Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Labor South roundup: Hank Williams, Claude Sitton, La. & Texas oil workers win, & a Tennessee politician rants

(To the right, Hank Williams)

During my recent travels through south-central Mississippi and Alabama en route to Selma for the 50th commemoration of the 1965 march, I encountered a lot of interesting folks—writer and sociologist Al Price (also known as “Chester Rebel”) and his group of activist Tennesseans who invited us to join them in Selma (see my postings on this event) plus Terry Faust at the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Ala.

It has been a busy March with lots happening during and since that trip. Here’s a Labor South roundup of March encounters and events:

Hank would’ve wanted it this way

The South may be poor but it has always been rich with storytellers, and I met one of the best in Terry Faust at the Hank Williams Museum in downtown Montgomery, Ala. Terry is a musician and songwriter who helps out at the museum, and he’s also a special friend of the Williams family because of another job he holds: tending Hank Williams’ grave.

(Terry Faust at the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Ala.)

I bought Terry’s CD of great, personally penned tunes, Terry Faust, the Grave Tender, along with several Hank CD’s at the museum store while Terry entertained me with one story after another about the Hank legend and his own encounters with country music greats like Jamey Johnson, also from Montgomery. He told of meeting the late Little Jimmie Dickens at the Grand Ole Opry. When Little Jimmie found out Terry tended Hank’s grave in Montgomery, he put his arm around him and told him what a good thing he was doing. Then he started reminiscing about the Hank he knew more than 60 years ago. “We talked about Hank Williams two solid hours,” Terry recalled.

Speaking of Southern storytellers, was anyone better than Hank Williams himself, a working-class hero if there ever was one? Whether he was “Ramblin’ Man” Hank or his alter-ego Luke the Drifter, the country music genius won me over the first time I heard “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” way back in the 1960s. In later years, I was drawn to his lesser-known tunes like “Weary Blues From Waitin’” and “Alone & Forsaken”.
At Terry’s suggestion, my wife Suzanne and I later went and ate lunch at Chris’ Hot Dogs, a nearly 100-year-old eatery in downtown where Hank himself used to hang out. It was wonderful, and I kept an eye on the back booth, where Terry said Hank liked to sit.

Claude Sitton, the greatest of the civil rights reporters, dies in Atlanta

I was saddened to hear of the death of Claude Sitton at 89 in Atlanta during my visit to Montgomery this month. Sitton was the greatest of the civil rights-era reporters, filing dispatch after dispatch to the New York Times from the front lines across the South. It is said that Sitton and Newsweek reporter Karl Fleming created the modern-day long, thin reporter’s notebook so they could hide it in their coat pockets.

 Sitton possessed a “physical and mental toughness,” former Atlanta Journal-Constitution managing editor and author Hank Klibanoff told the Times. “He was not going to be intimidated.” Klibanoff and former Philadelphia Inquirer editor Gene Roberts authored The Race Beat, a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the journalists who covered the Civil Rights Movement.

I got first-hand experience with that “physical and mental toughness” when Sitton interviewed me for a job at the old Raleigh Times in Raleigh, North Carolina, in the late 1970s. Sitton was chief editor of the morning paper, the News & Observer. Both papers were then owned by the Daniels family. I remember sweating under those intense eyes as Sitton probed me about my views on reporting and writing. I wasn’t sure how I handled his questions, but maybe I did all right. I got the job.

Labor-Green coalition helps gain victory for striking oil workers

Striking oil workers in Louisiana, Texas, Kentucky, California and Washington scored a victory earlier this month with a tentative agreement on a contract between the United Steelworkers and Shell Oil Co., which served as representative for ExxonMobile, Chevron and other companies.

Nearly 4,000 workers began striking February 1, and they were later joined by another 3,000 at workplaces across the country to demand better working conditions, wages and benefits, and to protest the hiring of temporary workers.

Also joining the strike were environmental groups such as the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the Sierra Club, whose members expressed strong concern about the environmental impact of oil refineries lacking proper safety standards.

According to Paul Garver of Talking Union, the USW believes the tentative contract promises better safety standards and a review of workplace practices and hiring as well as wage increases.

