Lily White Primaries, and permit all citizens to vote in all primaries regardless of race or color.
Inasmuch as the American Federation of Labor from the beginning has worked to secure legislation which would give to all wage earners full use of the franchise, your committee recommends that this resolution be referred to the Executive Council so that careful consideration may be given to such measures as may be proposed from time to time.
A motion was made and seconded to adopt the report of the committee.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman and delegates, I don’t arise to oppose the report of the committee, but just to make a few observations on the resolution. The question of democracy has been discussed in this convention rather extensively, and as I see it, the cornerstone of democracy is the right of free speech, the right to express one’s voice in the affairs of state. Now you have here in the South ten or twelve millions of negroes. They pay taxes. They are workers, but they are denied the right to vote. And why? Because of the operation of what is known as white primaries. You talk about the totalitarian state of Germany, the totalitarian state of Italy, but you have a totalitarian state right here in Texas. You have a totalitarian state in all of the Southern states where you have the one single political organization. When you nominate a man in the white primaries that is equivalent to his election.
In other words, the negro people, citizens of the nation—think of it!—have not the right to express their voice with respect to the election of a sheriff, with respect to the election of a mayor, with respect to the election of a congressman in any of the southern states. The other day you had Governor Leche, who made a very splendid talk here and called himself a liberal and yet no word was said about the right of the negro people to vote. Think of it! Twelve million or more people absolutely denied the right to express their voice in any form of government in the South.
Now that is a condition that must be changed, and the only way in which it can be changed is through the abolition of white primaries. You have negroes here. They pay taxes on property, and even if they do not pay taxes on property they are workers and they have just as much right to express their voice with respect to the election of officers, also to be elected as officers as any one else in this country.
And so, my friends, this question is fundamental to the power of the labor movement in the South. You have a strong longshoremen’s union right here in Houston, but one-half of the longshoremen are not allowed to vote because they are colored. I heard one representative get up here and say that they have what is known as a Legislative Committee for the State of Texas. What is the use in having a Legislative Committee if they are going to deny one-half of the workers the right to support the policies of a Legislative Committee?
And so the negro people are demanding the right to vote because they are citizens of this nation. For instance, a Japanese who is born in America can vote anywhere in this country. A Chinese who is born in America can vote anywhere in this country. I do not object to that, absolutely not. Any one from any foreign nation in the world may come here and be naturalized and vote for any official in any state in the South, but a negro who is a citizen of this country, who has fought and bled to defend it, who has made his contribution to this nation, is denied the right of free speech.
That is a serious question, my friends. I submit that that is one of the most important questions before the South today. I hope the Southern delegates will have the courage to meet that question and go back in their central labor bodies, in their state federations, in their local bodies and fight for the abolition of white primaries.
What is a totalitarian state? It simply means the depositing of power in one political agency. That is all a totalitarian state means, and it means the depositing of power in one particular group, whether it be racial or what not, and that is a condition that you have in the southern states.
So, this question of the right of the negro to vote is one of the most important questions before the American people. President Roosevelt has recently expressed himself against the poll tax. You have poll taxes that prevent both black and white workers from voting, but specifically black workers. I know black workers who pay their poll taxes and are yet denied the right to vote. As a matter of fact, in certain places if they even present themselves to vote, they are brutalized. How can the negro people get better streets, better schools, longer school terms, how can they improve their social conditions unless they possess political power?
That is the purpose and intent of this resolution. As aforesaid, I am not opposing the report of the committee, but I want the delegates here to know the basis of this resolution and what it means not only to the negro people, but to the poor white people of the South.
The report of the committee was adopted. . . .
Protesting Discrimination Against Workers on Account of Race, Color or Creed
Resolution No. 25—By Delegates Edward Flore, Robert B. Hesketh, Chris Lane, Nat Messing, Emanuel Koveleski, Louis Koenig, Helen Caren, Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America.
WHEREAS, In the face of increasing threats of reaction and fascism, the policy of disunity caused by discrimination on account of race, color, creed or political affiliation weakens the forces of labor and labor’s bargaining power; and
WHEREAS, Such discrimination in hotels, parks, playgrounds, restaurants, public places and the like as practiced against persons on account of race, color or creed, throughout the United States, is in violation of the principle and spirit of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Civil Rights Laws of most States, and does not make for unity; and
WHEREAS, Such discrimination is an un-American practice, that in a large measure is carried out by workers against other workers, workers as agents of employers, workers who may be members of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, playing into the hands of reaction; and
WHEREAS, On page three of the International Constitution in the first paragraph of the Preamble it is pointed out: “Recognizing the fact that organizing is necessary for the amelioration and final emancipation of labor, therefore, we have organized the ‘Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America’,” a principle which can’t be carried out without unity of all workers regardless of race, color, creed or political affiliation, as bulwark against the open-shoppers, reaction and the enemies of all labor; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the Twenty-ninth Biennial Convention of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America go on record for the enforcement of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Civil Rights Laws of the State; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That this convention go on record condemning the practice of discrimination against persons on account of race, creed or color in hotels, parks, playgrounds, restaurants, and public places; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That this International Union immediately set up machinery to educate the members of our International Union against such practice; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That this convention go on record condemning any member of the International Union guilty of being a party to discrimination, either as direct agent, or witness, in behalf of employers and owners who do so discriminate—in violation of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Civil Rights Laws of the States—against persons and workers on account of race, color, or creed, and that any one found guilty will be subject to fine by the International Union and publicized in the International magazine; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That copies of this resolution be sent for adoption to the American Federation of Labor Convention and the Committee for Industrial Organization and released to the Nation’s press and published in the International magazine.
Your committee finds that this resolution is an instruction to the officer of the Hotel and Restaurant Employes International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, given to them by their last convention, to forward copies of the resolution to the American Federation of Labor Convention and the Committee for Industrial Organization.
Inasmuch as the resolution is instructions to the officers of the above named organization, your committee believes that no action is required by this convention on this resolution and so recommends.
The report of the committee was unanimously adopted.
Proceedings of the 58th Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1938, pp. 300–01, 352–62, 396–97.
Trade Union Committee to Abolish Discriminations on Account of Race, Color, Religion or National Origin
Resolution No. 18—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, Milton P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, Discriminations on account of race, color, religion or national origin is undemocratic, un-American and opposed to sound and progressive trade union principles, and
WHEREAS, Discriminations because of race, color, religion or national origin are practiced by certain trade unions, constitutional provision, ritualistic practice and other devious and subtle methods, which divide the workers, thereby playing into the hands of anti-union employers, while seriously limiting employment opportunities to those victims of discrimination and weakens the American Federation of Labor and the entire labor movement, and
WHEREAS, These discriminations result very largely from ignorance, false and demagogic propaganda and illusions about race, color, religion and national origin; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the American Federation of Labor in its 61st Convention in Seattle, Washington, assembled, go on record for the establishment of a trade union committee on discriminations based upon race, color, religion or national origin, composed of seven (7) members of trade unions affiliated with the A. F. of L., appointed by the President of the A. F. of L. in consultation with the Executive Council, for the purpose of hearing and investigating cases of discriminations concerning membership in unions or employment opportunities due to race, color, religion or national origin, report findings of hearings and investigations, together with recommendations to the President and the Conventent of the A. F. of L. for decision and action, and that the expenses of the above mentioned committee entailed in the conducting of said hearings and investigations concerning discriminations because of race, color, religion or national origin, be paid by the Secretary-Treasurer by order of the President; and be it further
RESOLVED, That a campaign of education in the form of lectures, leaflets, forums, study classes, seminars under the direction of the Trade Union Committee on Discriminations in cooperation with the President of the A. F. of L. in the interest of and to the end of abolishing discriminations resulting from race, color, religion or national origin be carried on.
This resolution in purpose and in substance is similar to Resolution No. 17 introduced in the New Orleans convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1940, by the same delegation. Your committee recommends that this convention reaffirm the action taken on Resolution No. 17 last year.
Secretary Frey moved the adoption of the committee’s report.
The motion was seconded.
Delegate Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman and delegates of the convention: It was the hope of our delegates of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters that the Resolutions Committee this year would have seen the advisability of concurring in the resolution for the establishment of a committee to study discriminations practiced against workers on account of race, color, religion or national origin. Recent experiences in the labor movement it seems to me, ought to have dictated and encouraged the Resolutions Committee to have changed its policy.
Last summer during the election of the Ford workers, President Green wired me while I was in Jacksonville, Florida, to come to Detroit for the purpose of working with the Ford men in the interest of the American Federation of Labor. That is to say, the American Federation of Labor wanted to win the election. I was unable to go there, I didn’t get the telegram in time, but even if I had it is doubtful that my presence in Detroit would have been very effective in winning support for the American Federation of Labor when the Federation admits that it cannot do anything to remove discriminations practiced by some of its Internationals.
Now here we are in the midst of a great program of national defense, and the Government calls upon all able-bodied workers to respond in the interest of production, believing that the issue of this war rests upon production. But we find numerous cases of discriminations against Negro workers, depriving the Government of the use of the skill of these workers, which results in the retardation of the defense program.
I want to cite a few of these cases, because the recitation will prove the advisability of establishing a committee to hear and study discriminations in the labor movement.
Negro painters in Omaha cannot get into the Painters’ organization, nor can they secure a charter.
Plasterers and cement finishers in Kansas City, Missouri, cannot get into the organization nor can they get a charter.
The A. F. of L. unions in the shipbuilding yards in New Orleans refuse membership to Negro workers, although the company has expressed a willingness to employ them.
Recently, Metal Trades Department unions have secured at some yards, through training formula, a monopoly of trainees who will be up-graded in these yards.
Stabilization pacts between O.P.M. and certain of the building trades have resulted in disqualifying qualified colored artisans from defense employment, and thereby retarding defense efforts.
In St. Louis Negro artisans cannot get work but white workers come from outside of St. Louis and are put to work.
At Columbus, Georgia, in April, 1941, a business agent of Local No. 15 of the Bricklayers Union, by the name of Willett, refused to certify two Negro bricklayers by the names of G. J. Marks and Robert Whitted, members of Local No. 1, of Alabama, who had been sent to Columbus in response to a request from R. J. Gray, international secretary, in Washington, D.C. Secretary Gray had informed the Birmingham local that several hundred masons were needed urgently in Columbus, Ga. When Marks and Whitted arrived, under instructions from George N. Scott, business agent of local No. 1, Willett is said to have told them, “We didn’t send for any Niggers, and I am not going to work any on this job.” Despite their credentials, they were unable to secure work there. They moved northward into Alabama at Gadsden, where they ran into the same situation. But white workers with transfer cards, find no difficulty in securing employment.172
(2) At Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri, five Negro painters, namely M. C. Howard, James Simms, W. M. Fowler, Ollie Granberry, and W. F. McCrary, applied for work on April 7, 1941. They were interviewed by Dwight Rench, business agent of Painters Local No. 1265 at Devil’s Elbow, Missouri. Rench is quoted in an affidavit as having said: “I will not issue permits to colored painters to work on this job. I will issue permits to whites only. I think where white men can be found to do this work, they should have it. This is the way I feel about this matter. You may take any steps about it that you want to.”
(3) In the spring of 1941, Negro members of local No. 804 of the Cement Finishers Union at Beaumont, Tex., attempted to secure employment on two defense projects in Orange, Texas, namely, the navy yard, and the housing project. According to H. W. Pierce, secretary-treasurer of the local, they were refused because of their race. The men made application also through the Plasterers’ Local No. 200 with the same result. Secretary Pierce’s statement says “Our local No. 804 has white members and also colored members; some of the whites have been employed, but not one Negro has been. Mr. Fields of the housing project said that he did not plan on using any colored skilled labor at all.”
(4) The A. F. of L. Painters Union in Kansas City, Mo., was reported on March 8, 1941, by 70 Negro organizations operating there as a Negro defense committee, as following a policy of excluding Negro applicants from membership by giving only two out of thirty a passing grade in an examination. Seven members are required to establish a separate local. Thirty of the fifty-five Negro painters who sought enlistment in the union had had experience of from three to twenty years in the trade.
The most conspicuous and consistent denial of employment for Negroes which can be attributed almost directly to union influence is found at the Boeing Aircraft Corporation in Seattle, Washington. From the very beginning of the national defense program, the Boeing company has given as its excuse for not employing Negroes the fact that it has a contract with the Aeronautical Mechanics Union, Local 751, International Association of Machinists, A. F. of L., and that the union accepts white members only. Paul Frederickson, personnel manager, has written a letter to the N.A.A.C.P. branch in Seattle, Washington, stating that his company has an agreement with the Machinists union obligating it to employ only union members. Several of the large aircraft corporations holding national defense contracts have changed their policy, and are now employing Negroes, but not Boeing.
(5) In Portland, Oregon, local 72 of the Boilermakers union is said to be blocking the employment of Negro workers by four local companies, namely, the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation, the Williamette Iron and Steel Company, Commercial Iron Works, and the Albina Machinist Works. These companies are said to have expressed their willingness to employ Negro labor, but because of their contract with the union are prevented from doing so. The union is reported to have refused to relent in its policy of barring Negro members, and to have written a letter stating “The available supply of Negro labor in this area can be absorbed as janitors.”
Another notorious case involving the boilermakers and machinist unions is one at Tampa, Fla., at the Tampa Shipbuilding Corporation. This case has a long history, and has been brought to the attention of President William Green in the greatest detail. Briefly, it arose in 1939, when after a successful strike for recognition, the Tampa Shipbuilding Corporation signed a union contract. Prior to this time, approximately 600 Negroes had been employed in the yard in various skilled and unskilled capacities. After the contract was secured, the Negro workers were excluded altogether from the union, or were sidetracked in a separate Negro local, and eventually frozen out of work. Those who were kept at work were given the most menial of unskilled labor, and one instance has been cited of a Negro hoisting engineer being assigned to the job of picking up paper in the yard. The A. F. of L. is supposed to have made an exhaustive investigation of this case, but its report did nothing to relieve the plight of the 600 Negro shipyard workers who had supported the strike for union recognition only to be frozen out of their jobs after the battle was won
May I say in connection with the Tampa situation I took this matter up with Mr. John P. Frey, President of the Metal Trades Department, and Mr. Frey took the position the unions were not responsible for the plight of the Negro workers in relation to the Tampa Shipbuilding Corporation. He assigned as the cause for the condition the general social condition of the city of Tampa, indicating Tampa was under the influence and control of the Ku Klux Klan. Now, upon analysis, Mr. Frey’s argument is unsound. Why? Because the Ku Klux Klan, we admit, is in control of Tampa. Incidentally, it is also in control of the Central Labor Union of the A. F. of L. in Tampa. Now, the Negro workers, 600 Negro workers were in the shipbuilding yards before the unions had negotiated a closed shop contract with the shipbuilding company. At the same time the Ku Klux Klan was in control of Tampa when these 600 Negroes were in the shipbuilding yards. Now, if the Ku Klux Klan is responsible for elimination of the Negroes from the shipbuilding yards why is it they were not eliminated before the closed shop contract was negotiated with the shipbuilding company? So the position that has been taken by Mr. Frey in this matter is entirely undefensible and as a matter of fact it will not bear examination.
Now, we know that the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses before the homes of Negro boilermakers in Tampa, and they sent letters with cross bones and skulls to Negro workers in the Tampa yards, but that did not intimidate the Negro workers. They even held a parade in St. Petersburg, the Ku Klux Klan did, to intimidate the Negro workers, and the Negro workers tore the hoods from the faces of the Ku Klux Klan. As a matter of fact, the Negro workers don’t give a damn about the Ku Klux Klan. What they want is the opportunity to work, and they will cross the line of any Ku Klux Klan for the possibility of getting a job. And so, my friends, the disposition assigned to the Ku Klux Klan as the cause for the condition of the Negro workers, which is fundamentally assignable to the Metal Trades Department that controls practically most of the shipbuilding yards, is entirely one which will not pass muster, and I think that Mr. John P. Frey is obligated to make a statement to the public, to the American people, on this question of the exclusion of Negro workers from various of these shipbuilding yards. The people want to know why this is done. The union is being charged with keeping Negroes out of jobs, and the unions that are chargeable we think certainly have a moral obligation to make some public statement on this question.
Now, no doubt we all know that Mr. Frey has a fine spirit and believes in sound trade union principles, but when it comes to the application of these principles with relation to the Negro they do not always seem to hold up.
A committee of six called on Mr. Howell, President of the Tampa Shipbuilding Company. He told them he had received the President’s order, that he was willing to hire Negro labor, but that his yard was under a closed shop contract. He said he had turned the order over to the Boilermakers and advised that it be seen. So this a.m. I went with them to see Mr. Hatfield, manager of Local 433, Boilermakers. We told him our mission. He said that we should know that no one could join their union unless he was employed at his trade at the time he made application. I asked him if he knew that the order said it was the duty of labor organizations to see that all citizens participated fully, etc., but nevertheless, he said there was no chances for us. He said there was no aid or advice that he could give us.
Now of course that is mere evasion. In other words, the leader of the union tells the committee of Negroes that no Negro can join the Boilermakers Union unless he is employed at the trade, and when the Negro worker goes to the employer the employer tells him, “You cannot get a job unless you are a member of the union.” In other words, he cannot get a job unless he has a union card and he cannot get a union card unless he has a job. Of course that is a runaround that beats anything that Hitler can devise for an oppressed or a minority group.
At Milan, Tenn., there is a vast ordinance plant now under construction by the Ferguson-Oman Company. The contractors have repeatedly expressed willingness to employ skilled Negro workers and have used them in all instances where these colored artisans could secure union clearance. In the area from which labor has been and is being recruited for this project, there are several all-Negro locals of the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. These Negro craftsmen pay their dues to the International and have been employed successfully on United States Housing Authority-aided housing projects, and (prior to the stabilization pact) on the construction of Fort Forrest in the Tennessee area. Skilled Negro carpenters have been denied work on the Wolfe Creek Ordnance Plant at Milan, Tennessee, however, because the all-white Carpenters’ Local, No. 259, of Jackson, Tennessee, which has jurisdiction over this project, has steadfastly refused to grant clearance to any Negro worker. George M. Johnson, Business Agent of this white local, told R. F. Jones, Business Agent of the Negro local, No. 1986 in Memphis, that “I don’t care what cards you hold; I don’t recognize no Negro as a union man.” Mr. Johnson has refused to alter his position even at the insistence of government representatives.
Now, brothers and sisters, these are actual instances, bona fide and authentic instances of discriminations practiced by various local unions of International Unions.
Now some of the local unions of the International Brotherhood of Carpenter and Joiners accept Negroes. For instance, in New Orleans you have a Negro local of the Carpenters’ organization which is able to get work and is doing splendidly. In New Orleans the Negro bricklayers dominate the bricklaying trade. Therefore, you have instances where the locals of the International Unions do accept Negroes and Negroes get jobs, and instances where those locals discriminate against them.
Now it seems to me that the International Unions ought to do something about this. We have the Machinists organization, with the able presidency of Brother Harvey Brown. Now the Machinists organization is definitely keeping Negroes out of the Boeing Plant. Brother Brown has an obligation to make a statement to America on this matter. Here we are in the period of defense. We are fighting to break down totalitarian forces throughout the world. We know that production is necessary. Every hand available ought to be used, and yet we have the Machinists telling the worker because he is a black man he is not going to be permitted to work. This is certainly against sound trade union practices, and it seems to me that Brother Brown, President of the International Machinists Union, owes it to the people of America and to his own organization and to the American Federation of Labor to make a statement on this question.
The same thing ought to be done by other organizations, and if the Machinists Union is going to persistently defy the President’s executive order then the American Federation of Labor ought to put the Machinists Union out. We ought to have some way of washing the hands of the American Federation of Labor of the stigma of discrimination. We know that the American Federation of Labor as such does not discriminate against Negroes, but there are numberled unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor that discriminate against them, and the people cannot differentiate between the American Federation of Labor and the unions affiliated with it that discriminate against Negro workers.
