The Ideology of American Poor Whites

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Dec 12 13:44:45 MST 2000

Peter Santina wrote:
>What do you think about the often conservative ideology of poor whites in
>the US? Are there genuine possibilities for multiracial, working-class
>organizations and militancy? Many working-class whites have formed the
>basis of Nazi groups, police, and reactionary populists. White workers are
>often the most bitter about welfare spending and other measures, and take
>out their frustrations rhetorically on black women on welfare (even though
>most people on welfare are White). What do you think?

Peter from Harvard always asks such interesting questions!

In Sol Dollinger's "Not Automatic", there's a very useful passage that
deals with this. During the 1937 sitdown strike at GM in Flint, most of the
workers were white and from the south and harbored racial prejudices. In
the heat of the battle, socialist trade union leader Kermit Johnson, who
was married to Genora Johnson (later Genora Johnson Dollinger) of "With
Babies and Banners" fame, educated these workers about the need for racial
solidarity. They eventually elected a black worker to lead a victory parade
outside the plant.

In my generation, the closest we came to this was the GI antiwar movement
that we discussed here a while back. At Fort Jackson, black antiwar
soldiers like Andrew Pulley found it relatively easy to bond with southern
whites around the question of opposing the war. I remember Pulley telling
me about the changes he saw in these whites from day to day.

Not too long after this, black unity with white workers was achieved at
Lordstown, Ohio when speedup forced workers to defend themselves in the
face of trade union bureaucracy's apathy and class-collaborationism. It was
particularly notable since a number of the militant leaders were outspoken
black nationalists.

In the 1980s and 90s the most notable instance of black-white collaboration
has been in the area of environmental racism, a misnomer perhaps since many
of the affected areas were inhabited by blacks and whites alike.

What won't work is preaching the need to reject racism in the abstract.
There has to be some struggle which pits the material interests of workers
against their common enemy. Based on the shape of the American economy and
simmering battlefields around the planet, I suspect that those types of
opportunities lie before us.

Louis Proyect
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