Bounced post from Michael Pugliese on DRUM

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Nov 24 14:47:25 MST 1999

[This bounced because it was more than 100,000 bytes. I clipped everything
except Michael's introductory remarks and the opening section of the
article. If folks are interested in the entire article, I suggest they
contact Michael directly. And, Michael, if you send it out to them, make
sure not to send 2 copies as you attempted to send to the list. The first
copy was plain text, but it was followed immediately by html formatted
text. Finally, I want to endorse the Derlugian piece in the NLR which does
have some interesting insights.]

Here is another piece on the League of Revolutionary Black Workers to
supplement the H-Labor review Lou sent along to the list this morning. Also
Jo Ann Wypijewski of The Nation had a review in a recent New Left Review of
the "Detroit I Do Mind Dying," reissue. Wonder how much the Nelson
Lichenstein biography of Walter Reuther, "The Most Dangerous Man In
Detroit," goes into the UAW and the League? Michael Parenti, who I don't
have much use for, has alleged that Reuther's plane was sabotaged, leading
to his death, when his brother, Victor, began contesting the AFL-CIA's
Int'l. Affairs Dept. and their rabid anti-communism esp. as regards the
labor bureaucracies support of the Vietnam War. Lastly, btw, the latest NLR
has a piece on Chechnya by Georgi Derlugian that I just picked up.

Michael Pugliese

A.Muhammad Ahmad

INTRODUCTION To approach a study of the League of Revolutionary Black
Workers, an independent Black radical workers' formation in Detroit, as a
consequence of the Black liberation movement, several questions should be
answered in the research We should ask ourselves the history of Black
workers' relations in white unions. Also, is there any particular
phenomenon that contributed to the League emerging in Detroit rather than
in any other city? While the scope of this paper is too short to address
itself directly to these questions, it is hoped that some underlying
factors tracing the development of the League are answered. The purpose
here is to present an objective analysis of the historical factors leading
to the development and demise of the League.

In order to adequately address the LRBW as an organizational development
within the broader context of the Black liberation movement, it is
necessary to make a few preliminary remarks concerning Black workers in
unions, particularly the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the automobile

Black workers involvement in large numbers began during the first
imperialist war, when there was a shortage of laborers and Detroit was
becoming the center of the auto industry. In 1910, there were only 569
Blacks out of 105,759 auto workers. During the war, thousands of
southerners, both Black and white migrated to Detroit in search of work, By
1930, there were 25,895 Blacks among the industry's 640.474 workers.

The southern whites who migrated to Detroit brought with them racist
attitudes. The large Polish minority who made up a large proportion of the
work force in the auto plants began to display the same prejudice against
Black workers after the southerners came. The auto industry was one of the
last major industries in the United states to hire large numbers of Black
workers. Blacks were excluded from regular jobs in most auto plants. Until
1935 only the Ford River Rouge plant hired Black workers in large numbers,
Black workers who did work in auto plants were confined to janitorial work
or to the unpleasant back-breaking foundry jobs that white men did not
want. Except in the Rouge plant, they were barred from skilled work.

Approximately one half of the Negroes in the iundustry were employed by the
Ford Motor industry and 99 percent of these in the huge River Rouge plant.
The Negro employees of General Motors and Chrysler were also concentrated
in a few plants: Buick No. 70 in Flint, Pontiac foundry in Pontiac,
Chevrolet forge in Detroit and Chevrolet Grey- Iron Foundry in Saginaw -
all of General Motors; and Main Dodge of Chrysler in a Detroit suburb, Few
Negroes were employed in automobile plants outside of Detroit. (a) Of the
auto manufacturers, Ford developed a policy of hiring ten per cent Blacks
in his work force at the River Rouge plant. the story goes that at the
beginning of the 1921 depression, Black workers employed at river Rouge and
Black middle-class leaders from Detroit approached Ford and talked about
his racist bias in layoffs. Ford is then said to have changed his hiring
policy at river Rouge. He placed Black workers in all departments and
occupations at the plant. But he didn't extend this policy beyond River Rouge.

Ford assembly plants in the South only employed Black workers as janitors
and porters. However, Ford's employment policy won him loyalty of the Black
community, particularly the Black church. Ford -made financial
contributions to selected Black churches; he would then use the ministers
as employment agents. Black workers were hired when they presented a
written recommendation form the minister to company officials. Pork chop
ministers loved Ford's assistance because It increased church attendance,
helped the church financially and strengthened their community leadership
positions.Thus once receiving Ford's approval, a minister would willingly
follow Ford's anti-labor position.

