FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Labor’s “Southern Strategy”

by DAVID MACARAY

Not counting all the other bad things that have happened recently (e.g., Wisconsin public workers denied collective bargaining, Michigan becoming a right-to-work state, Obama’s NLRB appointees hanging in limbo, the Democrats’ betrayal of EFCA legislation, etc.), two ambitious AFL-CIO endeavors have failed spectacularly:  Organizing Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and gaining a significant foothold in the Deep South.

As for attempting to penetrate Wal-Mart, the House of Labor deserves credit.  Even though they failed to organize even one of the company’s nearly 4,000 U.S. stores (with 1.3 million employees), they should be applauded for having taken on what they knew would be a monumental task.  Besides the tens of thousands of man-hours dedicated to the organizing drive, the AFL-CIO was rumored to have spent a whopping $40 million on the effort.

Consider the challenge they faced.  In order to get a majority of hourly Wal-Marters to vote to join the union, the AFL-CIO had to suppress two formidable employee fears:  The fear of being fired if the company got wind you were interested in joining up, and the fear of being absorbed by a group of corrupt, money-grubbing Communist thugs, which is more or less how Wal-Mart’s propaganda machine portrays labor unions.

Which brings us to the American South.  With all the Rust Belt and foreign industry relocating to the South (there are approximately forty automobile plants—including parts and assembly facilities—already in Dixie), it made absolute sense for unions to make a serious run at them.  Alas, organized labor has had little success in getting workers in the Deep South to join up.

You hear lots of reasons for it.  Some say it’s old-fashioned Republican politics.  Others say it’s the “Wal-Mart syndrome,” a case of working folks simply falling for the loathsome propaganda.  Others say it goes all the way back to the Civil War, where you had the Union vs. the Confederacy, arguing that the word “union” still has a decidedly negative connotation.

Accordingly, when you approach someone and ask if they’d like to “join the union,” you are, in a sense, asking them to commit treason….asking them, symbolically, to join Sherman in his march through Georgia.  That may be a dumb theory, but I’ve heard dumber.  In any event, you have working people down there who’d rather walk around with four teeth in their mouth than belong to a union dental plan.

Southern workers may be stubbornly proud and hard-headed, but they’re not stupid.  If you could somehow demonstrate to them that unions provide undeniable on-the-job benefits and advantages, they would jump on board in an instant.  And that’s what labor unions need to do:  Demonstrate their good side.

Twenty years ago, the labor writer Tom Geoghegan suggested that organized labor move their headquarters from Washington D.C. and relocate to the South, set up shop in cities like Atlanta, Memphis, and Montgomery.  You hire local people to work in your offices, give them union pay and union medical benefits, and let word-of-mouth do the rest.  Think of the Teamsters relocating to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  What a public relations coup that would be!

Inspired by Geoghegan’s idea, here are some other things unions could do to gain a foothold in the South.  One thing the AFL-CIO has plenty of is money; they can afford it.

Go to every high school that’s in need of new football uniforms, and offer to pay for them.  Do the same with band uniforms and instruments.  Offer to donate money to buy new school office equipment.  Make sure they know who’s supplying the cash.  Make sure they know it’s the Teamsters or the Longshoremen (ILWU) or the Carpenters.

Go to as many rural high schools as possible and set up scholarships in the name of the union.  They don’t have to be thousands of dollars each; they can be a few hundred dollars.  But offer as many as possible, because every scholarship, no matter what its value, is going to make the recipient feel terrific.  The USW (Steelworkers) could set up something like the “High School Steel Boy or Steel Girl of the Year.”

Sponsor Labor Day picnics and barbeques.  Pay for all the food and beverages.  Pay for entertainment and things for the kids to do.  Do the same on the Fourth of July.  Make your union’s presence known by showing the community your good side.  Undoubtedly, some will see this as trying to “buy” their goodwill.  Fine, let them think that.  But keep doing it.  Don’t let up, because you have a great deal to offer.  Pretty soon they’ll come around.

Finally, hire a big-name professional driver and sponsor a NASCAR entry.  Call the car the “Proletariat Special” (I’m joking).  But I’m serious about getting involved with NASCAR.  It can be done.  It’s all about high visibility and altering long-standing perceptions.  Without that—without changing perceptions—unions have practically no chance whatever of making headway in the South.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor” 2nd edition), was a former union rep.  Dmacaray@earthlink.net

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
Josh Hoxie
Why Health Care Repeal is a Stealth Tax Break for Millionaires
Kim C. Domenico
It’s High Time for a Politics of Desire
Shamus Cooke
Inauguration Day and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
More and More Lousy
David Swanson
Samantha Power Can See Russia from Her Padded Cell
Kevin Carson
Right to Work and the Apartheid State
Malaika H. Kambon
Resisting the Lynching of Haitian Liberty!
January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail