The building-trades unions are of concern to blacks and Puerto Ricans demanding entrance into them, to liberals who support this demand, and to those workers who feel threatened by it. The present situation could make for a social explosion—poverty and racial discrimination on one side, insecurity and anger on the other.
The confrontations we have seen in the building trades and the attention paid to them by the media have led to an oversimplification of the problem. There is a tendency to see it as merely a conflict between black and white, or good and evil, and many people who discuss the situation use these racial and moral terms interchangeably. But the problem cannot be dealt with unless we look at the factors that have brought it about. An important, often ignored factor is the economic situation in the building trades. How can large numbers of black workers get into the building trades without the creation of new jobs through expanded construction? Instead, by March 1970, cutbacks in federal outlays for construction, which are part of the Nixon administration’s efforts to control inflation, had increased unemployment in the construction industry to 8.1 percent. This figure is higher than the general rate o...
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