Category Archives: workers

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

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

Alabama surpasses Arizona with racist anti-immigrant law

by KurtFF8

Alabama recently passed a new anti-immigrant law that many have described as “more harsh” than the controversial anti-immigrant law in Arizona that essentially promotes racial profiling (this argument is focused on the fact that folks can be questioned for being “suspected of” being an undocumented worker).  Georgia recently passed a similar law, making the South the center of the immigration debate.

As usual, both sides of the “mainstream” debate fall short of getting to the real issues at heart: the real manifestations of racism, and international labor relations (see NAFTA as an important variable to immigration itself).  Even the “liberal” arguments against these laws are full of sentiments like “well immigrants do the jobs no one else wants to do for that price.”  This line of logic is just as problematic as the more “overtly racist” arguments by the far-Right, in that the “servant class” role for undocumented workers is seen as justified or not problematic itself.

Florida also recently attempted to pass a similar law, but the state legislature as not unified and faced a strong activist response (with the Florida Capitol looking a lot like the halls of the Wisconsin Capitol for a few days).

These laws need to be fought with a mass movement based on solidarity and workers power.

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Filed under Alabama, class struggle, Florida, Georgia, Human Rights, immigration, Leftists in the U.S. South, racism, Southern United States, Tallahassee, workers

Untold story of U.S. slave rebellion retold centuries later

[This article originally appeared on thestar.com]

By Mitch Potter Washington Bureau

DESTREHAN PLANTATION, LA.—A long-lost chapter in American history is being written anew today, as southerners begin to come to terms with the previously untold story of the continent’s largest slave revolt.

And while historians today debate the details, a consensus is forming around just how close New Orleans came to becoming a free black colony precisely 200 years ago when a makeshift army of some 500 slaves, some just a few years out of Africa, rose up in carefully calculated unison with epic consequences.

Here at the pastoral Destrehan Plantation, the aftermath of the January 1811, insurrection was especially brutal — newly unearthed colonial records show the estate was the epicentre for a judicial reckoning, with the white slaveholders ordering as many as 100 ringleaders shot or hanged.

They black rebel leaders then were decapitated, with their heads mounted on stakes in a horrific necklace of retribution stretching 70 kms down the Mississippi, all the way to the gates of what was then America’s most crucial frontier city.“It is one of the most striking moments of amnesia in our national history. What you had in the end were plantation owners sitting down to sumptuous five-course meals as they looked out the window at their own beheaded slaves,” said historian Daniel Rasmussen, who began his investigation as an undergraduate student at Harvard.

“The planters were outnumbered and terrified. They thought of their slaves as sub-human they saw ritual beheading as a prime way to get their message across.

“And what followed this gruesome display was a concerted attempt to write it out of the history books. The southern newspapers suppressed the story, either refusing to publish or delaying for months. Only a few papers much further north published small paragraphs condemning the savagery of the planters.”

Tulane University, the African American Museum in Treme and Destrehan Plantation all are filling in the blanks with the launch of a yearlong look at the 1811 uprising.

But it is Rasmussen’s riveting new book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt, that is turning the most heads, in academia and beyond.

Collating clues from dust-encrusted plantation ledgers, colonial court records, obscure snippets of antebellum correspondence and the oral memory of slave descendents, Rasmussen’s study recreates the intense planning and careful timing that underpinned the audacious bid for freedom involving slaves from a dozen plantations along the river.

Two Asante warriors, Kook and Quamana, likely battle-hardened from wars in Africa, conspired with Charles Deslondes, a mulatto slave-driver of mixed parentage, who Rasmussen describes as “the ultimate sleeper cell.”

All had, in one way or another, been “sold down the river” — a cliché that first conceived to describe the especially horrific nature of slavery at southernmost end of the Mississippi, where extreme violence underpinned the extreme wealth of the lucrative French sugar plantations.

Spiked collars were the norm for the uncooperative — the spikes pointing inward to prevent sleep. Deslondes, working on behalf of his plantation owner, was responsible for administering punishment, including the lash for those who would dare refuse the backbreaking labours of harvesting, beating, boiling and refining the sugar cane.

Haiti was also a factor. The slave revolution of 1791 was, in its own way, a shot heard round the slave world, as French colonial refugees and their slaves washed into New Orleans. It remains unclear whether Deslondes came from Haiti.

Louisiana was vital American territory 200 years ago, but just barely — Napoleon had sold France’s claim to the vast Mississippi watershed to the United States a few years earlier for a paltry $15 million, a gift that would ultimately open the drive to the Pacific. But Louisiana’s French colonial class had nothing but contempt for its new American overseers, who were in January 1811, preoccupied in battles with the Spanish to secure a tract of west Florida. New Orleans was nearly defenceless.

“The attack came at just the right moment — the Americans were fighting the Spanish and with the harvest completed, the French planters were focused on the month-long series of lavish carnival balls and all-night parties leading up to Mardi Gras. And several days of steady rains had turned the road to mud, impeding any counterattack. Their guard was down,” Rasmussen said in an interview with the Toronto Star.

“Scarcely a resident in New Orleans had a musket. The city had a weak detachment of 68 troops.”

The rebels rose first at André Plantation after sunset on Jan. 8, 1811. And within hours, they were on the march to New Orleans. A ragtag army, perhaps, but one that marched in uniform, having seized militia clothing and weapons from plantation armories. Their numbers grew as the march advanced and as rumor of the uprising swept down the river road, the ruling class fled for the safety of the city.

“The planters couldn’t understand it — the idea that the slaves were not just savages, but that this was something planned. You had an army marching in military formation, wearing military uniforms, carrying flags and banners and chanting, “Freedom or death,” said Rasmussen.

New Orleans was on the edge of chaos — not least because its own population was 75 per cent black, awakening the fears of a second front rising up within the town itself. The city would order its taverns closed, imposed a curfew on all black males and summoned able-bodied whites to arms. Simultaneously, fleeing French planters regrouped on the West Bank of the Miscopy upstream from the city.

The two forces, American regulars and French planter militia, ultimately were able to confront the freedom fighters from both sides in a series of pitched battles beyond the city gates in the days that followed. Surviving slaves fled to the swamps and manhunts ensued, with dozens rounded up for the rough justice to come.

In the end, 21 slaves were interviewed by their colonial overseers in a bid to piece together the roots of the conspiracy and assign criminal blame. Elements of the story, says Rasmussen, survive in the oral histories of slave descendents, passed down and told “even to the present day at family reunions.” But the main snippets are to be found, refracted through the writings of the white ruling class, which show extent of fears never before told.

“They were sitting on a powder keg and when it exploded and was put down, everything changed. Instead of a mini-Haiti, Louisiana society became militarized. The revolt pushed this old aristocratic society into the hands of the American government,” said Rasmussen.

“What you see is that the foundations of American power in this part of the deep South were built upon the commitment to restore and uphold slavery. Essentially, the French planters decided to cling to the United States as an ark of safety.”

As for Kook, Quamana, and Charles Deslondes, only now are historians weighing how to elevate them alongside the likes of far better known revolutionaries like Nat Turner and John Brown as major figures in the American struggle for emancipation.

“None of this has ever been taught in American schools and the hope now is that these men who were executed for the strongest ideals will take their rightful place in history,” said Rasmussen.

“They were political revolutionaries, they deserve a place in the national memory and there is a sense now that they are getting it. We need to wrestle with this history if we are ever to truly understand it.”

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, Gulf States, Louisiana, New Orleans, Race, racism, slavery, workers

Workers and Students in North Carolina, Virginia and Throughout the South: Follow the Lead of Wisconsin Workers and Students!

Posted by hastenawait, taken from Fight Back! News

Analysis by Saladin Muhammad |
February 17, 2011
Read more articles in

Resistance in the U.S. to attacks on the public sector is growing.  Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is unleashing a major assault, seeking to take away collective bargaining rights from state and possibly all public sector workers, including threatening to call out the National Guard against worker resistance.

The labor movement and the students are fighting back.  Labor, including public and private sector unions held a rally in Madison at the State Capital, turning out 30,000 people, demanding that the Governor’s bill be defeated.

High school students throughout Wisconsin walked out of their schools to protest against this attack, which also affects their teachers and education. The Madison School Superintendent was forced to close the schools on Tuesday after 40 percent out of 2,600 members of the teachers union called in sick. The students see their actions as part of the growing struggles for people’s democracy that took center stage by the mass actions of the youth and workers in Tunisia and Egypt.  

The U.S. South is been a bastion of right-to-work laws, denying public sector workers the right to collective bargaining.  Dr. Martin L. Kings lost his life supporting the struggle of the Memphis, Tennessee sanitation workers who were fighting for this right, which he saw as a next phase of the Civil Rights struggle.

North Carolina and Virginia have specific laws making it illegal for workers and state and local governments to bargain for union contracts. Most of these laws were enacted during the period of Jim Crow, when Blacks were denied the right to vote and had no representatives in Southern state legislatures. When the state and local governments deny their own workers this basic right, it sends a message to all workers in the region, that the governments are hostile to unions.  

The lack of a concerted movement to organize public sector workers throughout the South based on a program that includes winning collective bargaining rights, has been a major factor weakening the few efforts to organize unions in the South.  

The major restructuring of the core industries of the U.S. economy over the past 30 years, resulted in shifting more than 1/3 of the auto industry and other formerly unionized manufacturing to the South. There are more union members in the state of New York, than in all of the 11 Southern states combined.

The largely un-unionized South has undermined labor’s strength as a national movement.  Organizing labor in the South must be addressed, if the U.S. labor movement is to survive and be a powerful force for workers in the U.S. and global economy.  

The economic crisis is increasing the competition between the states for industries and investments, in their efforts at economic recovery.  The unionized states outside of the South, in their efforts to shift more public resources to private corporations through privatizations, tax breaks and major incentives, are sharpening their attacks on public sector unions to compete with the Southern states and low wage labor internationally. Attempts to roll back collective bargaining are now occurring in Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota, as well as Wisconsin. Right to work bills are pending in about a dozen Northern states. Public service jobs, wages and benefits are under attack just about everywhere.

National resistance to the attacks on public sector, must therefore link the struggles against attacks to eliminate existing public sector rights to collective bargaining, with the struggles of public sector workers concentrated in the South, who are denied this right.

The NC Public Service Workers Union UE-Local 150 has been in the forefront of the movement to repeal the ban on collective bargaining rights for public sector workers in North Carolina. Through its International Worker Justice Campaign, it has won a ruling from the International Labor Organization finding the U.S. and North Carolina out of compliance with international laws.

In addition to fighting for collective bargaining rights, UE150 is initiating campaigns for legislative and local government workers bill of rights, pressing to make the terms and conditions of public sector workers a part of the political agendas.

Public sector workers and unions throughout the South must form a Southern Alliance for Collective Bargaining Rights, to launch a region-wide movement.  The South must become a strategic battleground for the U.S. and international labor movement, demanding that the U.S. and the South comply with international human rights standards.

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Filed under class struggle, Human Rights, labor movement, labor unions, Middle East, North Carolina, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, United States, Virginia, workers

This is My Life… Where is Our Future?

[Originally posted to kasamaproject.org]

by Rosa Harris

Rosa Harris, photo: Monte

I live confined to this housing project, surrounded by bone-hard poverty and everything it brings with it.

If our car is broken, we are literally pinned down. We can’t get out – not to doctors, not to meet political comrades.

But there is something deeper about the hole we are trapped in… My son thinks of little other than getting out. And he isn’t thinking so much about getting “the people” out – but of getting away from the people.

My mind has always dreamed of a better world,  but my daily experience  is here, in a place where you just can’t romanticize “the oppressed.” Up close, people are often caught up in some terrible stuff. It’s not just the capitalists  who live in a dog-eat-dog world, it’s us too. The dominant ideas of an epoch become dominant ideas among the people themselves.

I’m not going to apologize again for my  moods and my conflicted thoughts — even though I feel I need to. The other day something happened that made me feel very ashamed and hurt.

Mary, one of my few friends here in this project is a crack user. Her daughter is a prostitute. And her son recently got out of prison.

I’ve never understood completely what the word “lumpen” means in our communist language – but these are part of a broken section of the people. Desperate. And at times, using each other… badly. And yet, she is one of my only friends here. And what does that say about me, and my life?

I should tell the whole story I suppose. I know you won’t blame me.

Mary brought her son by. To meet me, she said.

My boy friend was getting ready to take me to the store and we were practically out the door. I walked into the kitchen and Mary handed me a  sack in each hand – each small, wrapped in cellophane. I looked at what they were and tried to put them back into her hands. She kept pressing them toward me.

I don’t know why she was trying to hand them to me in the first place. I could tell she was cracked out. Was she wanting to hide it in my place?

I said “I got to go to the bathroom” – just to get out of the situation.

I didn’t want to out to my boyfriend that they had brought this shit into our apartment. We don’t use it. We don’t want it around. And he doesn’t want me hanging with Mary.  I’m always covering for my friend when she does stupid stuff like that when she’s cracking out on me. Mary had stolen my laptop once – which is one of the few things of value I own– my connection to the world. But then we got it back afterwards.

I went to the store, came back and went to her place to let her know that this had not been ok..

Her son and daughter showed up and confronted me. They said they wanted “their money.” Even though I don’t use that shit, even though I was angry they had brought it over, even though I hadn’t bought anything. He was threatening me. And made me go to the ATM with them. They were desperate for quick cash, and the whole thing was an excuse. It was theft.

I’ve known the daughter for a long time, and she never treated me this way before. My friend Mary watched this, saying nothing. She didn’t stand up for me, or call him off. I couldn’t believe this was happening. It felt like being raped  — like I’m watching myself and my life, and my pain happening outside me — powerless.

I feel like an idiot for not just outing them in front of my boy friend – cuz it meant he was not there standing with me. I feel like an idiot for staying friends with them even though they had hurt me before.  But I’m just so alone at times.

But suddenly I was “going” with them to the ATM, and giving them all my remaining money – a few hundred dollars. Everything.

I need people, and these women were among my the only friends – and yet  they turned on me, and ripped me off. Something that happens every day here, among the people.

It is so hard and desperate here. My kid gets threatened and arrives home breathing hard. He talks of things he’s seen, and things he fears. He thinks of arming himself (which terrifies me) or simply act invisible… or somehow getting out.

It took me a few days to even tell my boy friend because I was afraid of what he would say. He turned out to be very understanding, but still said “You shouldn’t hang out with people like that” — which puts blame on me again.

I have the horrible feeling I should be blamed. Now I am also out a friend and my money. But don’t we also lose our hope — piece by piece?

And part of me knows, of course, where the blame belongs. There is a system that put us here. There is a hopelessness we are all injected with. There are circuits of empire that bring the drugs here, and run the prisons (which are just training camps for brutalization and mutual torture).

But often that system feels far away. And that blame feels very abstract. And our immediate oppressors are so often each other… as we claw each other, and brutalize each other in our despair and madness.

I even wonder why I use “we” here. I don’t claw anyone. I don’t brutalize anyone. We divide up, don’t we, once again, into victims, abusers and indifferent observers. We live in a time when, here a least, there is so little solidarity or glimpse of a bigger picture. Here  people are often broken, and it is hard to imagine where the unity or vision could come for changing anything.

My son said “The people here are so fucked up, they don’t deserve communism and would mess it up if they had it.”

I don’t believe that, of course. I never have. But I just want to share, honestly, how from here everything just feels so bleak sometimes. How do we show up here, as communists, and change people’s choice, and change the people themselves?

Are these really the people that can become the rulers of society? And how do we help that happen?

This has been a hard moment, and right now the whole world seems dark to me. And, the money thing really bothers me. I’m lucky its December – the food pantries give away a lot of food during the holidays.

And I have you, my comrades, around the world: I have your ear, and I have whatever we manage to create together.

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Filed under class struggle, Communism, Gulf States, housing, Public housing, Southern Identity, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, The Left, Theory, Uncategorized, United States, Women, workers

No Demolition! Hands Off Iberville! (New Orleans)

David Gilmore, the federally-imposed-administrator of the Housing Authority of New Orleans, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu, want to make life even more miserable for working class New Orleanians by demolishing the Iberville Public Housing development. To add insult to injury they have given the contract to greedy developer Pres Kabacoff, who drove hundreds of poor families from St. Thomas and still, a decade later, has not built the 100 off site apartment he promised.  But, to carry out their crime, HANO, Landrieu, and Kabacoff need a multi-million dollar grant from the Department of Housing Urban Development. Join us Saturday, December 18 as we demand:

·         No to a HUD Choice Neighborhood grant to demolish Iberville

·         Yes to a massive public works program to rebuild Public Housing, Schools, Hospitals and Infrastructure

Press Conference, Rally and March

Saturday, December 18

12 Noon

Meet on neutral ground, corner of St Louis and Basin St.

Sponsor: Hands Off Iberville.  For more information call 504-520-9521

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Filed under African Americans, austerity measures, budget cuts, class struggle, Demonstration Announcements, Event Announcement, Gulf States, housing, Human Rights, Louisiana, National Oppression, New Orleans, Public housing, Race, Solidarity, Southern United States, Uncategorized, United States, Upcoming Events, workers