Consequently the International Carpenters’ organization, with its fine and splendid president, Brother Hutcheson, should make some statement on this question and the locals of his organization ought to know what position he is going to take when they are disregarding the President’s Executive Order in not permitting Negroes to work.
So, my friends, we call upon the convention to enact and adopt this resolution, setting up a committee for the purpose of studying this question. That is all it is for, to study the question of discrimination among Negroes and how hearings that labor itself will begin to set its house in order.
And of course the Resolutions Committee, in its characteristic manner of holding to its customary path, just summarily says: “We re-affirm the position taken by past conventions.” Now, have we come to the point where it is impossible for us to make any progress on this question, and whenever the issue is raised we are simply going to re-affirm the old attitude of do-nothing that has been taken in the past? If that is done, surely we are planting here the seeds of Fascism, of Nazism and of Communism.
And so, my friends, we have raised this question with a view to having you give some thought to it. You ought to vote down the report of the Resolutions Committee. The Resolutions Committee has given no careful consideration to the matter. They have simply brought the matter in and summarily dismissed it. Now the delegates have got to take a position on it sooner or later and you ought to put your house in order and not have the government do it, not have it done by legislation.
There are almost twenty millions of Negroes in America and they are not going to continue to be discriminated against by anybody denying them the right to work. I don’t believe that the American people will sustain the position of the Resolutions Committee in utterly and flagrantly throwing this whole matter aside. I believe that the American people’s heart is sound on the question of democracy. They believe in the right of the people, the Negro people as well as other people, to work and to live and to enjoy the benefits of democracy.
Negroes are not begging you for anything. We are calling upon you for these things as a basis of right. We have earned the right to call for liberty and equality of consideration on matters of work and other issues affecting the citizens of this country. Negroes have helped to make this nation. Negroes, with their blood and tears have defended this nation, and I don’t believe that any labor organization is strong enough, I don’t believe you have the power to defy public opinion on a sound, moral issue. You may have more power than I think you have, but I believe that public opinion is going to take some position on the question, and I don’t think you are going to be able to withstand it merely because you may have negotiated some stabilization pacts.
I am not opposed to the closed shop in principle if it includes Negro workers, all workers without regard to race or color. But now if we are going to exclude some and take others, you know that is not sound Americanism.
Negroes are not the only people in America who are the victims of persecution and discrimination. There is a rising wave of anti-Semitism in America. The Jews are the victims of this wave of persecution. There is also a wave of anti-Catholicism in America. You remember when Alfred Smith ran for President of these United States, and a wave of hysterical bigotry and intolerance swept the country. Five Southern States went against the Democratic party for the first time in history. Why? Because they hated the Catholics. In the Midwest and the deep South the flames of bigotry rose high. They said that if Alfred Smith was elected President the Pope would sit in the White House.173
And so, my friends, there grew up in America what is known as a Know Nothing Party, designed for one thing—the destruction of the Catholic Church. And so the Negroes, the Jews and the Catholics are the victims of this discrimination, and these forms of discrimination constitute the foundation of Fascism. If we want to save the nation from what overtook Germany and other nations of Europe, like Italy and Japan, we must set our foot down upon any form of religious intolerance, any form of racial intolerance, and accept the worker, accept the American citizen whether he is Catholic or Jew, whether he be black or white, whether he be Protestant or what not. This is the only type of democracy that is worth living for.
And so, my friends, you ought to reject the report of the Resolutions Committee and have something done about this question of setting up a committee for the purpose of studying discrimination in order that the American Federation of Labor may make some solid and genuine and progressive progress on this matter.
Delegate Lindelof, Painters: Mr. Chairman and delegates, the inference that has been made by Delegate Randolph that certain organizations are discriminating against the Negro workers is a serious accusation. Among the organizations which he claims is discriminating against his race is the Brotherhood of Painters and Decorators of America. I take the floor here because I want to deny that the Brotherhood of Painters are discriminating against the Negro race.
Delegate Randolph, in talking to you, did not state some other facts which he is in possession of. He did not tell you that the Brotherhood of Painters have sixteen Negro local unions chartered under the International organization. He did not tell you that we have several hundred Negro painters affiliated with white locals scattered throughout the entire country, even in the Northwest territory here. He did not tell you that recently at our convention in Columbus, Ohio, we had four Negro delegates, enjoying the same privileges as any white delegate present in that convention. He did not tell you that in New York City for the past year and a half we have been trying to organize the Negro painters in Manhattan. They were willing to be organized, they were willing to accept a charter from the International Union, with the stipulation that they would be in no way responsible or affiliated with Painters District Council No. 9 in the City of New York, in that they wanted to run their local union independent of any interference either from District Council No. 9 or the International Union itself.
Delegate Randolph did not tell you that as far back as 1914, I, as Secretary-Treasurer of District Council No. 14 in Chicago, organized the Negro painters in that city into a local union, No. 1332, a local which is still in existence in the City of Chicago and is one of the outstanding Negro local unions. He did not tell you that I, as Vice-President of the Southern District some years ago assisted the Negroes in organizing in the South.
The only thing he told you was that the International Brotherhood of Painters and Decorators were discriminating against the Negro. During the past two years I have had numerous communications from President Green on this question. As recently as a month ago I have had numerous communications from the Labor Department and communications from Negro associations in St. Louis, in Kansas City and in New York City. The three localities that have been mostly affected are Kansas City, Omaha, Nebraska, and St. Louis, Missouri.
I want to be frank with you and say I would like to institute a Negro charter in Kansas City, as well as in Omaha, Nebraska, and I have explained in my communications to President Green, to the Labor Department, and to the various organizations of Negro orders the reason why the charter has not been issued in those cities. I don’t see why I should have to repeat those statements time and time again when everyone knows the reasons why.
The laws of our International organization prevent us from putting in a local union of white workers in the city, let alone a local union of Negro workers. The law provides that the International Union cannot issue a charter in any location where a local union is already established, unless we have the consent of that local union. It so happens that in Kansas City, Omaha and in one or two other places we have not been able to receive the consent of the local unions in those cities, and that is the reason why charters have not been issued.
During the past month two new charters have been issued in the South, one in Missouri and one in Alabama. I don’t want to bother the delegates with the troubles between our International Union and the Negro situation. We are for the organizing of all workers, regardless of race, color or creed, but we have certain laws that we must observe, and as long as those laws are on the statute books of our International Union I, as President of the International organization, will abide by those laws, I will comply with those laws until such time as they are changed by the proper authority, which is the membership of our International organization.
I thank you.
Delegate Frey, Secretary of the Committee: Mr. Chairman, the address that we have just listened to from the delegate has disturbed me more than any statements in connection with the racial problem in this country which have even been made in a convention of the American Federation of Labor. It is evident that the delegate came here with one specific object in mind, and that was to present an indictment, and that considerable research work has been done, and now we have the indictment as a part of our record. It would not be surprisin if that indictment, standing by itself, would find its way in pamphlet form, distributed in those sections of the country where the most prejudice prevails and there be used to make our task of organizing the colored worker infinitely greater than it has been.
The delegate, who was quite personal in his references, has an advantage over every other delegate who is present. He is the only one who has had the full advantages of an education in Harvard University. He studied logic, he studied philosophy, he studied ethics, he studied the humanities and human nature as well, and I again express regret that a trade union delegate should rise and present the type of indictment which this highly cultured individual presented this morning. If this indictment is spread in pamphlet form, if it is reproduced so that members of his own race may read it, I doubt very much whether it will be accompanied by the statement that President Lidelof made a moment ago and the statement which I desire to make.
If there is any institution in these United States to whom the colored raw owes more than to any other, it is this American Federation of Labor. The delegate’s organization could have not come into existence, in all likelihood, had it not been for the assistance given to the Railway Porters by organizers of the American Federation of Labor, by the officers and committees of Central Labor Councils and State Federations of Labor and by International Presidents. And yet, instead of hearing one word of appreciation for what the American Federation of Labor and its constituent unions have done, instead of one word of appreciation that from the beginning we have endeavored to break down racial prejudice and help the Negro to organize, all we listen to is an indictment.
And let us look some facts in the face, because possibly what we may say now may accompany the indictment if it is published. The delegate’s organization is composed exclusively of members of the colored race, and no white individual is permitted to become a member. So we have a gentleman rising here and accusing us of willful, deliberate race prejudice when the great organization he heads will not permit a white person to become a member.
Now this is all unfortunate. It is greatly to be regretted. The delegate knows that in some of the specific references in his wholly unjustified indictment, that when he was enjoying the advantages of a university education, delegates who are seated in this hall today were organizing Negroes in the Deep South, and I am one of them, for I organized Negro molders in the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, 41 years ago. That is why I regret the method by which this highly intelligent and highly cultured delegate has chosen to bring this question into this convention. I think sometimes that those who injure their own people the most are those in a position of leadership who permit a biased attitude to influence them when they come into a convention, whether of the American Federation of Labor or of any other organization.
The record of the American Federation of Labor is not perfect. It is a human institution, but the records of the American Federation of Labor from the beginning indicate that this Federation has continually endeavored to wipe out those dividing lines of race and color, and that so far as the colored workers are concerned they are members in very large numbers of the American Federation of Labor Unions, and their membership in those unions is due to the attitude of the white officers and the white members of those unions. We get no credit for that. We are not to receive a single statement of appreciation for all that we have done. Instead, the more we do the more unjustified the criticisms are, the more unjustified the indictment when this question of racial prejudice is discussed in this convention.
Racial prejudice was developed in these United States long before the American Federation of Labor came into existence. The American Federation of Labor cannot change men’s minds and men’s attitudes in every portion of the country. What we can do is to carry on a continual campaign of education among ourselves and among those who are not organized. No one knows better than the delegate that the type of a statement which he made this morning, instead of its making it easier for us to organize the Negro, makes it infinitely more difficult. It almost seems as though he was deliberately endeavoring to inject a statement into this convention which would make our task of organizing the Negro workers ten thousand times more difficult than it has been in the past.
I intend to say nothing relative to the personal references. My record is pretty clear so far as the Negro worker is concerned. It began 41 years ago and it is just as consistent now as it was then.
The record of many International Unions is identically the same. We are opposed to racial prejudices. This Federation has consistently endeavored to break them down wherever we encounter them.
But I do want to submit for your earnest consideration that those on whom the responsibility falls of bringing about this education should not be unnecessarily handicapped by the type of statement we have just listened to from the delegate.
The inference is that your Committee on Resolutions is uninterested in the question, that all it had in mind was finding the most convenient way to dispose of the question and of leaving our good friend in a position where he could say, well, again the Committee on Resolutions was unfair. The Committee on Resolutions gave this question the same long, serious consideration it has given to such questions every year. The committee’s action on the matter finally was unanimous, and the committee’s purpose was not to handicap the delegate or to handicap his race, but to prevent the flaming up of racial prejudices in every community at the present time.
Supposing we hold public hearings in Seattle for the purpose of diminishing racial prejudices that may exist. We hold public meetings and we listen to the same type of indictment. We hear the question presented as it was this morning. Would that tend to assist International Officers in preparing their members’ minds more readily to break down these prejudices? For myself I had this in mind as a member of the committee that we do not want the American Federation of Labor to take any action which would afford a sounding board for the public inflaming of racial prejudices. We have done something without all of this in the past. Thousands and thousands and thousands of colored workers are organized in their unions all over the country—more today, thank heaven, than ever before, and we want to see that continue. We believe it is essential to the preservation of our own race to see that it continues, and it was with all these things in our minds that your committee recommended as it did.
In closing I want to call the attention of the delegates to the fact that there is racial distinction in the field of religious organizations. I am familiar with the South. I spent many, many years there as an organizer and otherwise, and I know that in some of the denominations the whites go to their church and the colored go to their church buildings of the same denomination. They get along as Christians should. In fact, the colored members prefer to have the privilege of employing and of discharging their own pastors.
The point I want to make is this: What would be the result in the field of religion if you began to hold public meetings in the South, so that a story could be told of the racial prejudices which exist in some of the great Christian organizations of this country? For these reasons I sincerely hope that the report of the committee will be adopted, with the understanding that instead of its being directed against organizing the members of the colored race, the committee had only one purpose in mind—the purpose every delegate here has in mind, which was to do everything which lay within our power to be helpful to the members of the colored race and to break down racial prejudices which handicap them.
Delegate Webster, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. President and delegates of the convention, I rise to answer in some respects the statements made by the Secretary of the Committee, Brother Frey, in reference to the remarks of the delegate from the Sleeping Car Porters’ organization. In the first place I would like to correct the statement that he made here with reference to President Randolph having spent so many years at Harvard University. I have known Brother Randolph all his life and I never did know him at the time he attended Harvard University. That statement is incorrect.
Second, I would like to correct some misinformation that has been given by the delegate in reference to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters barring everybody from its membership except Negroes. It so happens that the constitution of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters does not bar anybody of any race, creed, or nationality who works in the particular craft over which we have jurisdiction, and in our organization at the present time, while it is true the large majority of its members are Negroes, we have Filipinos, we have Mexicans, who are considered white in this country, we have a large number of Mexicans in the City of San Antonio who are full-fledged dues-paying members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. We have Chinese, and, perhaps much to your surprise, we have two white men who are members of this Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Evidently the delegate is not so familiar with the movement of this Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
Then, too, I want to call the attention of the delegates to the fact that this resolution does not call for this committee to hold any public hearings. The purpose of this resolution was to try to do something definite and concrete within the confines of the American Federation of Labor itself. It calls for a committee to be appointed by the President of the American Federation of Lab to work within the American Federation of Labor, in collaboration with the Executive Council.
It is our opinion, based upon the results that have been obtained in other International labor unions of this American Federation of Labor, that something can be worked out, but nothing can be worked out if we continue to shove this question aside convention after convention.
At the San Francisco convention, which no doubt was the first convention where this question of race discrimination had an airing, a committee was appointed by the President of this Federation of Labor to investigate the question of discrimination against Negroes within the American Federation of Labor. It made its report, a very splendid report to the Atlantic City convention, and since that time nothing has been done. All that this resolution asks for is that a committee such as the one that was appointed as a result of the action of the San Francisco convention be made a permanent committee, not to hold public hearings, not to spread propaganda throughout the country relative to this situation, but to try to sit down around the table with the white members of organized labor in this Federation to work out some common-sense solution of this problem, which unfortunately is denying to many loyal Negro citizens of this country the right to work.
Fellow delegates, that is all that the resolution asks for, and we urgently ask that you vote down the report of the committee and sustain the resolution.
Delegate Turco, News Boys: Mr. Chairman, the reason I am interested in the question before the house is because 28 years ago the same question came up and I happened to be in New Orleans, and the only time the white worker was interested in the Negro was when the boss was using the Negroes to take their jobs. The only time we favor them, the only time we do anything for them is when we need their support.
Back in the last World War, in Seattle the Negro got some of the jobs which came along, and he applied for membership in the union, in place of going to the employer for a job first. First they came to the Labor Assembly to find out if they could join the union, and they were denied their rights.
You people talk about the Communists and the C.I.O.—you give them all the chance in the world to organize these men when they deny them the right to a union of their own.
Brother Frey and Brother Woll of the Resolution Committee—that is the history of the Federation, they are trying to smother things out the best they know how for their own individual gain. They might think I am silly to say these things, but I have been following the Federation.
I am not a young man in the Federation, I have been carrying a card for 41 years myself. I came from the Miners, the same organization that President Green came from, and I tell you right now the greatest salvation of the Miners’ Union was when they took everybody in. That made their organization and that will make all your organizations.
But when you deny the right to the Negro because he cannot help it any more than the white man can help it—he was born without his consent and so were you—you are not treating him fairly.
Now, Mr. Chairman, if the colored boy went to college that is no crime. I am only sorry I never had the opportunity. If he can state his case as ably as he has done this morning, I wish I could, and I will ask this convention to do something for them, not only for the Negroes, but for the Filipinos and the rest of them. I tell you right now, you are leaving the door open to them to go to a dual organization. The biggest argument John Lewis and his gang used to organize the Negro was to go in and start discontent among the American Federation of Labor, because the high officials discriminate and they cannot see any further than their own noses. John Lewis used that very, very effectively with all his organizers all over the country, and we are now in a position in this convention to try to clear that situation.
International officers can deny that they discriminate against the Negroes, they can’t do this and they can’t do that. Mr. Chairman, if the International Union has no power to issue a charter in Omaha or St. Louis or any other city, then let the Federation issue a Federal charter and take in those boys who are willing to be organized.
I know one time in Louisiana a white man went up there to organize at the time of the Harriman strike. Maybe Mr. Frey recalls the Harriman strike in 1911. When some of the Negro workers said they wanted to be organized, they did not want to scab, they were denied the right to organize because they were Negroes, and the Harriman strike was lost from the standpoint of unionism.
So I only hope you give them some consideration. I hope this convention will deny concurrence in the report of the committee, and that President Green will appoint a committee to go over the situation and give the Negroes and the rest of the people who are not white a fair chance. I would rather have the friendship of some of these fellows who are black in their face and white in their hearts than I would to have the friendship of some of those who are white in the face and dark in their hearts.
The Committee on Resolutions certainly is not in favor of discrimination of race or color on the part of the wage earners. To the contrary, it is keenly alert and anxious that our affiliated trade unions remove whatever degree of discrimination may exist and wherever it exists. We believe that nearly all of our national and international unions have amended their constitutions to avoid discrimination against workers either on the race or color basis. I don’t think that is the question at issue.
The resolution asks that a committee of seven men be appointed, a committee that shall be permanent in character, that shall hear every grievance of a racial or religious discrimination. The committee shall proceed to that particular locality to make its investigation, have an open hearing, make its findings to the Executive Council and in turn to the convention for action.
The introducer of the resolution has made clear what he proposes to do by that action, and that is that national and international unions that may not comply with the wishes or instructions of that committee might have their charters removed. Thus it is clearly evident that the resolution is designed to infringe upon the jurisdictional rights of our various national and international unions in the matter of discrimination of race, color or creed.
Your committee is not prepared to recommend such a procedure to this convention, because if the American Federation of Labor could intrude itself upon the autonomous rights of national and international unions in that regard, it may equally well intrude itself upon the jurisdictional and autonomous rights of national and international unions in other regards. That is why the committee is not in sympathy with the appointment of a permanent committee and for the purposes indicated and made clear by the delegate having introduced his resolution.
Now, what does the committee say? It asks that this convention reaffirm its declaration of a year ago and of previous years. And what is that declaration. I just want to read that to you. This is the committee’s report on a similar resolution a year ago:
“This resolution calls for the creation of an intra-racial committee appointed by the American Federation of Labor, which would investigate instances of racial discrimination. The American Federation of Labor, in past conventions, has definitely declared its opposition to racial or religious discrimination within the trade-union movement or within the nation. In lieu of the resolutions your committee recommends that affiliated national and international unions be requested to give the most sincere consideration to policies which will assist to eliminate any tendency to discriminate against workmen because of race, color, or creed.”
What more can we do as a Federation than that, even though we may have a multitude of investigations and reports, unless we proceed to follow that up further with what the introducer has indicated and have the convention then to assume power to discipline national or international unions who may not have followed the recommendations contained in such an investigation?
Therefore, the issue clearly is one of how far this convention will want to intrude itself upon the rights of autonomous National and International Unions, and it is not a question of the degree of interest we shall display in removing discrimination, racial, religious or otherwise on this very deep and fundamental issue insofar as the Federation is concerned. It is not a question as I have indicated, of race, creed or color, because on that subject we are all united and the record and findings of the American Federation of Labor are clear along that line.
President Green: I wish to preserve the good name and standing of the American Federation of Labor if I can and to present its real attitude to the public and to public opinion. For that reason I am going to beg your indulgend for just a moment while I endeavor to restate, if I may, the position of the American Federation of Labor towards the subject that has been discussed so enthusiastically here this morning.
