Critique of William J. Wilson: The Ignored Significance of Class

Against the Current No. 16, September-October 1988

Andy Pollack

“We can contain racial violence. We must make economic violence illegal. Don’t fight Archie Bunker. He’s not investing in South Africa, sending troops to Central America or misusing your pension funds. If we must fight, let’s fight American maniacs who merge our companies, purge our jobs and submerge our economy.”–The Reverend Jesse Jackson, addressing a crowd of Black healthcare workers in New York, May 1987.(1)

AS THE ELECTORAL efforts of the Rainbow Coalition shifted from being the 1984-version of a pressure group on Democratic Party rules and platforms to making a 1988 bid for a first-ballot nomination, the most noticeable programmatic shift in Jesse Jackson’s speeches became a championing of the plight of America’s workers and farmers.

Jackson marched with meatpackers and acted with farmers against foreclosures. Almost alone, he stood against the protectionist sentiment among Democratic politicians in his denunciation of U.S.-based multinational corporations as the agents responsible for plant closings and mass layoffs.

This pro-labor orientation was coupled with an appeal to Blacks angered at recent racist attacks to avoid being “diverted” by racial violence from the “economic common ground” shared by workers of all races.

Jackson denounced the pretensions of supposedly antiracist upper-class liberals who sneer at working-class whites, and, in at least two instances-the Cudahy meatpacking strike in Nebraska’ and the DeGraf Hospital strike in Buffalo-marched with white unionists facing strikebreaking by Black scabs.

How did Jackson’s agenda for multiracial unity stack up against attempts made in the past? The left in the United States has always had difficulty figuring out the proper relationship between demands of race and class. Finding a good mix of mass independent working-class politics and the revolutionary demands of op­ pressed nationalities in this country has been difficult, given both the racist baggage carried by white activists into the movement, and the overall, historical political weakness of the U.S. left.

In the most recent period the setbacks faced by the movements growing out of the ’60s and ’70s, combined with economic hard times suffered by labor of all hues, has prodded activists for social change to huddle together in the storm, forget past differences and seek new unity.

The difficulty of course, in such desperate searches for unity, is that compromised coalitions rather than principled alliances will result–with the compromise coming at the expense of the most oppressed partner in the coalition.

I propose to address this thorny problem–and thereby to assess Jackson’s current solution to the dilemma–through a look at the works of William J. Wilson. Wilson, a Black professor who chairs the sociology department of the University of Chicago, is frequently cited these days by the establishment media as an authority on the problems of the Black “underclass.”

Wilson, who advocates the abandoning of “race-specific” goals as a primary demand, and urges instead the construction of a multiracial consensus on a liberal full- employment policy, echoes on a theoretical level a key theme of Jackson’s campaign rhetoric.

Wilson’s first book, The Declining Significance of Race, led to allegations from some quarters that he was a “Black conservative” along the lines of Glenn Loury or Thomas Sowell. Yet Wilson defines himself as a social democrat and, in the New York Times’ review of his new book, The Truly Disadvantaged, expresses his admiration for Michael Harrington, head of Democratic Socialists of America.

An open-minded reading of Wilson’s influential and important work confirms his self-definition as a social democrat. But in both of his books Wilson aligns himself, by his reassertion of its strategic and policy orientation, with the right wing of U.S. social-democratic theory on race and class issues, as enunciated by Bayard Rustin, Tom Kahn and Carl Gershman. Wilson is unusually honest in admitting that “despite pious claims about objectivity in social research … values influence not only our selection of problems for investigation but also our interpretation of empirical data.”(2)

I will try to show that the pro-capitalist values influencing Wilson’s theory are the same ones affecting the Rustin school before him-and that for this reason implementation of Wilson’s proposals would hinder rather than help the construction of multiracial unity on the left.

The Declining Significance of Race

The Declining Significance of Race, which immediately set off a storm of controversy upon its publication in 1978, attempts to explain why class and not race is the primary determinant of Black “life chances” in the United States. It does so by a historical analysis of the changing modes of oppression facing Blacks.

Wilson divides U.S. history into three periods: preindustrial (the era of slavery), industrial and modern industrial. In the first period, Wilson argues, the orthodox Marxist theory of racial oppression as a tool of ruling-class economic dominance has validity.(3)

The plantation owners, through their complete grip on the regional economy, were able to keep Blacks in subjugation at the same time that they were disenfranchising Southern whites. As a consequence they also achieved a disproportionately influential role in national politics. Hence, the state in this period served mainly to reinforce the underlying economic mode of production.

In the second period, that of postbellum industrialization, the “split labor market” variant of economic class theory seems to fit best, says Wilson. This theory, at least in the form outlined by such authors as Edna Bonacich,(4) does not deny the existence of a ruling class, but cites the material privileges accruing to the well-organized (white) upper segment of that split labor market as being the primary determinant of racial patterns in the economy.

According to Bonacich, white capitalists stand to lose by the discriminatory hiring practices imposed by racist white workers. Wilson echoes this argument in his assertion that post-Reconstruction efforts of Southern white workers, and early twentieth-century mobilizations of racist Northern workers, led to erection of Jim Crow barriers in industry.

Although in the South, Wilson admits, the local plantation elite benefitted from the racist actions of the exclusionary white laborers,(5) in the North he portrays the industrialists as passive, resentful accomplices to the demand of white workers for Black exclusion. And, in fact, when economic forces (especially the dwindling of immigrant labor from Europe) mandated it, and when white workers weren’t organized enough to stop them from using Black labor, these industrialists challenged the white workers on this score.

“Only in those plants in which labor organizations had little or no influence on management’s hiring practices were blacks able to penetrate racial barriers… .It was not without some justification then, that Negro leaders frequently sided With management in labor disputes and counseled blacks to become strikebreakers.(6)

The third period of U.S. history, the modern industrial economy, cannot be understood, says Wilson, by use of either the “orthodox Marxist” or the “split labor market” theories. In this period, in fact, racial conflict is not even a significant factor on the industrial scene.

If Blacks don’t have jobs, he argues, it’s not because of discriminating white owners or workers, but because of the accumulated effects of past discrimination on Blacks’ education, training, geographical location and other social factors.

Discrimination: A Class Act?

The first thing that strikes you on reading this schematization of race relations in the U.S. economy is the methodology used: in one period one theory applies, in the second another seems to fit, in the third no existing theory works. Wilson does not attempt to construct a theory for this third period; he does not attempt to integrate the various theories into a new synthesis. He does not even conclude from the conflicting theories that theory itself is of no use, as some bourgeois social scientists do in such circumstances. Such abandonment of theory is at least internally consistent, whereas Wilson’s approach is just frustrating.

