The Organizing Cadre: On The Training of Organizers for a new Operation Dixie

(This was a joint post, written with Cato Uticensis, which is the pseudonym of a union organizer working in the South. He likes barbecue, bourbon, cigars, and labor politics. He can be found on Twitter at @Cato_of_Utica.)

The organizer has to play many roles on any campaign: manager, scheduler, healer, therapist, evangelist, and so much more. It is a job that stretches the limits of what seems possible for one human being to do, yet thousands of people wake up everyday and serve as the floor general or lieutenant for their party, their union, or their individual cause. When it comes to the labor movement, the organizer plays a key role in all aspects of growth. They are integral in bringing together enough workers to vote for the formation of a union, assisting in contract negotiation by pulling together a contract campaign, and then ongoing in some states to keep density on the shop floor up. Without dedicated organizers, the labor movement would be nowhere near as strong as it is today, if it even existed at all.

As such, when a primary criticism of our last piece seemed to be that the lack of sufficient lead organizers to supervise the effort and the difficulty of getting hundreds of organizers up to speed for a operation of this size could make it infeasible, it was a criticism that we had to take seriously. The current training system can be described as an artisanal one: it trains excellent organizers in comparatively small quantities. For a new Operation Dixie to be successful, however, the labor movement must have the ability to raise a battalion of organizers in a relatively short period of time. The implementation of organizing cadres is an optimal solution to this potential issue facing a large-scale labor organizing operation in the South.

A Call for a Second Operation Dixie

(This was a joint post, written with Cato Uticensis, which is the pseudonym of a union organizer working in the South. He likes barbecue, bourbon, cigars, and labor politics. He can be found on Twitter at @Cato_of_Utica.)

There are no fortresses for labor; no metaphorical stone walls that we can shelter ourselves behind to try and ride out the onslaught. MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, said that we must “Organize the South or Die,” and she is absolutely correct. The fact of the matter is that without a deliberate, concerted effort to organize in the states of the old Confederacy, there will not be a labor movement worth speaking of within the next ten years, and all the gains for working people that brave men and women fought and bled and died for over the past century will be clawed back by rapacious corporate oligarchs bent on societal domination.

The notion that this is a crisis is massively underselling the problems facing labor, both organized and unorganized, right now. The destruction of PATCO, the air traffic controllers union, in 1981 was a crisis. The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement through a unified Democratic federal government in 1993 was a crisis. The recent “Civil Wars in American Labor” between the Service Employees International Union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, and UNITE HERE were a crisis. What the union movement faces right now is not a crisis, it is nothing less than a threat to the existence of unions in their present form, and with that comes a threat to the very basic minimums all workers in the United States can rely upon.

As we discussed in our previous piece, there is a cultural void in the South when it comes to labor. What we didn’t do is go into detail on why that is. There is a long and ignoble tradition in the South of active repression of workers organizing. Much of this tradition was exercised against the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the largest unionization drive in the South to date: Operation Dixie.

Scratching the Surface and Finding Gold: Valuing Progressive Work in Rural Areas

“Using the shovel to scrape aside the dirt, I began to reveal, very slowly and carefully, the gold and purple potatoes that rested just beneath the plants. She [my daughter] was enchanted. It’s just like…it’s just like…she said. It’s just like finding gold, I completed her thought. Yes! She said, her eyes wide.”

-Alice Walker “Childhood”

Some of the most passionate, hardest-working, toughest progressive activists I have ever seen come from rural areas, where progressivism isn’t “supposed” to exist; these nuggets of gold are often not highlighted in the world and, more often than not, are still waiting to be unearthed.  Many people believe that rural areas are bastions of monolithic conservatism, as many people view the South. Progressive work, though, is being done in these areas, where the work is perhaps the most vital and often neglected.  Certainly progressive work in any area should be appreciated and assessed. We should look up more often to progressive leaders in rural areas, have their voices in the conversation, invite them to talk at the table, and truly listen to them.

Labor’s Trek: A discussion on the importance of building The Next Generation of Southern labor activists.

My labor education came pretty early in life. My father was a union steward at the job that he had held since before my birth, and I was always surrounded by union literature, clothing, and other paraphernalia. I vividly remember him being active in the rank-and-file drive to prevent NAFTA from becoming law, even continuing that fight after he was laid off. When my father officially reentered the labor movement as a labor educator in 1999, it solidified the union’s place in my life. As I spent my summers traveling with him throughout the Midwest to give steward’s trainings and new member/new hire trainings, amongst others, the images and the people we met along the way helped to solidify the notion that a union is as strong as its membership. There was one conspicuous absence amongst all of those workers that I met in my journeys throughout the House of Labor: young people.

I recognize that my entry into the labor movement was a lot easier than it is for most people. After all, not many people have a parent that is a labor organizer or educator. But as we search for ways to strengthen and grow the labor movement, especially in the South, we must make the integration of young people (my definition being 15-36) into labor a priority.

Bodies That Matter: Moral Mondays Promote Visibility and Momentum

“Such collective disidentifications can facilitate a reconceptualization of which bodies matter, and which bodies are yet to emerge as critical matters of concern”  

-Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter (xiv).

