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       By Mike Westfall



Corporate America’s race to restructure is being grievously felt by the working class. The upswing in the economy is translating into some workers going back to work but not in the numbers that were once there. According to U.A.W. statistics, of the 270,000 indefinitely laid off U.A.W. workers, 100,000 are minorities and women.

Of the workers that won’t return to their restructured away jobs there is a disproportionate price being paid by women, young people, Latinos, blacks and other minorities who are being discriminated against and squeezed out in their bid to regain employment and again make a meaningful contribution to our system.

Many believe that since our black population has only started towards first class citizenship since 1964, (the civil rights act) that the few short years since the mid-sixties has not been enough time for the working rights of these people to be totally homogenized into our system. Thus that last hired first to let go syndrome is still alive and well. The situation we have been in has brought an emergence of restlessness and dissatisfaction and what is needed now is a progression of social and economic change.

So the system is here, it’s engaged and it is spewing out victimization and what is the prescription for change?

Have minority men and women reached parity-racially speaking with their white counterparts?

John Reid, a Howard University Sociologist, wrote in December 1982 that the gap between blacks and whites is far from being closed and that a major move by American blacks into mainstream middle-class America can no longer be considered imminent.

Reid made some profound statements in this paper such as the blacks life span is 6 years less than the whites life span, only 8% of adult blacks have a college degree while 18% of whites have a diploma. There has been a reversal in median income but by 1980 it had slipped significantly to only 56% of white income. The present 20% black unemployment rate is more than twice the 9% unemployment rate for whites.

Failure to address our black worker situation risks creating an ever larger and more permanent under class within the black population. Worker exploitation is also not limited to this country—far from it. The multi nationals sometimes referred to as “the pirates of the high seas” have been ever so quick in seeking out countries and setting up operations to exploit workers. One such country, South Africa, is well known throughout the world for its civil rights violations and it’s a haven for the multi nationals.

In South Africa blacks are not allowed in certain white areas. One example of this disgusting system was shown recently when 24 blacks were accused of being in a white man’s area for more than 24 hours without permission. Those convicted were ordered to pay a fine of $33 which to these demoralized people amounts to over a weeks pay or go to jail for 35 days. This system is called apartide or race separation and it governs the land in South Africa.

Many say the whites want to keep a black labor pool to do the dirty and menial jobs in the cities and push the rest back into their tribal homelands.

In the April issue of “Solidarity”, put out by the U.A.W., Jim West had an excellent article.

Jim said in this article that “you don’t have to be a statistician to figure it out. “Just visit the unemployment lines in any racial mixed neighborhood and you’ll see a disproportionate number of women, blacks, Latinos, and other minorities.” “The last hired, they’re often the first fired during a recession or forced to hustle from one marginal job to another with long stretches in between.

The perpetuation of a distinct, highly visible, under class of employment and marginally employed minority not only tends to undercut the solidarity of all American workers but it forces down the real wages of white workers as well. The old pit worker against worker corporate strategy.

Our government has had absolutely no problem subsidizing big business along through these hard times that wreaked havoc on middle class America and ruination on our poor and minorities. Our government has been mistaken in the belief that it had a mandate to slash poverty programs and in so doing waged war on our poor.

Clearly, if people in our sector are to be fully employed, equity suggests that it be work, shared fairly, just as C.E.R.P suggests. Unfortunately the corporations tend to define fairness according to their own self-interest.

Few Americans have paid a higher price in joblessness than our black teenagers. The U.S. National average for our black youth unemployment in December was 50% and the rate is 80% black youth unemployment in the inner cries. An entire generation of black Americans are going through a period in which the economy hasn’t expanded sufficiently to provide them with the job skills and the confidence they’ll need for the rest of their lives.” This leads to hopelessness”. What you find is people trying to survive by any means necessary, by scratching out a living, sometimes less than honorably.

The results will be staggering social costs as today’s jobless teenagers try to make their way through tomorrow’s world of microelectronics and the sophisticated training it will require.

Portrait Of A Black Man

To get a personal black perspective I’ve asked a well respected good friend of mine and union brother Revis Burton, who happens to be black, to share some of his experiences and personal views on the black worker’s heritage and situation.

Revis is 61 years of age and will be retiring next year after 30 years at General Motors. Revis went after graduation from high school in Meridian, Miss. in 1943 to the service where he was honorably discharged in 1946. He attended Alcorn University from 1946-1948 and then sold life insurance and was self-employed until he hired into G.M.’s Fisher 2 plant in Flint, MI in 1954.

Revis became active in the U.A.W. back in 1956 when he served on the U.A.W. Community Service Committee and then the education and by-laws committee and served on many other special union positions such as the Constitutional Convention.