But what occurs next to the reader is that because of the way Wilson has defined race discrimination in the industrial sphere, his theory actually denies the importance of class relations as a factor in current Black oppression.

For Wilson, discrimination exists in industry not at the point of production, but only if enacted at the factory gate. If whites are barring Blacks from entering that gate (whether the white be capitalist or worker), that’s discrimination. But the relegation of Blacks to lower paying jobs within the factory, and the last hired, first fired cyclical syndrome characteristic of the last few decades in the U.S. economy (that is, the ability of Blacks to get in the gate as the temporary demands of capital dictates) does not constitute active discrimination by whites.

Wilson attributes current Black unemployment to the relegation of Blacks to the worst jobs when they have employment, to an inherited accumulation of misfortunes affecting their skills and ease of movement into industry–and no longer to active employer discrimination. Thus, lack of jobs is determined by one’s own, inherited class position, but not by the actions or institutions of the present-day owning class.

In this sense what Wilson sees is really declining insignificance in U.S. history is the role of class–that is, of the responsibility of the capitalist class for structuring and maintaining Black oppression. And because Wilson can’t or won’t see the hand of the corporate elite in Black shop-floor woes, he also lets that elite off the hook when explaining how those woes are maintained outside industry in such spheres as housing and education.

Wilson’s tendency to excuse modern-day capitalists and capitalism is set up by his earlier denial that Northern merchant capital in the slavery period and newly formed industrial capital in the post bellum period had any impact on then-current forms of racial oppression.

Wilson admits that the newly “segmented labor structure” has resulted in “blacks …being isolated in the low-wage labor market” (except for the relative few remaining in unionized corporate or government jobs). Yet “the passage of protective union legislation during the New Deal era, and, second, the equal employment legislation in the early sixties… virtually eliminated the tendency of employers to create a split labor market in which black labor is deemed cheaper than white labor.”(7)

In other words, when employers used cheap Black labor to avoid unionization of whites, that was discrimination, but the segmentation of Blacks into the new low-wage sectors is not.

Or again, later in the same work:

“Neither the low-wage sector nor the corporate and government sectors provide the basis for the kind of interracial job competition and conflict that plagued the economic order in previous periods. With the absorption of blacks into industry-wide labor unions, the protective union legislation, and the equal employment legislation, it is no longer possible for management to undercut white labor by using black workers. The traditional racial struggles for power and privilege have shifted away from the economic sector and are now concentrated in the sociopolitical order.”8

Note here that Wilson not only denies discrimination on the part of modem employers, he also eliminates union practices as a factor in employment discrimination. This is crucial to understanding Wilson’s policy proposals, since, as I will show later, they overlap considerably with those of the most conservative union officials.

Wilson does not analyze the record of employer discrimination in recent decades; there is no attempt, for instance, to document change in any direction in numbers of complaints brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against employers.

Wilson ignores the role of racism and anti-unionism in employers’ motivations for moving plants to the South (now to the “Sunbelt”).(9) Nor is there any analysis of employers’ role in sponsoring right-to-work laws or in encouraging extralegal groups such as the Klan, which attack both minorities and labor.

Wilson’s portrayal of shifting economic practices fits his depiction of the changing role of the state in racial policy. In antebellum times the state was a secondary actor, a reinforcer of plantation norms. After the Civil War, “racial developments on the political front were not directly related to the economic motivations and interests of workers and management”(10) because there weren’t enough Blacks competing for white jobs to change. Thus the state, seeking to foster the liberal political attitudes generated during the Civil War and Reconstruction, moved from being a reinforcer of discrimination to an upholder of civil rights but in a political sphere divorced from the economy.

With the drawing of Blacks into industry after 1890, however, white racism manifested itself again in the political sphere, according to Wilson, primarily in the shape of urban machine policies. The federal government, on the other hand, was simply a neutral bystander, neither mediating racial conflict nor reinforcing labor-market interaction.

Finally, after the civil rights movement, the state adopted a role as protector of Blacks’ racial interests (and Blacks themselves displaced ethnic whites as holders of municipal power in several large cities). Wilson’s periodization of the interaction (or lack thereof) between economy and polity paints the world’s most powerful state apparatus as an ambivalent and inconsistent actor in the racial sphere.

Implications for Policy

In the epilogue to his first book, added in 1980 in response to critics labeling him a Black conservative (and their pointing out his failure to prescribe policy proposals based on his analysis), Wilson lays out the major themes later found in The Truly Disadvantaged. Quoting Arch Puddington, executive director of the League for Industrial Democracy, Wilson reminds readers of the calls of Bayard Rustin and Tom Kahn (also LID leaders) to Black activists “to heed the economic dimensions of racial inequality.”

Puddington (and Wilson) counterpose such calls to the n dead-end movements of separatism and Black Power.” For Wilson, the policy consequence of movements fighting for specific Black demands has been the over-reliance on affirmative action programs, which “have effectively improved job opportunities for the trained and educated” but “have not &been useful” in dealing with barriers arising from 11labor-saving innovations, relocations of industry … the shift from goods-producing to service-producing industries,” etc.(11)

Wilson seems confident of the permanence of the gains achieved by the Black middle class. “Trained and educated blacks … will continue to enjoy the advantages and privileges of their class status. It appears that the powerful political and social movement against job discrimination will mitigate against any effective and systematic movement to exclude qualified blacks.”(12)

Given the historic usefulness to the white ruling class of a stable, politically conservative Black middle class in forestalling more radical, labor-based Black movements, I would not deny that this stratum will be maintained to some extent. But even this class will be affected by shifts in the economy-as Black manage and professionals are shoved out by whites-and, should the Black movement fail to revive, by the lesser degree to which this stratum is politically useful and thus fails to receive the benefits of government anti-discrimination legislation and enforcement.

Black managers in corporate personnel offices–especially those hired to implement affirmative-action programs–are already feeling the brunt of the downturn. According to The New York Times of Jan 4, 1987, although Blacks in managerial “line” positions–that is, those dealing directly with production–have not been disproportionately affected by layoffs, the tendency of corporations to slot Black managers into personnel offices during the period of widespread minority hiring, especially into jobs where they took responsibility for hiring other, no managerial Blacks, has left them particularly vulnerable to layoff as “the pressure from Washington [for enforcement of EEOC guidelines] seems to be off.”

Liberal Program

ln his most recent book Wilson begins with a call for liberal theorists to regain the dominance in analysis and policy prescription in the racial field that they had held in the early ’60s, but then lost to conservatives who resurrected theories blaming minority poverty on inherent cultural or biological deficiencies. Those to blame for the loss of this theoretical dominance are not the liberals themselves, believes Wilson, but their radical critics, emboldened by the burgeoning Black Power movement to attack liberals for “blaming the victim.”