Tennessee legislator blasts Volkswagen for its openness to unions

Tennessee politicians just can’t get over the German company Volkswagen’s willingness to allow the United Auto Workers to address worker concerns with the company’s management at its Chattanooga facility. Although an election last year failed to give the UAW official collective bargaining rights at the plant, the company has okayed the union’s unofficial presence in discussions over workplace issues.

During a recent meeting of the state Senate Commerce Committee about, among other issues, a proposed $166 million incentives package to Volkswagen, state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, whose district includes the VW plant, fired a volley of criticism at Volkswagen America general counsel David Geanacopoulos for the company’s role “as a magnet for organized labor.”

Other Tennessee politicians such as Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, both Republicans like Watson, bitterly fought the UAW in last year’s election, warning of dire consequences if the union scored a victory.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Modern-day Selma protesters decry GOP-led efforts to turn back the clock on gains from 1965 sacrifices

(To the right, civil rights researcher and protester Antoinette Harrell at last week's commemoration in Selma, Ala.)

SELMA, Ala. – The first time I visited this town more than two decades ago Joe Smitherman was still mayor and activist lawyer J.L. Chestnut Jr. was still around to remind him of the bad old days when Smitherman as mayor allowed the beating and tear-gassing of civil rights marchers on March 7, 1965.

Both Smitherman and Chestnut are gone now, but the memories of what happened 50 years ago were very much alive this past weekend as Labor South joined tens of thousands of others to commemorate the courage of those who risked their lives for the civil rights of all Americans. People also came to protest the modern-day erosion of those rights.

(The Rev. William Barber II)

The Rev. William Barber II, North Carolina NAACP president and Moral Monday movement leader, said he brought 150 people with him to the event. “We’re here to honor the memory of the sacrifice. The very things that they marched about has been gutted.”

Macye Chatman, 70, a civil rights-era veteran who spent her 20th birthday in jail in Montgomery, Ala., because of her protests at the time of the Selma march, agreed. “We are right back to where we were in 1965. We are making so many steps backward.”

(To the right, Macye Chatman)

Barber, Chatman and others are incensed at Republican-led efforts in the South and beyond to restrict voting through voter ID laws and other means, the continued assault on abortion rights, the Citizens United unleashing of uncontrolled corporate-funded political elections, police assaults on unarmed black men, and other measures that threaten to turn back the clock while giving untold power once again to a well-healed oligarchy in the region and nation.

One of the many protesters who walked Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge last weekend was researcher Antoinette Harrell of the New Orleans area, an amputee who is missing part of one leg. She came to remind people of the sacrifice of Herbert Lee, a black farmer and activist from Amite County, Miss., who was murdered in 1961 for helping civil rights leader Bob Moses with voter registration efforts. A white state representative, E.H. Hurst, shot and killed Lee during an argument at a cotton gin. When Louis Allen, a black man, later reneged on his earlier statement that Hurst had acted in self-defense, he, too, was shot and killed.

“All Herbert wanted to do was vote,” Harrell said.

Selma was the epicenter of the civil rights movement a half-century ago when law enforcement authorities mercilessly beat peaceful protesters during a March 7, 1965, march. A federally protected second march on March 25 was successful as some 25,000 marched the roughly 50 miles to Montgomery along with leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and others. The event was vividly depicted in the recent Academy Award-winning film Selma.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Selma auto parts workers protest low wages & chemical exposure as nation commemorates 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march

(The bloody police crackdown on Selma-to-Montgomery marchers on March 7, 1965)

A labor struggle is brewing in Selma, Ala., as President Obama, former presidents, Civil Rights Era-veterans, journalists (including Labor South), activists and regular folks gather there this weekend to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the bloody first march across Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Workers at the Renosol Seating plant in Selma, a supplier of the Hyundai plant in Montgomery 50 miles to the east, say their low-wage jobs have only gotten them potentially life-debilitating illnesses ranging from asthma to cancer.

“This is a big week in Selma,” said Kim King, a seating plant worker in a press release from the United Auto Workers, “but we think it’s also important to lift up the voices of those of us living and working in Selma today. … I am inspired by the history of my town leading the voter and civil rights movement. Today my co-workers and I stand as leaders in fighting for dignity at work.”

King said workers at her 90-employee factory typically earn $8 an hour and even after 10 years seniority only make as much as $12 an hour. Yet many experience “terrible breathing problems” as a result of exposure to chemicals such as toluene diisocyanate, also known as TDI, which is used in producing the foam inside car seats.

An NBC News study, conducted by Yale University’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program, showed that most employees tested by last July had been exposed to the chemical, which can cause asthma. Workers filed complaints with the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Last August OSHA announced it planned to inspect every auto parts plant across the Deep South states of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia as a result of high rates of injuries and safety issues. The inspections will take roughly a year.

According to statements by officials with the Lear Group, which owns Renosol, to Alabama Media Group blogger Erin Edgemon, the company conducted its own study and concluded the “Selma plant is safe for our employees.”

 “We know we have the power to improve pay and conditions at our workplace,” King said. “I am standing with my co-workers in Selma ready to fight.”

King is a member of Seating Workers United, an organization supported by the UAW. She and a handful of other workers at the plant hope to be able to organize into a union there to represent their interests before management.

“America needs good jobs and when we come together we have the power to make our jobs and our lives better,” says the Seating Workers United web site. “Through unity we have the power to win.”

A half century ago this Saturday (March 7), Selma became the focal point of the Civil Rights Movement as peaceful marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in a march to Montgomery and were brutally attacked by club-wielding policemen who beat marchers and sprayed them with tear gas.

A second effort--with federal protection--on March 25, 1965, was successful as Martin Luther King Jr. and others led an estimated 25,000 protesters across the bridge in the march. The Selma-to-Montgomery march became a catalyst to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

These events have been depicted in the recent Oscar-winning movie Selma.

Common, the rap artist who co-wrote the Oscar-winning song “Glory” from the movie, has been active in the labor movement and a vocal supporter of the right of workers at the giant Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., to join the UAW if they choose. The Grammy Award-winning artist performed at a sold-out concert on behalf of the Nissan workers at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., last year.

In related news, workers at the Faurecia SA automotive seating plant in Cleveland, Miss., have protested their low wages, poor working conditions, and the hiring of temporary workers at their plant. They also have expressed the desire for an election to determine whether they can join the UAW.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Jean-Philippe Tremblay's "Shadows of Liberty" exposes the corruption and failure of mainstream media

Filmmaker Jean-Philippe Tremblay knows the powerful forces aligned against democracy and a free press today, but he also knows that a revolution is underway to fight those forces.

“I think there is an uprising now,” says the maker of the amazing film documentary Shadows of Liberty, which details the dismal failure of mainstream media to live up to the legacy of Thomas Paine and other journalists who risked their lives to give people truth and freedom. “We have to react. This is a real time of change.”

A special screening of Shadows of Liberty was presented at Off-Square Books in Oxford, Miss., Saturday (Feb. 28) evening with yours truly, Joe Atkins, serving as moderator of a discussion with the audience after the screening.

The documentary features a series of stories showing how major mainstream media worked hand-in-glove with corporate America and the U.S. government to either kill or distort stories that threatened Wall Street or the military-industrial complex Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about so many years ago.

Noted activists, journalists and authors like Julian Assange, Amy Goodman, Norman Solomon, Robert McChesney, Danny Glover, Daniel Ellsberg and Chris Hedges “give insider accounts of a broken media system,” according to a press release announcing the screening. The screening was sponsored by Square Books, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Oxford, and DocFactory.

“Controversial news reports are suppressed, people are censored for speaking out, and lives are shattered as the arena for public expression is turned into a private profit zone,” the release said.

Inspired by the writings of veteran journalist Ben Bagdikian on media consolidation, Tremblay assembles a compelling narrative that includes a much-needed retelling of the story of Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News reporter who scooped the national media with his “Dark Alliance” stories in the 1990s showing how the CIA was complicit with the Nicaraguan Contras in creating the crack epidemic in the United States.

Even though a subsequent government report validated Webb’s reportage, he was viciously attacked by the mainstream media, which essentially colluded with the government to try to deny the story and ridicule Webb. Webb ultimately committed suicide.

