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Mary Bell

FEPC Ripped to Shreds; House Votes Mangled Bill

(6 March 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 10, 6 March 1950, pp. 1 & 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Six years after if was first proposed legislatively by the Democratic Party, a Fair Employment Practices bill went through the first stages of enactment in the House of Representatives and last Thursday came out amendment-ridden, toothless and impossible of complete and sensible interpretation by those who voted for it. It was such a shadowy substitute for the administration bill originally proposed by Representative Adam Clayton Powell (D.) that the latter refused to vote for it.

Under the Calendar Wednesday rule of the House, the chairman of the alphabetically called committee has the right to bring to the floor any bill passed by his committee but stalled thereafter. The House convened at noon and a prayer was said. Then the long series of rollcalls for quorums (seven in all) began; amendments were interspersed – “We’ve got a hundred of ’em!” shouted one of the Southern Democrats.

Pauses out of “respect for the first President” were observed; rebel yells interrupted the session; the Powell bill was shelved altogether; a mild substitute by Republican O’Connell was helped along by the Southerners; it too was riddled with amendment; and, finally, on Thursday, the watered-down version was passed.

For the bill were 116 Democrats and 124 Republicans, a total of 240. Against were 134 Democrats, 42 Republicans and one American Labor.

The bill calls for a five-member Fair Employment Practices Commission, but this body would not have the power to make final decisions carying fines or entailing imprisonment. Thus the bill is universally described as a “voluntary” measure and is scarcely more than a pious statement of good will.

The commissioners under the McConnell bill could investigate thoroughly, propose fines up to $500, sue in the courts and recommend. That is, if even this bill gets any further.

Cutting the Heart Out

One of the published amendments says that when two or more persons, one or more of them being members of minority groups, are seeking employment, then full consideration shall be given whether all’ are thoroughly qualified to perform the job in question. Alabama Democrat Sam Hobbs explained his motivation for this amendment as being to prevent the hiring of a man “simply because of the color of his skin.” The implication would seem to be that Hobbs is afraid of discrimination in FAVOR of Negroes – as if that is a problem!

Another amendment exempts direct and subsidiary employers of workers on Atomic Energy Commission contracts. The presumed purpose of this is to prevent the hiring of foreigners – even though the development of atomic energy was largely the work of “foreigners.” Another amendment excludes from application Communists or members of Communist front organizations as listed by the attorney general – another espousal of the principle of “guilt by association” and recognition of the gov-ernment-by-decree principle of the attorney general’s list. Another provision says it is not necessary evidence of discrimination if the employees of a factory are found to be all whites, all Jews, or all Negroes. In many cases the existence of these very facts constitutes prima facie evidence.

The shamefully ridiculous antics of the Southerners included cries that enforcement legislation would penalize those employers who preferred to employ “only Congressional Medal of Honor war heroes, red-headed women, only Negroes, only Chinese, or only men having one leg.” (N.Y. Times)

According to the New York Post, Roy Wilkins, acting secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, charged that “The best proof that the substitute is weak and ineffective is the fact that the Southern Democrats went down the line for it, with even Representative Rankin voting for it.” This vote, however, must have occurred only in the preliminary jockeying to force the McConnell substitute in place of the original bill, for Rankin and the rest of the Southern Democrats were in the “against” column in the final tally.

The mangled FEPC bill also weakened some of the provisions’ that would help eliminate discrimination against women and disabled persons in employment.

Democrats Can’t Do It

This anemic voluntary measure has still a couple of hurdles in the House, the Judiciary Committee and the Finance Committee, so that its final fare even here is not yet known. So far as the Senate is concerned, the usual filibuster can be expected there, and passage of even a voluntary bill is very much in doubt.

The FEPC bill is only one part of the Truman civil-rights program and the only part which has been contested. There has been no action yet on making lynching a federal crime, barring the poll tax and ending racial segregation in interstate travel.

The Democratic Party is unable to secure passage of the progressive Side of its program. It was unable to defeat the Taft-Hartley Law. On the measures which affect the labor movement, the Negro people, the minorities, the underprivileged, it is not delivering the goods.

For the Democratic Party, espouser of the Fair Deal slogan and the welfare state, is not a homogeneous grouping. While the Republican Party has become pretty thoroughly identified with reaction and big business, the Democratic Party runs the gamut from the left-of-center types through the extreme right, the social fungoids of the Southern wing. The latter – and they muster more votes tljan the Northern Democrats – in coalition with the Republicans are playing hob with the legislation labor wants passed. After six years of agitation for the passage of an FEPC bill in Congress and fifteen years’ alliance of the labor movement with the Democratic Party, the best that could be achieved is this fake FEPC.

This is reason enough to break the labor-Democratic alliance. Let labor get on the high road of independent political action and cease the politics of compromise and defeat! The line of labor and the leaders of the Negro people is to depend on the “friends of labor” in the Democratic Party. They reason that to break the alliance with the Democrats would give the reactionaries a free hand to scuttle progressive legislation. A pretty good job of scuttling is being, done right now.

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