Wilson is particularly bitter at critics such as Joyce Ladner and comrades writing in The Death of White Sociology, for exposing the tendency of liberal academics to bend to Daniel Moynihan’s theories blaming the Black family structure as the source of the ghetto’s problems:

“Ghetto families were portrayed [by the radical Black sociologists] as resilient and capable of adapting creatively to an oppressive society. These revisionist arguments purporting to 0liberaten the social sciences from the influence of racism helped shift the focus of social scientists away from discussions of the consequences of racial isolation and economic class subordination lo discussions of black achievement.”(13)

As a result, “scholars backed away from research on the topic, policy makers were silent, and civil rights leaders were preoccupied with the affirmative action agenda of the black middle class.”(14) The aim of Wilson’s book, then, is to provide an analysis enabling liberals to “refocus” their perspective, to lead to a new liberal 11comprehensive policy agenda.”

Wilson lumps together a variety of radical critiques of liberal racial analysis in the 1960s and ignores the contributions of those who articulated both race and class demands.

Nowhere, for instance, is there any mention of Robert L. Allen’s pathbreaking book Black Awakening in Capitalist America, which, while portraying Blacks as an oppressed internal colony with specific II communal” demands to be addressed, locates the source of their oppression first and foremost in the sphere of capitalist prcxiuction.(15) Thus Wilson is unfair in his portrayal of radical social theorists of the ’60s as concerned only, or even primarily, with race.

But he is completely right in one regard. The radicals did intend to hinder the liberals’ self-assigned strategic role. The radicals exposed the liberals’ tendency to relate to the Black community as “superior” observers, from outside, hoping thereby to gain respect and funds from establishment corporate and government bodies who would pay for their analysis and policy advice. Radical sociologists, on the other hand, conceived their analysis as being shaped in collaboration with the oppressed group being studied, and the resultant policy proposals as being acted out by that same group.

After issuing a call for liberal analytic resurgence, Wilson presents a range of statistical data to buttress his claim that class is shaping “life chances” for Blacks today. But the data presented by Wilson is not so much concerned with Blacks’ location as a class within a particular system of production (and the political implications of that class location), but with demographic trends affecting Blacks’ social, cultural and educational status.

The flight of middle-class Blacks from the ghetto, the swelling numbers of female-headed Black households, the declining average age of the Black population, the migration of Blacks from one region to another are all cited as determinants of Black class status. The relatively higher levels of unemployment among Blacks is thus laid not at the feet of discriminating employers, but on latter-day Malthusian trends (for which no one is to blame) which, when compounded with historic (but not contemporary) discrimination, hinder Blacks’ “life chances.”

To the extent that capitalists or capital-market forces are mentioned as having shaped or caused these trends-as in plant relocation or automation–no blame or intent is assigned to the capitalists, and their Black victims just happened to be the primary bearers of this burden.

Having outlined these problems, Wilson resumes the attack on affirmative action begun in his first book “Programs of preferential treatment applied merely according to racial or ethnic group membership tend to benefit the relatively advantaged segments of the designated groups.”(16) Wilson admits that beneficiaries of such programs have included not only seekers of law- and medical-school spots, but applicants for jobs in construction and goods- producing industries, yet asserts that this too is just a “creaming” process.

Wilson’s repeated depiction of affirmative action as primarily benefitting professional Blacks, with only a rare mention of its impact on working-class Blacks, skirts the central issue involved in such preferential programs. While some forces sought affirmative action for individual advancement reasons, other–especially more rank-and-file movement activists–saw affirmative-action demands on industry as a mechanism to end the dependence of Black employment on an expanding economy. An end, that is, was sought to the “last hired, first fired” syndrome. This policy in the United States has meant that what Marxists call “the reserve army of labor,” which expands and contracts as the economy does has been disproportionately comprised of Blacks and other minorities.

The biggest increases in Black employment have come as a result of labor shortages occurring in periods of war-sponsored prosperity-during World Wars I and II and Vietnam-and have quickly dissipated as that prosperity slid into a downturn. Affirmative-action efforts, some sponsors hoped–especially with provision for job retention in times of layoff-would end that pattern.

There are important strengths in Wilson’s argument. For example, Wilson is correct in his critique of the limitations of the antidiscrimination laws passed in the early 1960s, designed to deal primarily with individual cases of racism.

After the passage of the Civil Rights Bill of 1965 all segments of the Black movement, and their supporters, recognized the need to move to new battlefronts, especially on the economic front. And he is correct in pointing out limitations of affirmative action, or in his words the “group rights” approach to anti-discrimination, when viewed as a panacea for complex economic problems.

The problem is that all this is only one side of the struggle. By denying the specific function played by “race-specific” demands in constructing a consensus among oppressed groups of all races on employment issues, Wilson would in fact weaken, not strengthen, our ability to find that consensus.

To say that affirmative action is inadequate as a complete program is not to deny its essentiality as part of that program. By Wilson’s logic even the “individual rights,” antidiscrimination laws of the early ’60s could be considered a hindrance of consensus.(17)

Here we come to the question of strategy with which we began. In Wilson’s words, “the pursuit of economic and social reform ultimately involves the question of political strategy.” For theorists like Wilson, adoption of the demands and needs of the most oppressed groups by a multi-group coalition, must be viewed primarily from the standpoint of whether they will scare away the relatively less oppressed and more conservative groups from that coalition.

For Wilson, “the hidden agenda for liberal policymalcers is to improve the life chances of truly disadvantaged groups such as the ghetto underclass by emphasizing programs to which the more advantaged groups of all races and class backgrounds can positively relate” (Wilson’s emphasis).(18)

Wilson admits an ebb and flow in interracial cooperation in social movements, with periods of alternating integrationist and separatist sentiment But whereas authors such as Robert Allen(19) have rightly placed the blame for this vacillating record of alliance on the more “advantaged” partner in the coalition, who, by ignoring the demands of the oppressed, fractures the multiracial consensus, Wilson puts the blame on Blacks, particularly those who raise “race-specific” demands.

To understand these differing approaches, and their influence on Wilson’s analysis, we must take a look at the Rustin-Kahn school of race relations to which Wilson harks back.

Right-Wing Social Democracy

Despite Wilson’s professed admiration for Michael Harrington, the latter’s claim that racism is “institutionalized in the labor market” is unjustified in Wilson’s eyes. “Complex problems in the American and worldwide economies that ostensibly have little or nothing to do with race … are not made more understandable by associating them directly or indirectly with racism.”(20) If we are to understand why Wilson describes himself as a social democrat, we must look beyond Harrington.(21)

In the mid-1960s, as the civil-rights movement reached an impasse, all wings of that movement agreed on the need for a shift in orientation. Martin Luther King talked of the futility of integrating lunch counters when you couldn’t afford a hamburger. Malcolm X talked of moving from civil rights to “human rights.” Cultural nationalists moved from political action to struggling for preservation and expansion of Black social and cultural values. Radical nationalists and Black Marxist-Leninists created or revived theories of national liberation that combined in varying forms calls for community (or state) independence for Blacks with socialism as the economic content of the newly formed political entity.

Within this debate one clearly defined trend argued for a concentration on economic issues to the exclusion of other goals. Bayard Rustin, executive director of the AFL-CIO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute, and Tom Kahn, assistant to Rustin in the March on Washington and later a leader of the League for Industrial Democracy, were perhaps the most widely cited writers in this trend. Wilson argues for a return to the perspective of these two.

Kahn, in “Problems of the Negro Movement,” written in 1964, already prefigures Wilson’s arguments:

“For the vast majority of Negroes, however, an economic crisis is in the offing. And overt discrimination seems less a part of it than the weight of centuries of past discrimination combining with portentous economic forces that are themselves &color-blind. It is as if racism, having put the Negro in his economic “place,” stepped aside to watch technology destroy that place.”(22)

Kahn’s argument for broader social programs has the same weakness as Wilson’s. In one of the earliest arguments against busing, Kahn asks, “What judgment should be rendered of a society that would rather dislocate its children than reorganize its societies?”–on the surface a reasonable question. But he goes on to argue that “white parents are justified in their reluctance to bus their children to Harlem schools.”

As does Wilson, Kahn sullies his appeals for universalistic solutions with capitulation to white hostility to contemporary, limited demands of concrete Black movements.

Kahn cites the low percentage of Blacks in construction jobs, but quotes A. Philip Randolph’s contention that the real problem is the limited number of jobs in the industry as a whole, and goes on to say that 0the demand for preferential treatment has been unsuccessful where labor supply exceeds labor demand (as in the New York construction industry).”(23)

Contrast the Kahn-Randolph approach in this case (affirmative action in construction) with that of Victor Perlo in Economics of Racism, USA: Perlo describes a racist campaign in Westchester County in 1972 against the construction of low-income (mostly minority) housing, in which the construction trades took a passive stance. “Two years later … thousands of Westchester building trades workers demonstrated [unsuccessfully) against the mass unemployment afflicting their ranks.”(24)

Perlo believes a fight of the building trades for the proposed low-income housing would have meant jobs (and allies) for themselves.(25)

For Kahn, however, “preferential treatment … broadcast as a central slogan … drives a wedge between Negroes and those whites who stand most to gain from a political alliance for economic reforms.”(26)

Kahn correctly denies the ability of the “private economy” to guarantee jobs for all, and calls for “fair and full employment through a massive federal works program.” To achieve such a program he echoes Rustin’s advice to white Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee activists to organize unemployed white youth for jobs, and urges civil rights groups to press the AFL-CIO to really press the right for full employment … for a public works program.”

He admits that “full employment does not guarantee the equitable integration of the Negro into the economy.” But, he adds, full employment “is a precondition. Preferential treatment, yes … but for all the unemployed.”(27)

Rustin and Realignment

Bayard Rustin, in “From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement,” continues the Kahn thesis in the context of arguing that the civil rights movement, because of the need to address economic issues, should tum its energies toward reorienting the Democratic Party.(28)

Rustin describes the Johnson landslide of 1964 as a recognition by white Democratic “backlashers” that “loss of social security was, after all, too high a price to pay for a slap at the Negro.” This acknowledgement of common economic interests is essential for further Black progress, says Rustin, picking up Kahn’s call for a public works program and Kahn’s assertion that “preferential treatment cannot help them [Blacks].”

The specific political activities Rustin envisages to carry out this program are telling. First, he again echoes Kahn in his call for an ouster of the “Dixiecrats” from the Democratic Party. Second, he claims that the ’64 election results represented “vindication” of those Black leaders who had called “for a strategic tum toward political action and a temporary curtailment of mass demonstrations” during the campaign.

In addition he scores the refusal of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to accept the compromise worked out by the Party leadership (with the key help of Rustin himself) with the racist Mississippi delegation.

In “The Lessons of the Long Hot Summer,”(29) Rustin resumes his theme in the light of the urban revolts of 1967.

Arguing again for a coalition politics around public works and other social spending, he claims, “Negroes by themselves do not have sufficient political power to bring about a social revolution. As a minority, they can participate in it as a powerful and stimulating force, or they can provoke a counterrevolution. In either case the decisive factor will be the political direction in which the majority decides to move” (emphasis added).

Here we have a clear statement of the “blame the potential victim” syndrome.

Rustin’s “The Blacks and the Unions”(30) returns to the question of economic coalition in the context of a denunciation of Black criticism of the building-trades unions. Rustin takes time out to denounce Black nationalist “proposals for revolution,” arguing that “revolutionary acts in contemporary America” would both divert “previous energies away from the political arenas” and perhaps lead to a “vicious counterrevolution, the chief victims of which will be blacks.”

Rustin points to unions as the “one social force which … is essential to the creation” of the “political majority” that alone could enact his social program, and claims that discrimination in the unions is “in fact being corrected” through the efforts of the Civil Rights Department of the AFL-CIO, the federal government, and Blacks recently elected to local union office.

Rustin, like Wilson, attributes “racial conflict” in the present period to an excess in supply over demand for labor:

“Under conditions of relative full employment, there will be little job competition and greater racial harmony.” He calls for elimination of the “loose” labor market.(31) No mention is made of the particular roles played by different races in the ranks of the employed and unemployed.

ustin denounces the hypocrisy of the Nixon administration in requiring construction contractors to meet quotas for Black workers while at the same time slashing federal funds for construction in general. But instead of asserting the need to combine the fight for job quotas with expanded construction, Rustin counterposes the two, and goes on to assure Blacks that the unions are well on the way to solving discrimination in the trades through apprenticeship “Outreach” programs.

Finally Rustin says that “lower middle-class whites” can be won to a progressive program if issues are defined in a way that addresses their “progressive economic interests.” If, on the other hand, issues are defined by ‘race and dissent,” then Nixon will win.(32)

Wilson also gives thanks to Carl Gershman for his help in drafting the policy epilogue to his first book. Gershman, in a debate with Kenneth Clark in the New York Times (Oct 5, 1980) echoed the Rustin-Kahn thesis.

