LESTER B. GRANGER “The Negro – Friend or Foe of Organized Labor” (1935)

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WHO HOLDS FIRST claim on the loyalty of the Negro worker — his fellow workers who toil side by side with him, or his employer who hires and pays him, sometimes against the wishes of white labor? Is it wisdom for Negro workers to protect the interest of white labor, which has so often kicked them in the face, or should they line up with employers against labor unions, even to the point of scabbing and strike-breaking?

This is no longer an academic question to be disputed to hairline extremities by soft-handed theoreticians. It is an urgent problem facing the black man in the street every day, the answer to which will have tremendous effect upon the fortunes of Negro populations in every large city of America within the next ten years. Visible results may come even sooner, so amazing is the speed with which our national industrial picture is being transformed under the pressure of economic upheaval. Every day comes account of some new development in Negro-white labor relations — some new problem to be solved presently by black workers for their permanent profit or loss.

A few months ago the staff of a NewJersey white daily newspaper protested to the publisher against unfair working conditions. They were members of the Newspaper Guild, and when their demands were not met they went out on strike. On the staff, and a member of the Guild, was a Negro editorial writer who had been given his chance and promoted from the ranks by the publisher personally. He refused to strike with his fellow union members, stating that the publisher needed him and he could not desert his employer-friend in this hour of need.

In New York, on the other hand, sixty employees of a whole sale drug company went out on strike to protest the dismissal of three workers because of union activities. Among the strikers was a Negro who held an excellent job and stood high in the employer’s favor. He walked out on strike, not because of any personal dissatisfaction, but because he resented the boss’s attempt to break up the union — because lie felt that his own job could not be safe unless his fellow workers were also secure.

Which Negro acted wisely? Was the drug clerk a scatterbrained young fool, as his friends advised, to risk his own prospects in joining with his white fellow workers? Was the newspaper man a treacherous scab, to violate his union pledge and betray the strike for better working conditions? It is a question which comes up with increasing frequency to plague the Negro worker employed with a small concern where close personal relationships are established between worker and boss.

“The Negro — Friend or Foe of Organized Labor” by Lester B. Granger, OPPORTUNITY, XII (May, 1935), pp. 142-144. Reprinted with permission of the National Urban League, Inc.

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Prepared by Deborah Mercer and Edith Beckett of the New Jersey State Library.
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New Jersey Department of State.
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Updated:Thursday, April 24, 2003