American Labor in the Era of World War II

By Sally M. Miller; Daniel A. Cornford | Go to book overview

10
The CIO: A Vanguard for Civil Rights in Southern California, 1940-46

David Oberweiser Jr.

This chapter primarily examines the role of antidiscrimination committees within the Congress of Industrial Organizations' (CIO's) locals and state councils in southern California during World War II. Initially formed to abolish the "Mexican wage" and bring African-American workers into war industries, these committees later responded to challenges outside the workplace, such as the Sleepy Lagoon murder case, the Sinarquista movement, public housing, and discrimination against Asian-Americans.

Although Latinos greatly outnumbered blacks in southern California, the CIO usually focused on the conditions of African-Americans, because its Communist and left-wing leaders believed that unity between black and white workers was the key to union organization. In many CIO organizing drives, such unity had led to victory during the 1930s. At the same time, however, the CIO won considerable prestige in the Hispanic community because of its organizing efforts among this population.

Before the CIO was founded on the West coast, black and Mexican workers were used to break longshore strikes in 1916 and 1919. Soon after, waterfront workers found themselves at the mercy of the company "Blue Book" system, which gave employers complete control of the hiring process. After the 1934 Pacific coast maritime strike, longshore

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