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Mary Bell

Negro Women Pickets Hit Jim Crow in War Industry

(July 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 28, 13 July 1942, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

AKRON – Twenty-five courageous Negro women have been picketing the Federal Employment Bureau here for three days straight, from opening to closing time.

These women are determined to smash Jim Crow in the war industries and obtain training and jobs for hundreds upon hundreds of Akron Negro women who are ready and able to work.

The picketing, sponsored by the Future Outlook League, aided by sympathetic Negro women’s organizations and cheered by the entire Negro community, was undertaken after other methods had failed. Numerous interviews – with company employment managers, the head of the employment bureau, representatives of trade schools – all resulted in the usual run-around.

Got Run-Around

The women were told by various officials:

“You have to present a referment card from the employment bureau. Negroes aren’t trained for factory work. We can’t accept Negroes in the training center because the factories won’t hire you.”

W.D. Westenbarger, supervisor of the local U.S. Employment Bureau, stated that his office “is not referring these women to those training classes, which are maintained, to train workers for employment at Goodyear Aircraft, because the company has informed us they are not ready to hire them yet.”

The company has not indicated when it would be ready to take them, he added. And so the women were handed the same old rotten alibis.

The complete dishonesty of such statements is exposed by the facts. White unskilled applicants for jobs and a very few Negro men are being herded through the training schools in order to supply the enormous demand for labor. A recent newspaper story said that 20,000 more workers are needed to fill production requirements in Akron war factories, while the Akron labor supply is exhausted. It is common knowledge that men and women are migrating from other states to obtain jobs in Akron.

As Mrs. Loretta Ford, spokesman for the Future Outlook League, declared: “There can be no real labor shortage in Akron as long as Negro women are refused the right to train for employment.”

The issue is as clear as daylight. Only the anti-Negro prejudice of employers and employment bureaus is keeping these women from the jobs they need and want. The “labor shortage” is a Jim Crow myth. If Negro men are doubly exploited, as workers and as Negroes, Negro women are triply exploited – as a part of the working class, as a race and as a sex. They are the most oppressed group in society. No job is considered too dirty for them. No wage is considered too low.

Because of this background, the fight of these women for the right to earn a decent living all the more deserves the support of every thinking unionist, every militant, every member of the Negro community. The Jim Crow they are fighting is personified in the bosses, the same bosses the union had to picket and strike against in order to gain wage increases and union recognition.

The employers will not want the unions to support these women. They prefer to have whites and blacks fighting among themselves so that neither will make demands on the employers. The employers will also be able to hire Negro workers – and they will have to employ them eventually because of the enormity of the war effort – at lower wages than white workers, if the unions do not cooperate.

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Last updated: 18 September 2014