Category Archives: labor movement

The economic crisis in the South

From a New York Times article

The once-booming South, which entered the recession with the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, is now struggling with some of the highest rates, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show.

Several Southern states — including South Carolina, whose 11.1 percent unemployment rate is the fourth highest in the nation — have higher unemployment rates than they did a year ago. Unemployment in the South is now higher than it is in the Northeast and the Midwest, which include Rust Belt states that were struggling even before the recession.

For decades, the nation’s economic landscape consisted of a prospering Sun Belt and a struggling Rust Belt. Since the recession hit, though, that is no longer the case. Unemployment remains high across much of the country — the national rate is 9.1 percent — but the regions have recovered at different speeds.

Now, though, of the states with the 10 highest unemployment rates, six are in the South. The region, which relied heavily on manufacturing and construction, was hit hard by the downturn.

Economists offer a variety of explanations for the South’s performance. “For a long time we tended to outpace the national average with regard to economic performance, and a lot of that was driven by, for lack of a better word, development and in-migration,” said Michael Chriszt, an assistant vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s research department. “That came to an abrupt halt, and it has not picked up.”

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Filed under Alabama, austerity measures, budget cuts, class struggle, immigration, labor movement, Leftists in the U.S. South, Southern Identity, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, workers

Virginia Ikea workers vote yes for union

[This article was originally posted on Liberation News]

Victory shows power of solidarity

August 1, 2011

Working-class unity and courageous struggle made the difference for Ikea workers in Danville, Va.

Workers at the first U.S. Ikea factory in Danville, Va., voted in favor of union representation on July 24. Winning by a landslide margin of 76 percent, or 221 to 69, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers successfully concluded a three-year struggle at the factory.

Swedwood, the Ikea subsidiary that runs the Virginia plant, forced its workers to endure low pay, cuts to starting pay, firings, unsafe conditions and long hours. African-American workers also faced discrimination, constantly being assigned to the lowest-paying departments and least-desirable shifts. Management also hired the union-busting firm of Jackson Lewis to intimidate workers.

It was through solidarity, one of the most powerful weapons in the working-class arsenal, that this election was won.

“This struggle was global, with support and assistance from every continent by more than 120,000 workers, various social partners, and many other global union federations,” said Bill Street, union organizer and director of the Wood Works Department of IAMAW. (BWI, July 27)

Once certified as the representative of the employees at the Danville factory, the union hopes to resolve these pressing issues. People have already begun expressing their support and gratitude.

“So we can have a voice. So we can all be heard and have another leg we can stand on when we need to,” said worker Coretta Giles, explaining why she supports the union. (Danville Register & Bee, July 27)

It was working-class unity and courageous struggle that secured this first step in the fight for justice at the Swedwood/Ikea factory. The struggle in Danville shows that no matter how bad a situation seems, workers can defend their rights by standing up and fighting back!

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Filed under class struggle, labor movement, labor unions, Leftists in the U.S. South, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, Virginia

Resistance to hate bill heats up

[This article originally appears on workers.org]

Tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters filled blocks of Atlanta’s downtown streets on July 2 wearing white, carrying beautiful banners and hand-printed signs, and chanting nonstop in English and Spanish.

Many of the slogans referenced HB 87, Georgia’s “show me your papers” legislation, which authorizes local police to act as immigration agents and is designed to intimidate undocumented workers into leaving the state.

The march was led by members of the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA), who are challenging the restrictions on their future and calling for passage of the DREAM Act. Banners called for an end to the raids and deportations.

Many children carried signs pleading not to deport their parents. Challenging the racist aspects of the law, a huge banner depicting a strong Latina declared: “Brown Is Beautiful.” Numerous signs referenced the millions of dollars already lost to the state’s agricultural economy as crops rotted in the fields for lack of skilled farmworkers.

Four counties in Georgia operate under 287(g) agreements that have resulted in the detention and deportation of thousands of immigrants, most of whom were arrested for traffic infractions. The largest, privately operated detention center is in the town of Lumpkin and holds some 1,900 men.

Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the Stewart Detention Center there, has been denounced for its profiteering off the separation of immigrant families.

The failure of the Obama administration and Congress to address legalization and a just immigration policy was addressed in chants and on placards.

In response to a call by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), protesters came from across the state, from as far as Valdosta, Dalton, Columbus and Rome. Supporters from North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and as far away as Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arizona, California and New York joined the protest.

Week of intense struggle

The march and rally at the Georgia State Capitol capped off a week of intense struggle by immigrant communities and human rights advocates.

On June 27 a federal district judge agreed to grant a temporary injunction suspending two sections of HB 87, scheduled to be enacted on July 1. Judge Thomas Thrash stopped Georgia from giving law enforcement agencies throughout the state the power to detain and arrest anyone who could not show sufficient identification following any violation, no matter how minor, including traffic stops or jaywalking. He also prevented the implementation of a provision that would make it illegal to knowingly transport or harbor an undocumented person.

This is the fourth federal court that has barred states from assuming responsibility for enforcing immigration policies.

While immigrant and civil rights activists hailed this victory in stopping two of the most egregious sections of HB 87, Georgia law now makes it a crime to use false documents to secure a job, punishable by 15 years in prison. Starting in January, most private employers will be required to use the federal E-Verify system, known to be flawed, to ascertain the legality of new hires. Citizens will be able to sue elected officials for failing to uphold HB 87.

The day after the federal ruling, GUYA held a “Coming Out of the Shadows” rally inside the state Capitol building where five young people from Georgia and one from New York told their stories. Each concluded by saying their name and that they were “undocumented and unafraid.”

At an outside rally, longtime civil rights leaders and members of the African-American religious community proclaimed their support for the immigrants’ rights movement. They applauded the role of young people in confronting injustice, risking their lives and safety to bring about needed change.

Dressed in caps and gowns, the students led a crowd of hundreds in a march around Georgia State University, one of the state’s five institutions of higher education which the Georgia legislature has banned undocumented youth from attending.

Their lead banner read “Undocumented, Unafraid, Unashamed, Unapologetic!”

Returning to the Capitol, the students spread a large canvas with the words “We Will No Longer Remain in the Shadows” in the intersection and sat down surrounded by supporters. Traffic was brought to a standstill. Eventually, many police arrived and arrested the six. As each heroic youth was taken to a police car, dozens of chanting young people surrounded them and the vehicle.

All six were charged with multiple state offenses. Three were released to their parents’ custody because they were under 17. The other three spent the night in the Fulton County Jail and were then released on their own recognizance with an August court date.

This was the second such civil disobedience action in Atlanta with undocumented youth risking deportation to press the issue of the status of children who have spent most of their lives in the United States and have no path to legalization. Without papers, they cannot get a driver’s license, find employment, receive public benefits or attend Georgia’s top five universities, regardless of their grades.

July 1 strike spurs resistance

During the week, a number of community meetings were held in metro Atlanta to provide information in multiple languages — from Korean and Chinese to Portuguese and Spanish — about the impact of HB 87 and the injunction. Similar events were organized around the state, including one in Dalton where people were particularly concerned about police roadblocks in immigrant neighborhoods. Students and community members held a rally in Athens on June 30 at the gates to the University of Georgia, one of the universities barred to undocumented students.

On July 1, the day HB 87 went into effect, GLAHR called for a “Day without Immigrants,” a stay-at-home strike where people would not work, shop or go about their usual business. More than 125 businesses owned by immigrants, from beauty shops to food markets, closed that day in solidarity. Restaurant, construction, landscaping, hotel and other workers took the day off. Shopping mall parking lots in immigrant communities were empty.

People outside Georgia are encouraged to cancel any conventions, reunions, meetings or vacations as part of the “Boycott of a State of Hate.”

Volunteers are coming from throughout the country this summer to help build local resistance to HB 87 and other anti-immigrant legislation. A campaign to identify “BuySpots” and “Sanctuary Zones” will identify businesses that agree to publicly oppose HB 87 by refusing to allow police into their establishments to check people’s identification without a warrant and by pledging not to financially support elected officials who promote anti-immigrant legislation.