First of all, I declare without equivocation that the American Federation of Labor has placed itself on record as opposed to discrimination against any person because of race, creed, color or nationality. And when that declaration was made a convention of the American Federation of Labor supplemented that declaration by instructing the President of the American Federation of Labor and the Executive Council that where any National or International Union affiliated with the American Federation of Labor discriminated against Negro workers who desired to become organized and to become a part of the American Federation of Labor, that the American Federation of Labor itself organize those Negro workers into a union directly chartered by the Federation. Is that discrimination? That is the position of the American Federation of Labor, and that position is being confused here this morning because of criticism directed against some National and International Unions. But the line ought to be clearly drawn between the official attitude of the American Federation of Labor itself and the action of some International or National Unions. It is unfair to place the American Federation of Labor before the public as opposed to the organization of Negro workers into the American Federation of Labor. That hurts me very much, when an attempt is made to place the American Federation of labor in that position. It is not correct. The record shows that the American Federation of Labor itself has declared and restated over and over again its determination to organize Negroes or other workers, regardless of nationality, into unions directly chartered by the American Federation of Labor. Proceeding in accordance with that declaration, we have organized thousands of Negro workers into unions directly chartered by the American Federation of Labor, and if I find any officer in a federal union discriminating against Negro workers who desire to become members of a Federal Labor Union, as long as I am President of the American Federation of Labor I will remove him.
In order that I might bring this point home to you clearly, may I tell you about some of our experiences during the past year? We attempted to organize the employees of the Ford Motor Company into a federal labor union to be directly chartered by the American Federation of Labor. A large number of the employees of the Ford Motor Company turned their faces towards the American Federation of Labor. More than 25,000 of them voted to become a part of the American Federation of Labor. And in accordance with our policy of no race discrimination we appealed to the Negro workers of the Ford Motor Company to become a part of the American Federation of Labor and to belong to a federal union, on the same basis as every other person employed in the Ford Motor Company plant. Our organizers carried on a vigorous campaign, we presented the issues, we sent Negro organizers employed by the American Federation of Labor there to engage in organizing these workers into the American Federation of Labor. Unfortunately the race issue was raised in that instance, and the American Federation of Labor was falsely accused of being against the Negro worker, and yet we were appealing to them to come into this federal labor union without discrimination.
Paul Robeson, that great Negro artist and singer, was called in, and he denounced the American Federation of Labor and appealed to the Negro worker to stand against us, the parent body. They were not being asked to join the National Union, they were being asked to join a federal labor union chartered by the American Federation of Labor. The leader of the organization called the Organization for the Advancement of Colored People, I think, the representatives of the Urban League, practically every organization made up of colored workers had their representatives there in opposition to the American Federation of Labor. Complaint has been made against unions, national unions chartered by the American Federation of Labor. They were not there, the ones that were complained against; they were not trying to organize Ford workers. It was the parent body, the American Federation of Labor, begging, pleading, entreating these workers to come with us and occupy their place in the house of labor.
I tried to appeal to President Randolph to come and tell the story, and I tried to reach him by telephone and telegram for days, and I could not. I know that unfortunately it was because he was unavoidably delayed, he was occupied and could not come, because I believe he is devoted to the American Federation of Labor that if he could have come he would have been there to have offset or tried to offset at least these accusations made against the American Federation of Labor.
I ask you fellow delegates if it is the policy of the American Federation of Labor, finally settled, to organize these Negro workers into federal labor unions, are we then to be opposed when we attempt to organize them on the ground that we practice race prejudice and race discrimination?
That was unfortunate, but it seemed to me I should tell you this story now because it is a true one. I was tremendously disappointed when we were forced to meet that issue. As you know, thousands of Ford workers are Negro workers, and they ought to be in the American Federation of Labor, they ought to be a part of the great American Union, the American Federation of Labor, but the leaders of these organizations opposed us vigorously, their speakers assailed us, they charged us with being guilty of practicing race discrimination and of developing racial prejudice. Now, that could not be true in that instance because it was the parent body bringing them into a Union, begging them to come in.
My good friend here this morning indicts us because they won’t take them in, and here is an instance where we are begging them to come in. In accordance with the traditional policy of the American Federation of Labor there is no man in America that has a greater, a deeper interest in the welfare of the Negro people, and it has ever been my purpose to shape the policy and destiny of this great movement so that it would stand in support of all classes of working people regardless of race, creed, color or occupation. I have endeavored to have this American Federation of Labor stand four square in its determination to accept Negroes into membership in all organizations affiliated with the American Federation of Labor when they desire to belong to us, and in pursuit of that policy I attempted to organize these workers into a federal labor union in accordance with the traditional policy of the American Federation of Labor.
I am blaming nobody for the results, but I wanted to state to you these facts.
We have, I think, succeeded in breaking down prejudice. We must deal of course with this question as a realistic one, we must face the facts, and we cannot force men, but we can appeal and we can educate and ultimately we can overcome. I think we have made great progress because most of our national unions accept Negroes into membership; the Ladies’ Garment Workers, the Hod Carriers, Building and Common Laborers, the Actors and Artistes, and Musicians take them in and we hope ultimately if there is any barrier anywhere that it will be broken down. But surely when we are all trying and earnestly trying to break down the barriers, we ought to receive the support of those who believe with us.
This question has been with us since long before the Civil War. They had the Methodist Church, North and South, for I think 60 or more years after the Civil War, and religion was divided because of the race question. It was indefensible and wrong, but it was the Church, religion itself, that preached the brotherhood of man, divided until they had the Methodist Church, North and South. It takes time to break it down; it is being broken down and will be broken down, and this race discrimination and prejudice will be broken down by those who are earnestly seeking to break down race prejudice and race discrimintion in the United States of America.
Now, I want to place the American Federation of Labor right. I want the public to know where we stand. The American Federation of Labor does not discriminate against Negro workers. It accepts them into unions directly chartered by the American Federation of Labor whenever they are willing to come, and we are spending the money paid in by national unions into the treasury of the American Federation of Labor in trying to organize Negro workers into federal labor unions directly chartered by the American Federation of Labor. If we are doing that, are we falling? There is where we stand; there is where we will stand; those are our virtues, and we seek to exploit them so that the people of America may know where we stand in our effort to organize Negro workers.
Vice-President Hutcheson, Carpenters: Mr. Chairman, I have been one who has always had a sympathetic consideration for the Negro worker. Past records will show that. I am somewhat surprised, however, at the remarks of Delegate Randolph this morning. It would seem that one with his ability should have looked into the situation farther than he apparently did, considering his remarks. If he, as a delegate here from the Pullman Porters, is taking the responsibility of representing all the Negro workers in the country, then he should familiarize himself with the conditions of the Negroes in some of the organizations that accept them into membership. If he would take the trouble to investigate, he would find the Brotherhood of Carpenters has many locals of Negroes in its organization. He would also find in many of our white locals we have Negroes as members along with the white men of our organization. He would find we have locals scattered all over the United States, even in the city of New York. He would find, if he would take the trouble to look it up, in the city of Savannah we have one local of Negroes of 690 members as against a white local with 970 members. He would also find, if he took the trouble to investigate further, there are more Negroes carrying cards in the city of Savannah than there are white men. He would also find that under the recent Government housing project in the city of Savannah 430 Negro Carpenters worked on that project along with white Carpenters.
Now then, if in his desire to bring about a condition that would help the Negroes of this country as a whole, he would have done more toward that end if he had told some of the good things that some of the organizations have been doing for the Negroes and not merely criticize and tell the things that did not sound so well, at least to the public. I would advise Delegate Randolph to not oppose the adoption of the committee’s report, but to see that it is adopted, because by that procedure and by the procedure in the future of telling some of the good things done for the Negro race rather than all the things that could be complained of, he would do much more good for his race.
If the situation were reversed and a resolution was introduced to this convention to try to direct the internationals as to what their membership could consist of, what does he or any other delegate think the internationals would say to this convention? As far as our organization is concerned, we would tell you to go plumb to and stay there, if you chose.
The qualification for membership in our organization is if they can qualify and are an American citizen they can become a member of the Brotherhood, regardless of race, color or creed. Whether an Irishman, Swede, Negro or Jew does not make any difference to us, as long as you are a qualified Carpenter. That is the policy of the Brotherhood, and has been for years, and we have had Negro members who have held membership in our organization for over a third of a century and who have participated in our conventions, and perhaps will again in time if they see fit to send them. I cannot see why any delegate here should oppose the report of the committee.
Vice-President Bates, Bricklayers International Union: During the course of the remarks of Delegate Randolph, he made the charge that two Negro Bricklayers were denied employment at Columbus, Georgia. I think an investigation of this charge would show that Delegate Randolph was making a charge that was unjustified and unwarranted under the circumstances. It is well known to Delegate Randolph and the delegates to this convention that the organization that I represent, the Bricklayers, Masons and Plasterers International Union of America have many exclusive Negro charters in different sections of this country. We have mixed unions, and we take into our organization all who are qualified mechanically, regardless of race, creed or color. Any statements made to the contrary by Delegate Randolph are not warranted and borne out by the facts.
Delegate John E. Rooney, Plasterers: I might add to the statements that have already been made by the Bricklayers that as far as the Plasterers and Cement Finishers International Union is concerned that we have many Negro members in our organization. Brother Randolph did state this morning there was one city, and I believe that is the only city he mentioned, Kansas City, Missouri, and that matter was taken up with me last week, and I intend to have that remedied as soon as possible. Other than that, we have Negro members, thousands of them, in our organization. Not only do they belong to the organization but they also hold office in many of the unions; and I might add, too, at our last convention, just adjourned, we had several colored delegates at that convention, and we do not discriminate against the colored race.
Delegate Randolph, Pullman Porters: Brother Chairman, I rise to state that I am able to sustain every charge I have made on this floor, and that I don’t retract a single one I have made.
I don’t need Delegate Hutcheson to tell me what to do about this resolution. I am perfectly able and prepared to take a position on this question according to my own judgment, and I don’t care anything about the opinion of Brother Hutcheson so far as advising me what I shall do in regard to this resolution.
I want to say this to Brother Green, a herring has been drawn across this issue. No statement was made here to the effect that the American Federation of Labor, as such, discriminates against Negroes. Now, everybody knows that. Why is there a disposition to prostitute and distort this question? There is a desire to evade the issue, and therefore a tendency to draw a red herring across the issue.
President Green: Brother Randolph, just a moment. I said you know at the Ford Plant we were charged, the American Federation of Labor, with discriminating against Negro workers.
Delegate Randolph: But I had nothing to do with that, Brother Green.
President Green: Is that right?
Delegate Randolph: Well, I don’t know about—yes, that is right.
President Green: You know, yes.
Delegate Randolph: I had nothing to do with that. Those were Negro organizations. They stated that discrimination exists in the American Federation of Labor. They stated there were organizations affiliated with the American Federation of Labor that denied Negroes membership. Now, that is true. That does not mean, however, that the American Federation of Labor itself discriminates against Negroes. But I stated here that it is difficult for the public to differentiate between the American Federation of Labor discriminating against Negroes. Now, that is a simple matter of fact, Brother Green. You know that is true. It is hard for the public to differentiate between the two positions. Now, that is what I pointed out here in my discussion. But it is also important to observe that the purpose of this resolution is to get the American Federation of Labor to provide some machinery for the study and investigation of discriminations in order that the facts revealed may serve as a basis for the formulation of policies to the end of trying to remedy the condition. Now, that is the sole purpose of the resolution.
Brother Woll raises the question that the intention is to infringe upon the jurisdiction of national and international unions. This is a pure appeal to the prejudice of the national and international unions in this convention. That is all it is, a pure appeal to the prejudice of International Unions. The assumption is now if the purpose of this resolution is to infringe upon the jurisdiction of national and international unions. “You national and international unions had better vote against it.” Now, that is the inference.
And so with the question, too, that was presented about the Church having been divided into the North and South. Well, we all know that. That is old history. But as a matter of fact, the American Federation of Labor should point the way for the churches in this country on the question of the races, because this involves a question of life, the right to work.
And so, Brother President, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters takes this position definitely in favor of the fact that the American Federation of Labor itself does not discriminate against Negroes, you accept Negroes in the federal unions, but I want to make this remark, Brother Green, too, and you know this to be the truth, that in a large convention you permitted the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks to take over the freight handlers that were federal unions and wiped out these federal unions, and these freight handlers now are in Jim Crow auxiliary unions, and they don’t have the right to vote, they don’t have a voice in the determination of the policy of that international union. Now, that is a fact. How are we going to beat that down?
To that extent the American Federation of Labor has not kept faith with the Negro workers because the American Federation of Labor took the position that “If a national union will not accept you, we will give you a federal charter.” But here they have taken away the federal charter from the freight handlers, and gave them over to an international that had . . .
President Green: (Interposing) Brother Randolph, I want that stated clear I must interrupt you. First of all, that organization would not accept Negroes into membership.
President Green: Pursuant to the policy of the American Federation of Labor we took them in, organized them into Federal Labor Unions, but freight handlers come under the jurisdiction of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks. Finally, after some years of experimenting along that line, the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks amended their constitution so as to provide for the creation of auxiliary locals, and then they were turned over to the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, but there is a vast difference between the statement you made regarding their rights in the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks and what President Harrison states is their right, and we have to keep the faith in that respect.
Delegate Randolph: Brother Green, I wanted to have this clear and that is, yes, they are in an auxiliary local to the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, but they don’t have the right to vote, they don’t have a voice in the conventions of that organization. Now that is a question of fact. And so in that respect it is the position of our delegates that the federal charter should be returned to the Negro workers if they are not permitted to join a national or international union.
Delegate Marshall, Hod Carriers: Mr. Chairman, I desire to draw to the attention of the delegates to this convention that the International Union of Hod Carriers and Laborers, have organized over 70,000 colored workers within the United States. In the Southern states of this country we have advanced and increased their wage scales. They were working prior to our organizing them for 12 or 15 cents an hour. Today they are receiving from 60 to 70 cents per hour. We have a colored brother who is a member of the Executive Board of our International Union, and at our recent convention we had over 250 colored delegates sitting in that convention with voice and vote.
Now what I want to know is what has Randolph ever done for the laborers of the South who work on building and construction work, that is, the colored laborers? He was never interested in them. The only thing he is interested in is coming to this convention year after year and criticizing the activities of the international unions and the American Federation of Labor.
President Green: The question now recurs upon the motion to adopt the committee’s report. All those who favor the adoption of the committee’s report please say “aye”; those opposed say “no.”
The motion seems to be carried. The Chair declares the motion carried, and it is so ordered.
Report of Committee on Resolutions
Vice-President Frey, Secretary of the Committee, reported as follows:
Resolution No. 19—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, Milton P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, Auxiliary locals organized by some international unions, affiliated with the A. F. of L. is a grave violation and nullification of American democracy and sound trade union principles, since they are a notorious specie of taxation without representation and creates a separation and division of the workers which makes for weakness; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 61st Convention of the A. F. of L. at Seattle, Washington, go on record as condemning the auxiliary form of organization, since it denies workers, because of race, color, religion or national origin, the privileges of full fledged membership, in the national or international union, enjoyed by the other workers, and that this Convention, in harmony with sound trade union principles, calls upon the national and international unions that have auxiliary local unions to disestablish said auxiliary local unions.
Your committee is aware that many International Unions, for most advisable reasons, have established auxiliary local unions, and that the membership of these auxiliary locals is not based upon any distinction or discrimination of race, color or creed, but are intended solely to increase the field of organization.
Attention must be called to the valuable support given to many International Unions through the organization of Ladies Auxiliaries.
Your committee would further call attention to the fact that several organizations against whom there have been charges of discrimination because of color, have established auxiliaries for the purpose of bringing colored workers into the trade union movement.
As this resolution, if adopted, would condemn all such auxiliaries, your committee recommends non-concurrence.
Secretary Frey, moved the adoption of the committee’s report.
The motion was seconded.
Delegate Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman, I want to make a few brief remarks on this resolution. The auxiliary form of organization does not provide for the members of the auxiliary unions the status of full-fledged membership. In other words, members of auxiliary unions do not possess the right to vote on policies affecting the national organization or the auxiliary unions. For instance, no member of an auxiliary union can attend a national convention of a national organization. He has not the right to vote for a delegate to the national organization nor has he the privilege of being voted for as a delegate to that convention. It seems to me that if there is no objection on the part of certain national or international organizations to take in workers without regard to color, race, religion or national origin, there would be no auxiliary union, because the primary purpose of the auxiliary unions is to give the impression that these national unions are taking Negro workers in when they are actually keeping them out.
These are the grounds of the objection of the Sleeping Car Porters to the auxiliary locals. You will notice in this convention there are only two colored delegates. In the last convention there were about 15 or 20. These delegates who lost out came from various federal locals, but the charters of these federal locals have been taken up on the grounds that the national organizations had jurisdiction over these workers and that they were going to grant them auxiliary charters. That has been done, and as a consequence the voice of the federal local is no longer heard in this convention. It is a strange interpretation that is being given to the auxiliary local when it is contended that they do not represent any form of discrimination. Why have them at all?
And so, fellow delegates, it is the hope that ultimately by a process of education that various National and International Unions will recognize the validity of accepting workers as members into their national organizations as such and not establish these Jim Crow auxiliary forms of organization.
Secretary Frey: Mr. Chairman, this convention should be under no misunderstanding as to the resolution which the committee recommends non-concurrence with. The resolution is directed against all auxiliary unions. It is very definite on that point. And a number of the International Unions seated here have had auxiliary unions which have had nothing at all to do with any kind of race, color or creed. These auxiliary unions have been of great advantage not only to their members but to their Internationals and to the trade union movement in general.
There was one hopeful word in the statement that has just been made, and that was that education would be helpful in working out the problem. That has been the position of the American Federation of Labor from the beginning. We must take men and women and communities as we find them, and we must educate them to a point of view or else drive them unwillingly into some form of organization they know little about or care less.
It was not so many years ago we listened to the complaint, and a justifiable one, that the Negro worker was unorganized and could not elevate his social and industrial position except through trade union organization. This American Federation of Labor undertook a campaign of education, and as a result hundreds of thousands of Negroes are now not only organized but they are within the fold of the American Federation of Labor. If in some communities, because of conditions which the American Federation of Labor had nothing whatsoever to do in creating, it has been found difficult to organize the Negro and bring him into the white local unions as a member, then certainly it is a long step in advance from conditions as they were when we bring him into the fold of trade union organizations. I am thankful that the note of criticism, bitter, biting, unjustified criticism which we listened to yesterday was not in the address of the delegate made a few moments ago.
Now, this convention will not place itself on record, in the committee’s opinion, as opposed to auxiliary unions which we have organized, the auxiliary unions, created from the wives and the daughters and the sisters of trade unionists, or from the other auxiliaries that we have, like the Apprentice Boys Auxiliary Unions to our International Unions, which are the means by which we help to educate the apprentice to understand what the trade union movement really means to him the moment he becomes a journeyman, and so your committee, because of the wholesale condemnation of the policy of organizing auxiliaries embodied in the resolution, made its recommendation on non-concurrence.
The motion to adopt the report of the committee, non-concurring with Resolution No. 19, was carried.
Lend-Lease Aid to Ethiopia
Resolution No. 20—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, Milton P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, Ethiopia has played and is now playing an heroic role in the struggle against the Axis powers, having been the battleground of some of the fiercest and bloodiest encounters of the democratic forces against sinister totalitarian states; therefore be it
RESOLVED, That the A. F. of L. in its 61st Convention assembled in Seattle, Washington, endorse and support lend-lease aid by the United States to Ethiopia, since lend-lease aid is intended for all countries allied with the democratic nations in the fight against Nazism and that a military and scientific and economic commission be sent to Ethiopia to help in her defensive and offensive struggles.
Your committee recommends concurrence with this resolution.
The recommendation of the committee was unanimously adopted.
Resolution No. 21—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, Milton P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, The Poll Tax is a pernicious device of a small oligarchy to disfranchise the great mass of black and white workers in eight states of the South; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 61st Convention of the A. F. of L. in Seattle, Washington, go on record as endorsing and supporting the anti-Poll Tax legislation and court action.
Your committee endorsed a similar proposal, submitted by the same delegation, a year ago, and recommends that the former action of the convention be reaffirmed.
