Discrimination and the Unions

Discrimination and the Unions

As the protests of 1963 and ’64 with their picketing of “Jim Crow” construction projects begin to fade into history, so does the unequivocal blessing the AFL—CIO gave to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its fair employment provisions. Certainly, no leadership has been so far in advance of its constituency as that of the labor movement on the civil rights issue. The CIO unions, particularly, pushed hard for civil rights legislation when the issue was far more moral than political —as it was 20 years ago. Large Negro memberships have also made it less difficult for them to speak out, for instance, against formal racial exclusions and the separation of Negro workers in segregated locals.

Yet, although the labor movement continuously reminds us of its support for anti-discriminatory legislation, its somewhat defensive repetition of this point indicates that something has gone wrong. This is not George Meany drawing away from the 1963 “March on Washington” for fear of a tactical error. It is something more fundamental, suggesting that organized labor is out of step with the general drift of job advancement for Negroes when that advancement tampers with established union policies and procedures.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima