The Negro and Industrial Unionism
By Reginald T. Kennedy
The Negro has had little success in being admitted to craft unions
and it is only logical that when another labor movement,
industrial unionism appears, that he should be interested to
know how it is to function and what it holds to him.
He has observed that while the leaders of the
A. F. of L.
have long denounced racial prejudice that they have been unable
to make their views and opinions carry weight with their
Mr. William Green, President of the A.
F. of L., in a statement to the Interracial Review, pleads for the banishment of racial
discrimination and urges laboring men and their sympathizers to
look upon the labor movement as an integrated whole, effecting
all workers. The
fact remains, however, that the individual unions comprising the
A. F. of L. have been the worst offenders in refusing to treat
the labor problem as a whole and the pleadings of Mr. Green and
other liberal minded men, have been ruthlessly brushed aside.
In the field of organized labor
discrimination against the Negro has been practiced in various
ways. Sometimes the
membership of Negroes is forbidden by constitutional clauses and
at other times by tacit agreement among the members not to
propose a Negro to membership.
Indeed there are other and more subtle means
employed. When the
pressure for admittance becomes too great, the Negro is
condescendingly admitted to separate locals or to Federal
Unions, under the direct supervision of the A. F. of L.
In these unions the Negro has been treated as a backwash
of the Labor movement, unable to obtain his full measure of
justice, and tolerated as one of the unavoidable evils and not
accepted as an equal.
While this policy does not prevail in all
unions, it has been sufficiently widespread as to discourage
Negro membership in the majority of trade unions.
This has resulted in a grave injustice to the Negro and
has created a huge labor reserve that the strike-breaking
employer has been able to draw upon.
Before the outbreak of the warfare between
the industrial and the craft unions, the position of the Negro
in organized labor had reached a desperate state.
In the 1934 Convention a resolution was passed approving
the appointment of a committee to study Negro labor and a ray of
hope appeared. But
in the 1935 convention the Executive Committee issued a
supplemental report that was much milder than the report of the
original committee and it brought forth denunciations and
warnings by such labor leaders as [A. Philip]
The traditional argument that “trade
autonomy” was sacred, and that it was the province of each
international union to solve the problem of Negro membership
individually, was effectively scotched.
If it was proper for the A. F. of L. to interfere in the
Building Traders Unions dispute, was it not proper to take an
aggressive hand in the issue of racial discrimination?
As stated above it was the formation of the Committee
for Industrial Organization that suddenly gave Negro labor a
new lease on life.
The Unions comprising this group had
consistently given the colored man better treatment than he had
been accorded in the other unions.
In particular, as
John Brophy has pointed out in a letter
to the Interracial Review,
the Negro had taken an active part in the United
But what was of greater importance was that
the strife had placed the Negro in a middle position where both
factions would eventually bargain for his aid and allegiance.
When the conflict becomes more intense it will be possible for
William Green to override the
reactionaries in organized labor and to institute his program.
Part of his statement is as follows:
It is pertinent at
this point to call attention to the fact that the
racial problem of this country, so far as the trade
union movement is concerned, is not a Negro problem
in particular. It
is a problem which equally effects large numbers of
others; for the wage earners of our great country
represent practically every nationality throughout the
The organized labor
movement declares that wage earners cannot achieve and
maintain American Standards of wages, hours and
conditions of employment except through organized united
economic effort. The
great need of the Negro workers is organization into
trade unions with their fellow wage earners.
The door is open. We ask them to come in.
We do not ask them to
give up their fraternal organizations, their social
organizations, their insurance organizations, or
whatever form of society or organization they may now
enjoy, but for their own salvation as wage earners, for
the maintenance of the high standard of wages, hours and
conditions of employment of the American workmen, we do
ask, plead and urge that each of them as an individual
Negro worker make application for membership as a
workman of whatever trade or calling to the union of
that trade and calling in whose district they are
The ideal painted in these paragraphs is the
one that Negroes have long fought to attain:
to be treated as one with their fellow white workers, not
to be relegated to a lower caste.
Industrial Unionism is the best exemplification of this
goal. It concerns
itself with the organization of all workers in a particular
industry into one union.
Unlike craft unionism which seeks to organize
laborers according to the process in which they are engaged,
industrial unionism organize the workers according to the
product manufactured. As
an example, all of the workers in the auto industry would belong
to one union, not to many separate organizations.
Any attempt to segregate the Negro in this type of union
would be suicidal.
It also spells suicide to segregate in craft
unionism, but there the effect is slow and protracted.
