The League of Revolutionary Black Workers
The video below is an excerpt from the 1970 documentary, Finally Got the News. The film tells the story of the League of Black Revolutionary Workers, a radical organization of black auto workers from Detroit. Throughout the 60s, many working class black youth of Detroit began to radicalize in response to unemployment, police brutality and underfunded schools and housing. Culminating in the violent 1967 Detroit Riot, the growing civil unrest of black Detroit was quickly repressed by authorities (Mitt Romney’s father, Governor George W. Romney, sent in the Michigan National Guard, while LBJ sent in the US Army). The League was formed to fight back.
In his book, A Black Revolutionary’s Life in Labor: Black Workers Power in Detroit, Michael Hamlin recounts his first-hand experiences as one of the leaders of the movement. Hamlin was one of the prime movers behind both the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.
“As the League was organized, we realized that to organize people in the community we would need many communication tools. Two major goals of the “Black Manifesto” were to raise money to establish black printing and film operations. We had started a newspaper and Black Star Publishing was working on two books. We were speaking in the community, writing articles and giving interviews to radical magazines but our audience was small. John Watson was interested in making films that could be widely distributed. We established Black Star Productions.
Obviously the group was media savvy. Like the Black Panthers, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers were primarily informed by Marx and Lenin. Unlike the Panthers, the LRBW actually focused their militancy on labor, and seizing the means of production in the workplace. Their concerns were largely ignored by the United Auto Workers and its largely white leadership, in 1968 the LRBW organized a wildcat strike (a strike that doesn’t go through official union channels) alongside Polish women workers, to protest a speed increase on the assembly line. Most subsequent firings targeted black workers, though many were rehired.
The organization followed the trajectory of most radical groups on the American left—splits, splinters, rebirths, disbands, reformations, etc—and no longer exists, but with Detroit in perpetual free-fall, it’s damn near impossible to organize labor when there are no jobs. Regardless, they remain an inspiring moment in radical history and an insightful voice of radical ideology.
You can see Finally Got the News in its entirety here.