• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Why the American South Opposes Labor Unions

In the mid-1980s, I began investigating why the 13 original Confederate states (whose standard of living was uniformly poor) remain so stubbornly and vehemently anti-union. Given the undeniable historical contributions that organized labor has made to the Working Class (a quaint term that has become largely irrelevant), this palpable hostility makes little sense.

Yes, even though the South has the lowest union density in the country, a handful of union facilities do exist in Dixie. That’s a fact. And yes, there have been a few close-calls (“respectable defeats,” as the AFL-CIO prefers to label them) for big-time American unions seeking certification, most recently the UAW’s attempt at organizing a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, which was narrowly defeated. But by and large the South remains a bastion of anti-unionism.

Apparently, the majority of Southern folk would rather remain underpaid, under-benefitted, and marginalized than be represented by a labor union. It’s stunning really. Incredibly, some of these good people would rather go through life with a total of eleven teeth in their head than partake of a union dental plan. Don’t laugh. I’ve met these people. Bad teeth is a badge of honor for them.

As part of my investigation, I interviewed dozens of transplanted Southern employees (both hourly and salaried), spoke to academics (sociologists and economists), AFL-CIO professionals, a former U.S. Cabinet member (Robert Reich, Clinton’s Secretary of Labor), the vice-president of a paperworkers union in Memphis, a Teamster organizer, an SEIU organizer, and an HR manager of a Fortune 500 facility located in South Carolina.

The question I posed to each of them was simple and direct: Why does the South hate labor unions? Oddly, several people initially balked at the word “hate,” believing it to be too demeaning. Because our mothers raised us not to “hate” anyone, we’re uncomfortable with that word. Only after I directed them to a dictionary and they saw that “hate” was defined as “an intense dislike” were they willing to proceed.

Their responses boiled down to three explanations, two of which were rational enough to make sense, and one of which, while understandable, seemed a bit farfetched. Let’s get the farfetched explanation out of the way first.

Because the South is inordinately proud of its unique “rebel” history, and because it was the Union that humiliated the Confederacy, and the Union army that invaded their homeland, and Union troops who murdered their best young men, and Union soldiers who raped their fairest women, there’s no way in hell they’re going embrace anything called a “union.” It’s a matter of semantics. Farfetched or not, this was one reason I was given.

The other two explanations were more compelling.

(1) Pride. I was told that because Southerners so admire self-reliance, resourcefulness, individuality, and the old-fashioned virtue of not asking for anyone’s help, they tend to despise all forms of collectivism (except that which is associated with churches). In short, they view unions as a form of communism or socialism or, at the very least, a shameful and debilitating form of welfare.

One could almost respect that point of view if it weren’t for the fact that the South—both rural and urban—relies on the largess of the federal government just as much (or more) than any other region of the country. “Self-reliant” or not, yank them away from the government teat, and they would starve.

(2) Race. Although Dixie likes to remind us that, in regard to race relations, they have improved dramatically, they still have a ways to go. Even though it is no longer a criminal offense for a black man or woman to place their African lips on a drinking fountain that is used by white people, the South still has a ways to go.

Consider: The single most repellant thing about union jobs is their equality. Unions mandate equal pay for equal work. Whether man or woman, black or white. And despite the obvious improvements in their civil rights record, it goes without saying that that whole “equality” issue is still a problem for Johnny Reb.

The way many white Southerners view it, if labor unions insist that a white man can’t make a higher wage than a black man doing the same job, then why have a union? After all, if being white no longer makes you superior to black people, what the hell’s the point?

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
May 24, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire
Melvin Goodman
The Dangerous Demise of Disarmament
Jeffrey St. Clair
“The Army Ain’t No Place for a Black Man:” How the Wolf Got Caged
Richard Moser
War is War on Mother Earth
Andrew Levine
The (Small-d) Democrat’s Dilemma
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Way: Blaming Dead Pilots
Rev. William Alberts
Gaslighters of God
Phyllis Bennis
The Amputation Crisis in Gaza: a US-Funded Atrocity
David Rosen
21st Century Conglomerate Trusts 
Jonathan Latham
As a GMO Stunt, Professor Tasted a Pesticide and Gave It to Students
Binoy Kampmark
The Espionage Act and Julian Assange
Kathy Deacon
Liberals Fall Into Line: a Recurring Phenomenon
Jill Richardson
The Disparity Behind Anti-Abortion Laws
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Chelsea Manning is Showing Us What Real Resistance Looks Like
Zhivko Illeieff
Russiagate and the Dry Rot in American Journalism
Norman Solomon
Will Biden’s Dog Whistles for Racism Catch Up with Him?
Yanis Varoufakis
The Left Refuses to Get Its Act Together in the Face of Neofascism
Lawrence Davidson
Senator Schumer’s Divine Mission
Thomas Knapp
War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea
Renee Parsons
Dump Bolton before He Starts the Next War
Yves Engler
Canada’s Meddling in Venezuela
Katie Singer
Controlling 5G: A Course in Obstacles
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Beauty of Trees
Jesse Jackson
Extremist Laws, Like Alabama’s, Will Hit Poor Women the Hardest
Andrew Bacevich
The “Forever Wars” Enshrined
Ron Jacobs
Another One Moves On: Roz Payne, Presente!
Christopher Brauchli
The Offal Office
Daniel Falcone
Where the ‘Democratic Left’ Goes to Die: Staten Island NYC and the Forgotten Primaries   
Julia Paley
Life After Deportation
Sarah Anderson
America Needs a Long-Term Care Program for Seniors
Seiji Yamada – John Witeck
Stop U.S. Funding for Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines
Shane Doyle, A.J. Not Afraid and Adrian Bird, Jr.
The Crazy Mountains Deserve Preservation
Charlie Nash
Will Generation Z Introduce a Wizard Renaissance?
Ron Ridenour
Denmark Peace-Justice Conference Based on Activism in Many Countries
Douglas Bevington
Why California’s Costly (and Destructive) Logging Plan for Wildfires Will Fail
Gary Leupp
“Escalating Tensions” with Iran
Jonathan Power
Making the World More Equal
Cesar Chelala
The Social Burden of Depression in Japan
Stephen Cooper
Imbibe Culture and Consciousness with Cocoa Tea (The Interview)
Stacy Bannerman
End This Hidden Threat to Military Families
Kevin Basl
Time to Rethink That POW/MIA Flag
Nicky Reid
Pledging Allegiance to the Divided States of America
Louis Proyect
A Second Look at Neflix
Martin Billheimer
Closed Shave: T. O. Bobe, the Girl and Curl
David Yearsley
Hard Bop and Bezos’ Balls
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail