Notwithstanding these facts, some of which seem to point in one direction and some in another, there seems to be no doubt that there is prejudice against Negroes among the members of labor unions and that there is a very widespread prejudice against labor unions among Negroes. These are facts that both parties must reckon with; otherwise, whenever there is a strike, particularly among those trades which have been closed to Negroes, there will always be a considerable number of colored laborers ready and willing to take these positions as individuals, but also for the sake of widening the race’s opportunities for labor.
In such strikes, whatever disadvantages they may have in other respects, Negroes will have this advantage, that they are engaged in a struggle to maintain their right to labor as free men, which, with the right to own property, is, in my opinion, the most important privilege that was granted to black men as a result of the Civil War.
Under these circumstances the question which presents itself to black men and white men of the laboring classes is this: Shall the labor unions use their influence to deprive the black man of his opportunity to labor, and shall they, as far as possible, push the Negro into the position of a professional ‘strike-breaker’; or will the labor unions, on the other hand, admitting the facts to be as they are, unite with those who want to give every man, regardless of color, race or creed, what Colonel Roosevelt calls the ‘square deal’ in the matters of labor, using their influence to widen rather than to narrow the Negro’s present opportunities; to lessen rather than to magnify the prejudices which make it difficult for white men and black men to unite for their common good?
In order to get at the facts in reference to this matter, I recently sent a letter of inquiry to the heads of the various labor organizations in the United States, in which I asked the following three questions: —
What are the rules of your union concerning the admittance of Negroes to membership?
Do Negroes, as a rule, make good union men? If not, what in your opinion is the cause?
What do you advise concerning the Negro and the Trade-Unions?
I confess that I was both interested and surprised by the number and the character of the replies which I received. They not only indicated that the labor leaders had fully considered the question of the Negro laborer, but they also showed, in many instances, a sympathy and an understanding of the difficulties under which the Negro labors that I did not expect to find. A brief summary of these letters will indicate, better than anything I can say, the actual situation.
In reply to the question, ‘What are the rules of your union concerning the admittance of Negroes?’ nine unions, all but two of which are concerned with transportation, stated that Negroes are barred from membership. These unions are: the International Brotherhood of Maintenance-of-Way Employees, Switchmen’s Union, Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Order of Railway Conductors of America, Order of Railway Telegraphers, American Wire Weavers’ Protective Association, and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders and Helpers of America.