The Road to Reaction

Summing up the arguments of this school we find already the main lines of Wilson’s thesis: calls for “universalistic” (that is, race-blind) jobs policies to be enacted by liberal policymakers; opposition to “preferential treatment”/affirmative action; and denunciation of Black radicals for obstructing the forging of a multiracial consensus.

The political road down which this program of coalition at any cost led its authors is instructive for those being ad­ vised to take the same route today. Not only did Rustin urge compromise on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, act as censor of John Lewis’ militant speech at the 1963 March on Washington, and take up the cudgels on behalf of the building trades against Black workers. By 1983 Rustin was urging the sponsors of the proposed March on Washington–including Coretta Scott King–to call off the march, citing the expense, possibility of violence, and general apathy in the country. And despite the march’s theme of “Jobs, Peace and Freedom,” Rustin argued that inclusion of anti-war concerns would do more harm to the Black cause than inclusion of the jobs slogan would do good.(33)

Kahn, for his part, joined critics denouncing an NAACP report critical of labor’s shoddy record on civil rights, accusing the group of splitting the ‘Negro-labor alliance.”(34) Kahn’s most noteworthy role in U.S. politics, however, may have been the part he played in harassing, redbaiting, and denying support to the Students for a Democratic Society as, in the early 1960s, it sought to develop a politics independent of its then-moribund sponsor, the League for Industrial Democracy, of which Kahn was the director.

Kahn joined by Rustin) encouraged liberals and civil-rights groups to stay away from SDS’s April 1965marchagainst the Vietnam War, the country’s first big national protest against that war.(35) Kahn also found employment as an adviser to Albert Shanker, head of the United Federation of Teachers, notorious for leading the racist 1968 strike against community control of education.

As for Gershman, he has since assumed the leadership of Social Democrats, U.S.A., the right-wing political think-tank for Lane Kirkland and the top AFL-CIO leadership; served as an adviser to Jeanne Kirkpatrick; and assumed the presidency of the National Endowment for Democracy, a CIA front which funnels money to Nicaraguan contra political operations and the U.S.- sponsored student and other u democratic” forces around the world.(36)

The Unions on Affirmative Action

More recently Norman Hill, successor to Bayard Rustin as head of the AFL-CJO’s A. Philip Randolph Institute, has revived Rustin’s line in the APRI pamphlet “The Changing Economy and Unions: An Analysis and Program for the Black-labor Alliance.” Hill agrees with those who put the blame on historical as opposed to contemporary racism: there is a “new type of racism, one not based on prejudging all Blacks-regardless of occupation or social standing-as unworthy or undeserving of equal treatment, but one that equates the problems of poverty with race.”

“By misreading the plight of the underclass as an issue of color and not class, society is projecting social pathology on all blacks … today, a young casually dressed black or Hispanic might not be buzzed into an exclusive New York boutique not because of color, per se, (as in the past), but because in the current social climate color has automatically been associated with criminal and anti-social behavior.”

“Today,” says Hill, “job market discrimination has declined substantially because of greater government protection of basic rights….To be sure, employment discrimination has not been completely eliminated from the labor market, but it is less a problem today than in the past … For that reason the structure and content of economic and industrial policy should be raised to a higher spot on the list of priorities of civil rights leaders.”

Hill urges ‘support for industrial policies [by civil rights leaders] to strengthen U.S. competitiveness in basic industries, and support for trade policies that expand American export markets and ease the burden on workers” from imports. ‘Since poverty is fundamentally not an issue of race or color, but of class, then government remedies will not be contingent on providing preferential treatment to any one group” (although Hill later acknowledges that affirmative action programs “have helped rectify” past injustices).

Given the source of the Rustin-Kahn school’s conservatism–its desire not to antagonize the labor officialdom–examination of labor’s record on racial issues is required.

A detailed analysis of the history of labor action–or more frequently inaction–on the racial front is obviously beyond the scope of this article. I would refer the reader especially to the writings of Philip Foner and Herbert Hill on this issue. But let me cite a few examples of the effect of union racial policies on broader labor goals-especially as these policies relate to Wilson’s contentions.

Union leaders have historically been resistant in general to affirmative action in any form; many Black plaintiffs in EEOC suits filed charges not just against the company but against the union as well.(37)

Thus, for instance, although the United Steel Workers, by the time of the Weber case, was taking a stand in support of affirmative action, the original consent decree that Weber, a white lab technician in a Louisiana plant, challenged was aimed at both the steel industry and its union. Similarly the Communication Workers of America sided with the company in the most massive (in terms of number of employees affected) affirmative-action suit ever brought by the Federal government.

Union leaders have been even more resistant to programs that would give “super seniority” to Black workers so as to retain a racially balanced workforce in periods of layoff. Local 285 of the Service Employees International Union in Boston, on the other hand, successfully fought for a super seniority clause in its 1985 contract covering municipal workers so as to maintain the proportion of minorities during a period of layoffs that hit the city after a tax-cutting referendum passed. Achieving this clause required thorough education of union members on its impact in uniting the Local.(38)

Whether other locals have taken such steps, and whether those that have done so have fared better in the struggle against job cuts for all members, needs further investigation. Such study is crucial because of the dual purpose of super seniority: the progressive impact of this concept, I would argue, rests not just in its protection of proportional representation on the job, but also in its role in uniting the entire workforce in the face of job cuts.

Believing that Blacks would be the main bearers of the unemployment burden, whites in general have suffered from the illusion that they were less susceptible to layoff. And by the time the restructuring of the economy in the 1970s and 1980s had proceeded to a point where even massive numbers of white workers were being thrown out of work, the unity with Black workers and community organizations which was a precondition for a joint movement against plant closures and relocations was nowhere in sight.

At a rally in support of the all-white workforce of United Food and Commercial Workers Local P-9 held in New York in the spring of 1987, Baldemar Velazquez, head of the mostly Latino Farm Labor Organizing Committee, “welcomed” his union brothers to the bottom of the heap where FLOC members had been all along. But, he pointed out, now white workers might learn what minorities had known all along: that from the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Those who fought for affirmative action in the 1960s and ’70s hoped that this lesson would not have to come the way it finally did. But a correct understanding of the relevance of affirmative action would prevent a future repetition of this mistake.

Bureaucratic Conservatism

Black-white unity of course was not the only missing factor in the failure of unions to respond to plant closures and job flight. The increasingly conservative trend of the union leadership on all social questions, foreign and domestic, over the last forty years, has left entrenched a bureaucratic structure ill-suited to lead a fighting movement against its members’ job loss.

Mike Goldfield, in The Decline of Organized Labor in the U.S., correctly criticizes those who see labor’s downfall in developments of the last five or ten years under Jimmy Carter and/or Ronald Reagan and describes several longer-term conservatizing factors.

