Hard labor: scholars chronicle the relationship of African Americans to unions and the industrialization of America.
SINCE RECONSTRUCTION, BLACKS' unionization activity has taken two forms: attempts to integrate large white labor groups and attempts to build black unions. Early on, whichever form the activity took, the black workers behind it were fired, blacklisted and attacked by police, militia and mobs.
White unions eventually began to integrate--but with all deliberate slowness. For African American African American Multiculture A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. See Race. laborers, faith in white unions alternated with distrust: Faith infused the Civil Rights Movement while Black Power was ingrained with distrust. During the latter period radical black unions emerged, and large integrated unions responded by opening leadership posts to moderate blacks and developing training and apprenticeship programs that gave some black workers upward mobility upward mobility
The state of being upwardly mobile.
movement from a lower to a higher economic and social status .
Despite these changes, African American representation in union leadership, discrimination in hiring and promotion, and training for highly skilled jobs remain problem areas for organized labor Organized Labor
An association of workers united as a single, representative entity for the purpose of improving the workers' economic status and working conditions through collective bargaining with employers. Also known as "unions". .
Given how badly white unions treated black workers for most of the last 141 years, one of the opening sentences of Paul D. Moreno's Black Americans and Organized Labor: A New History (Louisiana State University Press This article needs sources or references that appear in reliable, third-party publications. Alone, primary sources and sources affiliated with the subject of this article are not sufficient for an accurate encyclopedia article. , January 2006) may come as a shock: "Today, black Americans are the demographic group most likely to belong to a labor union labor union: see union, labor. ." But according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. Race and Labor Matters in the New U.S. Economy (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., June 2006), edited by Manning Marable, Immanuel Ness and Joseph Wilson, unions have not done enough to save black people's government jobs, which are being erased by the privatization privatization: see nationalization.
Transfer of government services or assets to the private sector. State-owned assets may be sold to private owners, or statutory restrictions on competition between privately and publicly owned of the public sector.
To account for organized labor's racist past, Professor Moreno, for one, proposes an economics-of-discrimination interpretation that examines the interplay of race, economics and law. Generally speaking, unions' discriminatory practices cannot be blamed on employers, he argues. Employers do not normally "foment fo·ment
tr.v. fo·ment·ed, fo·ment·ing, fo·ments
1. To promote the growth of; incite.
2. To treat (the skin, for example) by fomentation. racial antagonism to keep the proletariat divided and weak." Rather, they try "to pay as little as possible for labor, regardless of ethnicity" or race. It was usually white union members, not employers, who created and benefited from discrimination, Moreno adds.
United by Poverty
In Poor Workers' Unions: Rebuilding Labor From Below (South End Press, January 2005), labor activist Vanessa Tait lays out the history of poor workers' unions, which developed as an alternative to traditional labor groups (i.e., trade unions typically affiliated with the AFL-CIO AFL-CIO: see American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
in full American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations
U.S. ). These alternative unions generally represent workers "at or below the poverty level" who toil in various trades and industries, including food service, home health care, domestic work, manufacturing and day labor. The groups range from civil rights-based job campaigns and welfare rights organizations to domestic workers' unions and feminist labor groups. Most members are women and people of color Noun 1. people of color - a race with skin pigmentation different from the white race (especially Blacks)
people of colour, colour, color
race - people who are believed to belong to the same genetic stock; "some biologists doubt that there are important .
In the '60s and early '70s, Tait explains, the destitute created their own unions because trade unions "did not believe poor workers could be organized, either because of their fluctuating job status, or because of prejudices against their race, ethnicity, gender, poverty or immigration immigration, entrance of a person (an alien) into a new country for the purpose of establishing permanent residence. Motives for immigration, like those for migration generally, are often economic, although religious or political factors may be very important. status." The traditional labor movement, she concludes, has become "an institution protecting the organized few, instead of a broad social movement representing the interests of all workers."
White sociologist Christine L. Williams goes deep cover as a low-wage retail worker at two national toy store chains in Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality (University of California Press "UC Press" redirects here, but this is also an abbreviation for University of Chicago Press
University of California Press, also known as UC Press, is a publishing house associated with the University of California that engages in academic publishing. , January 2006). Her findings are disturbing but not surprising: "Workers are sorted into jobs on the basis of race and gender, resulting in advantages for white men (and, to a lesser extent, white women) and blocked opportunities for radal/ethnic minority women and men." Echoing Tait, Williams writes, "Historically, unions have not successfully redressed exclusionary hiring and promotion policies that favor whites over racial/ethnic minorities and men over women."
