Black nationalism and opposition to organized labour in 1930s New York City | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 34, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 1466-0407
  • E-ISSN: 1758-9118



Modern historiography emphasizes the importance of black nationalism in an ongoing ‘long’ civil rights movement, particularly during the Garvey and Black Power eras in the 1920s and 1960s. While not as prominent as these movements, this article shows that nationalism did not disappear during the 1930s. This is demonstrated by a case-study of the Harlem Labor Union (HLU), a black-only protest group formed out of remnants of the Garvey movement in 1935. Accused of being racketeers by opponents, this article finds that the HLU gained a hearing among the wider Harlem community through their willingness to rail against racist practices of white-dominated trade unions and to take the fight for jobs ‘onto the street’. A defining characteristic of the HLU was its fierce rejection of the interracial unionism espoused by newly vocal pro-union leaders, but the group achieved only patchy results on their own. Some attempts were made in later years to participate in broader protest coalitions. The fractious interactions with other organizations that resulted highlighted broader difficulties sustaining coordinated protests against discrimination in employment in this period. Consequently, the HLU’s story problematizes the ‘long’ thesis’ argument that black protest underwent a successful shift to the left during the New Deal era.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a success
Invalid data
An error occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error