Project 21 New Visions

Stacy Swimp

Union Prosperity at the Expense of Black Americans


by Stacy Swimp (bio)

 

Protected by the federal government, the monopolistic nature of forced unionism is detrimental to the livelihoods and interests of Americans of all races and ethnicities.

But it is black Americans who seem to be forced to suffer the most when it comes to compulsory union memberships and sharing in the benefits of the exclusive set-asides enjoyed by organized labor.

With civil rights lobbyists abhorring disparate racial impacts, one would think that union rules would be at the top of their complaints and calls for change. To the contrary, it is not. In fact, the civil rights establishment seems happy to be allied with union bosses.

Our nation's labor laws can empower a single union to act as the exclusive bargaining agent for all front-line employees in a business — regardless of whether they want to belong to that union or not. That this would turn out to have a negative impact on the black community shouldn't be a surprise to a vast majority of the black leaders who are intimately aware of how this system was forged.

Herbert Hill, an industrial-relations professor and the labor director of the NAACP from 1951 to 1977, pointed out in his history of black workers and the American legal system that the pro-union monopoly and pro-forced unionism National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA) was adopted despite the "intense opposition of the NAACP, the National Urban League and other Negro interest groups."

Section 9 of the NLRA, which Hill regarded as the law's "most important feature," was taken from Section 7(a) of the National Recovery Act. This was rubber-stamped in the early days of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency in 1933. Hill explained that Section 7(a) of the NRA established labor unions as exclusive collective bargaining agents through a process of governmental certification by the National Labor Relations Board.

Black community activists at the time opposed the National Recovery Act because the nearly absolute control that it allowed organized labor to exert over workplaces made it easy to execute discriminatory hiring practices by denying blacks the union membership they needed to get the best jobs — or any jobs, for that matter.

W.E.B. Du Bois, a cofounder of the NAACP and editor of the NAACP's journal The Crisis, as well as the intellectual godfather of modern civil rights legislation, forthrightly laid out the basis of his opposition to granting special privileges to union officials (particularly those of the American Federal of Labor) in a late 1933 commentary in The Crisis:

The A.F. of L. has from the beginning of its organization stood up and lied brazenly about its attitude toward Negro labor… They do not wish to organize Negroes. They keep Negroes out of every single organization where they can.

Du Bois was a socialist who harbored little sympathy toward businessmen, especially the owners and managers of large businesses. This makes his views especially noteworthy since even a socialist with no love for the free market recognized that employers, regardless of their motivation, typically did far more than union officials to promote the economic advancement of black workers.

Whether it be set-asides such as project labor agreements or the Davis-Bacon Act — a law many consider to be the last Jim Crow law on the books — the protection of union monopolies creates a breeding ground for workplace discrimination. That is bad for all people, but it is particularly bad for black Americans.

With so many people out of work these days, we need to be breaking down barriers to employment. Instead, the Obama Administration seems to be making these walls higher and stronger in its apparent unwavering support of union bosses.

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Stacy Swimp is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.


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