MAY 15, 1958
BALTIMORE—The United States is sending to the next session of the International Labor Organization in Geneva a strong delegation headed by Secretary of Labor James P. Mitchell to carry on this country's fight in the controversy concerning anti-discrimination in employment.
Two proposals on this issue will be up for final action—one a recommendation and the other a convention, which is in the nature of a treaty and must be obeyed. These questions were discussed by the ILO last June, when we were defeated in a proposal for a recommendation rather than a convention on anti-discrimination.
In our country, because of the Federal-state relationship, the ILO charter provides that the convention shall be put before governing bodies with jurisdiction in the matter involved—in this instance, the states. So we find ourselves faced with an international situation that comes back to conditions at home.
In some cases, the question vitally concerns the labor unions of the South which, although their national bodies take an anti-discrimination position, insist on discrimination in their own ranks.
I am afraid the free trade unions have a real fight on their hands on this subject, because just as the United States government is trying to hold the non-Communist world together, so the labor unions must try to provide leadership in these countries and show that they do not countenance discrimination anywhere, including the U.S.
Fundamentally, it is extremely important that our free trade unions attempt to raise the standards of labor in these uncommitted countries, for unless they do, the competition will lower labor standards in this country. But it is obvious that their leadership will have no influence if they cannot show that there is no discrimination in their own country. What happens, therefore, at Geneva is only a prelude to a much longer and more important battle here at home.
We must be prepared, too, to face the fact that Communists are exploiting in every way possible any race relations difficulties in the U.S.
I am quite sure that in Geneva the Little Rock situation will be attacked by the Soviets, although it had nothing to do with labor. They will point out that we are not integrating our schools and that the Supreme Court's order for "deliberate speed" in this direction has so far meant nothing.
Our representatives in Geneva can certainly say in all truth that conditions for Negroes in this country have improved. Yet they will not be able to deny the existence of all the conditions brought up by the Soviets, and we know that the Soviets have a disagreeable way of repeating over and over the unpleasant facts and ignoring those that are good.
So I do not envy our ILO delegation in Geneva. But I hope our labor representatives on the delegation come home with the feeling that they must bestir themselves in their own unions, for the free trade unions have an important role to play in this whole situation by acting properly in their own organizations.