In the 1930's and 1940's, African American industrial workers in the southern United States, who constituted 80 percent of the unskilled factory labor force there, strongly supported unionization. While the American Federation of Labor (AFL) either excluded African Americans or maintained racially segregated unions, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) organized integrated unions nationwide on the basis of a stated policy of equal rights for all, and African American unionists provided the CIO's backbone. Yet it can be argued that through contracts negotiated and enforced by White union members, unions-CIO unions not excluded-were often instrumental in maintaining the occupational segregation and other forms of racial discrimination that kept African Americans socially and economically oppressed during this period. However, recognizing employers' power over workers as a central factor in African Americans' economic marginalization, African American workers saw the need to join with White workers in seeking change despite White unionists' toleration of or support for racial discrimination. The persistent efforts of African American unionists eventually paid off: many became highly effective organizers, gaining the respect of even racist White unionists by winning victories for White as well as African American workers. African American unionists thus succeeded in strengthening the unions while using them as instruments of African Americans' economic empowerment.