Already many bookstores, restaurants, clothing and record stores, markets, beauty and barber shops display the BuySpot sign. Churches and other religious institutions, community centers, homeless shelters and other public gathering sites that make a similar pledge will be identified as Sanctuary Zones. For more information, visit WeAreGeorgia.org.

It is hot in Georgia during any summer, but this summer the heat will be on right-wing politicians, spotlighted by a rising people’s movement engaging thousands of workers, youth and women. They are stepping out of the shadows, undocumented and unafraid.

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Filed under Georgia, Human Rights, immigration, labor movement, Leftists in the U.S. South, Race, racism, Workers World Party

Workers at Virginia Ikea factory wage union struggle

An article in the May issue of the Monthly Review claimed that the South is “now the center of U.S. political economy.”  The following article serves as an excellent example of how this claim is accurate by highlighting the struggles of union representation and racism that continue in places like Virginia.

-KurtFF8

[This article originally appeared on the Liberation News website]

June 30, 2011

Workers such as these at Ikea’s factory in Danville, Virginia have filed for a union election.

Ikea may be known in Sweden for giving decent pay and benefits to its employees, but workers at the company’s first factory in the United States are feeling left out. Employees at an Ikea subsidiary in Danville, Va., are facing low pay, long hours and even discrimination. Deciding to fight back, the workers have filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board and have chosen the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers as their union.

Taxpayers sacrificed $12 million to lure the giant furniture maker to Danville, but the main attraction seems to be Virginia’s low minimum wage and “right-to-work” laws that make unionization difficult. Starting pay has been cut, and scheduled pay raises have been stopped. African-American employees have faced racial discrimination, leading six to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These workers were assigned to the lowest-paying departments in the plant and forced to work the hated 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.

“If we put in for a better job, we wouldn’t get it—it would always go to a white person,” said former employee Jackie Maubin. (LA Times, April 10)

Swedwood, the Ikea subsidiary that runs the Danville plant, has fired many of its employees and replaced them with lower-paid temporary workers who receive no benefits.

In May, under pressure from labor activists, Swedwood cut down on its use of temp workers and Ikea hired an auditing firm to speak to its workers about their conditions. But many were afraid to tell the auditors how they really felt because they were worried about being fired.

The auditors discovered that the company was forcing its employees to work overtime, a policy which stopped after the audit but has recently been restarted. Many workers have said that it is common for management to inform workers on Friday evening that they will have to pull a weekend shift or face punishment.

“It’s the most strict place I have ever worked,” said former plant employee Janis Wilborne. (LA Times, April 10)

The exploitation at the Danville factory has gotten so bad that the International Trade Union Confederation has released a statement saying it would use its resources to ensure the company treats its American workers respectfully.

The IAMAW and the company were originally holding discussions and working towards a cooperative election, but in the past month talks between the two sides fell apart. Swedwood has stated that it would accept the results of a secret ballot election, which is hard to believe given that they hired the union-busting firm of Jackson Lewis to intimidate the workers.

Despite all of the tireless work a company may do to give itself a progressive image, its main goal is to make profits. Profits are made by paying workers less than the full value their labor contributes to the goods or services they produce, which is exactly what Ikea/Swedwood is doing in Virginia.

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, labor movement, labor unions, Race, racism, Southern United States, State's rights, Virginia, workers

Memphis SP Statement on Obama’s Commencement Address at BTW High

[This originally appeared on the Memphis Socialist Party’s Website]

While Memphians celebrate the victory of Booker T. Washington High School in President Obama’s 2011 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, a critical analysis of the President’s educational policies has been absent from public discussion, despite the fact that schools like BTW could eventually fall victim to the administration’s tacit goal of mass privatization through the President’s market-based “reform” agenda.

