Running Steel, Running America: Race, Economic Policy and the Decline of Liberalism

By Judith Stein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Litigation Is Everything:

The Nixon Years

Examined in isolation, Secretary of Labor Hodgson's affirmation of ofcc's remedy at Sparrows Point was a civil rights victory. But the decision, based upon court compliance, was in harmony with the minimal civil rights policies of the Nixon administration. President Richard M. Nixon instructed his aides to "only do what the law requires, nothing more." When in doubt, he said, "don't do it, let the court bring it on." As the White House disengaged from black issues, the slowing economy increased black unemployment, and mass action ebbed, civil rights activists inside and outside of government also agreed to "let the court bring it on." It is true that congressional Democrats, freed from the loyalty they had given to presidents of their party, now advocated public employment. But lawyers became the vanguard of the civil rights movement. Nixon's Justice Department, ofcc, and eeoc, populated by activists from the Kennedy-Johnson era, became islands of activity in a quiet sea. In 1970, when the situations at Lackawanna and Sparrows Point seemed to be going against it, the Justice Department decided, in essence, to start anew, by suing U.S. Steel in Birmingham, a prelude to an industrywide suit. The strategy was to win remedies for the "affected class" in a southern case, where past discrimination was easier to document, and then apply them throughout the industry. Birmingham played its historic role, but, as it turned out, the remedy ordered was closer to the union's solution than the government's. 1

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