Trade Union Leader

A. Philip Randolph’s devotion to trade unionism helped shape his perspective on civil rights that racial freedom, while inestimable, still required parallel economic progress. Because trade unionism had been the main engine of economic advancement for the working class, and most blacks were workers, he advocated a grand alliance between blacks and the trade union movement.

In the Harlem of Randolph’s years, it took courage for a black intellectual to advocate such an alliance. Many blacks regarded organized labor as an enemy of racial integration, because blacks were barred from most of labor’s craft unions.

Randolph relentlessly attacked unions that excluded black workers. His tireless agitation caused clashes with American Federation of Labor President George Meany, but Randolph understood the political and organizational problems that Meany had with the all-white unions, and Meany recognized Randolph’s tenacity and the justice of his cause.

When Randolph resigned as an AFL-CIO vice-president in 1974, organized labor had become the most integrated American institution, even if pockets of resistance remained. Randolph, one of the greatest black labor leaders in American history, played a key role in the progress through his ceaseless agitation and unflagging struggle for racial and economic democracy in the American workplace.