Dead Workers Don’t Use Elevators, Cherie

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I hate North Carolina’s Elevator Queen.

I do not mean that I hate Cherie Berry as a person. I hate and despise the ironic cult following that has cropped up around her due to her position of being North Carolina Commissioner of Labor, as the Department of Labor that she runs has the responsibility of inspecting the safety of all elevators in the state. Berry, whose first name is pronounced like the French word, “chérie,” and not the fortified wine originally from southern Spain, “sherry,” has her face and name placed in every elevator in the state because of this, as each elevator must bear a certificate of inspection.

This has, for some unfathomable and unholy reason, resulted in an ironic fan club/merch line created independently of her by mostly younger and mostly white people concentrated in Raleigh and Charlotte. Everything from songs about her to shirts bearing her likeness with the legend, “Cherie Berry Lifts Me Up,” underneath are just some of the manifestations of this micro-trend, with the parody account of @ElevatorQueen being probably the most public and lingering instance of it.

However, North Carolina’s Labor Commissioner has more duties than just inspecting elevators. That office is responsible for prosecuting wage theft and ensuring the health and safety of North Carolina’s workers, and in those obligations Berry’s record is far less sterling.

Environmental Justice As Liberation: No Consent, No Pipeline, No Kinder Morgan.

We have the pleasure of hosting a guest post by Sarah Beuhler, who is a writer and campaigner who lives in Unceded Coast Salish Territories.

A confrontation is brewing on Canada’s west coast, and the stakes could not be higher.

Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based energy giant, seeks to build a pipeline from Northern Alberta through British Columbia to the densely populated suburb of Metro Vancouver where it would be loaded onto tankers and sent through the region’s coastal waters. To say that there is opposition to their plans would be an understatement: the pipeline project is opposed by the province of British Columbia, the state of Washington, the city of Vancouver and 21 others, 250,000 petition signers, more than 24,000 who have vowed to do “whatever it takes” to stop it, and 107 of the 140 Nations, Tribes, and Bands along the route. As such, the forces of the fossil fuel industry are bearing down on British Columbia as an eight-year campaign to stop the pipeline comes to a head.

Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and tanker project was marketed to Canadians as a “twinning” of an existing pipeline built in the 1950’s, but it would actually almost triple capacity for barrels of diluted bitumen, or “dilbit.” Bitumen is the tar that comes out of Alberta’s oil patch; to move smoothly through pipelines, it has to be diluted with other chemicals, some of which are highly toxic and highly explosive.

Pipelines are leaky and dangerous enough on their own, but this project came with an additionally heightened risk factor: the Aframax tankers that will carry the volatile material are so huge that they barely fit through two urban bridges they would have to cross under for each trip. It’s such a tight and dangerous squeeze that engineers have formed an advocacy group to oppose the plan.

The risk is obvious: a tanker spill would result in an environmental catastrophe more devastating than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. That spill was simple crude that floated on top of the water, and yet it still hasn’t been cleaned up properly. A spill involving bitumen sinking to the bottom of the sea? The consequences are almost unthinkable; you can’t just replace destroyed ecosystems.

On The Crest Of A Strike Wave

We have a guest post today, talking about the strikes spreading across the country that started in West Virginia. C. intermittently tweets as @thehousered and works as staff for an education union in rural America.

When the West Virginia teachers and support staff won their strike, elements of the Left heralded it as a sea-change with all of the fervor of fundamentalist hot gospellers. It’s hard to fault this kind of enthusiasm. There’s been precious little reason for it for decades; the horizontalist insurgencies against the World Trade Organization and Wall Street captured imagination, but failed to create enduring movements with the power to arrest the forward march of neoliberal capitalism. With labor teetering on the brink of ruin and a rising reactionary tide at all levels of politics, signs of militant life are like an unexpected oasis in the desert.

Surely, a big strike’s victory means that the tide is turning, even only just a little bit, right?

It’s reminiscent of nothing so much as the radical Scots Presbyterians of the late 19th century: Ulster men and women that believed that the social and political unrest that would soon erupt in armed rebellion was a sign of Christ’s coming. Occasional millenarian thinking isn’t new to the Left: there is always some crank predicting that the workers’ revolution will manifest itself when the social conditions are just right. This analysis falls apart because it treats politics as a game of signs and portents, rather than a discipline requiring careful analysis. With such thinking layered on top of the dogmatic disputations between Left sects, one could be forgiven for mistaking some Left currents for Reformation theologians engaged in bitter dispute over John Calvin’s writings or the particular meaning of religious scripture.

To believe that the West Virginia strike was a natural expression of the correct alignment of social forces isn’t just wrong, it sells West Virginians short. The teachers, paraprofessionals, and support staff in West Virginia didn’t win because of the bending of a cosmic arc; they won because of months of preparation and organizing, an impressive level of community outreach, and the strategic leveraging of county-level school management to provide political cover for the strike. In other words, as detailed by Bryan, West Virginians won because they did what strikes need to do: carefully and painstakingly build and organize a potent expression of working-class power.

Their success of the strike was predicated upon years of miserable decline, but that success is hardly reducible to the conditions that led them to walk out. It was a victory, and one rightly celebrated. It was also won because of the willingness of teachers and support staff to dig in for the long haul and buck a bad deal foisted on membership. There’s no way around it: they won not just in defiance of the law, but their own state-level leadership. Moreover, their victory showed the potential of the strike in a way that even the rightly celebrated 2012 Chicago teachers strike did not: it showed that even in deep-red areas thought of as bastions of reactionary politics, workers can fight and win in the face of slash-and-burn austerity. Since then, action has spread to Kentucky, Oklahoma, Puerto RicoArizona, and Colorado, with rumblings of militancy elsewhere.

