Walter E. Williams

Unionists in the U.S. also wanted to suppress employer quests for greater profits. After a bitter 1909 strike by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, an arbitration board decreed that blacks and whites were to be paid equal wages. Union members expressed their delight, saying, "If this course of action is followed by the company and the incentive for employing the Negro thus removed, the strike will not have been in vain."

The Davis-Bacon Act sets minimum wages on federally financed or assisted construction projects. It was racially motivated in 1931, and it's still on the books. During congressional debate leading to its passage, Rep. John Cochran of Missouri said he had "received numerous complaints in recent months about Southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South." Rep. Miles Allgood of Alabama complained: "Reference has been made to a contractor from Alabama who went to New York with bootleg labor. This is a fact. That contractor has cheap colored labor that he transports, and he puts them in cabins, and it is labor of that sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country." Rep. William Upshaw of Georgia complained of the "superabundance or large aggregation of Negro labor," which, to him, was a real problem. American Federation of Labor President William Green made clear his union's interests, saying, "Colored labor is being sought to demoralize wage rates."

There are many examples from around the world of how people have used legal and extralegal means to thwart people trying to get more for themselves, or what I like to call greed. The suppression of these motives has always worked against the best interest of discriminated-against people.


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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