First among these was the failure of Operation Dixie, the drive to organize the South after World War II, which was abandoned out of a combination of hesitancy to challenge Democratic “friends of labor” and the desire to rid labor of the radicals who, not by coincidence, were the ones best able to lend Operation Dixie the militancy and racially conscious orientation needed for success.(3)9

The United Packinghouse Workers of America stands out as one of the few possible exceptions to labor’s norm in this area.(40) Both Ray Marshall and Herbert Hill describe the history of this union’s fight against racial discrimination on the job and in its ranks, including in the South.(41)

In the early 1950s various locals of this union came under attack by other unions and employers for their anti-racist positions; the timing of this attack is significant, as several authors have pointed to attacks on Communist-led unions in the South by the CIO leadership as part of the explanation for the failure of ‘Operation Dixie,” the drive to organize that region.(42)

William Gould also singles out the UPWA for special mention on this issue.(43) Whereas the UAW, traditionally pointed to as the most progressive U.S. union, explicitly refused to allocate spots on its executive board for Blacks (Walter Reuther called it “racism in reverse”), the “UPWA leadership explicitly stated that blacks had to have some form of proportional representation on the executive board. It was not left to mere chance in the electoral progress.”(44)

Although the full record of the UPWA in this sphere is yet to be written (Hill apparently is in the process of doing so), the Packinghouse Workers are the only union cited by Hill as proof “that there were alternatives and possibilities (there always are). The increasing conservatism of both the AFL and CIO leadership on race and on other issues … was not a policy born of necessity.”(45) Given the uniformly bleak and discouraging picture painted by Hill of the record of every other union, a tribute of this sort from such a critic is strong argument for further examination-and emulation–of the UPWA record.

Who Gains From Inequality?

Obviously many factors, political, social and cultural, influence the willingness of union members to grapple with race issues. But even conservative labor researchers have questioned the notion that members’ racism necessarily argues against an aggressive stance on racial issues. Although it is almost a truism that racism in the South has contributed to low union organization levels, Marshall argues:

“The incitement of racial prejudices is probably a minor factor in the spectrum of deep-seated obstacles to union growth that may be observed throughout Southern labor history… workers who are afraid to join a union–or see no need to do so–frequently use the racial views of the national union or the AFL-CIO as an excuse not to join.(46)

Examples of such “obstacles” would presumably include right-to-work laws, legal and extralegal violence against organizers, a generally conservative political climate, and the impact of racism in Southern society in general in conservatizing the region.

While not denying the impact of racism on hindering unionization, I would argue that Marshall’s findings imply that a union such as the UPWA, which both attacks racism head on and proves that it will fight aggressively on the economic front, has at least as much chance–probably more–than a more passive union in achieving its goals.

Michael Reich’s Racial Inequality comes to similar conclusions through a combined statistical and historical analysis. Reich shows first that in industries with higher degrees of racial inequality both earnings for white workers and proportion of unionization suffer, and secondly, that as racial inequality falls, so do profit rates. In other words, “Capitalists benefit and most white workers lose from racial inequality.”(47)

Significantly, Reich includes in his analysis not just discrimination due to unequal pay for equal work–the only form of discrimination considered by Wilson to be justifiably defined as racism–but also “racial inequality in annual earnings … due more to occupational and seniority differences.” In addition, Reich shows a statistical link between lesser racial inequality and better schooling and welfare benefit levels for all races.(48)

These findings challenge the views of Bonacich and the “split labor market” school But when such statistics are interpreted as outcomes of real-life political struggles, they also, in my view, cast serious doubt on Wilson’s race-blind proposals.

Race, Class, Consensus and Capitalism

If Wilson’s arguments echo the theory of right-wing social democrats and the practice of racist union bureaucrats, it’s because he shares with them an unwillingness to break with the logic of the profit system.

Wilson advocates the construction of a “corporatist democracy” and increased competitiveness for American industry. Like other liberal social theorists, Wilson argues against Black, female and worker militance and autonomy primarily because his perspective remains within the confines of present economic structures. Wilson advocates the type of labor-management-government collaboration used in Western European “corporatist democracies.”(49) “This arrangement produces a consensus-making organization… to bargain and produce policies on present-day political economy issues.”

Such collaborative policies worked relatively well in producing social-welfare benefits during periods of economic expansion in Western Europe, just as affirmative action–without super seniority–did in a similar period in the U.S.

But in both cases economic downturn provoked a shattering of the supposed consensus and the abandonment of the labor wing of the tripartite arrangement It also led, within labor, to the particular victimization of the most oppressed within labor’s ranks–immigrants in Western Europe; Blacks, Latins and Asians in the United States.

Wilson further cites “factors that affect industrial employment, such as profit rates, technology and unionization” and “the rate of growth” of the national economy as determining the country’s ability to employ workers.(50) And he calls for an increase in “the competitiveness of American goods on both the domestic and international markets.”

Such recommendations make full employment contingent upon an adequate level of profits for U.S. business. A jobs program dependent upon such contingencies cannot escape the vicious cycle of expansion and retraction, of hiring and layoff, inherent in a profit system. Here Wilson is not even as bold as his mentors; he seems to have forgotten Kahn’s denial of the ability of the “private economy” to create a sufficient number of jobs.

In Wilson’s free market recommendations we can uncover the real reason that liberals have lost, and will continue to lose, ground to conservatives, both in social theory in their battle with “culture of poverty” sociologists, and in policymaking in their retreat before calls for cuts in social spending. And this is why Wilson’s counterpart in practical politics, Jesse Jackson, stands virtually alone in his calls for expansion of government social programs.

Democrats as well as Republicans know that the U.S. economy as presently constituted can only reassert its predominance in the world market in this period of worldwide economic uncertainty and crisis at the expense of workers of all races. Only a break with this economic system can allow political changes which would not leave employment dependent upon economic cycles. But only a movement which pays special attention to the demands of the most oppressed groups can take on such a radical and thorough-going task as the construction of an alternative social system.


Hope for a renewed labor militancy based on the inspiration of radicalized Black workers fired the imagination of a generation of radicals, bred in the civil rights, antiwar, feminist and student movements of the ’60s and ’70s, and caused them to tum their eyes to the working class.(51)

Just as SNCC affected SDS, for instance, it was hoped that the example set by formations like DRUM would politicize white workers. The expectations on this score, as on many other predictions of the left in the 1970s (including the expectations of the growth of leftist organizations per se) were dashed, and instead labor of all colors suffered costly defeats.