Revis has also been active in the community serving as the President of the “Boys Luxes Club in Meridian, Senior Warden of Lodge #150 F and AM and Chairman of the Deacon Board of the Foss Ave. Missionary Baptist Church.

Revis belongs to a multitude of groups and organizations such as NAACP Urban League, Michigan Sheriff Association, etc.

Revis hired into General Motors back in the early 1950’s there was racial discrimination, harassment and intimidation. Prior to WWII blacks were only permitted in foundries and sanitation jobs but during the war, the manpower shortage was such that blacks were finally allowed on the assembly line not because G.M. was stepping up to equal treatment but simply because blacks were needed.

The U.A.W. began taking a strong stand on discrimination when Walter Ruther came on the scene and made an issue on seniority and black issues. That was the beginning of a progression of social change in the U.A.W. From that point on, many improvements were instituted from outside groups supported by the U.A.W.

As late as 1958, Sam Duncan, who happened to be black, was past president of U.A.W. Local 598 ,my local, at Fisher 2 in Flint. He fought and managed to get a minority woman hired into the plant. Management kept her 89 days, 1 day short of achieving tenure or seniority and then laid her off. It took almost two more years for Sam to get another minority woman, (Chicano), hired in. She was also laid off just before she achieved seniority,

In those days the three worst areas in the plants were, sanitation, cab shop, and boxcar unloading and consisted primarily of blacks. Blacks also found a built in system of discrimination that took decades to improve.

Outside of the plants if you were black and went on a southern vacation and if you could find a restaurant that would serve you, you had to go in a separate side entrance marked “Coloreds”. Once inside the restaurant you and your family were segregated from the white patrons who ate from the fancy clean tables while your family usually ate from the bar.

When filling up on gas you had to pick a larger gas station that had two sets of restrooms one for whites and one for the so-called coloreds.

Once in Alabama Revis was filling up with gas when the attendant noticed his wife heading for the restrooms. The attendant immediately cut off the gas and shouted, “We don’t have restrooms for the coloreds”!

Blacks weren’t allowed in southern roadside parks because there were no “colored facilities”.

In 1961 Revis built a new duplex home in Flint and couldn’t get it approved by the FHA. They said it was over built for the black community but Revis later found out that in the year 1961 only one black man Was successful in the north end of Flint in getting an FHA loan and he was a local politician.

This was Revis’s heritage and just a small portion of some of the many situations that arose for him and his family because they happened to be born black.

Discrimination of any kind is wrong morally, ethically and socially. It creates a situation where entire groups of our citizens are not allowed to contribute to our system and their collective potential and talent go largely untapped.

Revis’ problems have been shared by an entire race and we can learn much by listening to those that have paid such a cost and still stand as survivors. Revis is an outstanding spokesman for the union and in the community and I am proud to call him friend.

Black Perspective- By Revis Burton

In the 1940’s and 1950’s blacks were excluded from such factory jobs as truck driving, inspection, skilled trades, and metal finishers. To become a clerk, secretary, or supervisor was unthinkable

It is a perception by some that blacks cannot think, learn and are biologically inferior to others and when a black person is successful the perception is that they are an exception to the rule.

Unless change is instituted minorities are destined to continue being the victims to corporate restructuring. Our black youth will continue to be the recipients of poor quality education therefore reducing their participation in employment opportunities. The priorities in this country have been geared for too long, only toward giant corporate profits without the individuals social well being considered.

I submit that without workers sharing in the increased productivity derived from the restructuring and directing it in the ways the C.E.R.P. program suggests that this nation could become a nation of massive blue collar victimization.

Where are the blue-collar workers, and others displaced by this restructuring going to go? We were forced from the farms in the early part of this century by mechanical automation- we can’t go back there. Some say the new high tech areas will create jobs in ration to job lost, but will they? And how do we get these jobs?

Will one half of the workforce take care of the other half? Will 5% of the population reap the wealth of this rich nation and the other 95% live in poverty? If so, who is responsible?

I suggest that the blue-collar worker set aside all differences whether racial or otherwise and unite for the common good of all and save this nation from potential disaster.

Revis Burton

All metal working sector workers are paying a terrific price and if ratio wise women, blacks, Latinos, and other minorities have been impacted the greatest, then numerically whites have felt the greatest impact.

  Our situation certainly transcends gender or ethnic considerations and is a basis for a multi ethnic blue-collar coalition in support of the C.E.R.P. concept, which changes workers and community status from victim to co-beneficiary. President Reagan is on our national mailing list. Are you listening to the grass roots workers of America Mr. Reagan?