To the American Federation of Labor


W.E.B. Du Bois


February 1, 1924

For many years the American Negro has been demanding admittance to the ranks of union labor. For many years your organizations have made public profession of your interest in Negro labor, of your desire to have it unionized, and of your hatred of the black “scab.”

Notwithstanding this apparent surface agreement, Negro labor in the main is outside the ranks of organized labor, and the reason is first, that white union labor does not want black labor and secondly, black labor has ceased to beg admittance to union ranks because of its increasing value and efficiency outside the unions. We thus face a crisis in interracial labor conditions; the continued and determined race prejudice of white labor, together with the limitation of immigration, is giving black labor tremendous advantage. The Negro is entering the ranks of semi-skilled and skilled labor and he is entering mainly as a “scab.” He broke the great steel strike. He will soon be in a position to break any strike when he can gain economic advantage for himself.

On the other hand, intelligent Negroes know full well that a blow at organized labor is a blow at all labor; that black labor today profits by the blood and sweat of labor leaders in the past who have fought oppression and monopoly by organization. If there is built up in America a great black bloc of non-union laborers who have a right to hate unions, all laborers, black and white, eventually must suffer.

Is it not time, then, that black and white labor get together? Is it not time for white unions to stop bluffing and for black laborers to stop cutting off their noses to spite their faces?

We, therefore, propose that there be formed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Federation of Labor, the Railway Brotherhoods and any other bodies agreed upon, an Interracial Labor Commission.

We propose that this Commission undertake:

  1. To find out the exact attitude and practice of national labor bodies and local unions toward Negroes and of Negro labor toward unions.
  2. To organize systematic propaganda against racial discrimination on the basis of these facts at the labor meetings, in local assemblies and in local unions.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stands ready to take part in such a movement and hereby invites the coöperation of all organized labor. The Association hereby solemnly warns American laborers that unless some such step as this is taken and taken soon the position gained by organized labor in this country is threatened with irreparable loss.


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1924. “To the American Federation of Labor.” The Crisis 28 (4): 153–54.