Some have drawn from these defeats the conclusion that the advocates of “realignment” in the electoral process were correct Forget the struggles in the street, or at least put them on hold during election year.

Such a perspective, given the dominance of the capitalist class in the electoral sphere, easily leads to soft pedaling of the more extreme” demands of the most oppressed. And while not all the advocates of involvement in the Democratic Party end up accommodating to racism in the crude fashion of Rustin and Kahn, the closer you get to the center of that party’s power, the more pressure there is to adopt such positions.

The closer Jesse Jackson has gotten to being a contender rather than just a gadfly in the Democratic Party, the more he has succumbed to such pressures. In his bid to capture the nomination, Jackson has consistently urged his working-class supporters to avoid racial issues in the interests of economic unity.

Shortly after the racist violence in Howard Beach and Georgia last year, Jackson wrote in the ew York Times that “the white working people who live in Queens County and in Forsyth County did not design the economic policy that is costing Americans jobs … there is, in fact, more integration in Queens County than in the board rooms” of the corporate establishment. “We must move beyond the battleground of race-conscious behavior onto the common ground of economic progress.”(52)

In his speech in Raleigh announcing his candidacy for the 1988 nomination, Jackson declared that “racial violence is moving in the direction of racial justice.” His issues brochure distributed at the Raleigh gathering listed twenty-two policy proposals, and not one dealt with issues of racism.

Just after the recent civil disobedience in New York’s subways protesting acts of racist violence subsequent to the Howard Beach attack, Jackson criticized “those who say racial violence is the dominant issue in New York City,” and called for “healing:” and “focusing on common ground.”(53)

The most recent and saddest example of his political devolution is the open embrace of the Democratic Party’s right wing in Atlanta, his advocacy now not just of white and Black labor unity, but of rich and poor in a coalition which would avoid both “boundless liberalism and static conservatism.”

Jackson’s campaign proposals have thus echoed more and more Wilson’s race-blind approach. In Jackson’s case, the cause is an attempted, if not yet successful, gravitation toward the centers of bourgeois political power. Wilson’s gravitation is toward the central notions of bourgeois social theory, which rei force that power.

In both cases, the practical and the theoretical, there is a shared strategy to forge a least common denominator consensus around demands acceptable to the more conservative wing of that consensus.

Revolutionaries, in contrast, must patiently forge a consensus by convincing that wing to support the demands of the most oppressed.

There is a great temptation for those revolutionaries who saw in the Black militancy of the 1960s a key to reviving multinational labor radicalism, and whose hopes were so cruelly (but temporarily) dashed, to now seek shortcuts to progress a la the Jackson/Wilson approach.

But if such shortcuts are adopted, when the movements of both oppressed nationalities and rank-and-file labor revive, as they inevitably will, their linkage will be endangered, perhaps even made impossible again for a whole historical period.

The successful linking of these movements will depend upon putting in the forefront of any coalition the demands of the most oppressed. If we succumb, in this difficult period, to the siren calls of false unity espoused by the liberals, whether in the Jackson campaign or in the halls of academia, we will not be up to the tasks posed for us when the next upsurge in mobilization occurs.


  1. New York Times, Jan. 19, 1988: B6.
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  2. The Truly Disadvantaged (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) 5.
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  3. The specific Marxist “orthodoxy” cited by Wilson is that of Eugene Genovese, to whom Wilson ascribes a belief in the importance of paternalism in master-slave relationships (as opposed to, say, the evidence of slave disgruntlement and revolt outlined by Herbert Aptheker). In Wilson’s depiction of subsequent stages in U.S. race relations there is a similar one-sidedness in the depiction of the ruling class’ omnipotence.
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  4. Edna Bonacich, “A Theory of Ethnic Antagonism: The Split Labor Market,” American Sociological Review 37 (Oct 1972): 547-59.
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  5. Although even here he underestimates the role of that elite in crushing Reconstruction. Ct. W.E.B., Blade Reconstruction.
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  6. The Declining Significance of Race (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, (2nd edition, 1980) 74.
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  7. Wilson, Declining Significance, 110.
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  8. Wilson, Declining Significance, 152.
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  9. Gurney Breckenfeld writes in the June 1977 issues of Fortune magazine: “Industry has tended to locate new factories in places where it can find surplus unemployed white labor, and has generally avoided counties with a high proportion of unskilled impoverished blacks. Some companies stay away from concentrations of blacks because their educational level is lower than that of whites. Others are deterred because blacks are more likely to join unions” (p. 144) Honda management in the early 1980s decided to build a plant in an all-white rural Ohio town, thus avoiding Black workers, for the same reason.
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  10. Wilson, Declining Significance, 148.
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  11. Wilson, Declining Significance, 164-65. Wilson repeatedly stresses in both his books the supposedly race-blind impact of automation on Black workers; yet the Black workers involved in DRUM in the late l960soften saw the same phenomenon as “Niggermation,” that is, a drive by racist white foremen to get more work out of the fewer Black workers. Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, “Niggermation in Auto Company Policy and the Rise of Black Caucuses, Radical; America (Jan./Feb. 1975), cited in Manning Marable, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America (South End Press) 178.
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  12. Wilson, Declining Significance, 178.
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  13. Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged, 9.
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  14. Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged, 15.
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  15. Robert L Allen, Black Awakening in Capitalist America (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Books, 1969). Allen’s book also documents amply the manipulations of the Ford Foundation and similar “liberal” bodies in both the activist and academic sphere.
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  16. Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged, 115.
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  17. Wilson unjustifiably argues that, after the passage of anti-discrimination or affirmative-action legislation, and its failure to solve the problems of Black Americans, no one could convincingly continue to advocate these types of solutions. Even those who believe that such legislation is adequate in and of itself to achieve justice for Blacks (of whom of course I am not one) could easily challenge Wilson on this point. Within the framework of civil-rights legislation and enforcement a wide range of bills, comprehensiveness of coverage, and especially degree of enforcement is possible. All of these possibilities depend on political factors which vary widely in depth and in time, from the active participation of the victims of discrimination, to the determination of and resources available to the legislating and enforcing agencies. And in fact the number of discrimination cases, their successful conclusion, the rates of compliance have in fact varied tremendously in the last two decades depending on political shifts at the federal, state, local and community level . For instance, whether discrimination is defined as having occurred based on rejection of individual applicants, on statistical determinations of numbers of applicants of different races hired(the sticking point in the Sears case), or on the use of “objective” versus “subjective” tests to hire applicants (see New York Times, Jan. 18, 1988,Al0), will provide a wide range of possible definitions of hiring bias, and a vast difference in the number of applicants likely to successfully sue companies for discrimination. Wilson unfortunately does not present statistics on changes in numbers of EEOC cases over the last two decades or changes in criteria used in such cases. To say that a civil-rights revolution occurred in the United States says nothing about the depth of that revolution, even on its own limited terms.
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  18. Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged, 155.
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  19. Robert L Allen, The Reluctant Reformers, In a thorough analysis of a wide range of U.S. social movements–abolitionism, the Progressive movement, women’s suffrage, labor, socialist and communist movements–Allen finds a common thread: a simultaneous abandoning of struggle on the racial front with a shift from revolutionary to reformist perspectives. Harry Haywood, in his autobiography, Black Bolshevik, analyzes the role of the Black question in the Communist Party’s shift to the right. See also Mike Goldfield’s perceptive review of Haywood in the Review of Radical Political Economics (Spring 1980).
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  20. Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged, 12.
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  21. It appears that the Democratic Socialists of America may be changing its racial line to fit more with Wilson’s analysis. Until recently the publicly approved DSA line of race was that contained in Cornel West’s pamphlet “Toward A Socialist Theory of Racism,” which stresses cultural origins of racism. According to West, a divinity professor, “economic production is no longer viewed as the sole or major source of racist practices”; a” psychosexual racist logic aris[ing] from the phallic obsessions, Oedipal projections, and anal-sadistic orientations in European cultures” is just as important in understanding race. (See The Year Left 2, Verso Books, 1987). The recent DSA convention, however, according to In These Times, passed a policy resolution that bent the stick a la Wilson toward “universalistic” economic proposals, away from “race-specific” goals. Wilson himself contributed comments to a policy brochure written by Harrington and issued at the convention.
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  22. Dissent {Winter 1964): 115.
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  23. Kahn, “Problems,” 125 and 128.
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  24. Victor Perlo, Economics of Racism, USA (New York, N.Y.: International Publishers, 1915) 160.
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  25. In examining the racist i:ecord of AT&T, Perlo points out that since training for the phone company’s skilled jobs is done on the job at the expense of the company, prior deficiencies in education and training of Black applicants can hardly be used as an excuse for not hiring them. This should be kept in mind when listening to appeals for expanded off-the-job training programs, or when theorists like Wilson side with capitalists in blaming the educational system for the bulk of Blacks’ woes.
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  26. Kahn, “Problems,” 130.
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  27. Kahn, “Problems,” 131.
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  28. Bayard Rustin, Commentary (Feb. 1965) 25-31.
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  29. Bayard Rustin, Commentary (Oct 1967) 39-45.
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  30. Bayard Rustin, Harper’s Magazine(May 1971) 73-81
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  31. .

