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Harry Allen

Negroes Sick of Words – and Promises

(January 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 2, 11 January 1943, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The persistent “thumbs down.” attitude of the capitalist class toward the Negro masses, even while it makes demands on the Negroes for aid in the war, is making a deep impression on the Negro people.

Very little of the views and situation of the Negro is made known to the American people. The capitalist press largely suppresses what is happening among the Negroes. The labor press does considerably better – though far from enough – in exposing the conditions and espousing the interests of the oppressed and exploited Negro masses.

Below we indicate the situation among Negroes and their views on various questions as obtained chiefly from Negro sources.

Protest Censorship

“Apparently the Administration is adopting a deliberate policy of isolating the Negro from all of the other peoples of the world who are interested in a fight for democracy,” protests the well known Negro writer, Horace B. Cayton. Cayton declares that the authorities are afraid to let the facts about lynchings, poll-tax, shootings of Negro soldiers by white MPs, etc., be known to the Chinese, the Africans, the Indians, the English people et al. As a result, the Pittsburgh Courier in South America, England or Africa would find itself almost cut to shreds by the censor.”

“The effect of the censor of Negro news,” he concludes, “is to shot off from the main current of world news what to happening to the Negro in the United States, and similarly to keep htm uninformed as to what is happening to the small people in other parts of the world.”

Thus the Negro witnesses the operation of “freedom of opinion” (free press).

You Don’t Mean Us!

“Words, words, words,” is the description given by the Negroes to the promises of equality and freedom, following the war, madeby the authoritative spokesmen of the ruling class. The Pittsburg Courier recently conducted a poll on the question:

“Have you been convinced that the statements, which our national leaders have made about freedom and equality for all peoples include the American Negro?”

The answers:

81.2 per cent said “No.”
17.1 per cent said “Yes.”
1.7 per cent were uncertain.


Freedom from Want?

The per capita income in 1940 in the seventeen states listed below was (according to a report of the Department of Commerce Survey of Current Business, August 1941):






















North Carolina




South Carolina








West Virginia


In the New York Age, these figures are cited among the reasons for opposing the “freezing” or drafting of labor. Labor drafting or “freezing” means, it is stated, “forcing upon Negroes, as well as upon the whites, a standard of living from which there would be little hope of escape.”

Bosses Pass the Buck

A survey of the American Management Assn. on the employment of Negroes passes the buck on discrimination in jobs to the white workers:

“Generally, it was found, there is no feeling of discrimination on the part of management, but there is often the fear that employment of colored workers might not be well received by the white personnel.” (New York Times)

This is as phony as phony can be.

Labor has some house-cleaning to do. However, the fact is that through the decades and to this very day the outstanding industries, including war production plants, carry out a Jim Crow policy against employing any Negroes at all, or in the kind of jobs given them. This policy has been broken down only in so far as the labor movement has forced an equal jobs – equal pay – equal rights policy upon the bosses.

Court Rules for Jim Crow

Take note that in every important city Negroes are pressing for the right to jobs on a non-discriminatory bisis. In Cleveland, members of the Future Outlook League, militant Negro organization, forced a court trial against the Warner-Swazsey Co., the country’s largest manufacturer of turret lathes, the Thompson Products Co. and the Thompson Aircraft Co. – all war production plants operating under government contracts. Directly concerned are 2,000 trained Negro women.

The judge, Frank J. Merrick, ruled that companies can refuse to hire Negroes regardless of qualification and despite President Roosevelt’s Executtive Order No. 8802 and FEPC rulings forbidding racial discrimination in hiring.

The Negro workers are learning more and more that obtaining jobs on an equal basis requires more than FEPC rulings. They are learning the need of militant mass action – picketing, demonstrations before government bodies, etc., or direct labor intervention. The judge’s ruling, which applies to the entire state of Ohio, puts the issue directly before the union movement to demand full rights for their colored fellow workers.

Labor and Jim Crow

While Negroes generally agree that the CIO is combatting Jim Crow, they voice sharp criticism of the AFL. Currently, they cite the Kaiser Shipyard (Portland, Ore.) situation and the “concession” (!) made by AFL Boiler Markers Union local secretary, Tom Ray, to organize the Negroes on a Jim Crow basis. The rejection of Philip Randolph’s appeal to the AFL convention at Toronto to abandon the Jim Crow policy prevailing in many of its largest unions has also been noted by the Negro masses.

A recent survey, conducted among Negro men and women by the Pittsburgh Courier, reveals a critical attitude toward labor union discrimination. Six out of every ten Negro women declared that organized labor generally was not fighting for their rights. The poll further shows that 61.8 per cent of the unions in the South, particularly the union leaders, are guilty, along with the bosses, of a discriminatory policy toward Negro labor.

The Courier describes the poll as “sympathetic scoldings by the American Negro” and also as a warning to American labor to stand up 100 per cent for the Negro in his demands.

From the views expressed generally in the Negro press; it appears that the great bulk of the Negroes are sympathetic with labor’s aim of better working and living conditions. At the same time, they definitely resent discriminatory attitudes and practices which humiliate and deny them equal economic and union rights.

Thus the Negroes define their attitude toward the labor movement. One: they want, seek and demand, as workers and as an oppressed race minority, their full rights, along with all others, in all fields. Two: more and more of them see the necessity for increased cooperation and common action with the white workers in order to protect their own special as well as common interests in conflicts with Jim Crow employers. Three: the Negroes hold out the hand of unity toward White laboir and insist that labor get rid of any remaining Jim Crow.

Therefore, the trend of labor toward a united stand with Negro labor must be speeded up. Five hundred thousand Negroes in the CIO unions are concrete evidence that the labor movement is making healthy, vital progress for cementing white and black labor in common cause against the exploiting employing and ruling class.

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