Black Workers and the New Unions

Black Workers and the New Unions

HORACE R. CAYTON
GEORGE S. MITCHELL
Copyright Date: 1939
Pages: 496
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807879726_cayton
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  • Book Info
    Black Workers and the New Unions
    Book Description:

    This is a book for those who want to know what really happens when, in circumstances of enormous complexity and under the impetus of the New Deal, an irresistible drive for labor organization runs head-on into an immovably imbedded race prejudice. It is based on interviews by the authors with those people most intimately concerned.A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

    eISBN: 978-0-8078-3806-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. FOREWORD
    (pp. v-viii)
    Charles S. Johnson

    Until recently the Negro laborer has been an agricultural worker, and the scene of his labors has been almost wholly limited to the South. With tenancy rates increasing and ownership decreasing, the condition of agriculture in this section has been unfortunate; and, to add to the dismal prospect, there has been a steadily accumulating population surplus. The historic role of the Negro worker, his cultural isolation, and the consistently meagre returns from his labor have contributed to a status that Booker Washington once described as that of “the man farthest down.” However, what has been for two generations virtually a...

  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Horace R. Cayton and George S. Mitchell

    This work is a study of the economic status and industrial position of the Negroes as industrial laborers and of their participation in labor unions. The developments in those fields are of paramount importance in determining the future of labor in general and of Negro laborers in particular. It was not possible to present a résumé of the history of Negro labor in the United States. However, some analysis of the background of the problem is necessary to acquaint the reader with the point of view from which this research was developed.

    It would be fruitless to attempt to understand...

  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. SECTION I THE IRON AND STEEL INDUSTRY

    • Part I. Background of the Negro in the Iron and Steel Industry

      • [Part I. Introduction]
        (pp. 3-4)

        Part I deals with the general history and background of Negroes in the industry, their peculiar problems, a review of the labor organizations in steel, and the role which Negroes have played in them in the past.

        The Negro entered the iron and steel industry either as a strike breaker or at the time of great labor shortage. Chapter I describes the early history of Negroes in the industry and the period of most rapid increase—1910 to 1930. Some attention is also paid to the geographic distribution of Negro steel employees and it is shown that the early dominant...

      • CHAPTER I THE HISTORY OF NEGRO LABOR IN THE IRON AND STEEL INDUSTRY
        (pp. 5-16)

        There are two primary channels through which Negroes have entered the steel industry: the first is in the role of strike-breaker; the second, as a supplement to the normal labor force in periods of industrial expansion. For many years prior to the advent of the Negro in steel, the industry drew a large proportion of its labor supply from Europe. However, the South, with its thousands of rural Negroes, has always constituted a potential source of labor. But this supply was not drawn upon to any extent until the existing labor force, both immigrant and native, organized and struck. And...

      • CHAPTER II PROBLEMS OF THE NEGRO STEEL WORKER
        (pp. 17-42)

        There are problems which the Negro steel worker shares with all workers in the steel industry or, for that matter, with all workers in any industry. The Negro worker, like the white worker, is affected by the general working conditions in the industry; he has an equally vital interest in such matters as hours, wages, and collective bargaining. The policy of the steel companies with respect to these, and other similar problems, affects black and white steel employees alike. However, in addition to the problems which are common to all workers, the Negro is forced to meet a set of...

      • CHAPTER III UNION ORGANIZATION IN THE STEEL INDUSTRY
        (pp. 43-87)

        Every movement among steel workers to organize themselves into unions since 1890 has been fought relentlessly by the management of the industry. The Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers, the Knights of Labor, the Industrial Workers of the World, the Communists, and the Conference for Progressive Labor Action have each, at different times, sought to organize steel workers. Most of these attempts met with failure.

        The tremendous power which the employer exerted over the job and even the life of the employee together with the memory of similar defeats in the past combined to render steel workers timid,...

    • Part II. The Unionization of Steel

      • [Part II. Introduction]
        (pp. 88-89)

        In 1937 the United States Steel Company signed a contract with the Steel Workers’ Organizing Committee. This was the first national agreement in “big steel” since 1890. Part II is devoted to a description of the process through which this recognition was achieved. Negroes were a very important element throughout the entire procedure and were often in a position to determine by their participation whether the company or an outside organization would represent the workers of a plant. It is assumed in this discussion that the problems of the Negro worker can be understood only when reflected against the larger...

      • CHAPTER IV THE STEEL CODE
        (pp. 90-103)

        On June 16, 1933, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act. It was signed by the President on the same day. The N.I.R.A. was perhaps the most unusual piece of legislation that has ever been enacted in this country. It sought to incorporate into law the industrial phases of the New Deal program. The N.I.R.A. was idealistically described by President Roosevelt as a coöperative effort in which labor, consumers, and industry would participate. When the President affixed his signature to the Act he declared:

        History probably will record the National Industrial Recovery Act as the most important and far-reaching legislation...