In industrial unionism dissolution would be rapid. Segregation would immediately create a justly dissatisfied
minority that would be an easily pliable weapon in the hands of
Working shoulder to shoulder with white
workers the Negro would be familiar with his work and in case of
strikes by the majority workers he could remain at his machine
thus nullifying the efforts of his co-workers to attain demands. What incentive would be to have to fight for men who had
forcibly placed him in a lower category, as a despised group,
when he was their equal in efficiency and skill?
In its very essence, then, industrial
unionism denies segregation and it is for this reason that
leading Negro Labor men favor it.
That discrimination will entirely disappear in craft
unionism is doubtful.
will still be possible for the white craftsmen to shunt the
Negro into separate locals and Federal unions.
But the strength of racial prejudice will be weakened and
many of its potent arguments destroyed when industrial unionism
the Negro shows that he is fully capable of combining with his
fellow White workers in winning and holding those just rights to
which every laborer is entitled.
Source: Interracial Review
• May, 1936
* * *
* * *
* * *
Incognegro: A Memoir of
Exile and Apartheid
B. Wilderson III
Wilderson, a professor,
writer and filmmaker from
presents a gripping account
of his role in the downfall
of South African apartheid
as one of only two black
Americans in the African
National Congress (ANC).
After marrying a South
African law student,
returns with her to South
Africa in the early 1990s,
where he teaches
Johannesburg and Soweto
students, and soon joins the
military wing of the ANC.
portrait of Nelson Mandela
as a petulant elder eager to
accommodate his white
countrymen will jolt readers
who've accepted the
usually accorded him. After
the assassination of
Mandela's rival, South
African Communist Party
leader Chris Hani, Mandela's
regime deems Wilderson's
public questions a threat to
national security; soon,
having lost his stomach for
the cause, he returns to
Wilderson has a
distinct, powerful voice and
a strong story that shuffles
between the indignities of
Johannesburg life and his
early years in Minneapolis,
the precocious child of
academics who barely
tolerate his emerging
about love within and across
the color line and cultural
divides are as provocative
as his politics; despite
digressions, this is a
riveting memoir of
apartheid's last days.—Publishers
* * *
Becoming American Under Fire
Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship
During the Civil War Era
By Christian G. Samito
In Becoming American under Fire, Christian G. Samito provides a rich account of how African American and Irish American soldiers influenced the modern vision of national citizenship that developed during the Civil War era. By bearing arms for the Union, African Americans and Irish Americans exhibited their loyalty to the United States and their capacity to act as citizens; they strengthened their American identity in the process. . . . For African American soldiers, proving manhood in combat was only one aspect to their quest for acceptance as citizens. As Samito reveals, by participating in courts-martial and protesting against unequal treatment, African Americans gained access to legal and political processes from which they had previously been excluded. The experience of African Americans in the military helped shape a postwar political movement that successfully called for rights and protections regardless of race.
Irish Americans, soldiering in the Civil War was part of a
larger affirmation of republican government and it forged a bond
between their American citizenship and their Irish nationalism.
The wartime experiences of Irish Americans helped bring about
recognition of their full citizenship through naturalization and
also caused the United States to pressure Britain to abandon its
centuries-old policy of refusing to recognize the naturalization
of British subjects abroad.
For Love of Liberty
* * * * *
Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher
and Charles Molesworth
L. Locke (1886-1954), in his famous 1925 anthology
The New Negro, declared that “the pulse of the
Negro world has begun to beat in Harlem.” Often called
the father of the Harlem Renaissance, Locke had his
finger directly on that pulse, promoting, influencing,
and sparring with such figures as
Zora Neale Hurston,
Jacob Lawrence, Richmond Barthé, William Grant Still,
W. E. B. Du
Bois, Ralph Bunche, and John Dewey. The long-awaited
first biography of this extraordinarily gifted
philosopher and writer, Alain L. Locke narrates the
untold story of his profound impact on twentieth-century
America’s cultural and intellectual life. Leonard Harris
and Charles Molesworth trace this story through Locke’s
Philadelphia upbringing, his undergraduate years at
Harvard—where William James helped spark his influential
engagement with pragmatism—and his tenure as the first
African American Rhodes Scholar.
The heart of their
narrative illuminates Locke’s heady years in 1920s New
York City and his forty-year career at Howard
University, where he helped spearhead the adult
education movement of the 1930s and wrote on topics
ranging from the philosophy of value to the theory of
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
18 April 2012