icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Jeffrey B. Perry Blog

On the Emergency Labor Network's Statement "Organize the Unorganized -- An Urgent Task for Labor"

The Emergency Labor Network writes in its July 23, 2012, “Organize the Unorganized – An Urgent Task for Labor” statement:

"What will it take to address this jobs and housing emergency? Putting millions of workers back to work will require immediate action to create a public works jobs program comparable to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s . . . . During the Great Depression, programs like Social Security, unemployment compensation, the WPA and other forms of relief for the unemployed were won through mass struggles organized by Unemployed Councils and other organizations of the jobless. None of these social gains were handed to workers by benevolent bosses or politicians."

I would argue that yes, workers struggled during the Great Depression and made gains, but we should be aware that the ruling class shaped its response to such struggle in a white-supremacist way. That white-supremacist shaping was against the interest of working people. It is a white-supremacist shaping that we should be prepared to counter today.

Specifically, I write in my article “The Developing Conjuncture and Some Insights From Hubert Harrison and Theodore W. Allen on the Centrality of the Fight Against White Supremacy” at http://www.jeffreybperry.net (top left) Click Here that --

"In his book, 'When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America,' [Ira] Katznelson explains how the national policies enacted from the 1930s through the 1950s – initiatives such as Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act, emergency relief, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the G.I. Bill – 'constituted a massive transfer of quite specific privileges to white Americans' and 'widened the gap between white and black Americans.'

Katznelson describes how the South’s representatives in both Houses of Congress 'built ramparts within the policy initiatives of the New Deal and the Fair Deal to safeguard their region’s social organization' and he cites three particular mechanisms that they used. First, 'they sought to leave out as many African Americans as they could . . . not by inscribing race into law but by writing provisions that . . . were racially laden.' The most important instances concerned categories of work in which blacks were heavily overrepresented, notably farmworkers and maids.' These groups, which constituted over 60% percent of the Black labor force in the 1930s and nearly 75% of those employed in the South, 'were excluded from the legislation that created modern unions, from laws that set minimum wages and regulated the hours of work, and from Social Security until the 1950s.' Second, 'they successfully insisted that the administration of these and other laws, including assistance to the poor and support for veterans, be placed in the hands of local officials who were deeply hostile to black aspirations.' Third, 'they prevented Congress from attaching any sort of anti-discrimination provisions to a wide array of social welfare programs such as community health services, school lunches, and hospital construction grants, indeed all the programs that distributed monies to their region.' In this way 'a wide array of public policies' gave preference to whites and 'most black Americans were left behind or left out.' One of the most glaring examples cited by Katznelson concerns the impediments to African Americans getting GI Bill home loans that had features such as low interest and zero down payments. The many impediments to African Americans were not limited to the South, and in New York and the northern New Jersey suburbs 'fewer than 100 of the 67,000 mortgages insured by the GI Bill supported home purchases by non-whites.'

I further point out --

"The Great Depression and World War II witnessed the rise of industrial unionism in which African Americans were included to an unprecedented degree. However, writes [Theodore W.] Allen, the CIO abandoned attempts to organize the South, and 'went into alliance with the Democratic machines and the Dixiecrats that formed Roosevelt's "troika."' The 'white-skin privilege employment policy that had already existed was given the seal of approval by the incorporation of the seniority principle in almost all labor agreements.' The Southern Jim Crow system continued to oppress Blacks and the armed forces continued to be Jim Crow operations. Very importantly the 'relative unemployment rate of Blacks to whites in 1929 had been about 1 to 1,' but by 1947 it was established at 'a rate of Black unemployment of double that of white unemployment.' This was followed by the Taft-Hartley Act, which was passed in June 1947 and paved the way for a series of anti-union laws that contributed to the decline of the trade union movement."

It is my hope that those in the Emergency Labor Network, as well as those influenced by it, will take these points into consideration as we work to move the struggle forward.

Jeffrey B. Perry

Post a comment