Although President Obama’s administration does not use the anti-public education rhetoric of the hard right, he is clear about his ideological alignment with Bush’s No Child Left Behind program. Moreover, Obama’s Race to the Top—a competitive program of corporate school reform that pits public schools and communities against one another for scarce federal funding—is a natural continuation of the neoliberal agenda, which seeks to create a favorable market for profit-driven charter schools by busting teachers’ unions and closing schools in communities reeling from the disastrous effects of global capitalism. Race to the Top ensures that the most vulnerable students will continue to be marginalized as their schools remain underfunded and understaffed, if they remain open at all.

Teachers, students, and parents understand that successful schools have small class sizes, support staff such as teachers’ assistants, nurses, and counselors, and an approach that values a variety of learning opportunities for individual students with different needs and talents. The Obama administration and its corporate partners, however, take a regressive approach that focuses on standardized testing as a measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness while firing masses of school staff and replacing neighborhood schools with charters, which are unaccountable to communities and no more successful on average than their public counterparts.

However, barriers to providing a quality education for all people will remain in one form or another under any reformist agenda no matter how progressive or student-centered the approach. Education reform will not solve the major problems created or reinforced by global capitalism: poverty, segregation, institutional bigotry, mass unemployment, mass incarceration, labor exploitation and social alienation. The corporate think tanks and foundations responsible for creating and implementing Obama’s educational policies have no interest in educating all students; in order to maintain low wages, low expectations, and high profits, capitalists depend upon a large unemployed population and a much larger population of working poor.

The recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, organized largely by disaffected youth, have provided more concrete evidence for what the capitalists already know: if society provides an education without providing jobs, the people will revolt. The ruling class is much too sophisticated to risk losing power by providing effective education beyond what is necessary for them to continue to develop new consumer products and instruments of war. Until the masses of people on the losing end of this rigged system organize and commit ourselves to a revolutionary restructuring of our social and economic relations, those who write the rules of the game will continue to have access to quality education while the rest of us will continue to be denied that right.

The students of historic BTW will always remember the day that the first black president of the United States delivered their commencement address, but they deserve much more than empty platitudes about hope, change, the “American Dream” or “Equality of Opportunity”—they deserve a future where their children will not have to compete with their sisters and brothers to “win” an education; they deserve a future where their neighborhood is safe and clean, and where all people have a right to engage in meaningful work. This future will not be created for us.

As revolutionary socialists, we believe that workers and the poor have the ability to create a better world than the status quo maintained by the capitalist class—capitalists’ power lies not in god-given mandates or managerial prowess, but only through convincing the people that we are incapable of controlling our own lives. We reject this notion, just as we reject the notion that the solution to the harms inflicted by global capitalism lies in education reform alone. Instead, the situation today compels us to organize ourselves and our communities to create an actual and revolutionary change in socioeconomic relations. Together, there is a world to win and a world to defeat!

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Filed under Education, labor movement, Leftists in the U.S. South, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, Tennessee

The Florida Legislative Session

by KurtFF8

The following video was produced by the Florida AFL-CIO about the actions that workers took to fight back against the reactionary legislature in Florida.

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Filed under class struggle, Corporations, Florida, Gulf States, labor movement, labor unions, Leftists in the U.S. South, Southern United States, Students, Tallahassee

Georgia Passes SB 1070 Copycat Bill

[Originally posted at ColorLines]

The Georgia Legislature last night approved a bill that empowers local police to check the immigration status of any suspect, even those stopped for alleged traffic violations. The final vote in the House came just two hours before the close of the legislative session. The bill, which closely resembles Arizona’s embattled SB 1070, is the first copycat bill to pass through another state legislature. It will now be sent to the Governor Nathan Deal’s desk for signature.

The 11th hour vote came amid mounting pressure from a diverse coalition to kill the bill. In the two weeks leading up the vote, Georgia immigrant rights advocates and civil rights groups collected 23,000 signatures opposing the legislation. Protesters rallied in at the capitol in Atlanta this week with signs reading, “RIP Dr. Kings Dream” and “RIP Georgia Economy.” Business groups, fearing the truth of the later, joined the opposition, forcefully rejecting the requirement that employers implement the E-Verify program to check the immigration status of all employees.

