Dr. Frank’s column appears regularly on Sunday.
Public utility corporations that operate under a special form of public sanction accorded to them by the charters they get from State governments should, in the name of fair play and in loyalty to the principles of American public life, abstain from discrimination against Jews when selecting employees.
Yet, as is well known, there exists anti-Semitic discrimination in the employment offices of the companies engaged in gas, electric and telephone service. This un-American practice has led to an outspoken resentment on the part, not only of Jewish leaders, but also of open-minded non-Jewish friends of liberty and equality of opportunity.
Some Jewish leaders discussed not so long ago the advisability of group action, not of legal action, against public utility corporations that engage in a boycott of Jewish employees.
GROUP ACTION URGED
More recently, the drafting of an appeal by an organized Jewish group in Brooklyn for an investigation of the alleged discrimination was publicly announced in the general press of New York. This appeal was addressed to Senator William Byrne, chairman of the State Senate Judiciary Committee.
The same group also made public a threat to organize Jewish householders of New York into a one-night-a-week boycott of the public services, such as gas, electricity, etc., unless public utilities abandon alleged discrimination against Jews who seek jobs.
This group action by Jews carries, no doubt, an ulterior significance besides the retaliatory aim, arising from the repugnant attitude toward a minority on whose patronage the utility companies so considerably depend. This deeper significance consists in this: if employing interests persist in discriminating against highly civilized minorities, they will ultimately find themselves against the blank wall of still greater unemployment and destroyed consuming power.
Impoverishing potential consumers accustomed to a high standard of life, the companies with their own hands kill the hen that lays golden eggs.
Several Jewish leaders who urge the community to fight for the victims of un-American economic discrimination would even go further than an organized group action which carries after all a moral force only. They speak of a movement to be set on foot with the aim of making it illegal, on the part of public utilities, to practice unjustified discrimination for reason of race or creed.
By way of analogy, it is pointed out, the laws prohibiting the denial of accommodations in places of public resort on the basis of race or creed should point to the proper means of combatting the dangerous evil of employment discrimination.
In connection with this matter, it is interesting to observe that of forty-eight states, nineteen already have such laws against discrimination in public resorts. In all but three cases, the laws are so drawn as more or less effectively to discourage this form of discrimination. However, twenty-nine states in 1932 had no such laws. The New York law is the most advanced and is frequently quoted as a standard achievement in this field.
The American Jewish Committee, a few years ago, took under consideration a plan to secure this kind of legislation in the twenty-nine states that have not yet prohibited discrimination in public resorts. Also, action was planned to have existing legislation in states other than New York follow the laws of our own State, as amended to cover even the advertising of such discrimination.
The New York statute was held, a few years ago, to apply to schools advertising for pupils, making discrimination against Jews in certain business schools, for instance, a misdemeanor.
JEWS IN AMERICA’S ECONOMY
Jews in engineering, even more than in other professions, experience difficulties in finding an outlet in their calling. Sometimes it is asserted that opposition to Jewish engineers rests on the need for a military type of discipline upon which public utilities insist. Thus, a greater willingness on the part of the Jews to accept such discipline might overcome the prejudice against the Jew.
Although the situation in respect to employment discrimination is serious, the desperate conclusion that absorption of Jews within the American economic structure is practically impossible is hardly correct. The Jews are not only being absorbed, as facts plainly show, within the American economy, but have also done a great deal in the direction of strengthening and expanding the American economic structure itself.
It is, however, a timely problem to study and plan the economic existence of the Jewish group in American life. No task of group adjustment can be more opportune than this.
Many Jews have normally found themselves in highly specialized industrial and commercial pursuits, such as clothing, jewelry, retail stores, and so on. Unfortunately, the general dislocation in industry and commerce makes it necessary to effect an occupational redistribution. A wider diffusion of Jews into economic life of this country is urgently called for.
With public utilities assuming an increasing part in the economic life of America, it is now of vital importance for American Jewry not to be locked out from this growing branch of America’s industrial and commercial activities.
Dr. Frank’s column appears regularly on Sunday.