Black women's labor during the antebellum period is the focus of Xiomara Santamarina's Belabored Professions: Narratives of African American Working Womanhood (The University of North Carolina Press The University of North Carolina Press (or UNC Press), founded in 1922, is a university press that is part of the University of North Carolina. External link
In their autobiographies, which Santamarina thoroughly dissects, they described their labor as both valuable and respectable. Many black leaders bristled bris·tle
1. A stiff hair.
2. A stiff hairlike structure: the bristles of a wire brush.
v. bris·tled, bris·tling, bris·tles
v.intr. in response, believing racial advancement depended upon the creation of "male-headed households in which wives, daughters and sisters" remained home and raised children. Championing black women's right to work rather than promoting the abolitionist agenda, the narratives Truth and company wrote diverged from the norms of the African American autobiographical tradition.
African American men were "at the center of the story of modernization in the South." Such is the contention of William P. Jones in The Tribe of Black Ulysses: African American Lumber Workers in the lira LIRA. The name of a foreign coin. In all computations at the custom house, the lira of Sardinia shall be estimated at eighteen cents and six mills. Act of March 22, 1846. The lira of the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom, and the lira of Tuscany, at sixteen cents. Act of March 22, 1846. Crow South (University of Illinois Press The University of Illinois Press (UIP), is a major American university press and part of the University of Illinois. Overview
According to the UIP's website: , 2005). The lumber industry between 1870 and 1910, he writes, "grew faster and employed more workers than any other industry in the southern United States The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive region in the southeastern and south-central United States. ." "Whereas other industrial employers marginalized or excluded black workers, African American men formed the majority of the southern lumber workforce. Before World War II, no other industry employed more African Americans."
Black Workers' Struggle for Equality in Birmingham (University of Illinois Press, 2004) also focuses on Southern black laborers. Edited by Horace Huntley and David Montgomery, the volume is the first in a projected series of books, each containing transcripts of interviews conducted by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute's Oral History Project with former civil rights activists who belonged to the city's industrial workforce.
As Professor Montgomery points out in the Introduction, "The unions were crisscrossed criss·cross
v. criss·crossed, criss·cross·ing, criss·cross·es
1. To mark with crossing lines.
2. with networks, caucuses, and study groups organized by black workers. These informal organizations directly linked black union members to civil rights mobilizations based in churches and in community organizations ... [and] made the better known marches and court cases possible."
Matthew Whitaker's Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West (University of Nebraska Press, 2005) reminds us that the South, the East and the Midwest were not the only theaters of activity in the Civil Rights Movement. The book assesses the movement in Phoenix, as well as the achievements of two of the most important black activists of the post-World War II American West: Lincoln Ragsdale and his wife, Eleanor. Whitaker notes that Ragsdale and a compatriot com·pa·tri·ot
1. A person from one's own country.
2. A colleague.
[French compatriote, from Late Latin compatri succeeded in desegregating many of the city's main corporations in 1962, two years before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was even established.
The History of Work
Belabored Professions: Narratives of African American Working Womanhood
by Xiomara Santamarina
The University of North Carolina Press, October 2005
$18.95, ISBN ISBN
International Standard Book Number
ISBN International Standard Book Number
ISBN n abbr (= International Standard Book Number) → ISBN m 0-8078-5648-7
Black Americans and Organized Labor: A New History
by Paul D. Moreno
Louisiana State University Press, January 2006
$49.95, ISBN 0-8071-3094-X
Black Workers' Struggle for Equality in Birmingham
Edited by Horace Huntley and David Montgomery
University of Illinois Press, December 2004
$35, ISBN 0-252-02952-6
Inside Toyland: Working, Shopping, and Social Inequality
by Christine L. Williams
University of California Press, January 2006
$16.95, ISBN 0-520-24717-5
Poor Workers' Unions: Rebuilding Labor From Below
by Vanessa Tait
South End Press, January 2005
$20, ISBN 0-89608-714-X
Race and Labor Matters in the New U.S. Economy
Edited by Manning Marable, Immanuel Ness and Joseph Wilson
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, June 2006
$60, ISBN 0-7425-4690-X
Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West
by Matthew Whitaker
University of Nebraska Press, November 2005
$35, ISBN 0-8032-4821-0
The Tribe of Black Ulysses: African American Lumber Workers in the
Jim Crow South
by William P. Jones
University of Illinois Press, April 2005
$20, ISBN 0-252-07229-4
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