The A.F. of L. (1933)

The A.F. of L. (1933)

The most sinister power that the N.R.A. has re-inforced is the American Federation of Labor. The American Federation of Labor never did represent the labor movement and represents it less today than in the past. It is a petty bourgois organization, with all the ideals of the small capitalists and with the desire and program to increase the wages of a small class of skilled and favorably situated laborers at the expense of the mass of the working people. The A. F. of L. has discriminated against Jews, Italians, Slovaks and Negroes, and it has discriminated against white Americans, whenever chance or opportunity came; high wage for the few even if that involved aiding in the exploitation of common labor and being bribed by employers to keep labor peace when the mass of laborers is receiving less than the living wage and indecent treatment. The extremes to which this movement has gone is illustrated by the engineers who started a bank in Cleveland to perform the same kind of functions that any capitalist bank would form and which ran a mine in West Virginia with non-Union labor.

The A. F. of L. has from the beginning of its organization stood up and lied brazenly about its attitude toward Negro labor. They have affirmed and still affirm that they wish to organize Negro labor when this is a flat and proven falsehood. They do not wish to organize Negroes. They keep Negroes out of every single organization where they can. They allow any organization under the Federation to exclude Negroes on any pretense and make no protest. Their officials have repeatedly refused to sit down with black men and discuss ways and means by which race prejudice within the labor movement could be abated. Whenever any trade union within the A. F. of L. does receive Negro laborers, it does so against the policy of the A. F. of L. leaders, and it is encouraged to discriminate against the Negroes even if they are in the ranks of union labor.

Negro workers have been and are continually traduced and libeled by these so-called labor leaders, and yet today this organization is the one that is being set up to “represent” labor. Of the twenty or thirty millions of laborers in the United States, the American Federation of Labor does not adequately or decently represent a single million. It is this fact that gives sinister reinforcement to the demand on the part of the employers for the open shop. No one is deceived by the motives behind the steel trust and Henry Ford. They sought the open shop because there are bigger profits in unorganized labor. But, on the other hand, the only chance for the Negro to find work and the only chance for millions of white workers to find employment is in those industrial institutions that are not dominated by William Green and his contemptible monopoly of recognized labor effort.

It is too bad that the rank and file or the American Federation of Labor cannot see the kind of bureaucracy by which they are ruled and give at least some aid and comfort to the recurrent demands inside the organization for reform. Unless they do this, some time there is coming a great wave of demand from the mass of exploited laborers for an organization which represents their injuries and their wishes. And that new organization is going to sweep the A. F. of L. off the face of the earth.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1933. “The A.F. of L..” The Crisis. 40(12):292.