THE POSITION OF
MINORITIES IN THE
AMERICAN LABOR MOVEMENT
F. Ray Marshall
Before discussing the position of minority groups in the American labor movement, it is necessary to clarify the meaning of minorities because many nationalities, economic, religious, or ethnic groups have at some time been in the minority. As successive waves of immigrants have been assimilated by the American society, more recent arrivals have taken their places at the bottom of the occupational ladder. Indeed, the nationality compositions of various occupations and trade unions have reflected both the time of arrival of these groups to the United States and the tendency of some groups to concentrate in particular occupations. As time went on, the older immigrants from northern and western Europe tended to move into better jobs, making room at lower levels for later arrivals from southern and eastern Europe. These latter groups have, in turn, more recently moved up the occupational ladder, making room at the bottom for Negroes and various Spanish-speaking groups. Indeed, Negroes started being drawn out of the rural South and into the nonagricultural work force at an accelerated rate when the flow of immigrants from Europe was cut off by World War I.
I do not wish to imply, however, that the Negro problem is identical with the nationality or religious problems of an earlier time, because the Negro has encountered much greater obstacles to his economic advancement. And although Orientals have had more difficulties than Europeans, they too have found greater acceptability than Negroes. American Indians, Mexicans, and