The recommendation of the committee was unanimously adopted.
Fair Employment Practice Committee
Resolution No. 22—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, Milton P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, A Fair Employment Practice Committee has been set up by President Roosevelt under an Executive Order to abolish discriminations in national defense on account of race, creed, color, religion or national origin, for the purpose of utilizing the skill and labor of every available worker and to practice the principles of democracy we preach that coincides with the repeated declarations of the American Federation of Labor; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 61st Convention of the A. F. of L. assembled in Seattle, Washington, go on record as endorsing the Fair Employment Practice Committee.
Your committee recommends approval of this resolution.
Secretary Frey moved the adoption of the committee’s report.
The motion was seconded.
Delegate Milton P. Webster, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. President and delegates to the 61st Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, I arise as a representative of the Sleeping Car delegation that introduced this resolution to offer commendation to the Resolutions Committee for its approval of this resolution endorsing the Fair Employment Practice Committee. I wish also to take this opportunity to extend our thanks and appreciation to President William Green for complying with our request in inviting Mark Etheridge, the Chairman of the Committee on Fair Employment Practice, to address this convention. Mr. Etheridge delivered quite a scholarly and informative address on the functions of this particular committee.
I wish to take this opportunity to acquaint the delegates of this convention with some of the background that has been responsible for prompting the President of the United States to appoint this Committee on Fair Employment Practice.
Almost immediately at the institution of the widespread defense program the Negro workers of the nation found themselves in an almost unprecedented position of not being allowed to work in many of the defense industries. The agitation among the Negro workers of the nation became so great that some of the Negro leaders in the trade union movement, particularly the American Federation of Labor, stepped into the situation and organized the widespread protests that were being made throughout the nation by Negro workers and other representatives of Negro organizations against this practice of not allowing the Negro workers to be integrated into the national defense program. As the result of the organization a committee was organized and prevailed upon various officials of the Government to take some action in reference to this particular situation. After a large number of conferences with many of the officials of the United States Government, the Committee finally got a conference with our great president, President Roosevelt, and after going into an exhaustive investigation of this particular situation, the President agreed with the committee that this was an unusual situation which called for some unusual action, and at the request of this committee the President issued an executive order in connection with the question of discrimination against Negro workers in the defense industries.
The Negro representatives of the American Federation of Labor played quite an important part in the conferences with the officials of the United States Government and the President of the United States, which was responsible for the issuance of this Executive Order and the appointment of a Committee on Fair Employment Practice. We had as members of this committee representative Negro trade unionists from the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, from the International Hotel Workers’ Alliance and Bartenders’ League, from the National Teachers’ Federation, and from the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
The committee has been appointed, and there is a good representation of trades unionists on the committee, including President William Green, President Philip Murray of the C.I.O., and myself from the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The committee has had a number of meetings and there have been a large number of complaints forwarded to the committee affecting all forms of discrimination against Negroes, preventing them from being integrated into the defense industries, and unfortunately many of them have been directed towards some of our trade unions; and so this committee is starting out on this program with the purpose of trying to solve some of these problems.
We very greatly appreciate the action of the committee in recommending approval of the Committee on Fair Employment Practice, and we feel this recommendation coming from this convention will be able to influence many of the national and international unions against which these complaints are made, to cooperate with us to the utmost extent, to the end that a large number of workers in this country who have heretofore been prevented from being integrate into the defense industries because of the unfortunate discriminatory practices that have prevailed in America, may so be employed. We wish to express our thanks and appreciation, and I am sure the committee is willing to cooperate with the national and international unions. We certainly hope we get the cooperation from the national and international unions to the end that this problem, insofar as the defense industries are concerned may be settled in some degree of equity with the least disturbance in connection with the carrying out the program and practices of the Committee on Fair Employment Practice.
The motion to adopt the committee’s report, concurring in Resolution No. 22, was carried unanimously.
Secretary Frey: Mr. Chairman, the committee was proceeding with the resolutions in their numerical order, but believes it advisable to bring in some of its report on the Executive Council’s report. We would like to submit two portions of the Executive Council’s report at this time.
Proceedings of the 60th annual convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1940, pp. 475–92, 536–37, 538–39.
Resolution No. 10—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, Milton P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, The victory of the United Nations in this global war against the Axis Powers depends upon national unity and since national unity cannot exist if there is discrimination against persons on account of race, color, religion or national origin, and because this war has its roots in a mythical racial superiority advocated in “Mein Kampf” to Adolph Hitler, therefore, be it174
RESOLVED, That the sixty-second convention of the A. F. of L. go on record as condemning all the forms of discrimination on account of race, color, religion or national origin as being inconsistent with the fight of the United Nations for a free world and also constituting the basis of a Fascism which is the mortal enemy of a free trade union movement and of the democratic way of life.
Trade Union Committee to Abolish Discrimination on Account of Race, Color, Religion or National Origin
Resolution No. 12—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, Milton P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, It is necessary that the complete manpower of the nation be mobilized for use in the armed forces and defense industries for the victory of the United Nations and since discrimination on account of race, color, religion, or national origin is a bar to this effort; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the sixty-second convention of the A. F. of L. set up a minorities committee composed of representatives of the various minority groups in the A. F. of L. such as Negroes, Jews, Catholics and others for the purpose of thoroughly exploring the question of discrimination practiced against minority groups by unions affiliated with the A. F. of L. and various industries with a view to mapping out plans and making recommendations to the Executive Council and subsequent conventions, to abolish these forms of discrimination as being against sound trade union principles and giving aid and comfort to Fascism in America, and be it further
RESOLVED, That the President of the A. F. of L. be authorized, in cooperation with the Executive Council, to set up a minorities committee on discrimination on account of race, color, religion or national origin, to investigate various forms and cases of discrimination that may be presented to it, or that may come to its attention in any way, and that funds be provided for transportation and stenographic services and other incidental expenses to the carrying out of the purposes of this resolution of the complete abolition of discrimination in unions affiliated with the A. F. of L., and be it further
RESOLVED, That this committee plan a systematic educational program among the members and officials of the A. F. of L. for the enlightenment of the workers on the necessity and value of unity in the labor movement without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.
Resolution No. 13—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, Milton P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, The present world war is largely due to vicious and fallacious concepts of racial superiority and since there can be no peace in the world so long as one billion and seven-hundred millions of peoples of color throughout the world are looked upon as inferior and treated as vassals and slaves such as obtains in Africa, India, China and the isles of the sea; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That this sixty-second convention of the A. F. of L. go on record as supporting the principles of racial equality as essential to national unity and the unity of the darker peoples back of the fight of the United Nations to put an end toward aggression and that this principle of racial equality be duly recognized and accepted as a basic factor in the reorganization of the world at the peace table when the war ends.
In connection with the subject of race discrimination your committee has considered Resolutions Nos. 10, 12, and 13, all of which deal with one or more phases of race discrimination.
The American Federation of Labor, at every convention where the subject has been introduced, has vigorously and unequivocally, declared against race discrimination—any discrimination because of race, color, religion or national origin. The American Federation of Labor has been the outstanding organization in the United States and Canada to make such declaration, and to further the interests of the colored race.
It is unfortunately true that because of geographical situation and other reasons, there still remains a degree of discrimination, not only against the colored race, but against other groups, because of their racial origin; but we have no hesitancy in comparing the record of the American Federation of Labor on the question of race discrimination with the activities of any other organization in the United States and Canada.
It was the American Federation of Labor which pioneered the organization of the colored people. Experience has led us to believe that the most effective way of eliminating race discrimination is the education of the trade union movement and of the public. Without this education the progress which has been made in organizing America would not have made the progress which it has. We are doubtful whether any other method than the educational one can make the progress which is necessary, for experience has been that where compulsory methods are applied, prejudices are increased instead of diminished.
Your committee voices its approval of the recent Executive Order of the President intended to accomplish the praiseworthy elimination of racial distinction between the wage earners and the citizens of the United States.
Your committee therefore recommends the adoption of this statement in lieu of separate action on the resolutions presented.
Committee Secretary Frey moved the adoption of the committee’s report.
The motion was seconded.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman and delegates to the convention, I want particularly to discuss the resolution suggesting the creation of a committee, a Minorities Committee, for the purpose of exploring the question of race discrimination in order that we may ascertain the extent of racial discrimination, the forms and manifestations of racial discrimination and their general influences and effects. This resolution calls for the systematic conducting of a campaign of education through this machinery of a Minorities Committee. The suggestion of a campaign of education is based upon the theory that racial discrimination arises out of ignorance and fear. Were it possible for the workers and also their leaders to know something about the origin and basis of race discrimination they would not so readily lend themselves to it.
For instance, in the South, the South is the No. 1 economic problem of America. The South is culturally and educationally and politically the most backward section of America. Why is this? The reason for this is that one-this of the population of the South, the Negro workers, are exploited and oppressed, not only by the monopolistic capitalist interests, but by an alliance of misinformed and ignorant workers, who with the employers, have made a virtue and a career of being white. The ordinary poverty stricken, uninformed workers has been made to believe that there is some special virtue in being white. As a result of the conflict between the black and white workers over this imaginary question of superiority of race, they are unable to get together and form powerful trade unions. Because of the division on race the workers’ movements of the South are weakened, and since they are weakened the employers are able to oppress and repress them, thereby paying them low wages and providing them worse working conditions and longer hours of work than exists in any other section of the country. In other words, the white workers of the South are down economically and organizationally because they are trying to keep the black workers down. They can’t get up because they won’t permit the black workers to get up.
This is the result and the consequence of ignorance and fear. The workers have had the idea that if they extend democratic rights, equality of opportunity to the black workers they will, ipso facto, reduce and minimize their opportunities in the general southern community. We all know that is wrong, unsound, fallacious, but until this information becomes a part of the thinking of the workers they still will act upon that idea.
Now discrimination against the Negro workers in the Unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor falls into four categories. One is that you have a number of Unions, about fifteen or twenty, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor that have color clauses in their constitution, or ritualistic provisions against the membership of Negro workers. For instance, the Boiler Makers’ Union, the International Machinists’ Association, and practically every Union which is a part of the Department of Railway Employees of the American Federation of Labor has a color clause or ritualistic provision against the membership of Negro workers. Then in addition to that you have Unions that do not have color provisions in the constitution, but by practice and custom, do not permit Negro workers to join. These unions are, for instance, the Electrical Workers, the Plumbers, the Pipe Fitters. When workers go to those Unions for membership, when Negro workers go to them to join there is nothing in the Constitution that says no, you can’t join, but they have a policy of not permitting Negro workers to join. They have some provisions that some of the members must suggest or recommend members for membership, and of course the Negro worker is never recommended.
Then we have Unions connected with the American Federation of Labor that permit Negro workers to join, but some of their Locals deny Negro workers the right of membership and also use their power to prevent these Negro workers from securing employment. For instance, the Carpenters’ Union accepts Negro workers as members, but the Carpenters’ Local in San Antonio, Texas, not only refuses Negroes the right to become members, but threatened to strike on the housing project which was in the interests of Negro tenants if there was any effort to compel them to accept Negro workers or to put Negro workers on the job.
In St. Louis there were International Unions that had Locals and some of these International Unions accept Negro workers as members, but their Locals in St. Louis will not accept Negro workers and also negotiate closed shop contracts that prevent Negro workers from even securing employment.
Then you have another category of discrimination. We have unions that have color clauses in their constitution but they organize what are known as auxiliaries, which Negroes are permitted to join. The auxiliary form of organization is undemocratic and serves to disfranchise the worker. For instance, the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks has a clause in its constitution denying Negroes the right to join, but it creates auxiliary Locals. In these auxiliary unions the Negro workers pay a certain per capita tax, along with the white workers, but they have no right to send a representative or a delegate to the International Convention of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks. They have no voice or vote in the formulation of policies and the determination of the general machinery of the organization. In other words, it is a form of taxation without representation.
Now, the question may be raised as to the necessity of this committee. If there is no necessity for this committee then it ought not to be created. If there is necessity for this committee then it ought to be created. How can we find out whether there is necessity? You can only determine that by searching for conditions that this resolution is designed to remove. These conditions are discriminatory practices. Now, for instance, only recently in Portland, Oregon, 30 Negro workers were imported from New York to Portland to work. Nineteen of these workers were skilled men. They had experience as welders and as all different sorts of mechanics. When those workers arrived in Portland one of the union representatives boarded the train and reclassified those Negro workers, and put them all in the category of laborers. Now, the laborers in the Henry J. Kaiser Shipbuilding Yards received 95 cents an hour, but the welders and other mechanics received a higher rate. The Secretary of Local 72 of the Boiler Makers, Shipbuilders, Iron Workers and Helpers Organization read the riot Act to the Negro workers who had come all the way from New York to Portland for jobs, for jobs that had a higher differential in pay than the laborers because of skill.
Now, we listened here yesterday and today to many grand and splendid speeches about democracy. As a matter of fact, if a man from Mars had dropped in on this convention and listened to the oratory about democracy he would have come to the conclusion that most of the people who are making these speeches really believe in democracy; but if he had examined the situation closer and found out that some of the men that were making those speeches were members and representatives of organizations that deny workers membership in those organizations, not because of lack of competency, not because of lack of skill, but merely because they were black, certainly he would come to the conclusion that these speeches all about democracy were pure baloney. We had, for instance a statement made here by Brother MacGowan yesterday to the effect that if there was anything in the shipping yard that tended to increase the number of days necessary for putting out a ship that that borders on sabotage or treason. I agree with him, but I want to ask how he classifies race prejudice? How does he classify racial discrimination which definitely limits the manpower available for use in the shipping yards? Certainly any institution, any agency, whose practices and policies and customs now limit the manpower that may be available for production of ships, of munitions of any kind, certainly that borders upon treason and it represents sabotage of the war effort and of the victory of the United Nations.
Now, my friends, certainly no one can contend that any union that denies a worker membership in it merely because of race is not sabotaging the war, is not sabotaging the program of the United Nations; but yet you have unions connected with the Federation that openly say that you can’t become a member of the organization. Now, we men get up and talk about democracy and about the democratic processes, as was done by the representatives of the Machinists and the Boiler Makers and other groups, and then the Negro workers come to them for membership in their union and they say, “You can’t become a member until you get a job.” And when the Negro goes to the employer and asks for a job the employee says, “No, you cannot get a job unless you get a union card.” There this Negro worker is between two forces, both of which are against him. He can’t get work unless he has a union card and he can’t get a union card unless he has work. This is the condition in which the Negro worker finds himself.
Now, the American Federation of Labor takes the position that this is a federated body; the International Unions are autonomous. We have no power to compel the International Unions to admit anyone as a member in them. Well, now you cannot expect a Negro worker to understand that. You can’t expect even the public to see that point. As a matter of fact, it is recognized as a dodge. It is recognized as a refuge in a smoke screen where we don’t have the moral courage to face the issue. I am definitely able here to state that the American Federation of Labor has never faced this question on racial discrimination with any measure of moral courage. We have adopted resolutions and find proclamations have been made, splendid declarations have been issued, but they have amounted to nothing. They have been mere lip service on the question of discrimination in this great organization. Therefore, the American Federation of Labor faces a moral challenge.
Something should be done about this thing now. We have suggested a concretangible and practical method, and that is this committee that we wanted to have created in order that it might explore this question and then set up adequate machinery to carry on a program of education. That has been rejected by the Resolutions Committee. Of course, I was not really surprised, because unfortunately it seems that our Resolutions Committee never learns anything above the question of race and never forgets anything about it. As a matter of fact at this time in our world history when race plays so great a part in the determination of international affairs, it is unfortunate, it is pitiful, that a committee which really sets down the policy of this Federation does not have the broadness of vision to see that unless this question is fundamentally met, realistically dealt with some degree of courage, there never will be any peace in the world, there never will be any peace in the labor movement of America.
Now, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters has organized a powerful International Union which demonstrates the adaptability and the capability of Negroes for organized labor action. You have hundreds of thousands of Negroes in the American Federation of Labor now. I would estimate that there are from 250,000 to 300,000 Negroes in the American Federation of Labor, but you have only two delegates here at this convention. They are from the Sleeping Car Porters’ Union. Why? There are thousands of Negro workers in the other International Unions but these unions never send a delegate to this convention. My friends, it is based upon the fallacy, it is based upon the false position, it is based upon the lack of information as to the relationship between peoples different in color.
Today we are facing a situation when the world itself is in flames, largely because of this doctrine of racial supremacy of the white race and of the inferiority of the peoples of color. All of the struggles in the past, international struggles, have been around an attempt on the part of Europeans and white-power nations to grab the land and natural resources of the peoples of Africa, India, and China, and the isles of the sea. We all know that Hitler himself built up Fascism around the persecution of the Jews, and the same thing can happen here in America. So long as any form of discrimination exists, whether it be racial, religious or national, it constitutes the grounds in which the seeds of Fascism may be sown, and just as the Nazi party broke down the social democracy in Germany, overthrew the republic as the result of the accumulative power built up by the leader of the Nazi party, Hitler, the same thing may happen here in America, because you have the fertile ground for sowing the seed of Fascism.
We have, for instance, the Ku-Klux-Klan. We have a number of organizations that definitely and openly state their opposition and condemnations of the Jews. We have organizations that condemn the Catholics. You very well remember when Al Smith ran for President. Al Smith was one of the most democratic men in America. He was loved by everybody, but Al Smith met the most bitter persecution, opposition and propaganda that any man has ever met who ran for public life in this country. They stated that, “If Al Smith wins the Pope will move to Washington and go into the White House.” That was the kind of propaganda that was carried on against him, because he was a Catholic.
You who have read anything about American history know about the Know-Nothing Party, a political organization committed to the program of persecution of the Catholics.175
Now, we have that situation here with respect to the Negroes. The Negroes are the victims of a persecution, but they will transfer this persecution from the Negroes to the Jews to the Catholics and to the workers. Recently in Congress the reactionary Senators and Congressmen introduced 50 bills for the purpose of stripping labor of its rights, emasculating the principle of collective bargaining, and throwing back labor from its present position and destroying our labor and social gains.
My friends, when this war is over you are going to meet a situation far different from that ever witnessed in this country, whether the Axis powers or the United Nations win. You are going to have a trend toward conservative policies in the nation, and the only hope of the workers, the only hope of even the American Federation of Labor is that it adopt a policy embracing all of the workers, regardless of race, creed, or color.
You know that the German trade movement was the most powerful movement in the world, absolutely more extensive and with the basic philosophy and understanding of the practices and policies and programs of the organized workers. You know that, and consequently these agencies will use any point, they will use any particular situation in order to work up sentiment, in order to work up hysteria that may break the morale of the workers of America and set them back a hundred years.
And so, my friends, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters raises the question before you not alone for the benefit of the Negro workers, but for the benefit of organized labor, for the safety and salvation of the workers, and for the preservation of our democratic processes. It is not enough for you to get up on this floor and say, “We stand for Democracy and freedom; we stand for the brotherhood of man; we stand for the spirit of tolerance, and we want to see that the principle of free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the right to petition, of trial by jury, freedom of worship—we want to see those freedoms preserved.”
It is all right, my friends, to get up on the floor and make those splendid statements, but they don’t mean anything unless you practice them. That is the position of the Negro workers today. The Negro workers may be the means of saving America from the flames of Fascism, because the Negro people are dedicated and consecrated to the cause of democracy. We know that no men of authority in the world, regardless of color, can ever expect to make progress can ever expect to take their places among the peoples of advancement and enlightenment, except under the democratic system.
Therefore, the Negroes know already the meaning of Fascism; the Negroes know already the force of a national race prejudice. The Negro knows already something about the victimization of a people, because of the fallacy hailed by others who are committed to the ideals of a heterogeneous democratic system.
And so, we stand upon the principle that the American Federation of Labor will never be able really to take the position that it is thoroughly democration until there is not a single organization affiliated with it that bars a worker because of race, color, nationality, or religion.