Yet, despite the broad opposition, conservative state legislators ended the week with a victory.

“It’s a great day for Georgia,” Rep. Matt Ramsey, the Republican who authored the bill told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “We think we have done our job that our constituents asked us to do to address the costs and the social consequences that have been visited upon our state by the federal government’s failure to secure our nation’s borders.”

However, Ramsey’s enthusiasm may be short since the bill will now face significant challenges. Gov. Deal has 40 days to sign the bill into law and he has expressed some reticence recently about the potential costs of the law.

“All eyes on the governor,” Azadeh Shahshahani, of the Georgia ACLU told Colorlines.com. “We do hope that the Governor will veto the bill. Obviously from our perspective the bill has serious concerns. This bill makes the whole state ‘show me your’ papers territory.”

Most expect Gov. Deal to sign the bill into law, and as soon as that happens, Georgia will almost certainly face legal challenges. On Monday of this week, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower courts ruling that struck down the most controversial parts of Arizona’s SB 1070 that require local police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect may be undocumented. That suit is now making its way to the Supreme Court. In Georgia, legal advocates are likely to seek an injunction in court to the bill from taking effect until it’s constitutionality can be determined.

The bill’s drafters say it was carefully crafted to avoid such legal challenge. Indeed, Georgia’s bill differs from the one in Arizona. Unlike the Arizona bill, the Georgia bill does not outright require police to check suspect’s immigration status but, rather, authorizes them to do so. Its proponents hope that this will be enough to protect it in the courts. Like the Arizona law, Georgia’s bill makes it a state crime to be present on state soil without proof of lawful status.

Many worry about the financial costs of the bill. Though these are surely not the greatest concerns for immigrant communities who would be most impacted if Georgia’s bill is enacted, many business groups are anxious. A national boycott of Arizona cost the state an estimated $250 million in lost taxes, tourism and other revenue, according to the Center for American Progress.

Even before the Georgia bill passed, a group of organizations across the country threatened to wage a boycott of the state of Georgia if it enacts the legislation.

Immigrant and civil rights advocates say the bill will spur increased racial profiling. And, says Shahshahani, this is on top of a climate in which state of Georgia already let’s racial profiling flourish.

“People of color are already being profiled across the state. Georgia does not have racial profiling laws on the books. There is no uniform system for data collection when it comes to traffic stops and there are no oversight mechanisms in place at the state level to prevent racial profiling. This bill is only going to worsen a bad situations.”

At least four Georgia counties currently empower local police to enforce federal immigration laws through the federal 287g program which makes cops into immigration agents. That program has for years been criticized for facilitating racial profiling.

Even if the law is rejected in a legal suit, it is sure to hurt immigrant communities. After Arizona’s law passed, and even since the courts blocked key portions of it, many in Arizona were fearful about how police and other institutions would be required to act vis-à-vis immigrants. The director of a Phoenix shelter for survivors of domestic violence told Colorlines.com earlier this year that in the period after SB 1070 passed, shelters saw a steady decline of women seeking help. The director attributed this to a growing fear among undocumented women about abusers ability to report victims to police and about whether state funded entities like shelters would turn undocumented women away.

Georgia now becomes the first state to pass a bill that closely resembles the one in Arizona. Similar bills have been introduced in at least 24 other states since SB 1070 passed last year. The majority have has been killed or have failed to move.

AZ_copycat_bill_leadrev_033011.gif

This failure is despite a well-organized and well-funded strategy to move more such bills across the country. Those efforts, as NPR reported last year, have involved a national network of state legislators and private enterprise, including private prison and immigrant detention companies with clear interests in increasing the number of immigrant detainees.

All eyes now move to a handful of other states where similar bills may still pass. The Alabama House passed an SB 1070-like bill last week and bills have been approved by one house of the South Carolina, Oklahoma and Indiana state legislatures as well.

Florida may also be considering passing a similar law.

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Filed under class struggle, Georgia, immigration, labor movement, Southern United States, Uncategorized