The documentary shows how Democrat Bill Clinton worked with Republican Newt Gingrich in securing passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that handed much of the nation’s media on a silver platter to mega-corporations to consolidate and ultimately devour.

 The film issues a strong warning that the Internet with all its democratic promise faces a possible similar fate in the “Net Neutrality” debate.

A validation of Tremblay’s statement that “there is an uprising now” came just this past week as the Federal Communications Commission ruled in favor of net neutrality and put the lie to Republican opponents’ effort to brand the issue as “Obamacare for the Internet.”

The FCC ruling, which prevents major corporate providers from taking complete control of content and the cost of content on their networks, came after a strong endorsement of net neutrality by President Obama, itself a result of intense public pressure across the country against the corporate takeover. That pressure was the work of grassroots civic organizations that proved corporate lobbying doesn’t always win.

Tremblay’s documentary is in the grand tradition of the revolutionary journalism that Thomas Paine, Ida B. Wells, Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Dorothy Day, George Seldes and I.F Stone practiced. Labor South puts itself in that tradition. In fact, Shadows of Liberty makes a nice companion to the landmark 1997 documentary Tell the Truth and Run by filmmaker Rick Goldsmith about Seldes’ amazing career as a journalist and press critic.

Students in my Media Ethics course at the University of Mississippi are going to see Shadows of Liberty. It’s news worth spreading.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The novel "Casey's Last Chance" offers a hardboiled journey through a dark, treacherous U.S. South in 1960 that targeted labor organizers as well as civil rights activists

(To the right, a look at the cover of Casey's Last Chance. Eric Summers is the artist who did the cover) 

Loyal Labor South readers and followers, here’s some news that’s a bit self-serving, but I hope you’ll be happy to hear it and maybe follow up with a purchase of my newly published novel, Casey’s Last Chance (Sartoris Literary Group), under my byline Joseph B. Atkins, a book with a strong labor and civil rights theme and one that probes that U.S. South in much the same way this blog and my other, nonfiction writing have for years.

Casey’s Last Chance takes the reader on a dark, treacherous journey through the U.S. South in July 1960, a time when the region is about to explode with the civil rights movement gaining momentum and the organized resistance to it preparing for all-out war. The central character, Casey Eubanks, is a brooding, hotheaded, small-time North Carolina hustler on the run after an angry fight with his girlfriend Orella that leaves his cousin Bux Baggett dead.

A crony, Clyde Point, sets Casey up with a big operator in Memphis, Max Duren, a shadowy former Nazi with a wide financial network. Big profit comes from squeezing the working poor at his mills. Duren has a problem and needs a gunman/patsy from outside to help him solve it. The problem’s name is Ala Gadomska, a labor organizer stirring up trouble at one of Duren’s mills in northern Mississippi. He hires Casey to kill her during a rally. What follows is a long chase through a race-torn South with both goons and cops on the hunt for Casey, who has to face the man looking back at him in the rearview mirror and make some tough decisions that will determine whether he survives.

The novel’s cast of characters includes Martin Wolfe, an alcoholic freelance labor writer investigating Duren’s operation, and Hardy Beecher, a rogue FBI agent who has been hunting Duren since the Nazi was a spy during World War II.

The book is now available at bookstores here in Mississippi and also in Amazon in paperback and Kindle as well as (already or soon) at, Nook and in ebook formats at Apple and Kobo. Signings are scheduled at various bookstores in Mississippi over the next several weeks with other signings beyond the state hopefully soon to come.

The book has won praise. Veteran journalist Curtis Wilkie, author of Dixie and The Fall of the House of Zeus, said this: "Atkins establishes for himself a place in the top ranks of Southern gothic storytellers." Edgar Award-winning author Megan Abbott said the book is "pitch-perfect vintage noir" with "hardboiled grit to burn." And the publisher, James L. Dickerson said, "Author Atkins writes fiction the way Jimi Hendrix played guitar, with delicate fingering that explodes into soaring, lyrical riffs when least expected." 

If you get to read Casey’s Last Chance, please drop in a review at Amazon or another venue, and also let me know how you like it!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The UAW's hovering presence forces Nissan in Mississippi to behave better even without an election

(A pro-union rally at the Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., last June)

OXFORD, Miss. – I remember my late father, a tool and die maker, telling me with pride how the company he worked for in central North Carolina paid fair wages, offered good benefits, and treated workers with respect. “They do that to keep the union out,” he said.

As I got older and more jaded about business practices in America, I wondered, “How would Dad’s company have treated its workers if it didn’t have to worry about a union?”

Chip Wells knows the answer: Even the unofficial presence of a union and its supporters help workers long before an election is held and can force a company to act right. Without that presence, companies are free to act badly.

You may recall stories in this blog about Wells, the 44-year-old, 12-year worker at the Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., father of two, and veteran with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s also veteran of a 15-month battle with Nissan because he supports a vote to determine whether his fellow workers can join the United Auto Workers.

(The mile-long Nissan plant in Canton, Miss.)

That battle hopefully ended this month with Nissan officials agreeing to approximately $6,500 in disability and back pay for Wells, whose pro-union views were met with such hostility by managers that he had to take unpaid medical leave.  The National Labor Relations Board ruled that Nissan’s treatment of Wells constituted unfair labor practices. Still, the board did not require the company to provide compensation.

Nissan’s agreement this month to compensation payments “was the minimum they could have done,” Wells said. “I’m disappointed or mad or whatever that I had to fight just to get what I was entitled to.”

However, he said, he is satisfied with the decision. “When they saw the pastors were not going to leave me hanging … and they started getting questions from me and the outside, (Nissan) said … `We better go ahead and settle up.’”

The “pastors” are members of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), a key organization in the years-long grassroots effort to get Nissan to agree to an intimidation-free union election and to address concerns about working conditions such as a years-long drought in pay raises, arbitrary decisions on work shifts and hours, the hiring of temporary workers, workplace safety, and other issues.

MAFFAN embraced Wells’ case as a prime example of what can happen when workers have no voice inside a plant that ironically was financed in part through hundreds of millions of Mississippi taxpayer dollars.

Nissan “evidently know(s) they have been participating in some practices that violate his rights as a citizen and worker,” said the Rev. Melvin Chapman, a MAFFAN member and pastor of the Sand Hill Baptist Church in Edwards, Miss.

Here’s Nissan spokesman Justin P. Saia’s e-mailed response to the Wells case: “Nissan has a well-known process for employees to file for short-term disability, as well as a robust process for evaluating and resolving employment issues. … Nissan and the employee were able to reach a satisfactory outcome.” He declined further comment due to “privacy concerns.”

Wells isn’t the only employee at Nissan’s Canton plant whose pro-union views have gotten him into trouble. Calvin Moore, an 11-year veteran who worked in the body shop, was terminated in March 2014 for what the UAW publication Our Voices called “trumped up” and non-specific charges that really were a cover for management’s anger at Moore’s outspoken support of a union. After a campaign that included international support from as far away as Brazil and a Jackson, Miss.-area student protest, Moore was re-instated with two months back pay.

Just this week, Nissan turned down an offer by the U.S. State Department to serve as a mediator in the dispute between the company and the United Auto Workers over anti-union activity at the plant. Joining the UAW in the request for federal assistance was the IndustriALL Global Union Federation.

Nevertheless, the hovering presence of the UAW office on Nissan Parkway and the growing grassroots movement around it may have been factors in several recent actions by the giant automaker. Workers finally got a pay raise after the UAW complained that many workers had gone nearly seven years without one.

Following the UAW and MAFFAN’s longstanding complaints about the company’s growing dependency on temporary workers who receive less pay with few or no benefits, the company announced a new shortened timetable for temporary workers to be eligible for fulltime, permanent status.

The UAW and MAFFAN’s rallying cry that “Labor Rights Are Civil Rights” could also have been echoing in Nissan officials’ ears when the company announced a $500,000 education grant to predominantly black Canton and $100,000 gift to the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute.

“Ultimately, the choice on who represents employees is theirs and theirs alone,” Nissan spokesman Saia said. “Nissan respects the right of our employees to decide who should represent them.”