The hope of the American Federation of Labor in serving as the creative and constructive agency of a democratic economy, is that it will clean its skirts, clean its hands and come into court and say, regardless of color, religion, nationality, creed, or sex of the workers, eligible for membership in any Union which is a part of this Federation, and that any International Union that hasn’t the spirit of democracy, that does not show that it is committed to the ideals of a brotherhood of man, will be expelled from this Federation if it refuses to accept the worker merely because of the fact that that worker’s pigmentation is more heightened than the pigmentation of another worker.
And that is the only difference between the peoples of the world. The peoples of India and Africa and China are dark merely because of the geographical condition. Skill, genius, and color are not the monopoly of any race in the world. It is the common property of mankind. I can point out to you some of the greatest scientists of America who are black, some of the greatest philosophers of the world who are black. Pushkin, the Russian poet, was black and the Dumas, some of the greatest writers of literature of France, were Negroes.176
So, my friends, this question of racial discrimination strikes at the heat of the workers, at the heart of democracy, and there will be no freedom in this world so long as one group of men say, “I am white, you are black, and consequently because you are black and you are not entitled to the privileges and opportunities that I enjoy.”
As long as that spirit persists there will be no peace, there will be no brotherhood of man, but we will be facing a conflagration even more catastrophy even more disastrous, even more destructive than the world war in which we are now engaged.
And so, my fellow delegates, I appeal to you that you adopt some machinery to deal with this question. President Green, Brother Woll, and Brother Frey know very well that these declarations do not mean a thing so far as actually getting discrimination eliminated is concerned. Right here in Tampa, Florida Negroes cannot work as boilermakers, but they are boilermakers.
So, my friends, we want you to do something that is positive, something that is practical by way of setting up some machinery. Of course, I hoped that the convention would take some definite position on it and not leave it to the Executive Council. We can’t say that all members of the Executive Council are our pals, and we know that sometimes popular issues find a graveyard in the Executive Council. But we know that President Green has some definite convictions on this matter. We know also that the International Unions have power and that he cannot do everything he wants to do.
I remember this morning or yesterday Brother Harvey Brown said it was a bad thing that in an organization you may have a monopoly of power in the hand of one or two organizations, and that principles may not be given their adequate expression and application. Well, my dear friends, that same thing may be said with respect to racial discrimination in the American Federation of Labor, and the position the Executive Council takes upon these matters.
You have sitting on the Executive Council men who represent organizations that have color clauses in their constitution. And so when you call for democracy in one respect, we ought to be willing to extend it to the other respect. But that has not been the case, and we ought to be honest with ourselves, we ought to be fair with ourselves, and fair with the public. We haven’t met this question of race discrimination with courage, with spirit, and with determination to eliminate it. Until we do it we are going to have trouble in this country, because the Negro people are not going to continue to take it. They are determined to fight for their rights, regardless of what happens.
Upwards of twenty millions of people cannot be kept down. It doesn’t make any difference, my friends, what they eat or what the attitude of the people that are trying to keep them down is, 20,000,000 people cannot be kept down.
And so the Negro people come to you because you are a body of workers, you are victimized, you are exploited. They said the National Labor Relations Board was not doing the right thing, and yet these Unions that say the National Labor Relations Board is not doing the right thing, these very same Unions are violating the principles of the National Labor Relations Act, because the basic principle of that Act is that every worker shall have the right to choose and select his bargaining agent. But the Negro workers can’t do that. And so, my friends, the position taken by these powerful organizations with respect to democracy really means democracy for themselves and nobody else. But the time must come, and it must come soon, when the American Federation of Labor will take the position that they will not tolerate the position of any Union in it that says you cannot become a member merely because you are black.
President Green: Are there any further remarks?
The question recurs on the motion to adopt the committee’s report. All in favor will please say “aye.” Those opposed will say “no.”
The motion is carried and it is so ordered.
Race Discrimination in Trade Unions
Resolution No. 14—By Delegates A. Philip Randolph, Milton P. Webster, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
WHEREAS, Millions of American workers will fight on all fronts throughout the world to put down the evil of totalitarian slavery that democracy and freedom may live in the world and trade union movements be preserved; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That workers who are now in Uncle Sam’s uniform to fight for the freedoms and the Atlantic Charter be given the freedom and eligibility to join any union affiliated with the A. F. of L. at the end of the war without regard to race, color, religion or national origin for one—half the regular joining fee and that any international union refusing said workers membership now in Uncle Sam’s uniform on account of race, color, religion or national origin be expelled from the A. F. of L. until said worker is permitted to join, as a gesture for strengthening the cause of national unity now.
Resolution No. 14 cover two subjects, one race discrimination, and secondly, a reduced initiation fee of those who have had a period of military service.
Your committee has already dealt with the subject of race discrimination, and has also presented its report on the question of reduction of initiation fees. It therefore feels no further action is required on this resolution.
Committee Secretary Frey moved the adoption of the committee’s report.
The motion was seconded and carried.
At 5:45 o’clock, p.m. Delegate Bugniazet, Electrical Workers, moved that the rules be suspended and the convention remain in session until the report of the Committee on Resolutions was completed, which he said he understood would take about 45 minutes.
The motion was seconded but was lost on being put to vote.
Proceedings of the 62nd Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1942, pp. 573–80.
Resolution No. 111—By Delegates W. G. Desepte, C. C. Coulter, G. A. Sackett, Retail Clerks International Protective Association.
WHEREAS, Our Nation is engaged in a war for the preservation of democracy and the defeat of Nazism and its medieval theory of race superiority, and
WHEREAS, We cannot conduct a democratic war abroad without practicing complete democracy at home, and it has always been the commendable position of the American Federation of Labor that the right to work or admittance into Union membership should not be based on race, creed, color, or national origin, and
WHEREAS, President Roosevelt has deemed it necessary to issue Executive Order No. 8802, as well as to set into motion a governmental body known as the “Fair Employment Practices Committee” to assure that there will be no discrimination in industry on the grounds of race, creed, color, or national origin, and
WHEREAS, In spite of this clear policy in the interests of justice and national unity in war, some few locals in the American Federation of Labor are following contrary policies of either not accepting minorities into their Unions or putting them into auxiliaries aiding the Fascists who claim this country is not truly democratic and defaming the name of the American Federation of Labor, therefore be it
RESOLVED, That this convention of the American Federation of Labor go on record as:
1. Opposing all discrimination based upon race, color, creed, or national origin;
2. Calling upon all the Internationals and their affiliated unions to accept all workers into membership without discrimination or segregation, and
3. Calling for complete support and cooperation of all unions with the Fair Employment Practices Committee.
Your committee has given lengthy and most sincere consideration to Resolutions Nos. 24, 28, 29 and 32 introduced by the delegates of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; and Resolution No. 79 introduced by the delegated of the Minnesota State Federation of Labor; and Resolution No. 111 introduced by the delegates of the Retail Clerks International Protective Association, all of which deal with some phase of discrimination because of race, color, religion or national origin. Instead of reporting upon each resolution separately, your committee believed it advisable to present a substitute for all of them as follows:
The founders of the American Federation of Labor since their inception, were opposed to any prejudices, traditions, social or religious demarcations which could be applied to interfere with, or prevent thorough-going organization of all wage earners. They made one of the corner-stones of the great trade union structure they were determined to erect—the principle that the right to work, or membership in a trade union should not be limited, or restricted in any manner, because of creed, color or race.
The American Federation of Labor at that time, and ever since, has been the principal constructive and influential force in our country in giving practical application to that basic principle. We can examine the record of progress made in eliminating prejudices against so-called minority groups, with gratification and sincere pride.
The principle announced over sixty years ago has been given increasing practical application. Distinctions, because of national origin within our trade union movement, have been very largely eliminated. The color bar has been removed to such an extent that labor representatives of our colored members inform us that over half a million of their race are now dues paying members of the American Federation of Labor. This is the largest organization of colored workers in the world.
It is evident, however, that in some portions of our country there still remain among workers lingering suspicions, prejudices and traditions fostered by conditions long since passed, but which still operate to prevent the complete application of that great principle upon which our trade union structure has been erected.
The world war in which our country is now engaged, which involves safeguarding the vital principle of free institutions under government by law, enacted by the peoples’ representatives for the people, demands that national unity must be had and that all prejudices which interfere with this unity must be eliminated.
Those in our armed forces are risking their lives in our country’s defense, without thought of national origin or the color which nature has given them. All of them are the nation’s defenders. When the war ends those who are wage earners must be free to return to peaceful occupations as equals in the enjoyment of all the rights and opportunities enjoyed by others in our trade union movement.
National origin, race or color must in no manner or form restrict any American from a free opportunity to prepare himself to become a skilled mechanic, a craftsman, and take his place as such in any employment requiring the skill which he has acquired. The doors of our trade union movement must be open. This country must not maintain an industrial standard which discriminates against a wage earner because of his color.
Substantial progress has been made in eliminating prejudices, but there still remains an obligation upon the American Federation of Labor to carry on and expand the good work it has already done, so that the principle of industrial equality of all men will be established beyond question in every section of our country.
It is obvious that the goal we aim for, the best interests of the American people as a whole, and our democratic way of life, cannot be secured by one stroke or through the method of decrees, mechanical orders or threats handed down from on high. What is required is the intelligent, systematic, educational efforts to speed the day when there will no longer exist in the industrial field any prejudices or handicaps because of racial origin or color.
So that vitality and action can be given to this declaration of principle and of policy, your committee recommends that these declarations be given the widest possible publicity, and that all of the educational facilities of our trade union movement be used in furthering the objectives which have been herein set forth.
Your committee recommends reaffirmation of the action taken by the last convention endorsing the President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practice.
The Post War Problems Committee of the A. F. of L. has appointed a subcommittee to deal with this and other minority questions. On this subcommittee the minority groups, including the colored race, are represented. Your committee is confident that as a result of this committee’s work definite progress will be made.
President Green: You have heard the reading of the report of the committee; the motion is to adopt. Are there any remarks? Delegate Randolph.
Delegate Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters: President Green and fellow delegates to the Sixty-third Convention of the American Federation of Labor: I want, on behalf of the Sleeping Car Porters’ delegates, to express our appreciation for the sincere and serious efforts made by Chairman Woll and Secretary Frey of the Resolutions Committee to arrive at some formula for dealing with the problem of discrimination in the trade unions here at this convention. We, however, are in disagreement from the viewpoint of the scope of the report. The purpose of the report, the aim and objective of the report are all commendable, but we feel morally bound to discuss a very important phase of the trade union movement, at this time in connection with Negro workers, and I may say that we talked with Secretary Frey about this question at length and we certainly were impressed with his sincerity and concern with his interest in attempting to deal with this question. The same may be said with respect to Chairman Woll. But the matter of the material that should be included in the report was one upon which we could not agree. Thus, I want to present objection at this time.
The race problem is the number one problem of America today. It is the number one problem of American labor. It is the number one problem of the American Federation of Labor.
The fact that the U.S.A. organized labor, or the A. F. of L. may not be conscious of it, does not alter the fact that it is so.
It is for this reason, Mr. President, and delegates, that the conventions of the American Federation of Labor will always hear the voice of Negroes crying out against the color bar and discrimination in the constitutions, rituals, and policies of certain trade unions. When the Negro delegates that are now here are gone, others will come out and take their places and continue to cry out against membership exclusion policies by unions on account of race, color, religion, or national origin until it is wiped out. And we Negro delegates now amongst you are confident that day will eventually come. For the American Federation of Labor cannot continue to exist with a part of its members who are white as first-class union men and another part who are colored as second-class union men. This division of the house of labor is vital to its existence and future.
Influence of Southern Membership: But when you raise the question of the right of Negro workers to join certain trade unions, the leaders of these unions present the alibi of antagonism and opposition from their southern members. These officials privately proclaim their liberal attitude upon Negro workers joining their unions but express fear of sticking their necks out by championing the Negro workers’ cause. This raises a moral and educational problem. The moral problem is: Can a true leader of labor shirk the responsibility to challenge and condemn the policy of his union’s violation of the most fundamental tenets of trade unionism; namely, the right of a worker to join the organization of his choice of his craft or class or industry, without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin?
When a labor leader refuses either from fear or prejudice to fulfill this mission, is he not the foe rather than the friend of his own union? Moreover, each member of a union has a responsibility, second only to that of the leader, to see to it that his union does not violate the moral right of a worker to join the organization of his choice, to protect his economic interests and rights. It is enlightened self-interest for every union worker to fight for the right of every other worker to join the union of his choice, for the rights of no white union worker are secure as long as the rights of a black worker are insecure.
The denial to a worker union membership on account of race, color, religion or national origin under a system of government support of union rights and interests is tantamount to denying the worker the right to work and to deny a worker the right to work is just like pointing a gun at the worker’s head and telling him he shall not eat. That this is morally wrong and indefensible, not even a Robin Hood could gainsay.
Now, an A. F. of L. labor leader would consider it criminal for a man to take bread out of the mouth of another man solely because he had the power to do so. But certain A. F. of L. officials like Tom Ray, little Tin Horn Hitler, not only condone this very act by their own union, but are a party to it. Certainly this is an anti-social and anti-labor position. Let us remember that an individual’s moral responsibilities don’t end at the threshold of an organization. This is true of a member or leader of a union. A union may be criminal and immoral just as an individual, and its conduct may justify the moral condemnation of the community. If this were not true, then it would be improper and unjust to impose any penalties upon the German, Japanese, or Italian nations after Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini pass out. A nation is morally responsible for the conduct of its people, and the people are morally responsible for the conduct of their nation. This logic holds true with an individual union or international. It also holds true with the American Federation of Labor.177
The A. F. of L. cannot expect the public to give it moral immunity from condemnation for racial discriminations by its international unions on the grounds that it is a federated body. If the A. F. of L. claims that it is the house of labor, then it cannot escape criticism for the wrongs committed in that house. If the A. F. of L. is justified in claiming credit for the numerical increase of general union membership, it must bear the guilt for the lack of increase of Negro union membership because of a narrow racial policy. Can the United States of America justifiably take refuge in the thread-bare doctrine of states’ rights when it is condemned because of the Poll Tax disgrace? Hardly!
Now, the educational problem consists in exploding the myth of racism and its danger to the working class solidarity, the salvation of labor.
How Does Racial Discrimination Function in Unions? Let us take the case
In very truth, the question of race and color is the central, historical, social issue of these times. There are several reasons for this. One is the fact that two-thirds of the population of the world are colored. Second, the peoples of color have reached a higher level of moral, spiritual, and intellectual maturity, and have thus raised the question of world political issue.
In the U.S.A., the question of freedom, equality, and justice to the Negro people has assumed the status of a major, national, political issue. This problem must be met. It cannot be continuously evaded. Its solution does not involve, will not involve, Negroes alone. It involves all of America. Until this problem is frankly and courageously met and solved, the major problems of America and world democracy will continue to baffle the American people and world governments. Until the A. F. of L. realistically attacks this question of racial discrimination it cannot mobilize the complete strength of American labor or develop a healthy and sound and progressive existence.
Thus, racial discrimination should be abolished by every union affiliated with the A. F. of L. not only for the benefit of the Negro and other minorities, but for the sake of the A. F. of L. itself—to square its practices with its professions. This Federation is challenged in this hour of national and world crisis to make up its mind as to whether it shall shape and measure the soundness, value, and worthwhileness of its policies and programs upon solid and universal moral laws and principles, that the civilized world accepts and supports, or whether it will ignore, disregard, and flout these laws and principles, and formulate tactics and methods that give it the power to override opposition and squelch valid criticism. If it recognizes and accepts the tenets and standards of the christian and democratic moral order, it will wipe out all distinctions between workers based upon race, color, religion, or national origin, and justify its existence as a symbol and expression of the age-old struggles of the working people in particular and mankind in general to achieve justice, freedom and equality. If this federation refuses to cleanse its house of labor of the poisons of discrimination on account of race, color, religion, or national origin, it will, despite its material and economic power, forfeit and lose the confidence and faith of the enlightened and liberal people of America and the world. The leaders of the A. F. of L. must realize and understand that material strength and economic power that have no moral sanction and spiritual or social justification, are hollow, superficial, and impermanent. And the unions affiliated with the A. F. of L. must eliminate the color bar because of common horse sense, self interest to save its own hide.
We are witnessing now in Nazi Germany an arrogant, irresponsible, and reckless use of power—military power—spreading battle and blood, death and destruction, terrorism and tyranny, over the face of the globe.
Why is this? The answer is that Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito possess no code or concept of moral righteousness; no answer to the questions: What is wrong or right except material and military power? Their philosophy is that the structure of relationships of society will always and inevitably be the dominator and dominated, master and slave, oppressor and oppressed, top dog and bottom dog. This is a dog eat dog, tooth and claw, beak and fang doctrine. It is the doctrine of destruction. It is the doctrine of destruction even for the oppressor, the top dog. In the language of the discriminating unions, it is “A” or first class membership and “B” or secondary membership. The right to rule is not based upon blood and sword, gun and force and color or race. Under this creed, the bottom dog will always remain the bottom dog unless he can mobilize more and greater brute-force than the top dog. The unavoidable implication of this philosophy is eternal war, conflict, chaos, and confusion. Why? Because the oppressed, the bottom dog, will not calmly remain the bottom dog without a struggle to the death for freedom, justice and equality.
In the nature of things, no human being will forever accept the status of a slave and acknowledge another man as his master. By the same coken, no people will be content to exist as second-class citizens or second-class union men.
Men, regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin, will ever protest and fight against this condition. It is this ceaseless struggle of the oppressed for justice, freedom, and equality which is the great insurance of the preservation of the democratic, liberal tradition. Without this agitation of the forgotten man, the conscience of the tyrants will be undisturbed, their ruthless rule unquestioned, and the creative and liberal spirit would die. involving the controversy over the representation of employees in a shipyard when the National Labor Relations Board is called upon to determine what effect it shall give to racial discrimination by a labor union when, on the one hand, that union seeks to represent a unit composed in part of workers which it excludes from membership rights because of their race.
More specifically, the Bay Cities Metal Trades Council of the A. F. of L. sought to define the appropriate unit for collective bargaining on a plant-wide basis and to have an election ordered solely within that unit. The records show that substantial numbers of Negroes and other non-white employees are working within the plant and within the smaller functional areas whose demarcation as appropriate units was in issue.
The record also shows the extent of the practice of racial discrimination by the constitution and by-laws of the Bay Cities Metal Trades Council and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders and Helpers, principal constituent member of the Trades Council involved in the case.
Now, representation by the Trades Council would be representation by an affiliated group of unions among which the Boilermakers claim and exercise exclusive jurisdiction over a large part of the work and the great majority of the employees required for shipbuilding. The record and the basic law of the Boilermakers show that Negroes under jurisdiction of that union must be organized into so-called “auxiliary lodges” of which there are two in the plants where the controversy in question arose; namely, the Bethlehem Almeda Shipyard, Inc., on the Pacific Coast. But the record further shows that the so-called “auxiliary lodges” are excluded from membership in the aforementioned Trades Council. Thus, the Trades Council, through the neat but questionable device of forcing Negro workmen into “auxiliary lodges” and excluding these auxiliaries from the Council, effectively denied Negro workmen a measure of participation in or control over the conduct of the proposed bargaining agency set up under the laws of the Federal Government.
If a labor organization which in substance excludes Negroes from membership as do the Trades Council here and the Boilermakers, should be accorded exclusive rights or representation for a group including Negro workmen, those Negroes, because of their race, would arbitrarily be denied that measure of participation in and control over their “representatives” which is enjoyed by white union members and inheres in the very concept of collective bargaining. The processes of the National Labor Relations Board designed to insure workers substantative benefits of collective bargaining would in such case, or in case of any similary denial or exclusion predicated on sex, creed or national origin, be employed to exclude the injured group altogether from any real participation in collection bargaining. Such misuse and perversion of its processes should not be tolerated by the National Labor Relations Board.
