Friday, May 1, 2015

Labor South's May Day Roundup: Rosie the Riveter, building cars in Mexico on the cheap, and anti-union toxins in South Carolina

It’s May 1, the true “labor day”, St. Joseph the Worker Day, and time for another Labor South roundup with a look at the late Rosie the Riveter, the growing auto industry in Mexico, and anti-unionism in South Carolina.

Rosie the Riveter

One of my favorites in my grand collection of coffee cups is my Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It?” cup. With her red bandanna, blue work shirt, rolled-up sleeves, and balled fist, she’s always been a labor hero to me, not only a symbol of World War II-era, factory-working women but also a reminder of the wonderful legacy of women at the forefront championing working-class folks.

One of several women associated with the Rosie legend, Mary Doyle Keefe, died last week in Simsbury, Conn., at the age of 92. Keefe was the model for artist Norman Rockwell’s 1943 rendition of Rosie the Riveter, which had her in overalls with a lunch box and rivet gun close at hand, and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf under her feet.

Like another Rosie, the late Geraldine Doyle, who died at 86 in Lansing, Mich., in 2010, Keefe had never worked as a riveter. Keefe was a telephone operator when Rockwell had her pose for him. Doyle was briefly a factory worker but quit when she saw that the hard working conditions might endanger her true love, playing the cello.  It was Doyle whom artist J. Howard Miller used to create the Rosie in the “We Can Do It!” poster.

Some might say the real Rosie was Rose Will Monroe, a Kentucky native who did actually work at Ford’s Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Michigan, which was building B-29 bombers. She came along after the poster was already created, however, but was featured in a film promoting war bonds. Monroe died at the age of 77 in 1997.

They’re all heroes to me, and they’re all Rosie, one tough gal who wore a blue collar, did a good job, and was proud of her work.

Building cars in Mexico on the cheap

A recent report from the Associated Press shows Mexico in position to become the next “Detroit South” with plans by both Toyota and Ford for new plants there. Most of the 18 auto factories in Mexico were built in the past 10 years.

Mexican workers like the money. They can earn as much as $10 a day at one of the Japanese plants, or even $20 a day at Volkswagen. Those are good wages in a country with a minimum wage of $4.50 a day.

It’s going to be hard for even auto workers in low-paying states like Mississippi to compete with such miserable wages.

So what authors Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais in their classic 1955 book, Labor’s Untold Story, described as the “run-away-plant movement” continues, aided by NAFTA and its kin, and it will continue as long as workers remain unorganized on an international scale.

What’s encouraging, however, is that Mexican auto workers are raising complaints about poor working conditions such as long hours and injuries on the job. If workers like them unionize around the world, eventually the run-away plants will run out of places where they can run.

Anti-union toxins in South Carolina

Another recent Associated Press report tells of the decision by the Machinists union to forego a planned union vote last month at the Boeing plant in North Charleston, S.C.

The union released a statement describing the “toxic environment” against unions in the state. Threats and political interference are among the toxins. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has publicly urged workers at the 7,500-worker plant to oppose any unionization effort.

A “toxic environment” toward unions exists throughout the South these days with the Republican takeover of the region. Workers eventually are going to realize that the Nikki Haleys of the world don’t represent their interests. Let’s hope that realization comes sooner rather than later.

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