Why did A. Philip Randolph organize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and what long-term effect did the organization have?
George Pullman's creation of the railroad sleeping cars, trains ran throughout the country day and night. To service these cars, Pullman hired black men and women since their labor was cheaper. While the porters on these trains were considered to have good jobs because they did not have to do backbreaking work outdoors as many other black men did, and because they had steady employment, they, nonetheless, worked without time off and were away from their families for weeks and months on end. In addition, their wages were low and they were given no compensation for their long hours.
In desperation, the porters approached Harlem resident A. Philip Randolph, a socialist who dedicated his life for the rights of working black men and women. The porters asked him to help them attain bargaining power for better wages and working conditions. Following several secret meetings, the organization of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was announced at Elks Hall on August 25.1925. But, it took twelve years before a union was formed as the Pullman Company fought adamantly against any negotiations, firing workers and accusing Randolph of being a Bolshevik. Randolph persevered, however, and by 1935, the Brotherhood had won a supervised election by the National Mediation Board. During this same year in a reversal of its previous position, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) voted to grant an international charter to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Then, after two more years passed, the Pullman Company finally signed a contract with the new union. One historian has written,
A small band of brothers—Black— had stood together and won against a corporation that had said it would never sit down and negotiate with porters.
Randolph, who was made a member Emeritus of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, gained in respect and power after the victory for working class men and women. While he had advocated for the porters simply out of his belief that the wealth and resources of America should be shared by all and blacks should no longer be disenfranchised, this triumph increased his bargaining power in new situations as he went on to be drafted as president of the National Negro Congress, an organization founded in 1936. This was an organization which planned a mass movement for blacks working through trade unions. But, when Randolph found that Communists had infiltrated the labor ranks, he quit. Of course, the Communists attacked him as a traitor for a number of reasons.
Randolph persevered in his live-long dedication to improving the working conditions for his people and other minorities and poor whites, as well, in the labor force. He urged the AFL-CIO to end discrimination in their own ranks, and put these powerful labor unions on the front lines of the civil rights movement.