What it didn’t show is that the fight would be easy, and the seeming collapse of the Oklahoma strike should be a sharp reminder that no road to progress is easy or guaranteed.

An Unclean Murder

Muslims are, as a general rule, clean people. The rituals of wudu and ghusl see to that.

Ablution is a common element amongst Semitic religions. Judaism has mikveh, and Christianity has baptism. In Islam it serves as a method of purification before daily prayers, after menstruation, sexual intercourse, and before burial. One ablution, wudu, is for the thousand daily things that impurify us. This is undertaken before daily prayers and requires only a partial ablution. The specific process, requirements, and impurifying acts that require wudu to cleanse varies from sect to sect and school to school, but they all share a desire to purify oneself before making salat, the five daily prayers required by the Quran.

Ghusl, though. Ghusl finds its Quranic basis in the surah al-Nisa, of which a translation reads:

O ye who believe! Draw not near unto prayer when ye are drunken, till ye know that which ye utter, nor when ye are polluted, save when journeying upon the road, till ye have bathed. And if ye be ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have touched women, and ye find not water, then go to high clean soil and rub your faces and your hands (therewith). Lo! Allah is Benign, Forgiving.

Ghusl is a full body ablution. Again, the specifics vary from sect to sect and school to school, but the unifying principle is centered around purifying oneself to be open to Allah and to know what you are praying. Unclean water cannot be used, and the whole body has to be cleaned. Ghusl is undertaken after sex, after menstruation, after touching a dead body, and before one is buried.

That one last cleansing was something that was robbed from Stephon Clark.

Started From The Shop Floor, Now We’re Here: What It Takes To Organize A Strike

There were only fifteen strikes with a thousand workers or more in the United States last year.

With only 25,000 people on strike last year in a country with an active workforce of 157 million, it is absolutely no surprise that very few people have much direct experience in organizing a strike. Defanged by bad legal precedent and a broken labor law system, the strike hit its second-lowest year on record here in America.

At the same time, though, there have been several high profile strikes recently. CWA struck Verizon in 2016 and AT&T in 2017. In so doing, the union was able to fend off several horrendous attacks by management at both companies. 2018 has also had its share of high profile industrial action. West Virginia’s teachers went out on strike in defiance of the law with some clever organizing and was able to wrestle several concessions out of a hostile government, and the strike fever has, at the time of writing, spread to Oklahoma and Kentucky, and Arizona is showing symptoms.

But organizing a strike isn’t easy. It’s a whole lot of preparation and work culminating in a period of personal and economic uncertainty for every person on the line. All things being equal, most people just want to go to work, do their jobs, and go home.

All things aren’t equal, though, and that’s why it’s necessary to show the kind of work that goes into preparing for a strike.

The Future of the South Lawn

A bit of housekeeping for The South Lawn moving forward.

One of the organizing principles we have always had on here is a desire to write things only when we have something to say. All of us generally have a distaste for hot takes and producing noise for noise’s sake. That’s what Twitter is for, after all. We have always sought to sink our teeth into a topic and write in a deliberate fashion about subjects that matter to working folks, especially working folks in the South. All that said, since we launched the Patreon, we have tried to keep a more frequent posting schedule at times. The work we produced on those schedules did not feel authentic to this project, though, and we defaulted back to our old pattern of writing something only when we had something to say.

This has not felt fair to the people who have decided to support our blog financially, and we’ve considered setting a more regular schedule of updates again. After some discussion between myself, Douglas, and Roqayah, we have decided that we will update once a week, on Sunday. This will give us the time to write thoughtfully and at length on topics without running the risk of falling into hot takes. Yesterday’s post by Douglas is the first of this new schedule, and it will be far from the last.

We’d also like to build some community around our writing and we’d like to have more guest posts on the blog to broaden the perspective we present. The former will take time for us to moderate, and the latter takes time for those contributors to write what we will publish. Because all of us are socialists, we believe uncompensated labor is bullshit, and this is where y’all come in. If we get to $2500 per month, we will set up a Discord server for our patrons and start having guest contributions where we pay contributors $250 per piece. If we get to $5000 per month, we will publish at least one guest contributor a month and pay $300 per piece. For every $1000 per month we raise beyond that, we will increase the amount we pay contributors by $50.

We appreciate the support and love that we’ve gotten through the years, and if you can spare some money to give to the Patreon, please do. Douglas needs new shoes, and Sperrys ain’t cheap.

Like Our Lives Depend On It.

Teenagers in this country are under constant attack.

Whether it is their taste in music, fashion, or, it seems, simply wanting to attend classes without the fear of meeting their sudden death in a hail of bullets, there are always commentators who are willing to wag their fingers in disapproval. The demands placed on kids, when you think about it, are outrageous.

Yet here we are, watching these teenagers lead a movement to end school shootings in our time. It is a cause that they should never have had to fight in the first place, but it is a fight that this group of kids seem determined to finish. It is incredible to watch, and within the context of the other radical actions being taken by teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma; graduate students in Illinois, Toronto, and the United Kingdom; and a working class that also seems to be finding its voice, we could be witnessing a new era in agitation for social, political, and economic change.

All that said, however, the wheels started coming off a bit today.