Black Family Firebombed in Chicago
UAW Local Sets Up Labor/Black Defense Guard
[Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 67, 25 April 1975]
CHICAGO, April 18 — C. B. Dennis, black UAW union member, has been trying to move into the white neighborhood of Broadview. His house was firebombed and stoned repeatedly. But tonight, like every night for the past week, the Dennis family home is being protected by an integrated defense guard of his union brothers. Local 6 of the United Auto Workers, International Harvester, voted unanimously at the membership meeting Sunday to set up the defense guard.
At a time when there is a dramatic increase in racist terror against blacks all across the country, the UAW local’s action is a powerful example of what can be done to stop the night riders. And it is the best possible answer to those who preach reliance on the bourgeois cops by hiding behind the despairing lament, “workers won’t defend blacks against racist attacks — there’s no solution except to call on the troops”!
The attacks, which have caused thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to the house and prevented the family from moving in, are part of a pattern of terror against blacks in white areas here, where right-wingers have been trying to stir up race hatred. In another neighborhood on the Southwest Side, four black families have been forced to live under a virtual state of siege, with the National Socialist White People’s Party (Nazis) all but taking direct credit for the firebombings (see article in this issue).
The first volunteers from Local 6, including Local president Norman Roth, were at posts outside the damaged house within hours of the union meeting. C. B. Dennis, who is a repairman at the Melrose Park IH plant and has been working there for 15 years, was interviewed at the house by Workers Vanguard. He said he had been unable to get adequate police protection.
“They said they would come by 20 minutes out of the hour. But that’s no protection at all,” Dennis told WV, observing that patrols had been by only once in two hours that night. “This is the best thing we could do,” he said, referring to the volunteer guards, “I was really proud of the union today. I think it’s a good thing.” An older black worker who was listening agreed, saying he could recall no similar action by the Local in its history. He likened it to the defense activities of the anti-eviction campaigns in which he had participated in the 1930’s.
The UAW Local’s defense action received considerable attention in Chicago. Articles appeared in both daily papers on Monday, and Dennis and Local 6 officers were interviewed on two television stations Monday evening. At least three radio reports were also made.
On the second night, the union guards were heckled by passers-by in the area, and a neighbor two doors down shouted at them to “get the hell out” of there. Another white resident, however, had earlier come over to talk to Dennis for 20 minutes, expressing sympathy and pointing out that some of the rocks had hit his house as well.
It is clear that the racial polarization runs deep but the entire neighborhood has not been terrorized. Local 6 defense volunteers speak in terms of the need to prevent another Boston-type racist mobilization in Chicago. There have been no new attacks as the teams of union volunteers have been guarding the house daily. Members vow the guards will remain “as long as necessary” to ensure that the family is safely moved into the house.
The attacks on black families have mounted during an organizing offensive by fascist and racist groupings in Chicago. Besides the attacks on four black families on the Southwest Side, there were earlier attacks on other families in Broadview. The Nazi Party ran candidates for alderman in five wards in the last elections, and the Ku Klux Klan has also been actively organizing lately.
These scum thrive on the despair generated by heavy inflation and unemployment in the working class, and their efforts to divide the workers along race lines can only benefit the employers. Resolute action such as that undertaken by Local 6 could, if followed through and adopted by the rest of the labor movement, prevent future attacks and quickly lay the tiny but deadly dangerous fascist movement in the grave where it belongs.
The third attack on the Dennis house, which occurred two days prior to the union meeting, particularly incensed many members of the Local. The motion to set up the volunteer union defense guards was made by a member of the Labor Struggle Caucus, which had distributed a newsletter in the plant before the meeting calling for a militant response to the wave of racist terror. The Labor Struggle Caucus is a grouping in Local 6 with a class-struggle program which has recently been active in successful struggles against a company leafleting ban in the plant and against a move to extend terms for local union officers to three years. Its resolution at the Sunday meeting supported the “struggle for integration of blacks in housing, education, and jobs,” as “vital interests of the entire working class,” and denounced reliance on the police, who “serve the employers and cannot be depended upon to defend the rights of blacks or of the trade unions.” The motion also called for defense activities to be extended to the black families on the Southwest Side, as well as Broadview.
Following the meeting, the Local issued a special number of its newsletter. Although this was reportedly not very well distributed, a special meeting held Tuesday night for volunteers was attended by 25 members from all political groupings in the Local, as well as by a television crew, which filmed the entire proceedings. President Roth chaired and took a lot of criticism for the inefficient distribution of the special Local newsletter which, it was said, kept the meeting from being larger.
He also relented under pressure on his earlier objection to the formation of a special committee to organize the defense guards. A steering committee was then set up under the chairmanship of the by-laws committee chairman. It includes two members of the Labor Struggle Caucus, a member of the syndicalist Workers Voice group, and other Local members. Members of the steering committee immediately began signing up volunteers in the plant.
Support for the defense activity was forthcoming, at least verbally, from the UAW officialdom in the area, including regional director Robert Johnston. The special Local newsletter asserted, “These efforts are in accord with our UAW principles and policies.”
On the other hand, the UAW officials seemed primarily concerned to get government officials to intervene, thereby relieving the union of its responsibility. At the Dennis house on Sunday night, Roth told WV of his intention “to exert every political pressure possible to try to get the authorities to do something.” He further claimed that “In some instances, the police have given some protection.”
Roth, who is a prominent supporter of Trade Unionists for Action and Democracy, the trade-union group backed by the reformist Communist Party, not surprisingly places confidence in the bosses’ state. Yet neither courts, cops, troops nor National Guard will protect blacks against racist victimization. This can be clearly seen in the Boston situation, where the courts are conciliating the racists and have taken a giant step backward on the busing plan.
In Boston there have been two sharply counterposed lines on how to defend the endangered blacks from racist attack. On the one hand there are the liberals, joined by the Communist Party and Socialist Workers Party, who have called for federal troops. Against this dead-end reliance on the armed forces of the capitalist state, the Spartacist League has called for integrated working class defense. Both in Chicago and Boston or elsewhere, labor/black defense guards could quickly eliminate racist terrorists, neutralize wavering elements in the white population and eventually defuse racist mobilizations.
The Local 6 action could be the start of a general initiation of militant, class-struggle response to racist terror in the Chicago area, but only if the whole Local, leadership included, works to undertake it seriously and spread the idea to other locals. If the Local 6 leadership instead spreads illusions in the state, the way will be left open for a worsening racial polarization. The guard must not be ended prematurely, on the advice or promise of the cops or city officials that defense will be provided by the state.
The recent action of the Local 6 members stands as an inspiring example for all trade unionists and black militants: black and white workers can unite and organize to fend off racist terror. It will take an all-sided fight for class struggle policies and leadership throughout the labor movement to turn this example into the rule. But an important beginning has been made.