In this connection, it is believed that the National Labor Relations Board may and should properly be influenced by the fact that throughout the history of American organized labor the exclusion of Negroes from labor unions and the resultant promotion of strife between white and Negro workmen have been disturbing factors of major importance in industry and commerce. Thus, to the extent that the Board, in its adjudication of particular cases, can achieve participation of workmen in the processes of collective bargaining without discrimination as to race, sex, religion, or national origin by so much will the Board promote order and harmony in commerce and industry and thus advance the purposes of the National Labor Relations Act.
Not only are the special purposes of the National Labor Relations Act defeated by the discriminatory practices herewith considered, but the national policies of the United States in furtherance of war production as well.
The National Labor Relations Board should also consider that the Negro worker, no less than any other, has viewed the National Labor Relations Act as charter for orderly and just processes in labor relations. Such confidence is essential to the successful administration of the law. It would be catastrophism for Negro workers to find that the Labor Relations Act could be used to force them to accept as a bargaining agent, a union from which they are excluded bluntly or by sophistical devices. The progress which Negroes are making toward equality of status in organized labor would be arrested by the very legislation to which all labor looks for a new measure of justice and security. The Negro as a substantial minority group, outraged and disllusioned, would become a sound of continuing discord and strife, and would serve dissident employers as a read tool for exploitation of black and white workers alike.
One of the consequences most likely to result from exclusive representation under sanction of the National Labor Relations Act is the negotiation of a closed shop contract between the employer and the exclusive bargaining representative. The union seeking a still stronger position, and the employer seeking stability in labor relations are both impelled toward such a contract. But to the worker of a minority group who is arbitraily denied status in the union, such a closed shop contract becomes the means of his total exclusion from employment. Thus, to the Negro worker, the greater calamity of total denial of employment is the probable consequence of granting exclusive bargaining rights to a discriminatory union.
The injustice of enforced representation by a union which excludes from membership a group of Negroes whom it claims to represent has most recently been recognized by the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia in a case arising under the Railway Labor Act, but enunciating a principle entirely applicable to the present case:
“It will be observed that Congress granted employees certain positive rights, both affirmative and negative in character. They have the right to organize and bargain collectively through represenatives of their own choosing which carries the corollary right to bargain collectively. And yet the employees in the case at bar are ineligible to organize with the only labor union that their employer will recognize as their bargaining agent.”
The Appropriate Record: The National Labor Relations Board enjoys wide discretion to determine on the facts of each case whether a proposed unit is appropriate for collective bargaining. For the reasons above stated, the Board should not recognize or certify a unit as appropriate if the effect of exclusive representation by the only petitioner who proposes that unit and seeks exclusive bargaining rights therein would be to deny to persons of any race, sex, creed, or origin the real participation in the collective bargaining process enjoyed by other employees within the unit. On the other hand, if such full participation of all workmen in the collective bargaining process would be promoted by setting up a proposed bargaining unit, this fact should be one of the controlling considerations in favor of the determination that such a unit is the appropriate one under the circumstances of the case.
Consistency of the Proposed Rule with Prior Adjudications of the Rule: This National Labor Relations Board has consistently held that a unit is not appropriate for collective bargaining if it is differentiated and established on the basis of the race and the employers who would constitute the unit. A “white” unit or a “Negro” unit is not appropriate. But if a white unit or Negro unit is not appropriate, a white union is not appropriate.
The soundness of this doctrine seems clear. The Utah Copper case shows that the exclusion of Negroes from a proposed unit may properly be a controlling factor in the Board’s refusal to order an election therein. As a corollary, it seems proper that, since both colored and white employees whose functions are not differentiated must be included within a single bargaining unit, the Board should find the proposed unit appropriate, and certify a representative only if real representation and bargaining rights would be afforded to both white and Negro workmen by the union, or by one or more of the unions, seeking status within that unit.
The National Labor Relations Board has not heretofore found it necessary to decide the issue now before it, although within the month, the issue has been noted and expressly reserved for future decision. But its recurrence in future cases can reasonably be anticipated.
Only a minority of unions practice the discrimination herein complained of. Yet the minority is great enough to affect a large area of industry and commerce. The most recently published survey of the extent of such discrimination and exclusion is the study by Herbert R. Northrup, Organized Labor and Negro Workers, 51 Journal of Political Economy, 206 (June, 1943). Northrup lists the major unions which exclude Negroes or discriminate against them as follows:
I. Union which excludes Negroes by provision in ritual: Machinists, International Association of (A. F. of L.).
II. Unions which exclude Negroes by provision in constitution:
Airline Pilots Association
Commercial Telegraphers Union
Masters, Mates and Pilots, National Organization
Railroad Telegraphers, Order of
Railway Mail Association
Switchmen’s Union of North America
Wire Weavers’ Protective Association, American
Locomotive Engineers, Brotherhood of
Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, Brotherhood of
Railroad Trainmen, Brotherhood of
Railroad Yardmasters of America
Railroad Yardmasters of North America
Railroad Conductors, Order of
Train Dispatchers’ Association, American
III. Unions which habitually exclude Negroes by tacit consent:
All A. F. of L. affiliates:
Asbestos Workers, Heat and Frost Insulators
Electrical Workers, International Brotherhood of
Flint Glass Workers’ Union, American
Granite Cutters, International Association of
Plumbers and Steamfitters, United Association of Journeymen
IV. Unions which afford Negroes only segregated auxiliary status:
A. F. of L. affiliates:
Blacksmiths, Drop Forgers and Helpers, Brotherhood of
Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders, Welders and Helpers, Brotherhood of
Maintenance of Way Employees, Brotherhood of
Railway Carmen of America, Brotherhood
Railway and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employes, Brotherhood of
Rural Letter Carriers, Federation of
Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association
Rural Letter Carriers’ Association
Railroad Workers, American Federation of
It is to be noted that this list includes unions, among them the boilermakers, which have their historic roots in the highly restrictive organization of precisely defined crafts but currently are in process of rapid transformation into vast industrial unions. Thus, racial, religious and sex discriminations stand as irrational surviving impediments to the present course of union development in an area which widens as the discriminatory unions become increasingly industrial in character.
The question of Local Auxiliary Unions is of paramount and far-reaching importance, if the American Federation of Labor seeks to chart a new path of democracy for the workers. An examination of the nature and function of the Auxiliary Union reveals that its relationship to the International Union is quite similar to the relationship of colonies of colored people to the empire systems, particularly “the British Empire. Colonial natives are economic, political, and social serfs, since they possess none of the rights that the white population in the mother country enjoy, except the right to be taxed. They can’t vote; they can’t hold offices, except of a perfunctory nature; and they can’t participate in any of the policy-making bodies. They, however, have the right to be used as cannon fodder in defense of their oppressors when wars break out.
Now, the members of the Auxiliary Unions do not have any voice or vote in the selection or election of representatives that make and maintain agreements, adjust grievances and claims, and execute and administer the affairs of the International Union. They can’t attend national conventions, and they play no part in the management of the movement. They are, of course, permitted to pay dues and assessments. This is a taxation without representation—the cause of the rebellion of the thirteen colonies against British rule. Thus, Negro workers cannot be condemned for seeking to abolish this species of trade union misrule and imperialism.
I want to give this convention the testimony of the constitution and by-laws of an International Union which maintains auxiliary locals so that it may be clear that all I am doing here is making an objective analysis of Auxiliary Locals without prejudice, but only with a desire to have the delegates and officers of these international organizations see and understand that the Auxiliary Local reflects a system which is ancient, feudalistic, and tyrannical and is inconsistent with the avowed purposes of the American Federation of Labor, that seeks to preserve the principle of free and equal workers.
This system of Auxiliary Unions is undemocratic, unAmerican, and violative of the fundamental principles of trade unionism that insure the right of all workers regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin, to associate as equals in a common movement to resist exploitation and oppression. The separation of the workers that Auxiliary Unions make necessary, creates suspicions and prejudices that grow out of the idea that this separation is based upon some fundamental difference among the workers, and thereby fosters, ingenders, and inculcates hatreds, rancor, ill-feeling, and antagonisms that render working-class solidarity impossible.
I shall read from the constitution and by-laws of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders, and Helpers of America as adopted January 1, 1938, and amended July 15, 1942.
Article VII of the Auxiliary By-Laws provides that auxiliary lodges shall be composed of “colored male” persons. The regular local lodges are protected against the admission of Negroes by racial restrictions embodied in their ritual. With the segregation of colored and white workmen thus accomplished, various provisions in the International Constitution and the Auxiliary By-Laws restrict the Negro “members” and their auxiliary lodges to merely nominal status. The following requirements are specially noteworthy:
1. Article II, Section 14 of the Auxiliary By-Laws provides that the business agent appointed by and acting for the local white lodge “supervising” the colored auxiliary “shall perform the same duties for the auxiliary lodge as are performed for the supervising lodges, including the dispatching and assigning of members to jobs.” Thus, Negro members of auxiliary lodges have no voice or vote in the selection or control or dismissal of the man who is arbitrarily set up as their representative in the most important and fundamental contacts with the employer.
2. The Shop Committee of the “supervising” white lodge established under Article XIV of the Subordinate Lodge Constitution to handle shop disputes and grievances is designated in Article XIII of the Auxiliary By-Laws to exercise the same functions for the auxiliary lodge. The members of the auxiliary lodge have no voice or vote in selecting or controlling such shop committees.
3. Article II, Section 13 of the Auxiliary By-Laws provides that the Grievance Committee of the “supervising” lodge shall act for the auxiliary lodge as well, yet limits the auxiliary lodge to one member who may function with the committee regardless of the relative size and membership of the auxiliary and “supervising” lodges.
5, An auxiliary lodge has no voice or vote in the Quadrennial Convention which is the ultimate legislative authority of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders and Helpers of America. In contrast, at each such convention, each white local lodge is entitled to voting representation proportional to the number of its members. See Article II, Section 2, International Constitution.
Moreover, Negro workmen and their auxiliary lodges have no security even in their nominal status. Article I, Section 4 of the Auxiliary By-Laws authorizes the International President within his uncontrolled discretion to suspend any auxiliary lodge or any officer or member of an auxiliary lodge, thus arbitrarily depriving the Negro even of limited status within the union. In contrast, the International Constitution contains no provision for the suspension of a white local lodge, but provides for revocation of the charter of a subordinate lodge only by the International President, in conjunction with the Executive Council and only after such lodge shall have been proven guilty of violation of the said Constitution. See Article IV, Section 2. Members of white local lodges can be suspended or otherwise disciplined only after formal trial following the procedure prescribed in detail in Article XIV of said International Constitution.
The net effect of this scheme is to make it lawful for a white local lodge and its business and other bargaining agents at their whim and caprice to permit Negroes to work on union jobs, reserving arbitrary control over their status, upgrading, and even their continuation in nominal good standing. All significant rights of union membership, including all participation in collective bargaining are denied to the Negro. In substance, he pays his dues and gets in return only a work permit revocable at will. This travesty designed to sanction the inevitable temporary utilization of Negro workmen in these times without conferring any significant status upon them, does not merit characterization as union membership.
In the New Orleans Convention of 1941 there were 25 or 30 Federal Locals of Negroes composed of Freight Handlers and Red Caps who were given federal charters by the A. F. of L. because the International Union which controls the jurisdiction over the work, had color clauses in their constitutions and therefore excluded Negro workers. These Federal Unions were ordered by President Green and the Executive Council to go into the local auxiliary unions of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, and their charters were lifted. President Green told Brother Webster and myself that he understood that the Negro workers in the auxiliary unions could attend the National Convention of the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks, but of course, this is not the case. The Negro freight handlers and red caps were so incensed and disgusted with this policy that most of them refused to go into the Railway Clerks and established an independent Freight Handlers Union and some of the Red Caps went into the C.I.O.
Thus auxiliary locals of International Unions that have racial bars have taken the place of Federal Locals. The Federal Locals directly chartered by the A. F. of L. provided the one agency which Negro workers could join when refused membership by an International Union. Now this hope is gone. I consider this a step backward.
If these Negro Freight Handlers and Red Caps representing some 25,000 or 30,000 workers had been permitted to retain their federal charters, they would be in the fold of the A. F. of L. now.
And even though some of the delegates may have arrived at certain deduction and conclusions, the fact remains that until the International Unions abolish discrimination there can be no pretense of democracy in the labor movement. And, my friends, this is not said in the interest of Negroes alone but in the interests of the American Federation of Labor itself.
Now it was stated from this platform that the American Federation of Labor is concerned about a representative at the peace table. In other words, organized labor wants to be heard at the peace table. Organized labor wants a voice in the determination of world policies. Well, what about the Negro? Don’t you think the Negroes are concerned about democracy, too? As a matter of fact, it seems to me that men are naive who will get up on the floor merely because that delegate is calling for freedom for Negro workers and is pointing out that all discriminations on account of race are un-American, un-democratic and absolutely unethical. Now if any delegate believes that by getting up and nouncing a Negro delegate here because he fights and condemns discrimination that that Negro delegate is going to abandon that fight, he certainly is absurd and preposterous, because so far as Negro delegates are concerned they are going to fight and condemn and oppose racial discriminations, regardless of what happens, because we believe in doing that we are serving the cause of democracy, not only for the American Federation of Labor but for the American people.
Do you not know that the agents of Japan, that Goebbels of Germany and that the propaganda organization of Italy, Fascist Italy, have used the various incidents of discrimination against Negroes in spreading propaganda among the colored peoples of the world, to the end that they contend, how can you have any faith in the democracy that is pretended to exist in America when they will not give democracy and justice and equality to their own Negro citizens.
My friends, this convention is meeting in a city which is historic. Go to Boston Common, where President Green will speak, and there you will see a monument of Crispus Attucks, a black man who was the first to give his blood and life for the cause of his country. Right here in Boston, in Faneuil Hall, a Negro slave woman got up when the great agitation against slavery was going on and served as the inspiration for Wendell Phillips and Sumner. In other words, the Negroes have played their role for the advancement of Democracy in America.178
Right here you have talked about the fight now being made against labor, the anti-labor legislation in various states, and Judge Padway has indicated that cases were going to be brought up under the Fourteenth Amendment. Do you know why you have a fourteenth Amendment? The Fourteenth Amendment was adopted primarily to have human rights, primarily to protect the rights of Negroes in this country, but the Fourteenth Amendment is now being resorted to by various other agencies for their own protection. You ought to be aware of this; you ought to realize this also, that the same enemies that are turning their guns of reaction against Negroes are turning their guns of reaction against others. And, brothers, let me warn you that unless a sound, unequivocal and definite position is taken on the question of democracy for Negroes in the American Federation of Labor and other agencies, the tides of Fascism are going to rise in this country and wipe out not only the Negroes but organized labor as well. Fascism came to Germany, and the most powerful trade union in the world was squelched and destroyed. The same thing happened in Italy. Fascism will use the Negro as the scapegoat, but while they are attacking the Negroes today they will attack the Jews tomorrow and they will attack the Catholics the next day.
You remember when Al Smith ran for President. All throughout the South propaganda raged against Catholics. Five southern States seceded, and why? Because they spread the propaganda that if you elect Alfred Smith President of the United States, the Pope would sit in the White House.
And so, my friends, I tell you it is to the interests of workers regardless of race, creed or color to fight for the abolition of prejudice and discrimination against any particular group within our Commonwealth.
I thank you.
President Green: The hour of adjournment has arrived because we must vacate the hall a little earlier tonight in order that the hotel management may prepare for the banquet. They requested that we be out of the hall by five o’clock. It is now just a few minutes after five.
We will take up further discussion of this subject promptly tomorrow morning.
At five o’clock P.M., under suspension of rules, the convention was adjourned to 9:30 o’clock Tuesday morning, October 12th.
President Green: We will now proceed with the regular order of business. The discussion will take place upon the report of Committee on Resolutions which was before us last evening, and the Chair now recognizes Delegate MacGowan, of the Boilermakers and Shipbuilders’ organization.
Delegate MacGowan: Mr. Chairman, and delegates—I want to present for the record certain factual information which was made necessary by certain allegations made on the floor of this convention yesterday afternoon.
I think it unnecessary to assure the delegates that what I have to say may not be in polished Harvard accents, nor in the refined cultural language of Washington drawing rooms. The language that I have learned to speak as a trade unionist is the rather picturesque and sometimes lurid language of the boiler shop, and about the only connection I ever had with a drawing room for many years was those which had side door entrances and were labeled 60,000 pounds capacity. But in that status, like a lot more men seated in this hall, I learned many things about the underprivileged and the unfortunate and the lowly among mankind.
Yesterday afternoon we listened with rapt attention to the speech of Delegate Webster and to about half of the speech of Delegate Randolph. Those portions, or that portion of Delegate Randolph’s speech which followed the pattern of Delegate Webster, no man can find fault with. It was the outcry of an oppressed and underprivileged people, appealing to the fairness and decency of others for proper treatment and proper consideration, and had Delegate Randolph stopped at that point I would not now be consuming the time of this convention. But he elected to fish in troubled waters and he elected to make allegations and interpretations of our law—and I use the word “interpretation” most charitably. So it therefore becomes necessary, in the language of a famous statesman of this generation, to take a look at the record and let us see what the record discloses.
In the first place, in case Delegate Randolph may have overlooked it, Section 2 of Article II of the Constitution of the American Federation of Labor provides for the establishment of national and international unions based on each trade. This institution is, as its name implies, a federation of autonomy and independent and self-governing international unions. It is, as its founders have often declared—and with which I am in full accord—a purely voluntary organization, and as long as it remains voluntary and concedes to each International Union the right to manage its own affairs it will remain the guiding star of the American labor movement.
There have been some noticeable trends in recent years to exchange the voluntary principle for one of compulsion, and in my humble judgment, unless that trend is checked we have compounded our own destruction.
The argument advanced by Delegate Randolph, based upon Resolution 28, contemplates compulsion—compelling International Unions to do thus and so, and I respectfully submit that when we reach the point of declaring “Thou shalt not,” we have reached the point of disintegration in the American Federation of Labor.
Our International Union for many years gave extensive consideration to the Negro problem in its several conventions, and the speaker now addressing you has a long record in our convention of advocating the organizing and the protection of the colored workers. As in every convention of trade unionists, none of us always have our way. Compromises are arrived at. It is by compromise that we make progress, and when our International convention speaks on the issue their decision must needs be my decision. There were conflicting schools of thought, as many other organizations here have experienced. Finally in 1937 at our last convention, the International Executive Council recommended a system providing for the organization of the colored men of our trade. The convention did not see fit to accept in toto the recommendation of the Executive Council. Another compromise was arrived at and finally the Auxiliary system was established. We meet on January 31st of next year in regular convention and the progress made and the difficulties encountered in the experiment of the last five years will be studied and upon that record will depend our future policy.
No act of this convention can compel our convention to do other than that which it elects to do of its own free will, and I say in all earnestness to Delegate Randolph and those of you who think as he does that the allegations made here yesterday are not helping the cause of the Negro in our International Union or in others. The statements made by him constitute one of the greatest disservices that he has ever rendered his people.
For the information of the delegates, let me submit a bit of our experience We had our numerous Auxiliary locals operating without difficulty. They were operating in fine shape until the shipbuilding boom hit the Pacific coast. We installed an auxiliary Local Union in the city of Oakland, California, and after a few months we began hearing strange stories. We finally instituted an investigation, and later the officers of that Auxiliary were brought in before our International Executive Council for further investigation.
And, behold, what did we find? That a group of people claiming to be Negro leaders had organized what was known as the Miscellaneous Workers Incorporated. They had opened an office adjoining our Auxiliary office, and every Negro that was brought into Oakland for referral to the shipyards of that area was not only required first to become a member of the Miscellaneous Workers’ Incorporated, but he was required to sign an authorization delegating to that body all bargaining rights. The result was that we had an Auxiliary Local Union of several thousand members but we had no bargaining rights. The bargaining rights were vested in this strange institution which was collecting monthly dues from the membership of our Auxiliary Local. We ordered the discontinuance of that practice and from that day until this, the Boilermakers International Union has been Peck’s bad boy. We broke up somebody’s playhouse, and that may be the answer why Delegate Randolph took such an extended amount of time to point out the sins and vices of our International Union.