People like the Rev. Melvin Chapman are going to keep reminding Nissan of such claims. “We intend to keep voicing the necessary need to do the right thing. We certainly hope it is having an impact.”

A version of this column ran recently in the Jackson Free Press of Jackson, Miss.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What would Jesus the Migrant say to Mississippi politicians this year?

In her new book Jesus Was A Migrant, writer Deirdre Cornell says migration is central to “biblical spirituality” and the chosen people themselves were “displaced, uprooted, homeless” migrants. Joseph, Mary and Jesus were refugees as well as migrants when they fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s tyranny.

“Jesus belonged to a people indelibly marked by stories of Exodus and exile,” Cornell writes. “His life and ministry are framed by these narratives.”

Moses tells us in the Old Testament’s Deuteronomy our duty to migrants: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

(Giotto's depiction of the Holy Family in exile)

I’ve got a feeling that migrants are not going to be feeling the love in Mississippi in 2015. Gov. Phil Bryant is up for re-election, and that’s not good news for migrants.

After the bruising 2014 midterm elections that saw veteran U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., defeat Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel in the Republican primary, Bryant is going to have to mend some major fences for his support of Cochran. He boasted his Tea Party credentials when he got elected governor, but then when push came to shove he supported the well-oiled Country Club wing of the party.

As deeply bitter as Tea Partyers are about Big Money Republicans like Cochran and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, they may like undocumented migrant workers even less. In his role as state senator, Chris McDaniel “authored scores of anti-immigrant bills,” according to the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, which anticipates a “backlash of racist, anti-immigrant proposals (to) come through in the 2015 Legislative Session.”

Bryant built his political career in part on demonizing undocumented migrant workers. As state auditor in 2006, he issued a report claiming they cost the state millions of dollars in education, health care, and other undeserved benefits.  Yet a 2013 Immigration Policy Center study shows they also generate nearly $600 million in economic activity even though they remain excluded from most government benefits.

Last July Bryant wrote a letter to President Obama declaring his intention to “prohibit the federal government or its agents from housing large numbers of new illegal immigrants” in Mississippi. Apparently he has no problem with housing thousands of them in prison. Mississippi even has a special prison for immigrants, the for-profit, 2,500-inmate Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, one of 13 such facilities in the country.

In his response to the huge crisis of migrant children seeking shelter in the U.S. from violence and abuse in their native Honduras and El Salvador, Bryant declared he would no longer accept children in Mississippi as part of the federal Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program.

Obama told the nation in November that he would offer up to five million undocumented workers protection against deportation and a pathway to getting legal work permits, and the Republican outcry was immediate. Cochran, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and other GOP leaders in the state blasted Obama for what they considered a power play and abuse of office.

“While the president grants amnesty to countless illegal immigrants, millions of American citizens are still struggling to find work,” U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., said in a statement. “It’s time for the president to stop playing politics and instead put the American people first. I will do everything within my power to prevent this unconstitutional and unwelcomed action.”

Coming after years of congressional inaction, Obama’s executive order—and the president quoted scripture in his message to the nation--is expected to affect about 45 percent of the nation’s 11 million undocumented workers. An estimated 9,000 migrant workers in Mississippi will be eligible for protection and/or work permits under Obama’s order.

Changing demographics that include a fast-growing Latino population have national Republicans worried that the anti-immigrant politics of conservative Tea Partyers will hurt the party’s chances in future elections. Corporate-minded Republicans like Haley Barbour value the cheap labor pool migrant workers provide. However, those demographics aren’t changing fast enough in Mississippi to worry Bryant and Tea Partyers like Chris McDaniel unduly.

Too often missing in the debate are the migrants themselves. Their voices are rarely heard. Writers Russell King, John Connell and Paul White eloquently described those voices in their 1995 book Writing Across Worlds:

“The migrant voice tells us what it is like to feel a stranger and yet at home, to live simultaneously inside and outside one’s immediate situation, to be permanently on the run, to think of returning but to realize at the same time the impossibility of doing so … . It tells us what it is like to live on a frontier that cuts through your language, your religion, your culture. It tells of long-distance journeys and relocations, of losses, conflicts, powerlessness, and of infinite sadnesses that severely test the migrant’s emotional resolve.”

We should listen.