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Civil Rights or Labor Rights? Detroit’s Predominantly-Black Unions and Labor Militancy in the Early 1930s

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Abstract:

When historians discuss “labor activism,” they are usually referring to workers’ collective efforts to wrest control over their working conditions from owners and managers. However, African Americans living in Detroit during the 1920s and 1930s would not have made this distinction. Most would have described access to jobs as one of the most important labor issues that they confronted. They would have seen occupational segregation and discrimination as community, civil rights, and labor concerns. African-American union activists consistently articulated the belief that they could only share the benefits of unionization if they remained extremely diligent about making sure that their needs were heard, understood, and incorporated into demands formulated by white activists.
This paper will examine the ways that African-American labor activists, community leaders, and community members defined “labor issues” and union activism in Detroit during the 1930s. I will argue that many black residents’ ideas and opinions about the labor movement were shaped through their experiences with majority-black unions in the period before the CIO began its campaigns in the city. I will focus on the National Alliance of Postal Employees (NAPE) and show how Detroit’s NAPE activists’ commitment to make no distinction between their fight to protect their rights as workers and their struggle to win battles against racism and discrimination in the city, helped local workers and residents understand their own experiences.

Author's Keywords:

Labor Militancy, Black union activism, National Alliance of Postal Employees
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Association:
Name: Association for the Study of African American Life and History
URL:
http://www.asalh.org


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p34175_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Miller, Karen. "Civil Rights or Labor Rights? Detroit’s Predominantly-Black Unions and Labor Militancy in the Early 1930s" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Hyatt Regency, Buffalo, New York USA, <Not Available>. 2013-12-17 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p34175_index.html>

APA Citation:

Miller, K. "Civil Rights or Labor Rights? Detroit’s Predominantly-Black Unions and Labor Militancy in the Early 1930s" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Hyatt Regency, Buffalo, New York USA <Not Available>. 2013-12-17 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p34175_index.html

Publication Type: Individual Paper
Abstract: When historians discuss “labor activism,” they are usually referring to workers’ collective efforts to wrest control over their working conditions from owners and managers. However, African Americans living in Detroit during the 1920s and 1930s would not have made this distinction. Most would have described access to jobs as one of the most important labor issues that they confronted. They would have seen occupational segregation and discrimination as community, civil rights, and labor concerns. African-American union activists consistently articulated the belief that they could only share the benefits of unionization if they remained extremely diligent about making sure that their needs were heard, understood, and incorporated into demands formulated by white activists.
This paper will examine the ways that African-American labor activists, community leaders, and community members defined “labor issues” and union activism in Detroit during the 1930s. I will argue that many black residents’ ideas and opinions about the labor movement were shaped through their experiences with majority-black unions in the period before the CIO began its campaigns in the city. I will focus on the National Alliance of Postal Employees (NAPE) and show how Detroit’s NAPE activists’ commitment to make no distinction between their fight to protect their rights as workers and their struggle to win battles against racism and discrimination in the city, helped local workers and residents understand their own experiences.

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