It has been 45 years since my mentor, Dr. Arthur A. Fletcher, implemented the Philadelphia Plan. This was a federal program used to integrate unions. From the beginning the construction trades resisted with violence and Jim Crow style segregation. Take the pipe fitters’ union halls in Chicago, they have been successfully sued various times but still will not integrate their halls. It is this way across our nation. Therefore, the National Black Chamber of Commerce will not support pro–union Project Labor Agreements.
Then why do most civil rights organizations and local Black elected officials support such instruments of racism? That is simple. They take donations from the very construction locals who discriminate against us. Sometimes they will claim that they will start an Apprentice Training Program that will result in Black youth starting careers in productive union jobs. Many have gone through these programs; graduate and sign onto a union hall; and wait forever. There will be no jobs and there will be no career. It is a sham. This is a national disgrace. If they do it all the time in Washington, D.C., the Capital of our nation, it is happening everywhere. Forty-five years and there is no progress. Construction unions were “skipped” during the Civil Rights Victories. Now the unions will allow general laborers and cement workers to integrate which provides cover for the higher paying trades.
Last week, at the request of the Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce, I visited something I never envisioned. I was sitting in a meeting with a group who introduced themselves as an international construction union. The U S Department of Labor accepts them. Their members were Black and they have active apprentice training programs. The key to this is that they are “International” and are not affiliated with the Jim Crow unions. I said to myself, “Finally Lord, we have found the way.”
We were having this meeting at the historic Altgeld Gardens. This public housing neighborhood is under the management of the Chicago Housing Authority. I have been in hundreds of public housing facilities but this one was quite different. It was like a subdivision. Two story homes housing 3,400 residents. It is clean, quiet with all the residents speaking to one another. Unique would be an understatement.