Monday, June 29, 2009

A "Labor South" Manifesto

With this "Labor South" blog I plan to put a spotlight on some of the labor activity in the U.S. South you don't read about elsewhere, always keeping it in context with what is going on nationally and internationally as well. This blog will also provide an historical and cultural (including music, literature, and art) perspective that takes into account the long, hard, and often bloody struggle workers have always had to wage whenever they tried to organize in this region.

What are my credentials for doing this? I am a veteran journalist who has written about working class people since I began my career in the mid-1970s. I worked for newspapers in North Carolina and Mississippi and I covered Congress and the South as a reporter before coming to the University of Mississippi to teach (and still practice) journalism. I am a textile worker's son who grew up in North Carolina and worked in tobacco fields and textile plants as a young man. My German mother made sure I always saw things in a broader context than my immediate surroundings, and in both of the two books I've published I try to show how the story of the South is part of a larger story vitally connected to, not separate from, the world.

My most recent book, "Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press" (University Press of Mississippi, July 2008), looks at the labor movement in the South both today and yesterday and assesses the powerful alliance of business, political, and media interests that have kept the South the nation's least unionized region. I traveled from the Carolinas to Louisiana to gather information for chapters that probe the Charleston, S.C., longshoremen's strike in 2000, the collapse of the textile industry, Wal-Mart, Latino immigration, "Detroit South", the Sunbelt South, and labor's role in the civil rights movement. The book, which includes a foreword by noted author and activist Stanley Aronowitz, also looks back to the sharecroppers' and textile workers' strikes in the 1930s and to the region's unsung labor heroes. I continue this work in the columns and articles I write (often with the byline Joe Atkins) for Mississippi's largest newspapers and other publications.

Legendary labor leader Sidney Hillman once called the Southern labor movement a "venture into unplowed fields." Yet the nation's labor movement will never reach its true potential without a harvest of those fertile fields.

A lot is happening down here that never has and never will get covered in the nation's mainstream media. It's a void too big for this little blog, but maybe this is a start.

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