      • CHAPTER V THE REVIVAL OF COMPANY UNIONS
        (pp. 104-110)

        When the first steel code was adopted there were three rival unions seeking to enlist steel workers. The code formally provided for collective bargaining. The steel companies had been ready for some time with their Employees’ Representation Plan. The conservative Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers had exercised at least nominal jurisdiction over the industry since 1886. The newcomers in the field were the Communists with their Steel and Metal Workers’ Industrial Union. Each was prepared to take advantage of the N.R.A.’s provisions to gain greater membership and strength. In the effort to obtain these objectives, each pitted...

      • CHAPTER VI THE COMMUNISTS TAKE THE FIELD
        (pp. 111-122)

        The Communists attacked the National Industrial Recovery Act from its inception. On June 17, the day after the N.I.R.A. became a law, theDaily Workerprinted the following headline:

        ROOSEVELT’S NATIONAL RECOVERY BILL IS AIMED TO OUTLAW STRIKES BY COMPULSORY ARBITRATION AND TO SMASH FIGHTING UNIONS! WORKERS: ORGANIZE TO FIGHT FOR RIGHT TO JOIN UNIONS OF YOUR CHOICE!

        As early as June 22 the paper appealed to the workers to organize “shop committees,” as “the workers can serve their own interest only by insisting upon their own form of organization, by selecting fellow workers in whom they really have confidence....

      • CHAPTER VII THE ORGANIZATIONAL CAMPAIGN OF THE AMALGAMATED ASSOCIATION
        (pp. 123-131)

        When the American Federation of Labor began its wide-spread drive to organize American industrial workers, it had the important advantage of being considered the “official” union. “Indeed,” wrote Karl Lore,

        . . . organizers of the United Mine Workers, for example, did not hesitate to tell the miners that John L. Lewis, head of the miners’ union, “has breakfast with Franklin Roosevelt every morning and the President has asked Lewis to organize all the miners!”¹

        Favored as he seemed to be by the federal administration and with the hope of a “new partnership with industry,” William Green announced he was...

      • CHAPTER VIII THE RANK AND FILE MOVEMENT AND THE STRIKE THREAT
        (pp. 132-145)

        When the Amalgamated Association finally undertook to organize the rank and file workers, the steel industry, with its company unions firmly intrenched, was prepared to meet the challenge. At their disposal were the techniques which in the past had proved effective and the companies spared no effort to utilize all of these to forestall this new attempt at union organization. In the companies’ favor in 1934 was the circumstantial advantage of an abundance of labor. Mills were operating at a fraction of their capacity and a large proportion of steel workers were unemployed.

        Playing upon the natural fear of workers...

      • CHAPTER IX THE STEEL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD AND THE NEW RANK AND FILE MOVEMENT
        (pp. 146-158)

        The Steel Labor Relations Board, appointed by President Roosevelt, consisted of Judge Walter P. Stacey who had in 1927 and 1928 acted as chairman of the Board of Arbitration to settle railroad labor controversies; James Mullenbach (deceased April 2, 1935), for many years a member of the arbitration board of the Hart, Shaffner and Marx clothing firm in Chicago; and Admiral Henry A. Wiley, a retired naval officer. The industrialists, who had previously been opposed to a governmental board and favored a bi-partisan organization similar to that of the automobile industry, suddenly reversed their position and approved of the board....

      • CHAPTER X THE NEGRO IN THE AMALGAMATED ASSOCIATION
        (pp. 159-189)

        It has been pointed out that the national officers of the Amalgamated Association, up until the time of the N.R.A., had not made any concerted attempt to organize Negroes. After the passage of the N.I.R.A. the union officialdom went through its customary superficial gestures of accepting the Negro steel worker, but it was not anxious either to accept him as a full and equal member or to face the problems incident to his organization.

        After explaining to an investigator that the national office was, and always had been, without prejudice toward Negroes, Secretary Leonard remarked that necessity dictated that Negroes...

      • CHAPTER XI THE C. I. O. CAMPAIGN TO ORGANIZE STEEL
        (pp. 190-224)

        By the latter part of 1934 it became apparent to the more progressive elements in the labor movement that the American Federation of Labor with its existing structural form and leadership was unable to cope with the difficulties of organizing the mass production industries. Mr. Green’s proud boast in 1933 that he would organize 25,000,000 workers had failed miserably of attainment, especially in the heavy industries. The Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers had again lapsed into a mere skeleton organization with Mike Tighe and the old guard once more in control and the rank and file movement...

  6. SECTION II THE MEAT-PACKING INDUSTRY

    • CHAPTER XII THE NEGRO ENTERS THE MEAT-PACKING INDUSTRY
      (pp. 228-238)

      Negroes were first employed in the Chicago Stockyards in 1881 when two colored men were hired, one as a butcher and one as a beef-boner.¹ For the next nine years no mention is made in the literature of Negro employees in meatpacking, but in 1891 a Negro was reported to be a member of one of Armour’s killing gangs.² During the next few years there was some infiltration of Negro workers among unskilled and even skilled workmen in the Chicago plants. But this caused no conflict.

      Negro butchers were an oddity; even unskilled Negro laborers were few. To stand aside...

    • CHAPTER XIII THE AMALGAMATED MEAT CUTTERS AND BUTCHER WORKMEN
      (pp. 239-256)

      IN 1897 the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America received its charter from the American Federation of Labor.¹ All persons employed in the yards, regardless of sex, nationality or color, were invited to join.