I could go on at length discussing other developments in this situation, where our Auxiliary headquarters was picketed in the city of Los Angeles, where so-called Negro leaders went out among the shipyard workers in Portland, Oregon, and told them not to pay dues; they said, “we are going to challenge this thing.” Then they went to the President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practices and filed a bill of particulars consisting of ten legal pages, which I have before me, and they called upon the President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practices to instruct us to disestablish our Auxiliaries and to admit the Negro to full membership in other Locals.
Now I respectfully submit that the Committee on Fair Employment Practices is charged with certain duties—the duties contained and spelled out for them in the President’s Executive Order, and I make the statement here and now without fear of contradiction, that our International Union, none of its officers or representatives have discriminated in the hire, tenure, wages, or working conditions of any person, regardless of race, color, creed or national origin. The proof of that lies in the fact that today there are over 15,000 members in our Auxiliary Local Unions.
In the city of Portland where this charge which I refer to—the ten-page allegation—was filed, the names of two men were submitted and the general blanket indictment made was that there were 300 men removed from that employment. As a matter of fact of the two men whose names were used, one was a sheet metal worker and the other was a draftsman, and the names of the 300 alleged victims have never yet been submitted to us.
Let me look at the record again. In the Portland area, as of September 11th, there was a total of 1592 Negro persons employed in the shipyards in that area. Of that number 664 were receiving the mechanic’s rate of pay, or 42% of the total employed, and practically none of those men, or women either, had ever seen a shipyard, much less work one 12 months ago. And yet under our trainee program and our upgrading, here we find 42% of the 1600 that are employed being upgraded to mechanic’s rates of pay in a year’s time. Does that spell discrimination? And of the 300 men that have been alleged to have been removed, our check of the record shows that there were 20, and those 20 were removed with hundreds of white workers for the simple reason that they refused to pay dues and keep in good standing, and for that reason only.
I repeat again, our Auxiliary Local Unions in nowise interfere with the hire, tenure, wages or conditions of employment.
The Auxiliary charter which Delegate Randolph referred to yesterday contains in substance about 85% of our international law. He likewise referred to the fact, and tried to leave the impression, that these Auxiliary Locals were conquered provinces, where some importing Quisling was dominating the affairs of the Auxiliary. He failed to read the most important section of all:
“The officers of each Auxiliary Lodge shall consist of a president, vice president, treasurer, inspector, inside guard, outside guard, recording secretary, financial secretary, corresponding secretary, and three trustees.”
He complained about the fact that the Auxiliaries were only entitled to minority representation on the collective bargaining committee. Would he have us turn majority control over to their Auxiliary in a shipyard where there are 20,000 white employees and 500 or 600 colored? Is that what he is asking?
Mr. Chairman and delegates, no man has more sympathy and more understanding of an oppressed peoples’ problems than I think I have. All my life I have been a champion of the underprivileged, and I say with the utmost kindness of Delegate Randolph, this Auxiliary proposition may not be the entire answer, but you have got to meet conditions as you find them, not as you would wish them to be.
There may come a time when the entire organization has reached that point in its thinking, to admit all people on a basis of equality to membership, but until our convention speaks—as an officer of that organization—I am duty bound to carry out its mandates and I am duty bound to object to interference in our autonomous affairs on the part of the American Federation of Labor. But I say to you most sincerely, accusations such as were hurled at us yesterday do not promote the cause for which Delegate Randolph undertakes to speak.
Let me read from the record what he said: “This system of Auxiliary Unions is undemocratic, un-American and violative of the fundamental principles of trade unionism.” Delegate Randolph has the right to disagree with me, with our organization and its policies, but in the middle of a great all-out war, when the fate of civilization hangs in the balance, it comes with poor grace for Delegate Randolph to condemn us for being un-American.
I shall not attempt to exalt the International Union that I speak for or the contribution that it has made in time and money and effort and the 50,000 members in the uniform of the nation. That record speaks for itself. But there sits on the floor of this convention a man who thirty-five years ago laid aside his tools and overalls and came out to take a struggling, weak child in the form of our International organization. He struggled with it, he fought for it and he fought with it. He fought the discordant elements within it and the enemies from without, and now, in the closing days of his life, to find him standing accused on the floor of the American Federation of Labor as sponsoring an organization that is undemocratic and un-American and as sponsoring an Auxiliary system that is a cheat and a fraud, is just too much to take. It is not a pleasant tribute to hand to Joe Franklin, after the thirty-five years of effort that he has put into the trade union movement without a whisper against his character and his integrity.
Mr. Chairman, as a final thought, I once heard Samuel Gompers in the convention of the American Federation of Labor in the city of St. Paul—in a perennial discussion of Irish freedom, make this statement, and many of you that are here today heard it. He said, “One of the greatest obstacles confronting the cause of Irish freedom is the professional Irish.” One of the greatest causes contributing to the failure of the Negro to advance further is the professional Negro. We have no difficulty with the workers in the shipyards and plants and railroad shops. We meet with them, we confer with them and sympathetic understanding prevails, but when those people come around who seek other things than the pure and simple advancement of the economic welfare of all people—regardless of color—then trouble begins. This is an economic question—the well-being of the Negro is my interest as much as it is the white. The unorganized and underpaid Negro is a menace to the men of my trade, the same as the white, and I have battled and will continue to battle for the advancement of all men that work at our trade. We have Filipinos, we have Chinese, we have Latin Americans of all grades. The Negro question is safe in our hands. It will be handled wisely without the interference of those who would indict us at this time.
Mr. Chairman, I am heartily in favor of the report of the Committee on Resolutions. It is a masterful approach to the question. It is statesmanlike. It is an appeal to the hearts and the minds and the consciences of the delegates to this convention. It is sound doctrine and I hope it will be adopted.
President Green: The Chair recognizes Delegate Bugniazet.
Delegate Bugniazet, Electrical Workers: Mr. Chairman and delegates, I had no intention of burdening you with any statement on this question, because in my humble opinion I believe the attacks made on the organizations of this Federation by Delegate Randolph are only made here as a sounding board for his work on the outside.179
He used to charge our organization with discriminating against the Negro, with refusing to organize them. I have discussed that at meetings with him before the Executive Council and elsewhere, and now he has changed his attack and uses it in this language. And he has got us in the group that habitually excludes Negroes by “tacit consent.” He can’t go further, because he has seen our laws, and if either he or any other person can find or interpret anything in there that discrimination against either race, creed or color, or other things, why he is going to show me something that I have never seen, and I think I ought to know as much about our organization as he does—maybe a little bit more. Our organization has never excluded Negroes or any race, or any color, and we don’t take men or women into our organization just because they want to join it and exploit it. They have got to be competent to join our organization, and I could say many things here that might hurt the Negro and let him know why he hasn’t progressed in our line of industry, but I don’t intend to injure his cause. I just want to make the record straight.
Long before Randolph thought of coming to A. F. of L. conventions or to champion the cause of Negro workers, when we had a vacancy in one of our International Vice Presidencies in the early 1900’s—and I think that is a little before his time—our President appointed a full blooded Negro as the International Vice President for a whole District and he didn’t have many Negroes under him, and Randolph can’t say we did that to play to the gallery, because in the early 1900’s you didn’t hear anything about Negroes being kept out of organizations.
For his information, in the historic city of Boston one of our largest Local Unions has sent Negroes to our International Conventions, I believe about three in number, and that same Negro until his death three or four years ago had been for fifteen consecutive years the treasurer of that Local Union, elected by white men. And they weren’t playing to the gallery because there weren’t any Negroes to organize. We have many Negroes and we have the problem that everybody has in the South. You can’t mix oil with water, even if you want to.
Some people in the South are still fighting the Civil War. The government has not cured that, and agitation such as Delegate Randolph is indulging in is not going to improve that. That only delays it. We have a Chinese secretary of one of our Local Unions. We, at least, could have let him remain a member and not put him in office.
Now I wonder, is Delegate Randolph consistent? I say he is not, and I have the right to my opinion, as he has to his. I will give him my reasons so that he cannot say I was trying to pull some parliamentary trick by making a statement and not supporting it.
He came before the Executive Council several years ago on a complaint of the Pullman conductors, claiming transgression of jurisdiction and undercutting the conditions. I am not going to discuss that case, only just enough to recall his mind to the incident. There was quite some discussion in the Council room while he was present and he was asked this question: If the Pullman Company employed some white men as Pullman porters would you admit them to your organization? He said, “No, that is a colored man’s job.” He claimed that the whites should organize the colored, but he has a monopoly in the Pullman porters for colored people, and the white people have no right there. Consistency, thou are a jewel, even with an education.
I want to say now, definitely, for our International Union that the only bar to entry is competency. Our Locals have complete autonomy in the matter of admitting members, they have the right to examine them and they are put up for a vote. Some large Locals refer it to the Executive Boards of these Local Unions.
We have no Auxiliaries. We issue only one charter for one class of workmen in a locality. We have several charters but they have different jurisdiction. We do not issue Jim Crow charters, although we have had requests to do so. Where they are organized, they go into the Local Union with the white men and if there is a Negro majority there, they will go into that Local and they will not get a separate charter.
The biggest fault we have found is the employer. He is choosey on who he wants and I have told our organization convention, and the records will show it, away back about 1917, that we cannot let any feeling influence us in the matter of those we take in, except in the matter of competency, and there is going to be discrimination, let the employer be guilty of it, and let us get the conditions for all those who are doing the same class of work, be they women, black, white or any other color.
It is getting tiresome in convention after convention to hear someone who is out shouting from the housetops. Maybe he thinks he is doing a good job for the people he is representing, but I share the views of others that he is doing them a great disservice. He is agitating and not doing anything concrete. All he is doing is attacking, charging.
I feel the committee brought in a magnificent report. I think they went as far as they could in language, and I, for one, am wholeheartedly behind it and in full accord with their report.
I thank you.
President Green: The Chair now recognizes Delegate Horn of the Blacksmiths, Drop Forgers and Helpers.
Delegate Horn, Blacksmiths, Drop Forgers and Helpers: Mr. Chairman and brother delegates: I will tell you the truth about the International Brotherhood of Blacksmiths, Drop Forgers and Helpers and its colored members. For quite a number of conventions in the past years, I have sat quietly by and listened to allegations made against the organization of which I happen to have the honor of being its chief executive, allegations which were not true, and I thought the best thing to do was to laugh it off. But there are times in the lives of men when patience ceases to be a virtue and I have reached that time.
I will go back thirty years during the period that I was vice-president of our organization. I represented our organization in every one of the States of the United States and throughout the Dominion of Canada. I organized white, black and yellow men for all the organizations as well as my own.
In the city of New Orleans thirty years ago I held up a conference for ten days until we got the same rate of pay for colored blacksmiths’ helpers that we got for white blacksmiths’ helpers. I even became persona non grata with my colleagues in other organizations, who told me they were disgusted.
The employer asked me this question: “Mr. Horn, were you ever in the South before?” And I answered, “Many times, I have been all over the country.” Then he said, “Well, we thought probably you hadn’t. The large majority of these blacksmiths’ helpers are colored men.” I said, “They were colored when I came down here I didn’t have anything to do with that, but I am here representing the Blacksmiths, Drop Forgers and Helpers, regardless of color.” I left that conference with the same rate of pay for colored helpers as I got for the white helpers, although at that time our organization did not take colored men in.
Twenty-four and a half years ago, in the city of Indianapolis, Indiana, our organization passed the necessary legislation to organize the colored blacksmiths’ helpers of our trade. We have been doing it ever since, wherever we could get them to join the organization. We find many of them today who can think of just as many excuses why they should not pay dues into a labor organization as any white man that ever made an excuse, and you gentlemen know the white men know most of the alibis.
Our blacksmiths’ colored helpers have been mentioned. Those members have the same standing in the International Brotherhood of Blacksmiths, Drop Forgers and Helpers as the chief executive of that organization. They vote on all questions; they vote on who their International officers shall be; they vote on who their delegates to the American Federation of Labor shall be. They receive the same consideration with regard to our funeral funds as any other member.
I have visited many of these colored Auxiliary Locals and I am proud of them as members and as citizens. Some of the finest letters of comment we receive from our Local Unions come from colored Local Unions. There is no dissatisfaction among them, they haven’t had a complaint.
Now what happened? Mark Twain said there were three kinds of rogues—plain rogues, damned rogues, and pothouse politicians. Only recently pothouse politicians went up and down a certain railroad and persuaded the colored helpers on that road not to vote for our organization, even though we, in conjunction with fourteen other organizations, had just secured an increase in pay of eight cents an hour for them, which is now being held up by that great dictator down in Washington, Mr. Vinson, and his decision has not yet been overruled. But we did our part and we did it well.180
I received letters from down there which were not composed by the colored helpers of these shops, wanting to know how many colored delegates they would have in the American Federation of Labor if they voted for our organization. I wrote them a letter and sent them a copy of our Constitution, explaining that the delegates to the American Federation of Labor were elected by referendum vote of the rank and file of our Brotherhood at the same time they elected General Officers. I asked them to communicate with those well satisfied Auxiliary Locals that we had and find out what those members thought of our organization. And in the face of all that they went up and down that railroad and inveigled enough of those men to vote against it, so that they are still under the domination of a company union, although our organization, working in conjunction with the other organizations, secured for them everything they have in wages and in working conditions.
We make no discriminations. If those who are representing the colored race in this convention want to do something really helpful for themselves as well as the labor movement in general, they will say to the colored men, especially in the blacksmith shops and the forge shops of this country, go in and join the organization that is your friend and benefactor, the organization that has done for you what you are unable to do for yourselves. Don’t wait around on the outside for something that somebody else thinks is perfect.
I don’t think it is necessary for me to dwell on that. We have heard enough in this convention about imperfect people.
I have no apology whatever to make for the manner in which our International Brotherhood is conducted. We have been honorable and fair at all times and it will be conducted in the same manner in the future as it has been in the past.
I thank you.
President Green: The Chair recognizes Delegate Frey, Secretary of the Committee.
Secretary Frey: Mr. Chairman, I rise with a heavy heart, because something was done yesterday afternoon which I feel is the greatest injury done the Negro race since the question has come into these conventions.
The committee, in its report, endeavored to do what the English language was capable of in laying down a basic principle and in stating the policy that should be applied to that principle, so that racial prejudice would be entirely removed from our trade union movement. There was deliberately put into yesterday’s record a statement calculated to place the American Federation of Labor in a false position as to its basic policy, a statement deliberately prepared, which contains much more misstatement of fact than of truth. That statement may have been prepared for the delegates. I do not want to believe that there was any other motive, but I fear that the statement will be printed in pamphlet form, and sent throughout our country for the purpose of prejudicing Negroes against the American Federation of Labor. To me, that is little short of a moral crime. I feel very deeply about this question. I have a right to speak upon it. Forty-two years ago in the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, I organized a union of colored molders, a union of craftsmen and white people in Chattanooga and some of the members of our union seemingly considered the question of lynching me. I took my position because I believed it was sound; I believed that the Negro worker was entitled to the same opportunity as any other worker in our country, and that he must receive the same remuneration when he performed work as was given to white men. I have never deviated from that position since then. I have done what I could, through the written word and the spoken word, to remove prejudices which I thought were harmful to our movement and harmful to the colored race.
And now we have this statement, the accusations, the specified charges, a part of the record of this convention which, without doubt, will be given much more publicity, and what we may say in response will receive no publicity at all except as our members read the proceedings of this convention.
I said I have a heavy heart. It is difficult for me to understand how a representative of a race that has been helped more in this convention by the American Federation of Labor than any other organization would stand up in our convention and deliberately misstate the facts for the purpose of arousing a feeling against us on the part of the Negroes we are trying to help by bringing them into our trade union movement. I could not remain silent when charges were made against some of the splendid Metal Trades Councils which we have.
The delegates spent some time making charges against the Bay Cities Metal Trades Council, an organization that came into existence before the Metal Trades Department was born. Every delegate here has heard about that Council, about its even balance between all affiliated unions. The Metal Trades Council, or the Bay Cities Metal Trades Council, as it is known, has never shown any racial prejudice on the part of its delegates or in its official actions.
As a matter of fact, eighteen months ago no Negroes were employed in the shipyards in the San Francisco Bay. At the present time over 8,000 are there employed and they are loyal members. I have talked with them. I know what is on the minds of those that I discussed this very problem with, and they tell me it is not the International Unions or their representatives that constitute their problem. Their problem arises because of the continual activity among them of men on the outside, men of their own race, who endeavor to stir up all the trouble possible.
Yes, trade unionists, representatives of the Negro race in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, in Portland, Oregon, in Seattle, Washington, for months have spent their time setting up a separate organization and advising Negroes to cease paying dues into the Union where they now have the benefits of membership.
Yes, there are prejudices and they are not confined to any one group, and the men of the colored race who spend their time trying to stir up prejudice against us, among the members of their race, are rendering the greatest disservice the Negro in this country has ever suffered from.
These are things that we have to keep in mind. I may not be entirely free from prejudices because I am a human being. I do understand, however, the prejudices in some of our shipyard centers on the Pacific Coast. One city, and it seems to be the one that disturbed the delegate more than any other on the Pacific Coast, Portland, Oregon, still has a prejudice against the Negro. It is an understandable one. After the first World War the largest shipyard in that port believed that it could force a reduction of wages. It did. Our members struck. They remained on strike for months. The strike was broken through the importation of Negro strike breakers, and I find it difficult, in talking with some of the old timers, to remove the prejudice against the Negro workers which I believe must be removed.
I feel that there was as great a lack of statesmanship in the statement made by the delegate yesterday afternoon as I have ever listened to, and this morning we find that others feel the same way.
Perhaps the individual most prominent in our country for some time whose voice has been raised in defense of the Negro, insisting upon his receiving equality of treatment, is the first lady of the land—Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. This morning’s paper carries a United Press dispatch. I want to read it so that this also will be in the record, along with the statements made by the delegate yesterday afternoon. It is dated October 11th, which was yesterday, from Chicago, and it reads:
“Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt in an article entitled ‘If I Were A Negro,’ appearing in the October issue of the Negro Digest published here, counsels that representatives of that race should not do too much demanding. Mrs. Roosevelt wrote ‘If I Were A Negro, I would take every chance that came my way to improve my quality and my ability and, if recognition was slow, I would continue to prove myself, knowing that in the end a good performance would be acknowledged.’”
If she were a Negro, Mrs. Roosevelt wrote, she would have moments of great bitterness and would find it hard to sustain her faith in democracy and men of other races. She emphasized, however, that she would participate to the full in this war. She would accept every chance that was made in the Army and the Navy although “I would not try to bring about these advances any more quickly than they were offered.”
If the delegate measured up to the viewpoint declared by Mrs. Roosevelt yesterday there would be no such record as appears in yesterday’s proceedings—the most unfortunate, the most dangerous statement which has ever been made in connection with the efforts of the American Federation of Labor to wipe out racial national prejudice so that every wage earner would be looked upon as an equal.
Delegate Randolph may not realize it, but I want to repeat it is my conviction that he rendered the greatest disservice to the colored race that has ever been rendered at any time since the Negro became a free man.
President Green: The Chair recognizes Delegate Allen.
Delegate Allen, Commercial Telegraphers Union: In his address yesterday, Delegate Randolph included the Commercial Telegraphers Union among those organizations which exclude Negroes from membership.
That is not so, Mr. President, in the case of our organization, and I would like to have the record corrected accordingly. At our convention eight years ago, in 1935, our Constitution was amended and the bar to membership of Negroes in our organization was removed. It is true that all of our subordinate unions enjoy full Constitutional autonomy in the admission of applicants to membership. So far as I know, since that time, no Negro applicant for membership has been denied membership in any of our subordinate unions.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. President.
President Green: Delegate Randolph has already spoken on the question and in accordance with parliamentary procedure, he could not be recognized if other delegates wished to speak. If there are no others the Chair will recognize Delegate Randolph, but please, please avoid this awful controversy.
