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Harry Allen

FEPC Hearings Scuttled

McNutt Drives Nail into FEPC Coffin – Suspends Railroad Hearings

(January 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 3, 18 January 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A hornet’s nest has been stirred up among the Negro people by the action of Paul V. McNutt, War Manpower Commissioner. Acting with Administration approval, McNutt on January 11 intervened to suppress the sharp exposure by the FEPC (Fair Employment Practices Committee) of widespread discrimination against Negroes in the railway industry.

The suppression takes the form of an indefinite “postponement” of public hearings, belatedly scheduled for January 25–27 by the FEPC, on Jim Crow practices by railroad owners and rail unions. A death sentence for the FEPC is the only adequate characterization for McNutt’s action.

Thus our prediction (see Labor Action, December 12) regarding the fate of the FEPC receives early confirmation in a most dramatic and significant manner – no less than the direct, unveiled, obstructive and sabotaging action of the chairman of the War Manpower Commission, Paul McNutt, who is ostensibly pledged to eradicate Jim Crow in industry.

Pressure from the strong bloc of Southern Democrats in Congress has been a persistent factor in blocking hearings and investigations on Jim Crow by the FEPC and other bodies. Further, the State Department itself has also put the squeeze on the FEPC to prevent projected hearings in the Southwest on charges of discrimination against Mexicans. Also, the Navy, in the person of labor-baiting Ralph Bard, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, has interfered in order to force abandonment of FEPC hearings scheduled for Detroit, where Jim Crow is rampant in nearly all major war industries. Now, finally, because of its proposed action on the decisive railroad issue, the FEPC is right up against the knife in its “last ditch fight for existence.” The ‘’liberalism’’ and “good will” of FEPC members, their desire to eliminate at least the worst aspects of Jim Crow have been demonstrated to count for nothing in the face of the determination of employers and government bureaucrats.

Without the backing of mass action by the workers, black and white, to reinforce their exposures, the FEPC was doomed to fail from the moment of its inception. Where this mass pressure existed, independently, as in the case of strong union action against Jim Crow, the FEPC was superfluous. The masses could win their ends through their own instruments, and not by government charity.

It is only necessary to point out a little more of what has happened to realize that the Negro workers can only depend on themselves as workers and on aid from awakened white workers, to break down Jim. Crow.

Railroad Owners Win

The FEPC hearings on Railroad discrimination had already been long delayed and postponed. Finally, as a renewed lease on its bare existence, it had been granted funds by the WMC and had decided to carry out such hearings on January 25. The proposed hearings have been universally regarded as the decisive test fot the FEPC’s power and standing. The answer has been given, Even its investigating possibilities are being ruthlessly scuttled, thanks to McNutt.

The railroad owners have won the fight at this stage hands down, assisted by railroad union leadership carrying out a “lily white” policy. The sweet words of the “Hoosier Hitler,” enunciated in numerous speeches and statements to the Negroes upon his appointment to the WMC have been sensationally exposed in their true meaninglessness.

Flagrant discrimination against Negroes is widespread throughout the railroad industry nationally. Particular resentment is directed against the agreement between the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen’s and Enginemen’s Union and twenty-five Southern railroads to eliminate the few Negroes now working as firemen on these roads. A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Pullman Car Porters Union and head of the MOW, declares that the FEPC railroad investigation “is a showdown for Executive Order No. 8802 and for the committee itself.”

However, it is Randolph’s own straddling between a policy of dependence on Administration “good will” and calling for independent mass action to enforce demands for Negro economic and democratic rights, which has helped to hamstring the Negroes in their struggle.

Randolph continues to speak big words for Negro rights. However, his subordination, in practice, of Negro rights ans needs to the Administration’s policy, prevents him from appealing seriously to the Negro masses to act in the only way that can bring them results: militant mass action and marches on the factories and seats of government, particularly Washington.

Only a brief obituary is now required for the FEPC. From the very first it carried on with insufficient funds and personnel. A staff of fifty for the entire country was hardly worthy of mention. It is definitely indicative of the real attitude of the ruling class toward the FEPC. The transfer of the FEPC to the jurisdiction of the War Manpower Commission was really meant to put the FEPC on the shelf.

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