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Incidence of Labor Relations (1962)

The following is an extract from chapter XII of Oliver C. Cox’s Capitalism and American Leadership (New York: Philosophical Library, 1962), 226–33.

The Problem

The situation in the South has been such that the master class has been able to limit severely the education and folk participation of Negroes and thus to prolong its paternalism. In that area also the ruling group has succeeded in propagating race prejudice and utilizing it effectively as a retarding cultural force. Perhaps the most confusing approach to understanding the class position of Negroes in the United States has been the assumption that race prejudice is a primary, psychological function. One would think that after the almost laboratory example of the rise and subsidence of German fascism, of how racial antagonism may be fanned to a fanatical pitch and then dramatically arrested, it would now be patently clear that the generation and maintenance of prejudice and discrimination depend upon a definable social situation.

The dominant economic class has always been at the motivating center of the spread of racial antagonism. This is to be expected since the economic content of the antagonism, especially at its proliferating source in the South, has been precisely that of labor-capital relations. The biological difference of color provides a concrete symbol upon which attitudes of fear and hate might be anchored. The dominant class, furthermore, has been explicit in its terms of living together in “peace” and harmony with Negroes. Its pivotal condition has been that the latter be content to work hard, willingly, and unorganized. “Love” tends to vanish as soon as Negroes begin to show signs of unionization, of movements for normal political status, and of desires to bring themselves up to cultural parity.

The schools, of course, are the principal institution for transmission of the culture. Accordingly, that “fine relationship” long existing between the races in the South tends speedily to come to an end when Negroes seek equal educational opportunities. As one Congressional Representative from Georgia, John J. Flynt, Jr., said in the House on February 23, 1956: “The Supreme Court decision [insisting upon equal educational opportunities for all citizens regardless of color] handed down on Black Monday, the 17th of May, 1954, did more to destroy the progress that had been made in race relations in the South than anything that has happened in the past 80 years.”

The principal conditions for development of mass attitudes of racial antipathy appears to be: (a) a peculiar variant of capitalist production; (b) an exploitable group which can be identified as culturally or biologically different; (c) monopolization of political power by a de facto ruling class; (d) control of the media of mass communication and continuous use of them to direct derogatory and discriminatory propaganda against the exploitable group; and (e) the promulgation of discriminatory laws, the most important of which make segregation mandatory. In a situation such as this the races may be effectively estranged. Each side tends thus to live in some state of endemic social distrust while interracial mass behavior involving violence assumes a continuously potential danger.

The way in which an economic situation may be hinged to racial differences may be illustrated by the following news item:

Tokyo’s big, influential daily, Yomiuri, last week [April, 1955] headlined a series of articles on a startling economic theme: “Japan is at the mercy of the blue-eyed foreigners.” The blue-eyed foreigners, cried Yomiuri, are U.S. business men in Japan, who are charging “exorbitant” royalty fees …. The vicious newspaper articles were a symptom of the worsening relations, now approaching a postwar low, between U.S. companies and the Japanese Government.

This racial situation, of course, is not identical with the one in the South, yet it is easy to sense what profound emotions are touched by injection of the “blue-eyed” element into the economic relationship. It is easy to conceive, also, how blue-eyes might, under certain circumstances, become in Japan a symbol of dishonor and even racial shame. The yellow cap and badge of medieval Jews was intended to serve similar emotional purposes. The Southern oligarchy has lost no opportunity to render the physical traits of Negroes a red cape of mass passions. Indeed, these passions have been so assiduously cultivated that they may now be evoked spontaneously among the white masses of that region.

And yet, even though it may be recognized that the pith of racial friction in the South lies in the exploitative interests of the dominant group, there have been no full-scale investigations of its processes. Professor Key refers to this process as “an extraordinary achievement of a relatively small minority—the whites of the areas of heavy population—which persuaded the entire South that it should fight to protect slave property. Later, with allies from conservatives generally, substantially the same group put down a radical movement welling up from the sections dominated by the poorer whites. And by the propagation of a doctrine about the status of the Negro, it impressed on an entire region a philosophy agreeable to its necessities and succeeded … in maintaining a regional unity in national politics to defend those necessities” (V. O. Key, Jr., Southern Politics, New York, 1949, p. 9).

Since the inciting element in the antagonism must be discovered in the business activities and conspiratorial planning of this powerful group, which sometimes take the form of related secret organizations, it is perhaps impossible for the ordinary social researcher to uncover all the pertinent data. Doubtless only Congressional investigations with their formal authority to compel testimony on the nature of the network of local and interstate economic, political, and even religious interests behind racial tensions would be reasonably sufficient. In 1948, when civil rights became a major issue in the presidential campaign, Thomas L. Stokes, the noted journalist, made this observation:

More and more people in the South are waking up to a truth which many have known for a long time. It is that the racial issue is capitalized by the demagogic type of Southern politician for his own purposes and for the purposes of the interests which, in turn, use him …. The [the politicians] appeal to the prejudices of many whites in the lower economic levels, because those unfortunate people fear encroachment in their limited field of opportunity. Racial prejudice is nurtured by economics. (Atlanta Constitution, Feb. 5, 1948)

Posture of Organized Labor

A further indication of the fact that the tender spots of typically Southern attitudes lie at the convergence of the races on the workers’ level is the spontaneous reaction which any labor organization entering the South to unionize the masses must expect. When, in 1946, the CIO decided upon such a campaign, the Ku Klux Klan was forthwith revived and the full machinery of employer resistance came into play. As an initial answer to the movement the Southern States Industrial Council, a business men’s organization, declared:

At last the plan and purpose of the CIO-PAC to establish political control over the nation and to supplant our democratic institutions … is in the open. If there has been any doubt about the aims of this organization, or the objects it seeks to attain, that doubt is dispelled by the announcements that the South is to be “organized” …. One of the most pitiful, and at the same time most dangerous features of this drive to organize the South is the way Negroes are being misled and used …. By advocating a system of social and economic equality … these people are promising the Negro an earthly Utopia …. The situation now is not unlike that which obtained when that “great democrat,” Thaddeus Stevens, attempted to enslave the people of the South and to confiscate their property …. I predict that the ones who will suffer most from the abortive efforts of this group … will be the Negro …. He will have no friends among his own race, and certainly he will have none among the Whites …. Like David of old, we … will continue to fight … to preserve our democratic institutions, our free enterprise system, and the Constitutional right of the American worker to be free. (Southern States Industrial Council, The Kiss of Death, Nashville, Apr. 29, 1946)

We have quoted at length from this statement for it represents an abiding attitude of the Southern economic leadership: its determination to combat organized labor; its recognition that the unionization of Negroes is a prospect most dangerous to its own monopolization of power; its suggestion of what inflammatory uses might be made of the “social-and-economic” equality issue; and its certainty that it can inflict such decisive punishment upon colored workers for entering the labor movement that they will not only “suffer most” but also be driven into still greater isolation. The CIO was thus confronted with formidable barriers; and these were the more effective because in that area the legislature, the courts, and the police are closely bound to the purposes and interests of the employing class. Indeed, they ordinarily tend to speak with one indistinguishable voice. By mid-1948 the leaders of the drive reported that they were meeting all the obstacles that “the well organized manufacturers’ organizations” could devise. “Management,” they said, “with years of experience in fighting unions in the North, has hired renegade preachers to preach that unionization is anti-religious. They have cooperated with the Ku Klux Klan to spread word that unions are un-American. Terrorism, brutality, race intolerance, and bigotry have had to be met and overcome” (Ed Stone, “Saga of Two Years in Dixie,” The CIO News, June 7, 1948, p. 6).

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