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Southern Drive of CIO Faces Bitter Struggle

(4 May 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 18, 4 May 1946, pp. 1 & 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) this week is scheduled to launch its greatest organizing campaign since the historic drive in 1936–37 to entrench unionism in America’s basic industries. This new drive is called “Operation Dixie.”

Some 400 of the CIO’s crack organizers, financed by a million dollar fund, will open what CIO President Philip Murray has called a “crusade” to mobilize into the CIO ranks not less than one million Southern workers within the next year.

United organization of the’ cruelly exploited Southern Negro and white workers would constitute the first great advance in what inevitably must develop into a social, economic and political struggle aimed at a profound transformation of the entire South.

Although Murray at the CIO Textile Workers Convention last week described “Operation Dixie” as nothing but “simple, pure, unadulterated campaign of trade union organization,” anyone acquainted with the Southern scene recognizes that a real drive to bring the white and Negro workers together will be resisted with all the ferocity and violence that the Southern ruling class can muster.

Through the Civil War, the Northern industrialists established their political and economic power over the nation and the system of chattel slavery was destroyed. But the Southern landowners and growing business class have maintained their wealth and privileges by inhuman labor exploitation, fortified by the Jim-Crow system.

This system has kept the poor whites and virtually enslaved Negroes apart, divided them by social barriers penetrating into every phase of life. Upholding and enforcing this division is a network of Jim-Crow laws and government agencies, backed by a tremendous and continuous physical terrorism. That terrorism, which operates most savagely against the Negro masses, but has also struck at union organizers and political opponents of the Southern ruling class, is summed up in the phrase: Lynch Law.

”Operation Dixie” means nothing less than a ruthless struggle against a sector of the American ruling class which is completely steeped in the traditions and practices of reactionary violence and is utterly cruel and remorseless in its opposition to any force which offers the slightest threat to its vile system.

Basis Is Laid

What the CIO drive must envisage, if it is to be successful, is not a “simple” trade union campaign, but a real crusade of social, economic and political emancipation. It must be prepared to wage war against the whole system of exploitation and Jim Crow that forms the bed-rock of the power of the rich Southern whites.

The basis for such a crusade has been developing since the first World War, and has grown to great proportions in the 16 years of depression and World War II. Northern capital, ever eager to exploit “cheap labor” and escape the encroachments of unionism, has been industrializing the South at an ever more rapid pace.

The industrial working class has grown simultaneously. Organized in militant struggle, these industrial workers can and must lead the whole of the backward and oppressed masses of the South to emancipation. In fact, they will need the fighting alliance of the Negro people and the millions of white agricultural workers and share-croppers to achieve victory.


The CIO is in reality launching a movement in the South that, to be successful, must go far beyond the traditional bounds of “simple” trade unionism. That is dictated not by the wishes of the CIO leaders, but by the very nature of Southern social and economic conditions.

Any policy that ignores this, that seeks to confine the drive to the most narrow trade union aims or tries to adapt itself is one way or another to the prejudices of the Southern system can only hamper and weaken “Operation Dixie.” Such a policy would be a great disservice both to the Southern workers and to the Northern workers against whom the present South stands as a bulwark of anti-labor reaction.

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