Thursday, October 6, 2011

Occupy Wall Street protest spreads to the South, ex-Schnucks workers get the shaft, Avondale closing worries New Orleans residents, Alabama bans "incendiary" book in prison

It's time for another Labor South roundup:

Occupy the South

The ongoing Occupy Wall Street protest in New York is spreading across the country, including the South. Activists in Memphis, Raleigh, and other Southern cities are organizing similar protests to represent the "99 percent" of the population not raking in the dough over the past several years.

In Memphis, according to a draft statement by the protesters, "workers, students, the unemployed and those on Social Security benefits"--in other words, those who are not part of the 1 percent of the nation's population that has accumulated billions as a result of America's top-down economy--will stage a protest in the city's Overton Park and join what has the potential to become a massive national movement similar to what has taken place in the Middle East over the past year.

These are people who "have not benefited from the various financial bailouts, tax breaks and other subsidies that the dominant 1 percent of the population has gained over the past years," the statement says.

In New York, police arrested some 700 protesters on Brooklyn Bridge last weekend. Mainstream media has resisted giving the protest any coverage, but it has now grown large enough and spread far enough that they can no longer ignore it.

Major labor unions have now joined the protest, providing an element that was missing in the protests of the late 1960s. Perhaps now, after four decades, students, activists and blue-collar workers can finally join together to take their stand against the plutocracy that has taken over this country.

Shafted by Schnucks

The St. Louis-based Schnucks grocery chain gave only an eight-day notice to its more than 1,000 employees in Memphis that it was selling nine stores to Kroger and closing three stores in the area.

Featured in a recent posting in this blog, Schnucks strongly resisted unionization in Memphis, and now its former workers can see how a union might have protected them from the treatment they got.

Federal regulations require a 60-day notice but waive it for companies that provide 60 days of pay and benefits instead. Schnucks employees told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, however, that company officials said they won't get the pay and benefits. The federal rules include loopholes--such as exceptions for work sites with less than 50 employees--that Schnucks may try to crawl through.

Employees said they worked hard for the company, chipping in to help it make its pledge to United Way. Now they feel discarded and disrespected.

One bright side, however, is that Kroger is unionized, and Schnucks workers who manage to land a job at one of that company's stores will find themselves better protected in the future.

Avondale blues

Plans by Huntington Ingalls Industries, formerly known as Northrop Grumman, to shut down the onetime 5,000-worker Avondale Shipyards in New Orleans are going to have a profound effect on housing values and the economy in the neighborhoods around the shipyard, residents say.

According to the AFLCIO Now blog, a recent survey showed 90 percent of area residents believe the closing could drop housing values more than 20 percent. The workforce at the shipyard has dropped from 5,000 to 3,000 as the company moves toward shutting it down. It's the kind of blow that still-fragile, post-Katrina New Orleans doesn't need.

A dangerous book in Alabama

Convicted murderer Mark Melvin, serving his 19th year in an Alabama prison for two murders he helped commit at age 14, has been denied his request for a copy of the book, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon.

According to the New York Times, Melvin claims officials at Kilby Correctional Facility near Montgomery, Ala., told him the book was "too incendiary" and "too provocative" for him to possess it.

The book, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009, deals with the notorious convict leasing system--also discussed earlier in this blog--that spread across the South after the Civil War and which allowed plantation owners once again to take advantage of free black labor.

Melvin has filed a lawsuit on the matter. He was released on parole in 2008 but then returned to prison due to what the Times called, quoting his lawyer, "a technical violation."

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