Labor Day Remembrance and Appreciation

Labor Day; a day for commemorating and celebrating the great contributions of the Labor Union movement in America.

For everyone knows that racism in America — in the form of the denial — on the basis of race — of employment opportunity and advancement within — of the sort of that brought prosperity to so many and established a legacy for generations of upstanding, productive — and mostly white — citizens — is an unfortunate but nonetheless true aspect of American industrialization and big business, right?

The greedy bastards and robber barons wanted it all for themselves; and what they were willing to share, they wanted it shared with their fair skinned brethren. Isn’t that right?

Blacks, Hispanics, women, and other minorities today have every reason to be bitter, don’t they? After all, didn’t it take the hard-won efforts of forming labor unions going back to the 1800s to finally, finally — by 1935 — achieve some sort of movement in the right direction?

Or did it?

I don’t usually do this, but I’m going to copy/paste that article in its entirely. I don’t want to risk that link going away and it’s too important not to have around. Read the whole thing.

Affirmative Action’s Strange Career 
Look for the union label. 


Monday, September 3, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT

125th Labor Day, Americans ought to consider one of organized labor’s
lesser-known contributions to American politics: affirmative action.

most of their first century, American unions promoted affirmative
action for white workers: Trade unions were job monopolies and most
often white job monopolies. California unions, for example, led
the campaign against Chinese immigrant labor, and the "union label"
campaign helped to enable consumers to boycott products made by Chinese
workers. "The cigars contained herein are made by WHITE MEN," the
original union label read. As for East Coast immigrant labor, the
celebrated socialist leader Eugene V. Debs once complained, "The Dago
works for small pay and lives far more like a savage or wild beast,
than the Chinese."

all, unions made it difficult for blacks to earn a living. The first
large union federation, the National Labor Union, set the pattern of
exclusion and evasion. Although it was broadly known that national and
local unions excluded blacks, either by their constitutions or informal
custom, the federation claimed that, since its constitution made no reference to the race issue, it was unnecessary to deal with it.

a result, blacks often helped to break strikes by racially exclusive
unions (such as Debs’s American Railway Union during the 1894 Pullman
strike). In response, unions became even more discriminatory and
dismissed black complaints about union exclusion as demands for
preferential treatment.

1917, Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor
(AFL), claimed, "Colored workmen have not been asking that equal rights
be accorded to them as to white workmen, but [they] somehow convey the
idea that they are to be petted or coddled and given special
consideration and special privilege." He added, "Of course that can’t
be done."

places where unions could not exclude blacks, they adopted racial
quotas to limit their number or share of work. These were common in
Gulf Coast port cities, and were used by railroad unions into the 20th

workers often had to fight past white picketers who threatened them
with violence or death. And not only picketers. Gov. John R. Tanner of
Illinois, a Republican, pledged to stop black replacement workers from
breaking a mine workers’ strike in 1898, saying he would "shoot to
pieces with gatling guns" any train that transported them. An Illinois
militia commander swore, "If any Negroes are brought while I am in
charge, and they refuse to retreat when ordered to do so, I will order
my men to fire."

also used federal legislation to enable private unions to maintain
racial monopolies or even drive black workers out of their jobs. The La
Follette Seamen’s Act of 1915 sought to sweep Asians out of the
merchant ship service. As Gompers told another leading Progressive,
Sen. Robert La Follette, the unregulated labor market was "driving not
only the American but all white men from the sea."

under the Railway Labor Act of 1926, the Brotherhood of Locomotive
Firemen forced reluctant shippers to help them to eliminate black
firemen. The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 forced government contractors to
pay the "prevailing" or union wage as a means to prevent them from
hiring black non-union workers. The 1941 Southeastern Carriers
Agreement (which the black press dubbed the "Hitler Agreement") imposed
a 50% quota on black firemen, forbade any hiring of blacks and stripped
them of all seniority rights until this quota was attained. It also
permitted secret side-agreements to set lower quotas.

1935 Wagner Act gave unions the power to organize mass-production
industries. It was hailed as a crowning achievement, but civil- rights
organizations at the time opposed the act because it did not prohibit
racial exclusion–"the worst piece of legislation ever passed by the
Congress," Urban League President Lester Granger called it.
(Ironically, the term "affirmative action" made its statutory debut in
the Wagner Act, giving to the National Labor Relations Board power to
order employers guilty of unfair labor practices to take such
"affirmative action" as reinstatement, back pay or promotion.)

the end of World War II, the federal judiciary recognized the problem
of the black worker under federal labor law, and imposed on unions a
duty of "fair representation." While not compelled to admit blacks as
members, unions certified as exclusive bargaining agents could not use
their monopoly power to disadvantage minority-group workers.
Nevertheless, since the National Labor Relations Board consistently
took the side of white unions, the onus of enforcing the fair
representation doctrine fell on individual black workers.

the 1960s, two decades of executive orders and state fair employment
laws to cease discrimination had made little impact on unions. And when
Congress finally outlawed employment discrimination in the Civil Rights
Act of 1964, it included an exemption for "bona fide seniority
systems," in order to protect benefits that white workers had won at
the expense of blacks over the previous generation.

the process of trying to overcome this loophole, federal agencies
devised the doctrine of "the present effects of past discrimination,"
which lies at the heart of contemporary affirmative action theory.

architects of affirmative action began to formulate the "present
effects of past discrimination" principle, which they called the
"rightful place" doctrine, in the late 1960s, and the federal courts
eagerly adopted it. The Supreme Court endorsed it in the 1971 Griggs
case. Although an employer may not intentionally discriminate, the
under-representation of minority workers is regarded as perpetuating
past discrimination.

theory made sense with regard to already illegal and overt union
discrimination. But it metastasized into our general principle of
"disparate impact"–any policy that has racially disproportionate results is presumed unlawful, and thus encourages employers to adopt racial quotas.

yet the Supreme Court effectively restored the seniority system
exemption for unions in 1977. After the unions had taken care of their
senior members, the court then gave its imprimatur to "voluntary"
quotas in the 1979 Weber case, in which the United Steelworkers
set aside half of their skilled apprentice training slots for blacks,
and shielded employers against "reverse discrimination" suits by white

accomplished a similar feat of provoking and then escaping quotas in
the federal contracting program known as the "Philadelphia Plan."
President Lyndon Johnson’s Labor Department devised a set of "goals and
timetables" to increase the number of blacks in the notoriously
"lily-white" construction trades.

Nixon administration implemented these plans, enraging leaders of the
AFL. But after decades of dismissing legitimate black demands for equal
treatment as preferential treatment, the unions’ condemnation of actual demands for preferential treatment lacked force.

soon extended the Philadelphia Plan from construction trades to all
government contractors–covering perhaps half of the American work
force. And yet, remarkably, the very construction unions that provoked
the Philadelphia Plan soon won exemption from it. The Labor Department,
now headed by AFL-CIO Construction Trades President Peter Brennan ("the
fox was given the duty of guarding the chickens," a former N.L.R.B.
chairman noted), substituted less demanding and voluntary "hometown
plans" for the quota systems of the original Philadelphia Plan.

usually point to federal bureaucrats and judges as the architects of
affirmative action. They ought to remember the unions who provided the

Moreno is a professor of history at Hillsdale College and the author of
"Black Americans and Organized Labor: A New History," (Louisiana State
University Press, 2006).

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

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