When A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters,
was invited in 1938 to speak sit a Negro church, those of its members who
were employed at Ford were threatened with firing. After Randolph spoke,
some were actually dismissed and frankly told that Randolph's speech was
the reason.(B). Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University, made a
pro-union speech at a Black church and three months later he was denied a
second appearance.

Prior to 1929 the American Federation of Labor (AFL) was primarily made up
of craft unions. The AFL discriminated against Black workers. Black
membership in the AFL In 1930 was estimated to be about 50,000, but
thousands of Black craftsmen were ignored by the AFL while others were in
segregated unions. One exception can be noted for lack of racial
discrimination; the United Mine Workers (LTMW) under the leadership of John
L. Lewis. With the depression, the militant rank and file of the AFL began
to push for unionization of unskilled (industrial) workers. A Committee for
Industrial Organization was established. In 1937 the committee was expelled
from the AFL and became the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The
CIO recognized that It It was going to be successful it had to have the
support of Black workers. Blacks and the Communist Party were instrumental
in helping to build the CIO. The National Negro Congress, formed in 1936
with 500 Black organizations in if membership, was a left-wing
worker-oriented organization. It supported the CIO vigorously. Led by A.
Philip Randolph until Black flunkies of the Communist Party began to direct
its line according to Russia's foreign policy, it helped radicalize the
Black community. A Black/CIO alliance began to develop.

But Black workers weren't too receptive at first to the idea of becoming
involved in labor activism. This probably stemmed from years of racial
discrimination by labor and their precarious position at the point of
production. When large sit down strikes broke out in 1936 and 1937, few
Black workers participated. Many stayed at home, but they didn't serve as
scabs either. In some plants there had been racial clashes in the plants
prior to the strikes. The last plant to be organized in Detroit by the CIO
was the River Rouge plant, where Black workers resisted efforts at
unionization until convinced by the CIO that it was on their side. By 1942
the Ford River Rouge plant was unionized after the majority of Black
workers had walked out on strike.

As progressive as the CIO was, Black trade unionists still had to fight
against racial discrimination within it. During the war, the Communists
emerged as the extreme right-wing in the labor movement. They also
advocated sacrificing the rights of Blacks in the interests of the war. So
when A.Philip Randolph proposed a Black March on Washington to protest job
discrimination, he was opposed and openly attacked by the Communist Party.
Roosevelt established the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC) as a
result of the proposed march. During the war, Black workers were in
constant struggles to get skilled jobs In the war industry. The auto plants
were converted to war production. When a Black worker was upgraded, many
times white workers would walk off the job. The federal government and the
UAW had to apply constant pressure to stop racist work stoppages by white
workers. When the war ended, old discrimination patterns in hiring
reappeared. Thousands of Black workers lost their jobs. In the 1950's the
labor movement purged the Communists. McCarthyism was the mad rage of the
country. Even in a period of political hysteria, A. Philip Randolph
constantly attacked racism within the CIO. In 1955 the AFL and CIO
reunited. Right before the merger, Black unionists met to secure the
election of Blacks to the AFL-CIO Executive Council and to get the
federation to adopt a strong civil rights position. After the merger, Black
labor formed in major cities to fight for the interests of Black workers.

One of these organizations was the Trade Union Leadership Conference
(TULC), formed by a group of Detroit Negro unionists in 1957. Most of the
founders were from the UAW but in 1960 there were about as many Negroes
from other unions in the TULC as from the UAW.(C) Many Negro trade
unionists attacked the TULC for racism in reverse. They feared the TUL4C
and similar organizations would divide the labor movement. The TULC
attacked these critics as labor uncle toms at the AFL-CIO convention.
George Meany verbally attacked A. Philip Randolph. The TULC wrote a letter
to Meany denouncing Meany's outburst and told Meany they objected to
attacks on the NAACP by Charles Zimmerman. The TULC endorsed the NAACP's
memorandum of December 4, 1958, charging racial discrimination and
segregation by unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

The TULCs 2500 members (in 1961) in the Detroit area had engaged in
political action; contributed financially to various civil rights
activities and to political candidates; worked to improve Detroit public
schools; established contacts in the Polish-, Jewish-, and Spanish-speaking
communities; helped Negroes in the Hod Carriers and Common Laborers local
union replace "unfriendly" white officers with Negroes and more sympathetic
whites; and served as a model for the Negro-American Labor Council and
similar organizations in other Northern cities.(D) So while the TULC was no
longer considered militant as It was surpassed by the impact of civil
rights activity In Detroit, it had set the precedent for the emergence of
the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM).