  32. Rustin, “Blacks,” 7S. Wilson similarly calls for a “tight labor market.”
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  33. For us Columbia folks it’s worth noting that not long before this article appeared, in April 1969, Rustin gave a speech on campus denouncing the calls for Black studies and the “‘putschist and elitist actions” of militant Black students. That same spring Seymour Melman, professor of industrial engineering, echoed Rustin’s thesis in the Columbia Spectator, April 20, 1969. Melman argued that spending on the military (especially for the Vietnam War) was precluding the type of expenditure on economic development that alone could assure justice for Blacks. He claims that increased Black and other minority enrollment “can only be accomplished by cutting back white enrollment,” and that since “‘white collar occupations are now occupied”‘ (by whites), “as the American underclasses attempt to rise … they will be met with resistance by those who now occupy these posts.”
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  34. Manning Marable, Black American Politics (London: Verso, 1985) 109-11. The political evolution of Rustin, who had gone to jail during World War II for his pacifist views, and in 1963 was considered loo radical by some of the sponsors of the March on Washington, mirrored a similar shift by his mentor, A Philip Randolph. In the early ’60s, Randolph made his peace with the labor leadership he had spent decades fighting (although Randolph’s earlier break In the 1920s with Black Communists such as Cyril Briggs and Richard Moore is not unimportant in explaining his later shifts).
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  35. Philip Foner, Organized Labor and the Black Worker (New York, N.Y.: International Publishers, 1981) 332.
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  36. Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS, 178. Given the role of Kahn and Rustin as advisers to Martin Luther King, and the heat King took not long after for breaking with Lyndon Johnson on the war, it can be argued that the role of these two in trying to split the antiwar and civil-rights movements from each other was the most significant factor in the1960s in hindering coalition building.
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  37. New York Times, June 1, 1986.
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  38. Herbert Hill, “Race, Ethnicity and Organized Labor: The Opposition to Affirmative Action,” New Politics (Winter 1987) 31-83; Victor Perlo, The Economics of Racism, USA.
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  39. Celia Wcislo, “Service Employees Local Alters Seniority System to Keep Minorities in Workforce,” Labor Notes (July 1985) 1.
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  40. Mike Goldfield, The Decline of Organized Labor in the US., (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). See also in this regard Mike Davis’ Prisoners of the American Dream (London: Verso, 1986).
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  41. Other possible exceptions Include, at least at times, District 65 and Local 1199.
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  42. Ray Marshall, The Negro and Organized Labor (New York, N.Y.: John Wiley, 1965) and Herbert Hill, New Politics (Summer 1987) 61-71. Marshall in particular stresses the role of Communists in the UPWA leadership, which on the one hand influenced the union’s attitude on racial matters and on the other tended to lend the opposition of conservative members to union policy a dual character: racist as well as anticommunist.
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  43. Davis and Foner concentrate on the battle between left and right in the CIO, whereas Goldfield views this battle as part of a larger dynamic involving capitulation to pressures from the Democratic Party and a move in the CP itself away from antiracist struggle.
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  44. William Gould, Black Workers in White Unions (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977).

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  45. 44. Gould, Black Worker, 402.

  46. Gould, Black Workers, 402.
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  47. Marshall, The Negro.
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  48. Michael Reich, Racial Inequality (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981) 303. Szymanski, American Sociological Review (June 1976) 03-13, presents a similar analysis and conclusions.
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  49. Reich also describes the less quantifiable political record of unions on racial issues. For instance, after describing a successful general strike in New Orleans in 1894 during which white workers resisted employer attempts to divide them from Blacks, Reich points to the subsequent tendency of the same workers to “seek to protect their interests by attempting to shift the burden of recessions onto blacks instead of maintaining their interracial alliance.”
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  50. Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged, 155.
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  51. Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged, 122.
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  52. But not to the labor officialdom. Many of these same radicals had of course come to their politics first in reaction to the pro-officialdom LID, and only after a period of evolution in groups such as SDS did they rediscover the working class.
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  53. New York Times (Jan. 28, 1987).
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  54. New York Times (January 1988).
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September-October 1988, ATC 16

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