Saturday, June 26, 2010

Traveling across the South to research the rising black-brown-white worker movement

I will be traveling to North Carolina this coming week to gather research on what I see as a growing movement in the U.S. South that brings together the civil rights and labor movements on behalf of immigrant workers and others among the lowest paid workers in our global economy. Indeed, this is part of a larger movement across the Global South, something I witnessed during my recent visit to Singapore.

These issues were at the heart of the recent U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, an extension of the World Social Forum and its call for increased activism on behalf of workers around the world. The Detroit meeting included black, Latino, Asian, and white activists.

North Carolina, the nation's least unionized state despite lingering perceptions of it as the South's most progressive state, has been the site of much activity in recent years. Most recent have been actions by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and the National Farm Worker Ministry to get Winston-Salem-based tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds to put pressure on growers to provide better working and living conditions for the 30,000-strong, mostly Latino workforce in the state's tobacco fields.

The Rev. Carlton Eversley, who attended the Detroit meeting and has been active in the labor action involving R.J. Reynolds, told me today in an interview that he and other religious/labor leaders visited a labor camp for migrant workers in Wilson, N.C., in August 2009 and were shocked by what they found.

"It's almost too difficult to describe. One hundred and twenty five guys in wooden barracks, seven guys in a room, no windows, no ventilation, no linen, no bedsheets, no closets, very hot, very unsanitary, swarms of gnats. You felt like these were conditions that should not exist in our state or our country. I felt like you were leaving the United States and going to some kind of Third World situation."

His comments were particularly striking for me, having just returned from Singapore, where very similar living conditions exist for the migrant workers there (I'll have a full report on this in the near future).

In southeast Asia, workers in the auto industries in China and India are standing up for their rights, demanding better wages, working conditions and union recognition. Garment workers have organized in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Groups like the Asia Floor Wage Alliance are calling for social justice and working hard to bring a spotlight to worker conditions.

In the U.S. South, FLOC, the National Farm Worker Ministry, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Southern Faith, Labor and Community Alliance are doing similar good work.

I'll be traveling across the South in the next few days, particularly in North Carolina, to talk to workers and activists, and I'll be reporting back to this blog.


  1. Will you be coming through Greensboro by any chance? If so, I'd love to meet and talk with you if you have some time.

  2. I will be in the Winston-Salem area from Thursday, July 1, thru Saturday July 3, then traveling to the Raleigh-Durham-Sanford area Sunday, July 4, thru Tuesday, July 6. So will be in close to Greensboro. Let's try to get in touch. My cell is 662-801-8746.