Author: Bryan

Still fighting to cleanse the world of ancient evils, ancient ills. Union for life, Southern until I'm dead.

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.

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.

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.

West Virginia And The Coming War For Labor’s Survival

We have a guest post today, talking about the illegal strike that’s ongoing in West Virginia. C. formerly tweeted as @thehousered and works as staff for an education union in rural America.

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Labor militancy isn’t a novelty in West Virginia.

It’s almost poetic, then, that West Virginia’s public school employees are on the fourth day of an illegal strike as the Supreme Courtat the behest of the bossescomes for the rights of working people.

The emerging struggle doesn’t fit anyone’s narrative. Liberal elites have eagerly devoured narratives from right-wing shills like J.D. Vance about the reactionary, racist white working-class of rural Appalachia. In the coastal liberal imagination, West Virginians are Exhibit A of the category of so-called “deplorables” that elected Donald Trump.

Nor does it fit the right’s preferred tale, of red states wholeheartedly embracing ‘pro-growth’ capitalist public policy. West Virginians are in a populist uprising in defense of public institutions, and against predatory corporations and corrupt pro-business politics: hardly the characteristics of the Republican Party’s long standing agenda. The populist uprisingsomething that seems to fit cleanly into the Left’s political imaginationis in rural Appalachia instead of the coastal metropolitan enclaves Left “thought leaders” inhabit.

Yet for the second time in 28 years, West Virginia’s public school employees have drawn a line in the sand in defense of public education, and turned​ to militant industrial action to fight for the common good.

How To Succeed In Organizing A High School Walkout While Really Trying

Si quiere leer en español, por favor hacer clic aquí.

So you’re going to high school and have decided that you can’t abide the notion of your classmates getting gunned down by yet another perpetrator of domestic violence. You want to walk out of your classes in protest, be it on 3/14 or 4/20, but you haven’t really done anything like this before. Worse, you live somewhere that has Confederate battle flags flying near the Interstate and there’s not many adults you can trust to help you organize a walkout at your school.

Don’t worry, I am here to help guide you through the process of taking your first direct action.

FIRST PHASE: Preparing The Ground

It is astonishingly rare for any kind of direct action to be truly spontaneous. Most of the major marches or pickets you see on the news were weeks or months in the planning and organizing, and this is no exception. Best case scenario at the time of writing is that you have three weeks to plan if you are walking out on March 14. That’s short notice, but very far from impossible. The longer time horizon of April 20 is going to allow you to potentially do more publicly facing actions, like teach-ins, or arrange for speakers. Either way, the steps you need to follow are the same, how much time you have to do them is the only difference.

First, your strongest shield is numbers. The bigger the walkout, the harder it will be for administrators and teachers to retaliate against you for taking action. If 95% of the school marches out the doors and rallies against the violence that infests our society, it will be impossible for Deputy Assistant Vice Principal McMAGAhat to suspend every single one of you. If it’s just six of y’all, well…you might be able to fight whatever the administration does to you in the courts. Likewise, hostility from your peers is allayed if you’re in the majority. If some wannabe Trump White House flunky that always wears a suit to school is in the far minority and doesn’t want to walk out, they aren’t going to be able to get away with harassing you the next day. They can’t bully all of you if you stick together.

Unionism Must Be Internationalist Or It Is Bullshit

This past Tuesday, Harley-Davidson announced that it was closing its plant in Kansas City, Missouri.

It’s regrettably a common occurrence these days. During the Obama to Trump transition, much was made about a deal cut by Trump to save jobs at the Carrier plant in Indianapolis, Indiana. Sadly for the workers there, it was a pack of lies and called as much by Chuck Jones, president of USW Local 1999 and the union that the workers of the Carrier plant were members of, from the very start. None of these plant closings are novel. They’ve been happening since the 1970s as capital controls dropped along with trade barriers, allowing multinational corporations to move work to places where wages are low, workplace safety is nonexistent, and effective unions do not have the right to exist.

The Harley plant closure is especially a bitter pill to swallow, given that the company had been doing relatively well until recently. The reasons given for the plant closure (and the laying off of eight hundred workers) was a drop in net income caused largely by a 6.7% decline in sales last year. The ineffectual wad of centrist nonsense known as #TheResistance also seized on a statement blaming some of the earnings drop on changes caused by Trump’s tax cuts. It’s also a blow to scandal-wracked Governor of Missouri Eric Greitens. After his blackmailing of a woman he had an extramarital affair with came to light, a major plant closing is a wound his political career can ill-afford.

But there is another dimension to this that did not get reported in any of the coverage of this story that’s upending the lives of eight hundred workers. Back in September, the International Association of Machinists and United Steelworkers ended their labor-management partnership with Harley-Davidson over the company’s plan to build a plant in Thailand. The partnership agreement, two decades old and praised as a model by some, is the latest iteration of the ‘jointness’ trend first pioneered by UAW and General Motors in the 1980s. Focusing on collaboration and co-determination and informed by the European works council approach, these kinds of labor-management partnerships inevitably break down when the company wants to do something that will screw over its workers’ ability to organize, like it has here.

So while eight hundred workers will have their lives upended in Missouri, Harley-Davidson will plow ahead in standing up a brand new plant in Thailand. But why might they do that?