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

More articles by:

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

November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
Rick Baum
While Public Education is Being Attacked: An American Federation of Teachers Petition Focuses on Maintaining a Minor Tax Break
Paul C. Bermanzohn
The As-If Society
Cole A. Turner
Go Away, Kevin Spacey
Ramzy Baroud
70 Years of Broken Promises: The Untold Story of the Partition Plan
Binoy Kampmark
A New Movement of Rights and the Right in Australia
George Ochenski
Democratic Party: Discouraged, Disgusted, Dysfunctional
Nino Pagliccia
The Governorship Elections in Venezuela: an Interview With Arnold August
Christopher Ketcham
Spanksgiving Day Poem
November 22, 2017
Jonathan Cook
Syria, ‘Experts’ and George Monbiot
William Kaufman
The Great American Sex Panic of 2017
Richard Moser
Young Patriots, Black Panthers and the Rainbow Coalition
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness
Lee Artz
Cuba Libre, 2017
Mark Weisbrot
Mass Starvation and an Unconstitutional War: US / Saudi Crimes in Yemen
Frank Stricker
Republican Tax Cuts: You’re Right, They’re Not About Economic Growth or Lifting Working-Class Incomes
Edward Hunt
Reconciling With Extremists in Afghanistan
Dave Lindorff
Remembering Media Critic Ed Herman
Nick Pemberton
What to do About Al Franken?
November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail