Category Archives: State’s rights

Confederate Flag Debate Continues

By KurtFF8

Recently, the city of Lexington, Virginia passed an ordinance to prohibit Confederate Flags on city-owned poles.  The debate the emerged during the proposed rule brought up the fact that the debate on the flying of the flag is far from over.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans held a demonstration prior to the vote and, according to the article linked to above, vowed to “challenge the ordinance in court.”

Why is it that over 150 years after the start of the US Civil War that the debate over the Confederate flag is still relevant?  There are a few factors involved.

First and foremost: while the nature of the Confederacy itself is often cited in these debates, the usage of the flag since the end of the war is what drives these “cultural” conflicts.  Most importantly in recent history is the usage in the political movement against desegregation in the South.  The Flag became a symbol of resistance to the move to resist integration and stop “northern dominance” over the South.  This association is difficult to delink from the racist elements and motivations of the flag, considering the most recent historical widespread use of it was this political battle and the racist side that the flag symbolized.

As I have argued elsewhere, the States’ Rights argument that is often appealed to in these cases has historically been an excuse to actually prevent rights from expanding.  In the case of the Civil War: it was the right of states to continue to have the slave system.  In the civil rights era: it was the right of states to continue to segregate.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans argues that the Civil War was a war about freedom for the South.  They conveniently ignore or cease to elaborate for whom in the South that freedom was for.  Considering that the South explicitly seceded to preserve the institution of slavery, it is quite clear that the freedom was a very limited notion of the term.  The fact that the Sons of Confederate Veterans does not quite address this issue is quite telling of the nature of their organization and motivations for promoting symbols like the Confederate flag.

Each era that the flag was widely used (particularly the Civil War itself and the Civil Rights eras), it was a symbol of the oppression of black folks.  It would be a difficult case to make that it has been anything but this without getting into abstract debates about freedom of speech.  That’s not to say that the Sons of Confederate Veterans, or other groups are necessarily trying to promote a specific racist political goal in these cases.  But one thing that is undeniable is that they are attempting to promote the use of a symbol that has been used almost exclusively in history to promote racist political and social policy.

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Filed under African Americans, confederacy, National Oppression, Race, racism, slavery, Southern United States, State's rights, U.S. Civil War, Virginia

Tensions rise as Latinos feel under siege in America’s deep south

[From a recent Guardian article]

In Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, new laws have been signed that represent the toughest crackdown on illegal immigrants – the vast majority of whom are Hispanics – in America. They give the police sweeping new powers and require them, and employers, to check people’s immigration status. In Alabama, they even make helping illegal immigrants, by giving them a lift in a car or shelter in a home, into a serious crime. For many, the laws echo the deep south’s painful history of segregation, sending out a message to people of a different colour: you are not wanted here.

“That is exactly right,” said Andrew Turner, a lawyer with the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Centre. “We view it within the context of the history of the deep south. It is using the law to push out and marginalise an ethnic minority.”

The new laws’ defenders deny that. They are merely enforcing the law, they say. Their problem is not with immigrants, but with those who came to America illegally. They say the laws are colour-blind and aimed at making sure everyone obeys the same rules and does not cheat the system.

Yet illegal immigrants have become a fundamental part of the American system. Huge swaths of the economy rely on the cheap labour they provide.

 

The article points out an important part of “illegal” immigration that is often referred to in the overall narrative.  That is that undocumented workers have “become a part” of the American system overall.  The mainstream accounts of this often even point to the drive for cheep labor by capital as the source of the “problem” here, yet they continue to allow reactionary rhetoric dominate the discourse and put the blame on those coming here to find exploitative conditions of work.

The only way to fight this framework and empower undocumented workers is to build a movement that fights back.  And this movement is currently underway in much of the South.

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Filed under Alabama, class struggle, Georgia, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, State's rights

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

Karl Marx on the US Civil War

by KurtFF8

The US Civil War started 150 years ago.  During this time, Karl Marx wrote about the war and what it meant for America and the development of capital itself.  You can find various references to the war in his magnum opus where he often refers to the war as the “slave owners rebellion.”

One article he wrote that I find to be of interest is one in which he criticized the media coverage of the war (via criticizing the London Times).  The arguments he refutes in the article (the war being about tariffs, sovereignty, etc.) still come up today in debates about the causes of the war, even leading some folks to go as far as to say that the civil war was not about slavery despite the overt explanation by the South that their intention was to preserve slavery (see my article on the anniversary of the secession of South Carolina that covers this topic).

Some quotes from:

The North American Civil War

The war between North and South — so runs the first excuse — is a mere tariff war, a war between a protectionist system and a free trade system, and Britain naturally stands on the side of free trade. Shall the slave-owner enjoy the fruits of slave labour in their entirety or shall he be cheated of a portion of these by the protectionists of the North? That is the question which is at issue in this war. It was reserved for The Times to make this brilliant discovery. The Economist, The Examiner, The Saturday Review and tutti quanti expounded the theme further. It is characteristic of this discovery that it was made, not in Charleston, but in London. Naturally, in America everyone knew that from 1846 to 1861 a free trade system prevailed, and that Representative Morrill carried his protectionist tariff through Congress only in 1861, after the rebellion had already broken out. Secession, therefore, did not take place because the Morrill tariff had gone through Congress, but, at most, the Morrill tariff went through Congress because secession had taken place. When South Carolina had its first attack of secession in 1831, the protectionist tariff of 1828 served it, to be sure, as a pretext, but only as a pretext, as is known from a statement of General Jackson. This time, however, the old pretext has in fact not been repeated. In the Secession Congress at Montgomery all reference to the tariff question was avoided, because the cultivation of sugar in Louisiana, one of the most influential Southern states, depends entirely on protection.

….

For hardly had the Kansas-Nebraska Bill gone through, which wiped out the geographical boundary-line of slavery and made its introduction into new Territories subject to the will of the majority of the settlers, when armed emissaries of the slaveholders, border rabble from Missouri and Arkansas, with bowie-knife in one hand and revolver in the other, fell upon Kansas and sought by the most unheard-of atrocities to dislodge its settlers from the Territory colonised by them. These raids were supported by the central government in Washington. Hence a tremendous reaction. Throughout the North, but particularly in the North-west, a relief organisation was formed to support Kansas with men, arms and money. Out of this relief organisation arose the Republican Party, which therefore owes its origin to the struggle for Kansas. After the attempt to transform Kansas into a slave Territory by force of arms had failed, the South sought to achieve the same result by political intrigues. Buchanan’s government, in particular, exerted its utmost efforts to have Kansas included in the States of the Union as a slave state with a slave constitution imposed on it. Hence renewed struggle, this time mainly conducted in Congress at Washington. Even St[ephen] A. Douglas, the chief of the Northern Democrats, now (1857 – 58) entered the lists against the government and his allies of the South, because imposition of a slave constitution would have been contrary to the principle of sovereignty of the settlers passed in the Nebraska Bill of 1854. Douglas, Senator for Illinois, a North-western state, would naturally have lost all his influence if he had wanted to concede to the South the right to steal by force of arms or through acts of Congress Territories colonised by the North. As the struggle for Kansas, therefore, called the Republican Party into being, it at the same time occasioned the first split within the Democratic Party itself.

The Republican Party put forward its first platform for the presidential election in 1856. Although its candidate, John Fremont, was not victorious, the huge number of votes cast for him at any rate proved the rapid growth of the Party, particularly in the North-west. At their second National Convention for the presidential election (May 17, 1860), the Republicans again put forward their platform of 1856, only enriched by some additions. Its principal contents were the following: Not a foot of fresh territory is further conceded to slavery. The filibustering policy abroad must cease. The reopening of the slave trade is stigmatised. Finally, free-soil laws are to be enacted for the furtherance of free colonisation.

The whole movement was and is based, as one sees, on the slave question. Not in the sense of whether the slaves within the existing slave states should be emancipated outright or not, but whether the twenty million free men of the North should submit any longer to an oligarchy of three hundred thousand slaveholders; whether the vast Territories of the republic should be nurseries for free states or for slavery; finally, whether the national policy of the Union should take armed spreading of slavery in Mexico, Central and South America as its device.

There is an entire section of writings by Marx and Engels on the US Civil war that can be found at the Marxist Internet Archive following this link.

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Filed under confederacy, Southern Identity, Southern United States, State's rights, U.S. Civil War

Labor struggle heats up in Florida

[Originally posted on the PSL website]

 

March 11, 2011

Workers stand with taped mouths symbolizing the silencing of workers’ voices, Tallahassee, March 7.
Photo: Mike Chrisemer

As the state legislative session in Florida begins, the working class is increasingly becoming a target by lawmakers. The anti-worker state session began quickly, starting on March 7 when a senate committee held a hearing on SB830, a bill that would prohibit unions from automatically collecting dues from paychecks (a voluntary deduction that workers decide to have) and would prohibit dues money from being used in political activity.

Workers, students, and activists stood outside the meeting with tape over their mouths to represent the silencing of workers’ voices that this bill represents. The following day saw statewide rallies called “Awake the State,” which took place in 32 cities to oppose the attacks on workers by the state’s Republican Party. The event drew out over 10 thousand people statewide, dwarfing the Tea Party rallies in Tallahassee and elsewhere in the state.

These rallies were also held in opposition to the renewed attack on teachers and public education in Florida. Last year, SB6 would have pegged teachers pay to student test scores, ignoring the various factors that go into test results. However, due to intensive grassroots activism, then governor Charlie Crist vetoed the bill. However, a version of the union-busting bill has been revived in the new legislative session and is likely to pass.

Attacks on unemployed workers

In addition to the legislative attacks on collective bargaining and on teachers, hundreds of unemployed workers and their supporters protested in Tallahassee to oppose House Bill 7005, which cuts unemployment benefits. HB 7005 reduces the number of weeks of unemployment compensation from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, and also cuts the taxes imposed on business which are used to pay for unemployment. The bill passed the full house March 10.

It is estimated that 400,000 Floridians currently receive unemployment benefits: the state’s unemployment rate is about 12 percent. About 1 million people in Florida are without jobs.

The South is home to nine of the 10 states in the United States that have no collective bargaining rights for public workers, and Rick Scott recently made it known that he would like to see Florida become the 11th state (after having previously said that he did not want to go after those rights).

This shows the importance of organizing in the South, where workers are disproportionately denied a voice. Southern workers are now organizing in spite of these unfavorable conditions. While public sector workers in Wisconsin and Ohio fight to keep their collective bargaining rights, public workers in the South should begin fighting for those rights in the first place!

These anti-worker attacks follow attacks by governors across the country, as does the effort to fight back by workers. Only a fight back movement that advocates worker power can stop these attacks and move the workers movement forward. In Florida, workers are beginning to build a movement that will fight back!

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Filed under austerity measures, budget cuts, class struggle, Florida, labor movement, labor unions, Leftists in the U.S. South, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, State's rights, Tallahassee

Anniversary of Secession: What it means today

By KurtFF8

Today is the anniversary of the declaration of Secession by South Carolina from the United States in 1860.  This lead to the founding of the Confederacy and lead the  nation on a path to a long bloody conflict that cost the lives of countless people on both sides.  What does this anniversary mean for 2010 though?  For the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Confederate Heritage Trust: it means it’s time to throw a party.

The Secession Ball

Tonight, the two groups mentioned above will be throwing what they are calling “The Secession Ball” what is according to the website is “Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of South Carolina’s Secession.” They claim to even have the President Pro-Tempore of the SC Senate planning on attending the ball.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans officials condemns slavery and their spokesperson for the event claims that they are not celebrating the war, but instead just the courage of those who decided to sign the secession statement, while the NAACP has planed a march to protest the event tonight.

So if they are not celebrating the war or slavery, why the event?  Many organizations and individuals who attempt to defend things like the foundation of the Confederate States tend to appeal to notions of States’ Rights and of “Heritage” (“not hate”).  But it doesn’t take much to demonstrate how secession and the creation of the Confederacy were explicitly about preserving slavery and that the specific rights sought out in trying to defend “States Rights” in this particular case were the rights of the state to keep Slavery a legal institution.

So the courage to stand up to the Union ought to be seen as the “courage to defend slavery.”

Causes of the Civil War

 

John Brown is often portrayed as "insane" for his radical anti-slavery actions, and was even executed for them

Slavery was the base of the economic power for the Southern elite in the pre-Civil War South.  After decades of complicated power struggles and debates about expanding the institution to new American states, the Southern elite was threatened and to use a phrase Marx used, launched a “Slave owner rebellion.”  As I noted above, they made their reasons for secession quite clear: to preserve slavery.  While other factors, such as “taxes and tariffs,” are sometimes pointed to as causes for the war, these factors existed in so far as they interfered with the source of the wealth that was being harmed: the institution of slavery!

This is of course a long historical debate, but the arguments for Southern Secession tend to be red herrings when it comes to slavery.  Even these groups putting on the “Secession Ball” make sure to note that they are opposed to slavery and the Civil War’s bloody toll.  Yet they defend the event that is noted for its strong defense of slavery and for starting that very war.

States’ Rights

When “States’ Rights” is appealed to as the reason for the South’s actions, what rights those States were looking to protect are often ignored.  This is because it was the right to own slavery by the Southern elite.  Yet the argument over States’ Rights was not resolved at the end of the War.

After the Civil War ended and what is often referred to as “radical reconstruction” was abandoned to an extent, the newer elites in the South instituted “Jim Crow Laws.”  It was the “Jim Crow South” that was responsible for racial segregation that wasn’t to be fully broken until the civil rights movement exploded in the 1960s.  The arguments for maintaining these laws often appealed to the same thing: States’ Rights.

