Tag: Workers

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.

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.

A Fortress with No Soldiers: The limited effectiveness of “fortress unionism” in the South.

In the summer edition of the journal Democracy, Richard Yeselson writes about the pall that restrictive labor law has cast over the labor movement. Yeselson takes us through a very thorough history of the construction of current labor laws, from the first right-to-work laws in the states through the Taft-Hartley Act, as well as the post-World War II labor unrest and progressive coalition building that provoked the ire of conservatives and business alike. It is a very compelling retelling of history; one of the best I have seen in an article about labor in a while.

He then goes into the cost of running comprehensive campaigns that seek to organize large numbers of unorganized workers. He makes the argument that, in addition to such campaigns being prohibitively expensive, the American workforce is so large and diversified that even large organizing successes will not make much of an impact in labor density. Furthermore, he suggests that labor growth occurs in spurts, and from the ground up, making the formulation of “a campaign in a union office in Washington” ultimately pointless.

After laying out all of these challenges, he suggests a way forward for labor unions in the 21st century. He calls this path forward “fortress unionism.” It entails:

  1. Defend the remaining high-density regions, sectors, and companies.
  2. Strengthen existing union locals.
  3. Ask one key question about organizing drives: Will they increase the density or power of existing strongholds?
  4. Sustain coalition work with other progressive organizations.
  5. Invest heavily in alt-labor organizations, especially Working America.
  6. And then . . . wait (for workers to demand a collective solution to issues at the workplace).

As someone whose primary concern is the growth of Southern labor, this strategy is . . . disconcerting.

One Big Union: Why community engagement is needed for labor victories in the South.

It is funny. I had this blog post written out about how progressive communities in the South should support labor in all of these different ways, and why we must do better in our advocacy of working families. I had listed out all of these great ways that progressive communities could get involved in the labor movement, and that we should be more proactive and vocal in our support for better wages, better benefits, and a safer workplace.

Then I talked to my father.

“So one thing that I suggest is that progressives could have house parties to discuss labor issues in their community.”

“Oh. Well, who is going to be there to discuss the labor issues with the group?”

“Well, I just figured that the people would discuss it amongst themselves.”

“But didn’t your last post talk about the lack of communication in Southern labor? So you expect people to go from not having any information at all about the things that labor is doing in their area, to being able to host house parties? Is that realistic, son?”

DAMN.