Delegate Randolph, Sleeping Car Porters: Mr. Chairman and delegates of the Convention—I want to make a few remarks on the statements made by the various delegates concerning racial discrimination in the trade unions that I discussed yesterday.
In the first place, Delegate MacGowan referred to the Constitution of the American Federation of Labor, which emphasizes the autonomy of International Union. Well, that seems to me simply a statement of justification of the policy of discrimination on the part of International Unions that do discriminate against Negroes. The question of autonomy and the question of racial discrimination are questions at issue here. If under the smokescreen of autonomy, International Unions are going to continue to discriminate against Negroes and assume that the mere fact of autonomy gives them the right to carry on this discrimination, why then there is little hope in introducing any real and genuine democracy in International Unions that discriminate against Negroes.
On matters relating to jurisdiction, this American Federation of Labor has taken positive action, and International Unions that have invaded the field of jurisdiction of other unions have been curbed—they have been curbed by expulsion. If the American Federation of Labor would use one-tenth of its energy and concern in the interest of eliminating discrimination as it does in attempting to protect the jurisdiction of International Unions, we would not have a whole lot of trouble about the question of Negroes being admitted into the various unions. Although the American Federation of Labor may not attempt to use compulsion, if it will simply use consistent and systematic education, it is possible to abolish discrimination in the various unions. But the American Federation of Labor has not used consistent and systematic educational methods. The resolution that was introduced by the Sleeping Car Porter delegates called for the establishment of a committee merely for the purpose of exploring the question of discrimination, with a view of adopting some policies of education that would bring these various unions around to the recognition of the fact that racial discrimination prevents working class solidarity and is, therefore, a fool and an enemy of the worker and the Union.
Now, Delegate MacGowan talked about Auxiliary Unions, but did not deny that they exist. All I claimed in my statement yesterday was that racial Auxiliary Unions are undemocratic; that they violate the principles of trade unionism and that they are un-American. Now, is there anybody in this convention who is going to take the position that the organization of racial unions can be justified? Is anybody in this convention going to take the position that a worker must be deprived of certain privileges merely because of the accident of race? No one here will contend that Jewish unions ought to be organized, or Catholic unions ought to be organized. No one will contend that particular unions that have any special identity ought to be set aside especially when they interfere with the rights of the workers.
Delegate MacGowan has not shown that the Auxiliary Unions have absolutely no voice in the determination of the policy of the International Union, the International Union that controls the Agreement Committee, the Agreement Committee that regulates and shapes the wage standards and the working rules. Now if a worker is a part of a system in which he has no voice, no rights, to exercise an influence on the policies that affect his wages, certainly no one can contend that that worker is being benefited. Now an Auxiliary Union is either democratic or un-democratic. If it is right it ought to be justified and defended. If it is wrong, it should be condemned and exterminated.
The delegates of the Sleeping Car Porters contend that the racial Auxiliary Unions are comparable to the colonists of the various empires of the world because the colonists are serfs—they have no rights that other citizens enjoy. The same thing is true of members of Auxiliary Unions. They have absolutely no right to exercise their voice in the policies of the International Union.
There seems to be some spirit in the convention on the part of delegates that criticism of policies that are obviously unsound is unjustified. Now whenever an organization that proposes to be democratic takes the position that criticism of policies that are obviously unsound is unjustified, then that organization is moving backward and not forward. Certainly it is recognized that in the arena of criticism sound policies, truth and programs are developed. When policies are permitted to remain in secrecy, nobody can tell just what the effect of those policies will be upon the ultimate future of the workers of the organization.
Now it is said here that there is an organization known as Miscellaneous Workers’ Incorporated, that Negroes are in that organization and that organization is telling Negroes not to join the Auxiliary Unions. Well, I don’t know anything about Miscellaneous Organizations, but I take it that it is a company union. The company perhaps organized a miscellaneous organization of Negroes. That is no reflection upon the Negroes. There are company unions of white men that are used to oppose the organization of other white men and therefore, Negroes ought not to be condemned because they are in a company union.
Moreover, perhaps some of them would rather be unorganized at all than to be in a Jim Crow union, such as those organizations are. I can understand why some unions are picketed by Negroes because they recognize that the Auxiliary Union is a step backward and they want to express their opposition to it and therefore they use the method of picketing. That is taxation without representation. Can anyone in this convention get up on the floor and justify taxation without representation? Well, that is what the Auxiliary Union is.
Now the contention is made here that because there are 15,000 Negroes in the Auxiliary Unions that makes the Auxiliary Union Kosher. Well, Negroes are compelled to buy tickets in a Jim Crow car, but does that imply they want to be in a Jim Crow car? By no means. And it is also said that Negro agitation, or Negro so-called professional men are doing the Negro an injury. Negroes who point out injustices that are practiced upon Negroes are not doing the Negroes or anybody else harm, but are doing them a great benefit. As a matter of fact, the claim that by pointing out injustices to the public is creating agitation and creating conditions is like contending that a meteorologist that points out a storm is coming creates the storm. Negroes who indicate that unfair conditions to Negroes exist are merely playing the role of the meteorologist who indicates that a storm is coming and that you ought to prepare for that storm. No one denies that discrimination exists in these unions. Then why attempt to hide it? And why attempt to condemn people who point it out? We are not doing any disservice to the American Federation of Labor. We are helping the American Federation of Labor by bringing the issue out into the open, and I want to say that I think some progress is made after all, in that at least there is some disposition to give this question some serious consideration.
Now it was said by one of the delegates in the Executive Council meeting of the American Federation of Labor that I said that the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters would not accept white men if they worked as Pullman porters. That is not true. I never made that statement. As a matter of fact, in our organization now there are white barbers on the Pullman cars that are members of the organization, and there are white Pullman car cleaners in the organization. We have Filipinos and Chinese and Mexicans along with Negroes in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. I don’t understand how he got that idea in his head. As a matter of fact, our Constitution provides that there shall be no discrimination against a working man becoming a member of the organization on account of race, creed, color or national origin. Certainly we would be the last organization in America to raise any bar against anybody, in view of the fact that we Negroes are members of a group that are victimized as a result of these discriminations.
Now it is said that in the Portland shipyards these discriminations among the Negroes have not militated against upgrading Negroes. Well, the records do not bear out that statement. As a matter of fact, already plans are being made to make an investigation of the Portland shipyard with respect to its policies of discrimination by Tom Ray, the Little Tin Horn Hitler, out there. As a matter of fact, Negroes are now revolting against the fact that they are not given upgrading in accordance with their skill and qualifications. Therefore that statement is not borne out by the record.
It is also pointed out that Negroes were strike breakers in some strikes in Portland, and that was responsible for the prejudice against Negroes. What about white men who are strike breakers? Is there anyone here who contends that Negroes are the only strike breakers in America? The great labor strike breakers in America are white men. Therefore, the contention that the prejudice is justified against Negroes on the grounds that they are strike breakers is naive and credulous, and anyone who believes in such a thing as that is incredulous.
On the matter of the Auxiliary Locals having a roster of officers, well, what about it, what does that mean? Some one mentioned the fact that Auxiliary Unions have a roster of officers. They have no power, they don’t mean anything, they can’t do anything, they can’t shape any policy of an International Union, so that they are mere window dressings and those things are simply raised here for the purpose of making it appear that the condition is not as bad as it is.
So far as the matter of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters or the delegates in this convention following the advice of Mrs. Roosevelt, may I say that we have the highest regard for Mrs. Roosevelt and her opinions. She has been a great benefactor, not only to the Negro people but to the oppressed peoples of America and the world, and certainly we have absolutely no criticism of the attitude and the history in her conduct with respect to the Negro people or anybody else. But of course we have a right to our own opinions; we believe that Negroes have a right to make demands. Everybody may not agree with our demands, but certainly we have a right to make them. If you were in the Negro’s place and you were put into an Auxiliary Union and had no rights except to pay dues, what would you do? If you were in the Negro’s place and you want to show your patriotism in order to give your blood and life for this nation, and yet you were not permitted to exercise your skill and ability and knowledge in rising and being promoted, what would you do? Negroes have all of the eagerness and all of the ambition that other people enjoy and have, and, as a matter of fact, merely by disputing the policy of Negroes to fight for their rights is not going to change that policy.
On the matter of the Commercial Telegraphers, although it may be that the International Union has eliminated the color clause, we are in possession of facts that there are certain Local Unions that do bar Negroes. We do not want to enter into any controversy with the Commercial Telegraphers Union, because we appreciate the spirit that has been manifested here in indicating that it is opposed to the color clause in the International Constitution.
On the matter of the question of the Negro people not making progress because of some unfair criticism that may be made by the Negroes that are concerned about changing the situation, you have as a matter of history progress being made only upon a basis of exposing conditions that are evil and that are retrogressive and backward, conditions that are inimical to the interests of any particular group. We contend that the white workers here are not safe until every Negro is protected. We contend that the American Federation of Labor itself is not secure so long as Negroes are not given the same rights that other workers in the Federation enjoy.
We know that Negroes and white workers can be organized together and they are being organized together. Therefore, we are trying to point out to the Federation that it must have the courage to take the position that even though these International Unions are autonomous, it ought to have the courage to say to them, “Your policy is wrong and it is up to you to bring your policy in harmony and in conformity with the basic principle of the American Federation of Labor as expressed in the Constitution.”
Nothing has been said on this floor which causes me to alter one word that I have said. Nothing has been said on this floor that causes me to retreat from the position I have taken.
With respect to the Electrical Workers, it is good to hear that so many Negroes are being organized into the Electrical Workers Union. But where are they? I go all around this country, and I would like to see some of them. Negroes are coming to me who are licensed electricians and who cannot get into the Union, so that those statements about what is being done in the interests of breaking down bars and the escapements may sound all right, but let’s see some action.
That is all the Sleeping Car Porters’ delegates are calling for. And so, my friends, we want to reiterate our position here; that nothing has been said here to show that Auxiliary Locals do not exist. Nothing has been said to show that Auxiliary Unions based upon race are not necessary, they are undemocratic and un-American, and upon that we rest our case.
Committee Chairman Woll: May I say just a word? I merely wish to say to the convention that there has not been a single word uttered against the committee’s report. Hence, it is not necessary to speak further in behalf of the report, but only necessary for the convention to act upon it.
President Green: May I impose upon your patience for a moment while I indulge in the presentation of some facts and express, if I may, my official and personal point of view toward the subject that has been so sincerely and earnestly discussed on the floor of this convention since yesterday afternoon. You yourselves in this convention, in this open forum of debate have demonstrated your interest in the subject, because you have been tolerant, you have been patient, you have exercised good judgment in that you have sat quietly by and have listened with rapt attention to the discussion which has taken place. I ask that you accept that as evidence of the desire of the American Federation of Labor to understand this question and to find a correct solution for it.
I am conscious of the fact that it is a live question, one that is attracting the attention of people everywhere. It is like a mounting current running through our economic, our social and our national life. I think we ought to manifest a sense of understanding toward Delegate Randolph, because I can understand how he is moved by a deep sense of injustice, speaking as he does for a race that has suffered much and that is seeking to lift its economic and racial standards to a higher and still higher level. I know that all of you possess such an understanding of the attitude of Delegate Randolph and his associates.
But this is a question that runs deep, I repeat, through our social, ecnomic and industrial life. It is not a problem that is grappled with solely by the American Federation of Labor. We see evidence of the tensity of the problem here and there and everywhere because of the developments that take place.
Now surely those of us who are sympathetic toward the aims and purposes of the Negro race to lift their standard of life and living to higher levels and promote economic equality at least realize that it is a question that will only be solved through understanding and education. There must be a convincing appeal made to the hearts and the minds and the consciences of all classes of people. It will never be solved through the application of forced methods or through the presentation of demands that groups here, there and everywhere comply with said demands. We learn much in the broad field of experience, and I think we have learned much in dealing with this question as a result of experience. Experience shows that progress has been made and is being made, and if we pursue a wise policy, a policy which provides for education, a presentation of the facts, an appeal, not a demand, an appeal to the hearts and the conscience and the judgment and the tolerance of the people of this country will bring about a solution of the question.
So far as I am concerned, representing the American Federation of Labor, I have always taken a most advanced and progressive position upon this subject. If I had my way every organization affiliated with the American Federation of Labor would admit Negroes to membership on the same basis of equality as other workers. In our conventions I have tried to influence the committee, the Executive Council and the Convention itself in the adoption of policies and declarations placing our great parent organization upon a basis which ought to command and secure the support of the Negroes of the country.
As Chairman Woll has said, nobody has found fault with the report of the committee, not even Delegate Randolph, and Delegate Webster, who is serving as a member of our Post-War Committee, made a fine statement yesterday when the report of the committee was presented upon the Fair Employment Practice Committee’s work. These official declarations adopted by the convention represent the real attitude of the American Federation of Labor toward the subject.
Now I want to make a report to you upon some of our experiences where we have endeavored to carry out these declarations.
They speak for themselves, they have been repeated over and over again—these declarations of the American Federation of Labor, the parent body, the instrumentality through which the representatives of organized labor express the opinion of the workers, are on record, they are printed, published and distributed for educational purposes, but notwithstanding that fact, for some reason or other—I know not why—we find that in our efforts to organize the Negro workers of the country we are boycotted by the representatives of the prominent Negro organizations of America. No one can successfully say that our American Federation of Labor discriminates against Negroes who are employed in manufacturing or industrial plants, when we seek to establish Federal Labor Unions—and we have organized hundreds of thousands of workers in Federal Labor Unions. I think the report of the Secretary shows that we have over 300,000 members in these Federal Labor Unions. That is the policy of the American Federation of Labor—no discrimination.
We go into an industrial plant; we appeal to all working in that plant to come with us. There is no discrimination against any man because of race, creed, color or nationality, because I take the position that if any representative of the American Federation of Labor attempts to discriminate against the workers because of race, creed or color when we seek to organize them into Federal Labor Unions, he can no longer represent the American Federation of Labor.
We have employed a number of Negro organizers to carry on work among those Negroes whom we seek to organize. Does that mean anything? Does that act in itself mean that the American Federation of Labor is trying to live up to its declarations? My experience has shown that during the last few years, under the impetus of the war effort, large number of Negroes have been employed in war material production plants. Many of the employees of these plants do not come under the jurisdiction of a national union chartered by the American Federation of Labor. So the American Federation of Labor goes there, it seeks to organize them into Federal Labor Unions directly chartered by the American Federation of Labor. We assign Negro organizers to carry on organizing work, and together with our other organizers they cooperate in a fine, wonderful way.
But in every instance where we seek to carry on this organizing work Negro representatives of prominent colored organizations in the United States appear on the scene and appeal to the Negro workers to boycott the American Federation of Labor and to unite with the dual, rival organizations.
At the International Harvester Company in Chicago we sought to organize those employees into the American Federation of Labor, we found that the representatives of the Urban League, the representatives of the organization called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other representatives of Negro organizations in America appeared at Chicago and opposed the American Federation of Labor representatives in their efforts to organize the Negroes into the A. F. of L. As a result of it what happened? All these Negroes voted to stay out of the American Federation of Labor. Now it seems contradictory, when complaint is made that we won’t organize them, and yet when we attempt to organize them prominent representatives of colored organizations appear in opposition to our efforts to organize them.
When the campaign was launched at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit we carried on our campaign there. We appealed to the Negro workers employed by the Ford Company to come with us, and in the campaign that was carried on many of the artists, outstanding artists like Mr. Robeson, who entertains audiences on the stage throughout the country, the representatives of the organization known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, colored preachers representing the colored churches of the country all united and every one of them were against the American Federation of Labor. The result was that those Negroes were influenced to vote against us.
That is going on in many sections of the country. If they want us to organize the Negro workers and we spend your money in an effort to do that, and we assign our people to the work, why don’t they line up with us and help us to organize these Negro workers? It seems very contradictory to rise and challenge and charge and complain that we are discriminating against Negro workers, and then when we try to organize them oppose us in our efforts to organize them.
Our organizers in the field report to me that this is repeated over and over again. Men, listen! I cannot prevail upon the outstanding representatives of any Negro organization in America to join with our representatives in appealing to Negro workers to join the American Federation of Labor Unions. These are facts and they are given to you so that our representatives here, the Negro representatives, might try to help us to overcome this prejudice against the American Federation of Labor. We talk about racial prejudice, racial boycotting, putting organizations in the doghouse and telling them to remain there. We complain against that. But what about putting the American Federation of Labor there? We find prejudice against us, opposition to us, opposition of the worst kind when we seek to organize these Negro workers into the American Federation of Labor.
There is only one other point and that is this. There are 107 National and International Unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of federal labor unions. Out of these 107 unions Delegate Randolph classifies seven, according to the report of Herbert R. Northrup, which exclude Negroes by provision in the Constitution. The representative of the Commercial Telegraphers Union arose this morning and said that was not true, so that ought to eliminate that one. Other organizations here have declared that that statement is not in accordance with the facts. Then he has classified unions which habitually exclude Negroes by “tacit consent”. That is susceptible of various interpretations. In that group there are five.
In another group are listed unions which afforded Negroes only a segregated auxiliary status, and in that classification he has six, but these unions accept Negroes into membership, but on an auxiliary basis.
Now of course the objection is to the organization of them on that basis. If I had my way I would have it the other way, but I have found in life’s experience that I don’t have my way in a good many things, and many times I have to wait a good while before I can have my way, and sometimes I never get it.
But that is a small percentage of our unions out of the 107 National and International Unions affiliated. I am not defending this action on their part, but simply referring to it to point out that this certainly represents progress. I hope that eventually we will break down the barriers of prejudice that have been raised by these unions until you will not be able to submit even a list of that kind. Education will do the job. Appeal to the heart and the conscience and the judgment of the people of our country, I repeat, will do the job.
I wanted to make these remarks, not in a critical way but for the purpose of presenting the facts to you. I have dealt only with facts and I have tried to approach a brief consideration of the subject in a realistic way.
Delegate Webster, Pullman Car Porters: I just want to make a few remarks on the subject in behalf of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. We have been in the American Federation of Labor since 1929. Of course when we first came in we had problems of our own that affected the Sleeping Car Porters, but our organization has been fairly successful in organizing that group of workers in the nation into an international organization which we are proud of, in the American Federation of Labor.
After having accomplished our own purposes to a large extent we have rendered the best possible service we could render in an effort to prevail upon the Negro workers of the nation to realize that the American Federation of Labor was the labor institution in which Negroes should be organized. We have participated and cooperated with many of the international organizations, even some of those who have color clauses in their Constitutions, to organize the Negroes into the American Federation of Labor.
We had a good deal to do with the rapid organization of the dining car waiters into the Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ International Union. We did a good job in attempting to organize the Red Caps into an A. F. of L. Union, and as we go about the country looking after our own business we never fail to analyze the problems that Negroes are confronted with, often agitated to a large extent by the so-called rival organizations. Even in very recent months, where there have been contests between the American Federation of Labor unions and the unions of the rival organizations, we have not only given them our moral support but we have helped finance campaigns to carry on an educational program, to the end that the Negro workers might come into the American Federation of Labor.
It has only been very recently that in the city of Chicago we had four or five contests between an A. F. of L. organization and an organization of the rival group, and due almost entirely to the activities of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, when the votes were counted the votes were in favor of the American Federation of Labor. It is true that we are not satisfied with everything that goes on in the American Federation of Labor and we don’t expect anybody to pull any rabbits out of their hats in an effort to try to wave a wand and solve these problems over night. But we are conscious of the fact, as an International Union affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, that we are attempting to prevail upon those who are part of the American Federation of Labor to make the job we are trying to do in building up and organizing Negro workers into the American Federation of Labor a little easier than it is, with many of these handicaps of racial discriminations and practices provided for in the constitutions of some of our International organizations.
President Green: Are there further remarks? If not, the question presented is, shall the report of the committee be adopted. Those in favor will say, “aye”, those opposed will say, “no”. The motion is carried and is so ordered.
The Secretary of the Committee points out that the vote on the committee’s report was unanimously adopted, and the Chair so decides.
Proceedings of the 63rd Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor, 1943, pp. 421–45.