Friday, January 25, 2013

Proposition 11 and the Struggle for Fair Employment in California

In 1946, Californians voted on Proposition 11, which sought to create a state Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), which would officially ban discrimination based on race, religion, color, or national origin in the workplace. It was inspired by President Roosevelt's Fair Employment Practices Commission, which was created at the outset of World War II.

At the time, employment discrimination was widespread in California.  Historian Daniel Hosang Matrinez writes, "At the time, California's burgeoning defense industry, from the sprawling Kaiser shipyards along the San Francisco Bay to the massive Lockheed airplane factories in Los Angeles County, routinely consigned black and Mexican American workers to the lowest paid jobs, if they hired them at all."

Martin Luther King Jr, Augustus Hawkins, and Pat Brown

The champion of Prop 11 was Assemblyman Augustus Hawkins, who at the time was the only African American in the California state assembly (he was very light-skinned).  Other groups lent their support: The NAACP, the Urban League, the American Council on Race Relations, the California Federation for Civic Unity, as well as union organizations like the CIO.

Those opposed to Prop 11 included Frank Doherty, former president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, as well as powerful agricultural lobbyists who had relied on cheap immigrant labor for decades.  The ballot argument against Prop 11 stated that "certain minority racial groups are the most efficient agricultural labor."

Another tactic to defeat Prop 11 was red-baiting.  Doherty called it a "communist-inspired scene."

But the chief argument of those opposed to Prop 11 was one that would resonate in future civil rights debates, that discrimination was an individual choice which could not be "coerced" by legislation.  A Los Angeles Times editorial explained, "Admirable as it might be if race and religious prejudice ceased to exist, The Times does not believe that the disappearance of either can be helped by compulsion…prejudices by their very nature are matters of emotion rather than logic or reason."

This argument, clothed in the language of individual rights, has proved a powerful one against large-scale civil rights legislation in California and elsewhere.

Ultimately, Prop 11 was "crushed on election day, capturing less than 30 percent of the vote."  The FEPC would not be created until 1959, with the passage of the passage of the California Fair Employment Practices Act of the state legislature.

The 1946 defeat of Prop 11 led one historian to write, "The public was definitely not ready for fair employment."


The source of this information is a fascinating book called Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California by professor Daniel Martinez Hosang, who teaches at the University of Oregon.  

3 comments:

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  3. Zero discrimination from workplace is hard to achieve by many company, why? because since since 1946 until now it is still happening on based on my experience as a Employment Lawyer is Long Beach. California Fair Employment Practices Act protects all the workers from the discrimination. | http://www.goldbachlaw.com/long-beach/discrimination-lawyer/

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