Posted by: kokoro | 17th Mar, 2009

Korstad, Civil Rights Unionism, Chapters 10-15

In chapters ten and eleven Korstad focuses on Local 22’s political involvement outside of the workplace. Local 22 became the largest black led local in the South, and voting rights and education were at the top of its agenda, as it worked to enfranchise and mobilize the black and white poor of the South. The CIO created Political Action Committees (PACs), and in 1944 Local 22 created its own. Following the war, Local 22 met with the president, lobbied Congress, and helped to revitalize the NAACP in the South, as well as register voters and support candidates. Local 22 worked to spread unionism to the tobacco belt in the eastern half of North Carolina, as a part of Operation Dixie. Operation Dixie was an attempt by the CIO to rally and organize southern workers in the workplace, ballot box, and community.

Chapters twelve through fifteen examine the difficulties civil rights unionism faced going into the 1950s. In 1947 the biracial coalition elected to the Winston-Salem Board of Alderman the first African American to win against a white opponent in the South since the turn-of-the-century disenfranchisement of blacks. However, Local 22 took several blows as a result of the Taft-Hartley Act (a result of the Republican take over in the federal government), rifts forming in the CIO and isolation from liberal anti-Communist allies (as part of the collapsing progressive coalition), local antagonism in the form of red baiting, and electoral manipulation. The 1947 strike showed that the union could not completely prevent production anymore, and the new contract with Reynolds, which proved to be the last, gave the company more concessions than it had won in the past. Local 22 could no longer count on government intervention or support from broad-based labor mobilization.

Continuing charges of Communist domination attempted to break the union and prevent change by dividing leaders from the rank-and-file, separating unions from black middle-class, and scaring white workers and anti-Communist liberals. Challenges to Jim Crow were equated to Communism. Nonetheless, Local 22 continued to organize. It turned its attention to white workers, where racism, job competition, and the company’s dividing strategies had prevented much success. The FTA focused recruiting young people, especially women, and it concerned itself with white working-class culture and the bread-and-butter demands that concerned both whites and blacks.

In 1948 the FTA refused to sign the Taft-Hartley anti-Communist affidavits and the Reynolds workers lost NLRB protections. Reynolds refused to recognize the union or take part in collective bargaining. Refusal to sign the affidavits also damaged FTA’s CIO support and black-middle class support. Politics in the South were also changing. White supremacy started to moderate its more restrictive and discriminatory aspects, while maintaining its fundamentals. Whites created partnerships with the black middle-class to give the appearance of race relation reform, and they created the Community Relations Project (CRP), which spent money to improve blacks’ conditions and create job opportunities. They transferred power from elected officials to appointed committees and diluted black voting strength with gerrymandering. Reynolds also took part in welfare capitalism that expanded workers’ benefits, conditions, and wages. By improving black opportunities and conditions, along with an alternate form of leadership, white supremacy was maintained, the union had less appeal, and the workers’ movement was delegitimized.

The FTA signed the affidavits in 1949, but Local 22 was left to compete with the TWIU-AFL, which focused on white workers, and the United Transport Service Employees (UTSE), which focused on civic leaders to win support. With competition and smearing from competing unions, increasing anti-Communism, little support from political leaders and the black middle-class, and the collapse of the Southern Front, Local 22 never regained its footing.

Nonetheless, Local 22 had an impact. Reynolds maintained workers’ benefits, higher wages, and the seniority system. While policy making moved back behind doors, blacks continued voting in high numbers, keeping an African American on the city’s board at all times. The gradual integration of Winston-Salem also prevented much of the resistance seen in other southern areas, at least until the black protests against gradualism in the 1960s. Civil rights unionism in the 1940s represented the primary form of black mobilization against racial discrimination and second-class citizenship. As a broad movement for social change, mass protests and organization allowed for victories at the local and federal level.

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