State AFL President Claimed Compulsory Unionism Necessary to Preserve Racial Discrimination

Among the many false arguments for continued compulsory unionism offered up by Big Labor bosses and their allies over the years, perhaps the most outrageous contention is that laws forcing employees to pay for an unwanted union somehow protect racial minorities from workplace discrimination.  Some lies should not go unanswered; I believe this is one.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Lee Saunders reiterated this poppycock in a recently published and widely distributed commentary for The Afro-American (Washington, D.C./Baltimore).

Facts undercut Saunders’ self-serving contentions regarding the impact of the pro-union monopoly 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) on African-American workers and the subsequent rise of the popular Right to Work movement.  Contrary to the AFSCME president’s assertions, there is indeed substantial evidence union-monopolized workplaces continued to foster and preserve workplace segregation long after the NLRA imposed compulsory unionism.

For example, in 1945 Texas American Federation of Labor (AFL) union president Harry Acreman insisted that a proposed state  Right to Work measure must be defeated because it would “end segregation in southern workplaces.”  (Acreman’s ploy worked that year, but Texas ultimately adopted a Right to Work law in 1947.)

A scholarly article published by pro-forced unionism sociologist Marc Dixon (see the link below) acknowledged that, when Right to Work legislation was being debated by Texas lawmakers in 1945, Acreman “invoked race as an issue.”

Acreman’s fear that Right to Work protections  would “end segregation” was not off-the-wall. Dixon pointed out that in 1945 “most union activities” in Texas “were still segregated — something the closed [union] shop helped perpetuate in many cases.”

Big Labor routinely exploited its monopoly privileges to prevent African-Americans from competing for good jobs against white union members.  Historian Herbert Hill, the NAACP’s labor policy director from 1951 to 1977, reasoned that union boss-promoted discrimination caused “spokesmen for the black community [to] vigorously oppose” the core NLRA monopoly-bargaining provisions while they were being debated in Congress. Less than a decade after the NLRA debates, eminent African American labor newspaper editor C.W. Rice became one of the earliest journalistic champions for adding a Right to Work amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Ignoring the unquestioned facts,  shameless Saunders and other union bigwigs routinely turn history on its head and misleadingly insinuate Right to Work laws were intended to perpetuate segregation in employment.

Public support for segregation was, of course, widespread in the U.S. back in the 1940’s, but whether a person supported Right to Work had no connection to his or her stance on segregation.  The fact is, forced unionism was fully compatible with segregation.  Big Labor exercised monopoly control over segregated workplaces in the South and across the country.  Forced unionism and segregation were partners in many workplaces, and it is absurd to suggest otherwise.

Even today, although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 officially prohibited workplace discrimination by race more than half a century ago, Big Labor worksite control often continues to provoke the ire of African American community leaders.  Some claim that union contracts and union-run hiring halls create de facto racial discrimination, even in government union contracts. 

Just before Christmas, Kansas City’s Eric Wesson Sr., writing in The Call, considered one of the top six African-American weeklies in the country, blasted construction union bosses for insisting that a new single-terminal airport in the Kansas City area be constructed exclusively by union-controlled workers.  Wesson charges this out-and-out  discrimination against non-union employers would “virtually eliminate minority and women-owned business participation in the $1.3 billion [taxpayer funded] project.”

Regardless of the motives  AFSCME’s Saunders and others have in making  false, racially charged claims against Right to Work and its supporters, their smear tactics are simply indecent and unbecoming of anyone who wants to be taken seriously.

As pro-Right to Work Texas labor newspaper editor C.W. Rice explained back in 1945, under monopolistic unionism the African American laborer in his state had to “bargain with the union whose . . . white members” were “prejudiced against him” as well as the employer. Image: Public domain.

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