Friday, May 15, 2015
On Black Socialism and A. Philip Randolph
On Black Socialism and A. Philip Randolph: Unlike European socialism, which is very "statist" and "top-down" (coming from the government), American socialism is more "organic" and "bottom-up" (emerging from the people). Perhaps the most famous African-American socialist was A. Philip Randolph, a railroad worker who admired Eugene V. Debs' efforts at organizing the American Railway Union (ARU). Even though Randolph was about a generation behind Debs in terms of age, he followed Debs' lead by founding the nation's first black labor union in 1925. Known as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), the union sought to bargain collectively with the Pullman Company, which produced a variety of train cars for use in passenger rail travel. In the 1920s, the job of a "porter" was largely limited to baggage handling, ticket punching, and custodial duties. Over time, it became an occupation traditionally associated with African Americans. Thus, being a porter generally meant there was no chance of getting promoted to "conductor," which was a position often reserved for whites. As the BSCP progressed, Randolph pushed for changes in federal labor law during the 1930s. And in 1941, he succeeded in getting President Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 8802, which attempted to ban racial discrimination in the national defense industry. Although it was not a law, EO8802 marked the first federal effort to curb segregated labor practices.