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Black Power at Work

Black Power at Work: Community Control, Affirmative Action, and the Construction Industry

David Goldberg
Trevor Griffey
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Black Power at Work
    Book Description:

    Black Power at Work chronicles the history of direct action campaigns to open up the construction industry to black workers in the 1960s and 1970s. The book's case studies of local movements in Brooklyn, Newark, the Bay Area, Detroit, Chicago, and Seattle show how struggles against racism in the construction industry shaped the emergence of Black Power politics outside the U.S. South. In the process, "community control" of the construction industry-especially government War on Poverty and post-rebellion urban reconstruction projects- became central to community organizing for black economic self-determination and political autonomy.

    The history of Black Power's community organizing tradition shines a light on more recent debates about job training and placement for unemployed, underemployed, and underrepresented workers. Politicians responded to Black Power protests at federal construction projects by creating modern affirmative action and minority set-aside programs in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but these programs relied on "voluntary" compliance by contractors and unions, government enforcement was inadequate, and they were not connected to jobs programs. Forty years later, the struggle to have construction jobs serve as a pathway out of poverty for inner city residents remains an unfinished part of the struggle for racial justice and labor union reform in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6195-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-22)
    David Goldberg and Trevor Griffey

    The construction industry has provided extraordinary opportunities for class mobility in the United States, but those benefits have been largely restricted to white men and their families. After World War II, home ownership became, along with Social Security, one of the few entitlements that the political culture of the Cold War allowed to be considered “American.” From the 1940s through the 1960s, generous federal government home-loan programs, highway construction, and tax incentives heavily underwrote residential construction in the United States (particularly in its suburbs). As numerous studies have shown, the racial exclusivity of the post–World War II federal subsidies...

  5. 1 “REVOLUTION HAS COME TO BROOKLYN”: Construction Trades Protests and the Negro Revolt of 1963
    (pp. 23-47)
    Brian Purnell

    In 1963, the national civil rights movement experienced several key turning points. That spring, the violent suppression of peaceful demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama, was televised across the nation as citizens watched firefighters blasting black people with high-pressure water hoses and police dogs mauling nonviolent protesters. This dramatic campaign, and Martin Luther King’s stirring “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which he reminded moderates that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed,” sent a heroic message to citizens around the country regarding the moral righteousness of nonviolence. In August, ten weeks after Byron...

  6. 2 “THE LABORATORY OF DEMOCRACY”: Construction Industry Racism in Newark and the Limits of Liberalism
    (pp. 48-67)
    Julia Rabig

    Four summers before the 1967 Newark uprising left twenty-six people dead, before Newark became an emblem of the urban crisis, two hundred activists amassed at a construction site for the new Barringer High School. It was a small protest, but one at which activists planted seeds for what would become the Newark Black Power movement, influential nationwide. Nearly all the construction workers—also two hundred in number—were white. Arriving for their jobs on the morning of July 3, 1963, they encountered demonstrators organized by the Newark Coordinating Committee (NCC), a coalition of local civil rights groups, in picket lines...

  7. 3 “WORK FOR ME ALSO MEANS WORK FOR THE COMMUNITY I COME FROM”: Black Contractors, Black Capitalism, and Affirmative Action in the Bay Area
    (pp. 68-89)
    John J. Rosen

    In summer 1995, residents of Oakland, California, received news that their city would once again house a professional football team. Having lost the Raiders to Los Angeles thirteen years earlier, local football fans were thrilled at the prospect of the team’s return. “Fans roared, grown people cried and a stereo system blared The Boys Are Back In Town, as members of the Raiders’ faithful got the good news Friday: The Silver and Black is back in Oakland,” the St. Petersburg Times reported.¹ Yet not everyone welcomed the team with open arms. “If they put taxpayer money at risk, the benefit...

    (pp. 90-111)
    David Goldberg

    In June 1968, nine black contractors in Detroit, Michigan, formed Allied Workers International Local 124, an independent, black-run, multitrades union. Seeking to fulfill the 1966 Model Cities mandate to hire black skilled tradesmen and train inner-city residents, Local 124 sought work on the $900 million worth of federally funded projects to rebuild postrebellion Detroit. “The black man lives in the inner city, and the black man must have equal opportunities for the many jobs now available and which will soon become available.” “The ghetto development,” argued Calvin Stubbs Jr., president of Local 124, “will be determined by the Blacks!”¹


  9. 5 “THE STONE WALL BEHIND”: The Chicago Coalition for United Community Action and Labor’s Overseers, 1968–1973
    (pp. 112-133)
    Erik S. Gellman

    Surveying Chicago in 1969, the Reverend Cordy Tindell (C. T.) Vivian declared, “A Revolution is in progress here.” Vivian, a leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), had helped organize freedom marches from Nashville to Selma during the early 1960s. Reflecting on these events, he wrote that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had “removed the Black freedom struggle from the economic realm and placed it in a moral and spiritual context.” Yet, he lamented, “America was unable to respond to love; and we were unable to succeed with loving appeal.” Although this earlier movement had been vital to securing...

  10. 6 “THE BLACKS SHOULD NOT BE ADMINISTERING THE PHILADELPHIA PLAN”: Nixon, the Hard Hats, and “Voluntary” Affirmative Action
    (pp. 134-160)
    Trevor Griffey

    The conventional history of the rise of affirmative action in the late 1960s and early 1970s tends toward a too simple dialectic. The early creation and extension of affirmative action law is often described as an extension of the civil rights movement, whereas organized opposition to affirmative action is described as something that occurred later, as a backlash or reaction that did not fully take hold until Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980.¹

    In this chapter, I tell a different story. I describe the role that labor union resistance to affirmative action played in limiting the ability of the...

  11. 7 FROM JOBS TO POWER: The United Construction Workers Association and Title VII Community Organizing in the 1970s
    (pp. 161-188)
    Trevor Griffey

    “We don’t just want the jobs,” Tyree Scott, the leader of the United Construction Workers Association (UCWA), announced in June 1972 to a group of one hundred black construction workers and their allies in Seattle, Washington. “We want some control over them.”¹

    Scott’s announcement, borne of two years of frustration with the way that on-the-job resistance had undermined affirmative action, marked a dramatic shift in the Seattle campaign for community control of the construction industry. It had been three years since Scott had led direct action protests in Seattle that inspired the U.S. Department of Justice to file suit against...

    (pp. 189-208)
    David Goldberg and Trevor Griffey

    On January 9, 2009, Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor during President Bill Clinton’s first term, appeared before the House Democratic Caucus Steering and Policy Committee Forum to provide testimony regarding President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan and its potential impact on the construction industry. At first, Reich reiterated a key axiom of liberal economic policy since the New Deal. “It seems to me,” he explained, “that infrastructure spending is a very important and good way of stimulating the economy. The challenge will be to do it quickly, to find projects that can be done that have a high social return that...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 209-254)
  14. About the Contributors
    (pp. 255-256)
  15. Index
    (pp. 257-266)