Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Watching the UAW in Miss., poultry workers in Maryland, Appalachian musicians & coal miners, and Let's Call Them Working Class, Not Middle Class! Please!

Watching the UAW and Nissan in Canton, Miss.

Just finished an in-depth package of stories on the United Auto Workers and the Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., which runs in today's edition of the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Miss. The package includes a sidebar on actor Danny Glover's involvement in the UAW's push for an election at the 3,300-worker plant. This is a huge story of national--make that global--implications. Veteran labor organizers like Bruce Raynor and Richard Bensinger are also part of the action.

A version for this blog will be coming in the days ahead.

In the meantime, a quick look across the South shows there are all kinds of labor stirrings.

Workers on Maryland's Eastern Shore
I heard recently from Baltimore-based writer Bruce Vail, who publishes with the Working In These Times web magazine and other outlets. He said he's writing about Maryland's Eastern Shore and the poultry industry there. Apparently owners are trying the now-familiar game of pitting black workers against Latino workers, something we saw in the huge drive by workers at the Smithfield pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C. Those workers finally overcame such divisive tactics to win their union.

Locked-out musicians in Kentucky win the day

Ira Grupper of Labor Paeans writes that members of the Louisville Orchestra in Louisville, Ky., overcame an effort by management to "break (the) back" of Local 11-637 of The American Federation of Musicians and ended a worker lockout with a newly signed agreement.

Management at the struggling orchestra--many orchestras are struggling nowadays--had hired scabs to replace musicians after they refused what they considered to be an unacceptable contract. The musicians hung in there, however, found some political support as well as help from Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan, and eventually won the day.

Black lung cases in Appalachia on the rise

Black lung cases in the coal mining country of Appalachia are on the rise, according to a recent investigation by National Public Radio and the Center for Public Integrity. The disease rate among miners has doubled in the past decade.  Howard Berkes of NPR All Things Considered reports that worst stage cases have actually quadrupled since the 1980s in parts of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.

Why? Blame the mining industry and federal regulators who apparently look the other way rather than enforce protections. If he were alive today, United Mine Workers leader John L. Lewis would ask (no, he would demand!) to know why are we turning back the clock to the horrible conditions that existed a century ago.

We are the working class, thank you very much!

I've been harping at this issue for a long time. We need to start using the term "working class" instead of the mollifying "middle class" term that President Obama and even national labor leaders want to continue to embrace even though it's clearly an example of the kind of language that seeks to eviscerate worker solidarity.

In an essay in the Spring 2012 edition of New Labor Forum, noted labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein comes out strongly for the "working class" in an article titled "Class Unconsciousness: Stop Using `Middle Class' to Depict the Labor Movement".

Maybe labor leaders at least will hear Lichtenstein even if they refuse to hear Atkins.

"Unionists and those who advocate on their behalf need to use the kind of language whose emotive power and historic resonance match the political audacity of those who occupied both the Wisconsin statehouse and the Wall Street parks," Lichtenstein writes.

Three years ago, in a May 29, 2009, letter to Cindy Estrada of the United Auto Workers in Detroit, yours truly, Joe Atkins, wrote the following: "My suggestion is to mount a `Worker Pride' campaign that really identifies all of us as workers--`If you have a boss, you're a worker'--and not to shy away from `working class identity'. This identity today can be shared by assembly line workers and high-tech workers and educators (and journalists). Even Silicon Valley workers could be made to identify with it these days! Believe me, you're never going to get `middle-class solidarity', and I'm not sure if the middle class even exists any more."

So there! I said it again!

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