 Which bodies “matter,” and which bodies will emerge as a “critical concern” in North Carolina? While theorist Judith Butler was referring to disidentifications regarding people’s sex and gender with society, these words resonate with me when thinking of Moral Mondays in North Carolina. We are a collection of “disidentifications,” people who do not fit tightly into a box woven with society’s notions of various privileges. The variety of political signs present at Moral Mondays evidences this reality. Increasingly more people are fighting silence and gaining visibility through physically occupying a space. This collaboration between people with various issues has reiterated the importance of physical visibility and voice in organizing for southern progressivism, as well as making visible bodies that matter.

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Culture Warriors: Why creating a “culture of unionism” is essential for increasing labor density in the South.

(This was a joint post, written with Cato Uticensis, which is the pseudonym of a union organizer working in the South. He likes barbecue, bourbon, cigars, and labor politics. He can be found on Twitter at @Cato_of_Utica.)

One of the difficulties of organizing in the South is that the struggles here frequently occur under a veil of invisibility due to the lack of pro-worker media down here. Barring major fights like the United Food and Commercial Workers’ (UFCW) fifteen-year long trench war against Smithfield Foods, where everything from cops on the company payroll to enterprise corruption lawsuits were used against the union, most of our battles do not gain much in the way of attention outside of the communities where they occur, and when there is coverage it is almost always skewed against the union. Even when unionized businesses hit hard times or close, the workers are never part of the story.

One Weekend at Camp: How 40 young people and a horrific injustice softened this blogger’s heart.

This weekend, I spent some time at the Southeastern LGBTQ Activist Camp in Jackson, Mississippi. This yearly gathering is a true example of the sort of coalition- and community-building effort that will be crucial to securing long-lasting progressive victories across the South. Working in concert with the GSA Network, GLBTQ youth organizations from across the South bring young people together for four days of trainings and workshops centered around building power in their communities, agitating against intersectional oppression, and fighting for policies that are inclusive of GLBTQ youth in their schools and their communities. The camp is a mix of rigorous training and lighthearted fun, which are both sorely missing from the lives of GLBTQ youth in the South. Everyone appeared to be getting a lot of mileage out of the camp, and enjoying one of the few safe spaces for GLBTQ youth that exists in the South.

Then the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case came down: George Zimmerman was not guilty.

Our Strength Is Us: Starting the conversation on building progressive power in the South.

This article was written with the assistance of Sarah.

If the media acted in a way similar to Twitter, one would say that Southern politics has been trending as of late.

It was the subject of a series by The American Prospect, and an article by Molly Ball of The Atlantic. It has been a frequent topic on MSNBC. National Public Radio has a series called Texas 2020 that is currently running on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), who filibustered an anti-abortion bill in the Texas Senate and provided a spark to Southern progressivism that had not been seen in a long time, has made the media rounds, getting the most exposure of any Texas Democrat since Gov. Ann Richards (D-TX). All in all, the visibility of Southern politics on the national stage is as high as its been since an unknown Governor from Arkansas came from nowhere to emerge as the preeminent Democratic politician in the 20th century (even if his progressivism was, and is, far from preeminent).

But with all of the talk about the emergence of a new South, there has been something missing: a discussion about building progressive power in the South.

Red, White, and Shame: North Carolina’s Feminist Army Must Continue to Cut Social Fabric Sewn Together with Threads of Patriarchy

“The senators are your voice here on all matters. They are the only ones we’ll be hearing from today.” – Lieutenant Governor Forest to women and women’s allies in the North Carolina Senate Gallery.

When the person who oversees the North Carolina Senate tells the public that its voices do not matter, how can we believe in the foundational tenant of “democracy”? On “Independence” day, we are told to celebrate these foundational elements of what our country hypothetically values. The concept has been debatable for as long as it has existed since on Independence Day many people were not independent. Yesterday, though, as I stood among 600 pro-woman supporters at the North Carolina General Assembly, I was reminded of the power of people; today I will celebrate that act of patriotism and celebrate North Carolina’s feminist army. I was reminded that our fight happens every day that we are a part of the social fabric of this state and this nation, a fabric of an American flag that is sewn together with threads of patriarchy that have yet to be fully loosened.

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Rumors of the Old South’s Demise Are Exaggerated.

You can also find this piece at The Century Foundation’s Blog of the Century.

Some have recently suggested that changing demographics in the South (defined here as the states of the Confederacy) herald an end to Republican dominance in Southern elections. Citing Barack Obama’s 2008 wins in Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina they have argued:

For Southerners, the message was unmistakable: The future has arrived. The Solid South is dead.

Not long after reading that, the U.S. Supreme Court put a southern-sized dent in the Voting Rights Act, which was written and passed to keep mostly southern states and their entrenched political structures under the eye of the federal government.

The idea of a “dead” solid south got me thinking. And the voting rights decision made me convinced.

The South is being driven towards political competitiveness by large-scale demographic changes. But it’s not here yet – and in fact (to borrow an analogy) rumors of the demise of the Old South are greatly exaggerated.