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That Work-Relief Bill (1935)


That Work-Relief Bill

Lester B. Granger, Executive Director, Los Angeles Chapter National Urban League

Lester B. Granger [View Image]
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Lester B. Granger

BEFORE this article appears the President’s much-discussed Work-Relief Bill may have reached a compromise satisfactory enough at least to insure its passing through a faction-torn Congress. This will not, however, put an end to the vital interest with which Negroes, in common with all workers, should scrutinize the provisions of the bill. Assuming that the President is sincere in his announced intention of taking this country “out of the business of relief,” then the manner of his so doing will certainly concern very deeply the dark-skinned workers who form more than one-fifth of the nation’s jobless.

Dismay is the first reaction which thoughtful Negroes will register toward this program-not so much because of what it plans, but because of what it fails to plan. At first and hasty thought it is pleasant to think of $4,880,000,000 set aside for a gigantic nation-wide public works program. It is cheering to think of heads of families lining up for jobs instead of relief checks. So pleasantly cheering is the prospect that already state legislatures and officials are mistaking the plan for the deed, and are considering the early possibility of cutting down their appropriations and personnel for local relief. Relief supervisors and administrators are even now concocting dire punishments for future slackers who may show a disposition to remain on relief rather than accept public works jobs.

This optimism is premature, just as was true in the cases of NRA, CWA, and others of the Administration’s pet schemes for “priming the industrial pump of America.” Certainly the controversy which the Work-Relief Bin is evoking at present writing in Senate committee and corridors indicates that there are grave weaknesses in the plans of President Roosevelt for ending the dole by giving jobs. Outstanding among these weaknesses is the President’s insistence that the rate of pay shall be lower than prevailing wage levels. Here he has met the bitter opposition of organized labor, and it seems that he will meet defeat on the issue

There should be no hesitation among the Negroes to back up the position which organized labor takes in this instance. Mr. Roosevelt’s plan to pay a lower wage than private industry is nothing less than an attempt to lower the existing wage level throughout all industry. It is a surrender to those interests which claim that “recovery” is held back because the wage structure is too high. It is an ignoral of the plain fact that in the building trades the wages for workers have taken a considerable drop in the past two years while the costs of materials have gone steeply upwards.

Secondly, Negroes must entertain serious doubts regarding their chances of getting a fair proportion of jobs if and when the Work-Relief program goes into effect. We have received no assurance thus far that methods for assigning jobs will be any different from those established in CWA and PWA. Our experience with these two agencies has been bitter in the extreme. It is not enough to say that jobs will be given to workers taken from the relief rolls; we require assurance at this time that jobs, skilled and unskilled, shall be given out on a basis of need, with no discrimination on account of race.

Finally, even the gigantic sum of $4,000,000,000 has its limits, in spite of the blithe predictions of the cheery Mr. Roosevelt. Whether 4,000,000 workers are placed at prevailing rates of pay or 8,000,000 are placed at lower than prevailing rates of pay, this will not take care of all the unemployed. Neither can 4,000,000 jobs be started all at once. While looking forward hopefully to the prospect of jobs which will take our unemployed off the relief rolls, we must be on guard to see that present relief appropriations will take care of their needs until employed. There has been too much talk of taking the country “out of the business of relief,” with too little attention paid to insuring adequate care for those who must remain on relief through no fault of their own. Through bitter experience Negroes have learned that where the unemployed suffer, our own racial sufferings are doubled and tripled in proportion to our numbers. We have learned that where the drop in wage levels brings the worker perilously close to the level of bare existence, the Negro worker is brought even below this existence level.

Source: Journal of Negro Life, Opportunity Magazine, (Accessed: 01/07/2016)

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