We can also see a similar kind of rhetoric of States’ Rights in the opposition to the moderate attempt at health care reform over the past few years.  It’s rare in the history of the South that these concept is appealed to actually expand the rights of the majority of the people, but instead States’ Rights are often appealed to for the strengthening of the elite.

We need to be clear about the nature of celebrating the Confederacy in any way: It was a reactionary attempt to preserve slavery in the South, and its’ defeat needs to be celebrated, not its’ founding.

 

Further Reading:

150 Years Ago: Marx & Engels on the War Against Slavery

Collection of Marx and Engels writings on the Civil War

Huffington Post Article

Guardian Article

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, confederacy, Demonstration Announcements, Gulf States, Human Rights, Leftists in the U.S. South, Liberalism, slavery, Solidarity, Southern Identity, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, State's rights, U.S. Civil War, United States

Confederate anniversary no reason for celebration

By KurtFF8

This is a repost from the PSL website:

Confederate anniversary no reason for celebration
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
By: Austin Thompson

Say no to racism!

The Southern region of the United States has a rich tapestry of cultural tradition that includes contributions from Blacks, whites and Indigenous nations. Unfortunately, this collective tradition is constantly overshadowed by a perverted version of white Southern history that shackles the region’s past to the ghosts of 19th-century slaveholders.

Slavery
Slavery: the true legacy of the Confederacy

The New York Times and other sources are reporting that scores of southerners are planning to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Confederacy’s secession from the United States next year without addressing the legacy of slavery at all. The N.A.A.C.P. has already announced its intention to protest.

Earlier this year, conservative politicians like Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Bob McDonnell of Virginia supported the creation of official holidays celebrating the history of the Confederacy—11 Southern slaveholding states that seceded from the U.S. in 1860 and 1861. Naturally, African-Americans are horrified that public figures can memorialize the Confederate states, despite the hellish abuses suffered by enslaved Blacks in the antebellum South.

Racism is inseparable from Confederate history

Many well-intentioned white southerners have been bombarded with propaganda that the secession of the South was about “states’ rights” and not about slavery, but this is a deep misunderstanding of the Civil War. The principal “right” that the Confederacy defended was the right of a tiny white slaveholding class to own Black laborers as their personal property. In fact, immediately after declaring independence, the Confederacy explicitly made it illegal under their constitution to limit or prohibit slavery.

Revolutionaries recognize the right of all oppressed nations to self-determination and equality, but that does not mean support for wars for independence in every historical circumstance. Our critical position toward the Confederacy is totally justified by a Marxist analysis of the social and class composition of the Old South.

The South had an elaborate class society, held together by a racist ideology of Black inferiority. The ideology of white supremacy was so pervasive that even the writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was a proud racist and Southern slave-owner. Under this system, enslaved Africans were brutalized, sexually assaulted and exploited to fuel the birth of a productive economic system in the “New World.”

Contrary to conventional wisdom, poor whites were not equal beneficiaries of the slave system, and white skin privilege was not enough to save most from lives of squalor and hardship.

Despite propaganda in popular films like “Gone With the Wind” that Southern slave society was a “kind” and “gentle” community tied together by values and a prosperous social order, by the time the Civil War began it was an obsolete productive system defined by repression and an insatiable desire for Westward expansion into indigenous lands.

The secession of the Southern Confederacy was a failed effort by the slaveholder class to legitimize and defend their decaying social order through violence. While many white southerners are taught that the Civil War was an offensive by the North against the South, it was actually the aggressive provocations of the slaveholders to maintain their privileges and power that sparked the conflict.

Confederate defeat was a giant leap forward

Regardless of the contradictions within the Union and abolitionist movement leading up to the Civil War, the victory of rebellious slaves, northern free Blacks and abolitionists against the Southern Confederacy was a progressive moment in both American and world history. The destruction of the Confederacy set the stage for a second American revolution during the post-Civil War era, called Reconstruction.

Sadly, this potential revolution was undone by vitriolic hate and institutional racism that maintained a system of Black oppression. Elites were insulated from the threat of rebellion by white workers, by the use of racist ideology that divided the exploited classes. The 150-year celebration of Southern independence from the Union (independence for white southerners only) is more than a simple confusion of history. Reactionaries will use the anniversary to send a message that they are prepared to use violent force again to prevent any profound political or social reform by “big government.”

The celebration of the Southern Confederacy is not only insensitive to African-Americans whose ancestors were victims of slave society, but it also exhibits a callous disregard for the current confrontations of Black communities with racist institutions and discrimination. All progressive and revolutionary people should use this anniversary of the Confederacy as a moment to bring attention to the historical and on-going struggles against racism and exploitation in the South.

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