Background to the Building of the Detroit Cadre To properly evaluate the
history of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, a social scientist
would have to investigate the overall development of the Black movement In

Another factor that should be taken into consideration is the concentration
of industry In Detroit.

More Black workers were hired in the auto plants between the end of World
War 11 and 1960. The Black community for a large part relied on the
liberal-labor coalition. There was adult Black labor leadership as well as
prominent Black radicals In the community. Detroit's inner city was also
the Midwestern center of Black nationalism. It is probably important to
mention that the Socialist Workers Party had a strong base in Detroit.
Their influence was felt In the Black community in the early sixties.

Of the various groups In Detroit, GOAL (Group on Advanced Leadership) led
by Richard and Milton Henry was representative of adult involvement in the
movement. GOAL was a Black nationalist, civil rights group. Reverend Albert
Cleage was considered GOAL's ideological leader. James and Grace Boggs, who
split with the "Facing Reality" group of C. L. R. James, played an
instrumental role in providing a synthesis between Black nationalism and
socialism. The loose linkage of the Henrys, Cleage, and the Boggses
provided young Black radicals with an adult Black radical leadership which
could be their resource base. The Boggses were important to young Black
radicals, because they had a wealth of information, constantly wrote and
published a newsletter called Correspondence, helped organize the
Grassroots Conference in 1963 and the Freedom Now Party in 1964. Discussion
sessions were held at the Boggs home which provided young Black radicals
with insight on concepts, goals, strategy and tactics of socialism and

Whether one disagrees either partially or substantially with the politics
of these organizations or individuals is quite beside the point; what
should not be overlooked is that collectively they functioned as ongoing
radical institutions which preserved and transmitted historical information
and revolutionary values to a fresh generation of Detroit activists. (1)
Early in 1963 Black students at Wayne State University formed a
revolutionary Black nationalist/socialist action cadre called UHURU. UHURU
was more militant than GOAL, Rev. Cleage and the Bogges but maintained
close relations with them. UHURU was led by Luke Tripp, John Williams, John
Watson, Charles Johnson, General G. Baker, Jr., and Gwen Kemp. UHURU
members studied Marx, Lenin, Mao, Fanon, Malcolm X, Robert F. Williams, Che
and many others. They attended Socialist Workers Party weekly forums,
listened to members of the Communist Party and followers of C. L. R. James.
The UHURU cadre considered themselves Black Marxist-Leninists and were
inspired by the Cuban and Chinese revolutions. In 1964, when Grace Boggs
and Rev. Albert Cleage were instrumental In developing a strong statewide
Freedom Now Party, some members of UHURU were organizers for it. Also in
1964, UHURU members went to Cuba, where they met Robert F. Williams, Fidel
Castro, Che Guevara and Muhammad Babu. Some joined the Revolutionary Action
Movement (RAM). In 1965 they regrouped and formed the Afro-American Student
Movement (ASM), which put out a theoretical journal called Black Vanguard,
edited by John Watson. Black Vanguard was distributed to Black workers in
the plants but was too theoretical and thick for a positive workers' response.

General G. Baker, Jr. received his draft notice. He wrote a political
letter to the draft board denouncing U.S. Imperialism. ASM decided to
protest Baker's induction. They put out leaflets and press announcements
stating that 50,000 Blacks would show at the Wayne County Induction Center
when Baker had to report. Only eight demonstrators were there, but the
threat of mass action had convinced the U.S. army to find Baker
"unsuitable" for service.

Different members of the group began to go in different occupational
directions. Watson and Williams became students at Wayne State and Baker
worked In the auto factories. In 1965 Glanton Dowdell came into the cadre.
Dowdell's street experience added valuable skills to the cadre.

