The movie “10,000 Black Men Named George” is a classic case of art imitating life. It is based on the true story of Asa Philip Randolph, one of the most recognized figures in American history and leader of civil rights movement. It also vividly recounts the conditions of African American workers during the early periods of the 20th Century and their struggle for recognition of their rights as workers.
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The movie shows the battle waged by Asa Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) whom he organized together with other African American employees. It shows their struggles to raise the level of awareness among African American employees about their servile situation. First, Randolph fought against the Pullman Company, one of the most powerful companies in the 1920s which were founded by George Pullman who had an anti-union sentiment.
It became very powerful during the period between the latter periods of 18th Century until the 20th Century. Realizing that an organized African-American may significantly affect his earnings, George Pullman utilized every trick in the book just so the unions will not succeed organizing themselves. Second, Randolph also fought against the American Federation of Labor which initially refused to recognize a union composed of African Americans. Third, Randolph needed to make even African American employees realize that they need not be considered as slaves and be discriminated against. Randolph helped them realize that they can demand better terms and conditions of employment.
Out of the three battles waged by Randolph, against George Pullman and his company, against the American Federation of Labor, and the pro-Pullman sentiments in the black community, the third was the most difficult battle. During this time, even African Americans thought that George Pullman was their savior as he provided them with jobs which earned higher than the other jobs by African Americas.
A majority even thought that George Pullman was a friend of the African American community. Randolph helped them realize the reality of their situation that the African Americans can aspire for a better life and a better world. He made them realize that they were being exploited and treated as saved as car porters. The highlight of the movie, I think, was the scene where the Pullman Company signed the agreement, a sign that the company finally recognized their rights.
There were three questions that were evident from the scenes shown in the movie.
These questions are:
The movie discussed several employment issues which were actually a reflection of the labor situation in the United States during the early part of the 20th Century.
One of the first issues is the wages received by African Americans which were substantially lower than that being received by white employees in other companies. This was clearly shown in the film as the car porters received meager income which was even subject to deduction by the company in view of its provisions for food, lodging, and uniforms. These deductions alone cut the earnings of the porters by 2/3 of their income.
These deductions do not yet include deductions for towels or water pitchers which are at times stolen by the passengers. However, the African American community disregarded this discriminatory treatment as they thought that this job was still better because of the tips they received from the passengers which may at times exceed the wages they receive from the company. Because of the tips they receive from the wealthy passengers, they willingly allowed themselves to become subject to the whims and caprices of the passengers. Another labor issue was the issue of union busting.
The Pullman Company was notorious for its union busting activities. The company’s employees had several times attempted to organize themselves in an effort to seek for better terms and conditions of their employment. Pullman company utilized every effort so that the union will not be formed. Among these strategies was the requirement among new employees to sign a contract at the time of hiring stating that they are not members of any union and that they will never join unions while employed with the company and should they join a union they agree to be terminated.
This is a classic example of yellow dog contracts. Other strategies were the formation of sham unions which were friendly to the Pullman Company and therefore did not represent the true interest of the employees. Other strategies were hiring of employees who served as spies to monitor the activities of the activities of the employees and even assault against union organizers in certain situations.
The third labor issue is the issue of substandard working conditions among the porters. During the peak of the Pullman Company, the time when trains were the most common and fastest means of transportation, the company served its clients for 24 hours a day. Consequently, the porters were also forced to work for longer periods of work. Porters were made to work for more than 15 hours a day and 100 hours a week just to meet the demands of their employees. (“Black Labor: A Labor Day lesson from The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters” 2) Oftentimes, the porters could only sleep for three to four hours a day. They were not provided with job security or even dignity by their employers. They performed many duties and at times even the duties of the conductor but they could not be promoted to a conductor position.
For 300 years in the history of United States, African Americans have been one of the most abused, oppressed and exploited segment of the population. They have been pushed into slavery, stripped of their rights and discriminated against as if they were less of a human being that the rest of the population. The movie brings about a realization that “10,000 Black Men Named George” is relevant until today. At present, the problems of slavery and discrimination continue to exist not only against African Americans but even against persons of the different nationality, religion, and ethnic origin. There is discrimination against older persons, against women, against those who are disabled and even against those of different sexual preferences. There will always be persons who will abuse, oppress and exploit others. It is up to the person who is being abused, oppressed and exploited to stand up and fight for his rights.
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