Racial Discrimination in Craft Unions

November 26, 1969

Report Outline
Black Demands to Join Building Unions
Restrictive Practices of Craft Unions
Legal Weapons Against Employment Bias

Black Demands to Join Building Unions

Organized labor and Negroes, though long allied in support of civil rights concepts in general, have had little success in efforts to reach common ground on a particular civil rights matter of vital concern to both—the membership policies of craft unions. Black demonstrators recently marched in several large cities to promote acceptance of their demand that Negroes be admitted in greater numbers to apprenticeship programs and to full membership in construction unions. The local unions concerned, and the parent A.F.L.-C.I.O., contend that to grant the demands would amount to imposition of racial quotas, which are prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A.F.L.-C.I.O. officials assert, moreover, that the labor movement already has been doing everything in its power to break down barriers—whether based on race or any other consideration—to union membership.

The conflict is far from new. Charges of racial discrimination on the part of labor unions date from the early days of the American Federation of Labor, which was founded in 1886. Then as now, the charges have been aimed primarily at craft unions—those consisting of workers possessing a specific skill or a closely related set of skills. Industrial unions, which attempt to organize all workers in a given industry regardless of their particular skills, generally have escaped charges of racial discrimination.

Erbin Crowell Jr., an associate editor of Civil Rights Digest, has pointed out that “The contradictions on civil rights exhibited by labor unions are not unique; the same inconsistencies are true in virtually all American institutions.” Crowell adds that “The dilemma of labor unions is in many ways the dilemma of the nation: words don't match deeds; pronouncements by leaders are ignored or even opposed by large numbers of the citizenry; the sham of tokenism is revealed by continuing injustice and prejudice.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
African Americans and the Civil Rights Movement
Jul. 22, 2022  Black Hairstyles
Nov. 15, 1985  Black America Long March for Equality
Aug. 12, 1983  Black Political Power
Jan. 18, 1980  Black Leadership Question
Aug. 15, 1973  Black Americans, 1963–1973
Nov. 26, 1969  Racial Discrimination in Craft Unions
Sep. 11, 1968  Black Pride
Feb. 21, 1968  Negro Power Struggle
Mar. 08, 1967  Negroes in the Economy
Jan. 19, 1966  Changing Southern Politics
Oct. 27, 1965  Negroes in the North
Jul. 21, 1965  Negro Revolution: Next Steps
Oct. 14, 1964  Negro Voting
Sep. 21, 1964  Negroes and the Police
Jul. 03, 1963  Right of Access to Public Accommodations
Jan. 23, 1963  Negro Jobs and Education
Mar. 25, 1960  Violence and Non-Violence in Race Relations
Aug. 05, 1959  Negro Employment
Apr. 18, 1956  Racial Issues in National Politics
Apr. 18, 1951  Progress in Race Relations
Dec. 17, 1948  Discrimination in Employment
Jan. 10, 1947  Federal Protection of Civil Liberties
Aug. 25, 1944  The Negro Vote
Jul. 01, 1942  Racial Discrimination and the War Effort
Mar. 25, 1939  Civil and Social Rights of the Negro
Jul. 22, 1927  Disenfranchisement of the Negro in the South
Civil Rights: African Americans
Equal Employment Opportunity & Discrimination
Unions and Labor-Management Relations