A dropout from the 5th grade, he was put into a home for mentally retarded
at the age of 13. In prison on and off since he was 16, he was finally
incarcerated on a murder and robbery charge In Jackson. There he organized
a strike of Black prisoners against discrimination by forming a selected
cadre. In prison he read voraciously, learned to paint and after 17 years
was released through the intervention of et Black probation officer who
recognized his genius.(2) In 1966, Dowdell, Baker and Rufus Griffin helped
form the Black Panther Party in Detroit. A mini-rebellion broke out on the
east side and the three were picked up by the police and charged with
carrying concealed weapons. Baker and Dowdell were convicted and placed on
five years' probation. Early in 1967, Dowdell was given a suspended
sentence. During the winter months of that year, RAM organized the Black
Guards and self-defense community militias In Detroit. "Join the Black
Guards" slogans were on walls all over Detroit. On July 22, 1967 the
largest Black insurrection In the history of the United States raged as
bloods in the thousands took the streets and fought the police, national
guard and the U.S. army for five days. Dowdell and Baker were picked up on
July 24th. They were later released on $60,000 bond. The Detroit Rebellion
raised the national consciousness of Black workers. It started an air of
militancy for most Blacks. Dowdell was elected the vice chairman of the
Citywide Citizens Action Committee (CCAC), a coalition which attempted to
organize the Black community after the rebellions. At times over 2,000
Blacks would attend the CCAC meetings. Baker returned to work In the
plants. There he began to see that the consciousness of Black workers was
much higher than before the rebellions.

In September 1967, John Watson, Mike Hamlin, Luke Tripp, General Baker and
others organized a Black radical newspaper called Inner City Voice (ICV),
which addressed itself particularly to the oppressive conditions of Black
workers and called them to organize.

The Founding of DRUM On May 2, 1968, a walkout of 4,000 workers occurred at
the Hamtramck Assembly Plant which stemmed from a gradual speed-up of the
production line. The facts show production soared from 49 units to 68 units
an hour within the short period of a week. The mobility of the worker was
retarded to the extent that it was difficult to keep pace. As a result of
the walkout, picket lines were set up around the gates and individual
workers began to mass. This situation occurred on the afternoon shift and
carried over Into the first shift. During the initial picketing, the
company sent out photographers who photographed some of the pickets. The
pictures were used as evidence against some of the pickets and were
instruments in the discharge and disciplining of certain workers who took
part In the walkout and picketing.

Most of the overall administration of punishment, including discharges and
disciplinary action taken against the pickets, was overwhelmingly applied
to the Black workers. They were held responsible for the walkout, which was
directly caused by company indifference towards working conditions. Three
Black workers were fired; ten were given from one to five days off. Seven
persons (five Black and two white) were fired, but all except two - General
Baker and Bennie Tate, both Black and DRUM leaders - were eventually
rehired. Chuck Wooten, one of nine workers who founded DRUM, describes how
DRUM came into being.

During the wildcat strike of May 1968, upon coming to work there were
picket lines established ... manned by all white workers at the 'time and
as a result of this the Black workers received the harshest disciplinary
actions. A few workers and I went across the street and set in a bar.... It
was here that we decided we would do something about organizing Black
workers to fight the racial discrimination inside the plants and the
overall oppression of Black workers.... And this was the beginning of DRUM.
(3) Prior to the wildcat strike at Dodge Main, General Baker began to pull
together a group of eight Black workers. They would meet in the offices of
the Inner City Voice.

Black workers who were either dismissed or penalized moved to organize the
workers at Dodge Main by using a weekly newsletter (DRUM) as an organizing
tool. The contents of the newsletter dealt with very specific cases of
racism and ton-dam on the job and stressed the necessity of united action
on part of Black workers to abolish the racial aspects of exploitation and
degradation at the plant.(4) The first issue of the DRUM newsletter dealt
with the May 2nd wildcat strike. The second Issue carried an "expose" on
several Blacks In the plant whom DRUM considered to be "uncle toms." The
Issue also outlined the DRUM program.

DRUM is an organization of oppressed and exploited Black workers. It
realizes that Black workers are the victims of inhumane slavery at the
expense of white racist plant managers. It also realize that Black workers
comprise 60% and upwards of the entire work force at Hamtramck Assembly
Plant, and therefore hold exclusive power. We members of DRUM had no other
alternative but to form an organization and to present a platform. The
Union has consistently and systematically failed us time and time again. We
have attempted to address our grievances to the U.A.W.'s procedures, but to
no avail; Its hands are just as bloody as the white racist management of
this corporation. We Black workers feel that if skilled trades can
negotiate directly with the company and hold a separate contract, then
Black workers have more justification for moving independently of the
U.A.W. (5) The third Issue of DRUM dealt with charges and documentations of
racist conditions in the plant and also attacked the UAW for endorsing the
annual Detroit Police field day. It also listed a number of deaths
attributed to the police department. After the third week Black workers in
the plant began to ask how to go about joining DRUM. Members of DRUM
working in the plant proselytized and recruited Black workers on the job.
The strength and influence of DRUM grew tremendously.

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: (

More information about the Marxism mailing list