      At a union meeting which I attended, a colored man was the officer who presented a group for initiation, composed of four nationalities, needing interpreters in the Bohemian, Polish, Lithuanian, and German language.²

      The organization was very important in fostering amicable relations between the racial and nationality groups in the yards. The union was idealistic in its aims and included, contrary to the...

    • CHAPTER XIV THE UNION MOVEMENT UNDER THE NEW DEAL
      (pp. 257-280)

      When the blanket code¹ was passed, the meat-packing industry boasted three rival union organizations. The Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America was the American Federation of Labor union. The company unions, organized in many plants in 1921, had been comparatively inactive but were brought to life by the packers in an attempt to retain control over their labor force. The Packing House Workers’ Industrial Union, which reflected the revolutionary philosophy of the Communist Party, was the newcomer in the field.

      Except for sporadic strikes in 1924, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen had been phlegmatic since...

  7. SECTION III RAILROAD CAR SHOPS

    • CHAPTER XV RAILROAD CAR SHOPS
      (pp. 284-310)

      In order to get a first-hand account of the position of Negro shop workers in railroad car shops, visits were made during the summer of 1934 to six large shops. These were picked to represent typical conditions in shops which used a relatively high percentage of Negro help. The shops selected were leading repair yards of the Southern Railway and the Illinois Central Railway, three to each road. Four of the shops were located in distinctively Southern states, one in each of the following: Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The other two shops provided a comparison with border-state or...

  8. SECTION IV The Birmingham District

    • CHAPTER XVI HISTORY AND BACKGROUND OF THE BIRMINGHAM DISTRICT
      (pp. 314-320)

      Birmingham is a new city, built up to a population of 260,000 in the sixty-five years since 1870. Its basis is the remarkable wealth of coal and iron ore which are found together at the root of the Southern Appalachian chain. The mineral region of which Birmingham is the industrial center includes ten counties in north central and northeastern Alabama, with Birmingham’s own Jefferson County by far the richest in ore deposits and ore mines, and the producer of nearly one-half the coal annually mined in the state. Walker County, next door to Jefferson, mines a little under 30 per...

    • CHAPTER XVII UNION ORGANIZATION UNDER THE N.R.A.
      (pp. 321-341)

      The major industries of the Birmingham district remained largely unreached by trade unionism from the post-war deflation until the beginning of the general union boom after the passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act. It is true that Birmingham was the headquarters of the Southern Organizing Campaign which the American Federation of Labor undertook in 1930, after the series of southern cotton mill strikes of the year before. The city was selected as the center of the South’s heavy industries, and in all probability with a view to reorganizing the Alabama mine field, but the upshot of the long campaign...

    • CHAPTER XVIII RACE RELATIONS AND THE UNIONS
      (pp. 342-368)

      To almost everyone in Birmingham with whom the writer of this chapter talked, the question was put at some time in the conversation, “Does this business of Negroes and whites going into trade unions make for better or for worse feeling between the races?” Birmingham is decidedly not of one mind in answering the question. Nearly all trade unionists thought organization of Negroes a desirable step. Most of the non-union people, and the company union people interviewed were against it, on grounds of race relationships. Persons concerned with management were in the main against it on the same grounds, although...

  9. SECTION V THE NEGRO COMMUNITY AND THE UNION MOVEMENT

    • CHAPTER XIX THE SOCIAL ORGANIZATION OF THE NEGRO COMMUNITY AND ITS RELATION TO THE UNION MOVEMENT
      (pp. 372-424)

      Most discussions of the question of Negroes in the labor movement have centered around the issue of racial discrimination. While discrimination undoubtedly has been a powerful factor in restraining Negroes from joining trade unions, the fact should not be overlooked that the defensive reaction of the community against such prejudice has been to confirm the point of view of those who are suspicious of or even fear white workers. This has led to the development of a strong sentiment among Negroes (both workers and others) against union organizations. This sentiment, unless combated, will act as a significant barrier in keeping...

    • CHAPTER XX A PROGRAM FOR NEGRO LABOR
      (pp. 425-434)

      We are confronted at this point with the necessity of formulating a program that will secure the effective incorporation of Negroes into the trade union movement. The proposed recommendations seek to accomplish three preliminary objectives: (1) to increase and strengthen favorable union sentiment in the Negro community; (2) to break down the racial prejudice of white workers and union officials; and (3) to provide resources for the unionization of Negro workers in the Negro community. The discussion will refer particularly to the semi-skilled and unskilled divisions of the labor force where Negro workers are concentrated.

      In considering the history of...

  10. APPENDICES

    • APPENDIX A THE SUBNORMAL NEGRO AND THE SUBNORMAL CODE
      (pp. 437-438)
    • APPENDIX B MURDERS OF NEGRO FIREMEN
      (pp. 439-445)
    • APPENDIX C GENERAL TABLES
      (pp. 446-457)
    • BIBLIOGRAPHY
      (pp. 458-468)
    • INDEX
      (pp. 469-478)