Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Holy Family: Migrants in a hostile land

(To the left is "The Flight Into Egypt" by the 14th century Italian painter Giotto)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the followers and readers of this blog! Below is a column I wrote for Christmas 2010. It still is timely, however, because sadly the issues have not changed. Today is also the anniversary of the death of St. Frances Cabrini, the Patroness of Immigrants. Best wishes to all!

They were descendants of immigrants who themselves became immigrants.

Soon after the baby arrived, a dream came to the father that the little family would have to leave their homeland if they were to survive. Even the life of an innocent child was in danger in their homeland.

So the three of them—father, mother and child—left their tiny village and embarked on a treacherous journey through the desert wilderness. They were very poor and had little more than the clothes on their backs.

They traveled by day and by night, ever fearful they might be captured or attacked, until they finally crossed the border. They brought no documentation with them, only their humility and the father’s willingness to work hard to support his family.

He was a trained craftsman, good with his hands, and his work was valued even if he was paid so little he could never hope to rise out of his poverty. With his teenage wife tending to their baby, he went out among the people to earn bread and shelter for them.

He heard the whisperings among those in this new land. They called him and his family foreigners, outsiders, and even illegal aliens, as if they had come from the moon and their very existence was something less than human, a violation of not only the law of the land but also God’s law.

“They’re just here to take our jobs, to feed, house, and clothe themselves at our expense,” he heard one of them say.

“They don’t even take the time to learn our language,” said another.

“Why are they even here? Is their own country not good enough for them? Perhaps they’re spies,” said yet another.

“The way people like these spawn they’ll soon be everywhere, expecting their new offspring to be treated equally just because they were born here, like so many little anchors for their illegal parents. Anchor babies, that’s what they’ll be.”

Some of these whisperings came from the very people who benefited from his labors. They would say these things as soon as they walked away from the worksite and rejoined their neighbors and friends. Local leaders heard the comments, too, and saw an advantage in such fears, prejudice, and suspicions. So they began to talk among the crowds and, being leaders, talked loudest of all, loud enough for everyone to hear.

Even the priests joined the chorus, invoking God’s judgment from their pulpits, condemning the strangers for breaking the law and taking advantage of people’s hospitality.

The father and mother, already homesick, longed for their faraway families and friends. They knew many did not welcome them in this strange land, but they also feared for their child’s life if they returned home. Did their little child have any idea of all the troubles that surrounded them?

The father remembered how his ancestors had been immigrants to this very land many generations before and had prospered here, but then a new leader had turned them into slaves and they had left. Now he and his wife and child had returned because their own land had become hostile. When would it all end? Where was there a refuge?

Eventually the father, whose namesake had been a dreamer and an interpreter of dreams, had yet another dream, and this one told him the time had come to return home. So he and his wife packed their belongings, wrapped up their child to keep it warm, and journeyed back to their homeland. They had to be careful. Dangers still lurked, but at least they were home.

And back in the strange land where they had sought refuge, some indeed missed them. “He did good work,” one said. “You know, they never really bothered anyone,” another said.

But these voices were quickly drowned out by the leaders and their priests who cried “Good riddance!” and then looked for others to condemn.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The U.S. Gulag: Incarceration and the "immorality" of private prisons

(To the right is a 1911 photograph of prisoners at Mississippi's state penitentiary in Parchman)

JACKSON, Miss. - Mariachi guitarist Johnny Mora’s bout with drugs was years in his past, but the legacy of jail time it led to is as much a companion as his guitar when he travels to perform in clubs and restaurants around Mississippi.

“I was afflicted, and by the grace of God I am here today,” Mora said at the recent “Crimmigration: The Tragic Consequences of U.S. Drug Policies on Families and Youth” conference in Jackson sponsored by the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance and Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “It wasn’t because of the jail system.”

Mora was one of several speakers who talked of a painful past that included incarceration in what has become the world’s largest gulag: the U.S. prison system, which holds 25 percent of all prisoners around the globe. After losing his insurance business in California, Mora turned to music and moved to Mississippi to find work.

Kevin Elders is another Mississippian with a jail record because of a past drug conviction. “It was difficult for me to get a job,” said Elders, son of former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders. “So many doors slammed in my face.”

An estimated 65 million people in this country have a criminal record, more than one out of every four adult Americans. One out of every three black males now in their early teens will spend time in jail, according to the Justice Department. For Latino males, it’s one of out of every five.

Not even Cuba, China or Russia put as many people behind bars as the United States.

Mora picked one of the worst states in the country for a man with a record to start a new life. Mississippi ranks second in the nation in incarceration—behind Louisiana, a state once described in the New York Times as “the world’s prison capital”—with more than 26,000 inmates behind bars or in custody at a cost of $339 million to taxpayers.

Fueling incarceration rates in Mississippi and around the country is the private prison industry—an “immorality” in the words of Father Jeremy Tobin, a Catholic priest who gave the invocation at the “Crimmigration” conference. Close to 50 percent of all immigrant inmates are in for-profit prisons or facilities. The nation’s two largest private detention companies—Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group—spent $25 million lobbying politicians and contributing to their campaigns over the past decade.

“They want to keep an indentured class,” Tobin said. “This country was built on slavery. They (immigrants) were asked to come and do the jobs nobody wanted to do, and they came and did it, and now we want to screw them. Think of all the African Americans out there who can’t vote (because of criminal records).”

For a state with as ugly a record on criminalization and racial prejudice as Mississippi, you’d think political leaders would think twice before turning to profiteering private companies with a vested interest in crime and punishment to handle what is morally a state responsibility.

Yet their failure is why the Mississippi prison system today is as bad as it was a century ago when racist demagogue Gov. James K. Vardaman got so frustrated he compared it to the Spanish Inquisition.

Here are a few examples:

- Last June, the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center called conditions at the privately run East Mississippi Correctional Facility “barbaric and horrific” and in a class action lawsuit spoke of rat-infested cells and feces-and-urine-covered floors.

- In May of this year, Mother Jones magazine listed the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Leake County, when run by the GEO Group, as one of “America’s 10 Worst Prisons,” a “cesspool” in the words of a federal judge where young children were subjected to sexual abuse and solitary confinement for long periods of time.

- In late July 2012, a riot broke out in the Hinds County Detention Center after an inmate protested his 11 months behind bars without an indictment on a marijuana possession charge.

- In May 2012, the undocumented migrant workers imprisoned in the privately run Adams County Correctional Facility got so sick and tired of conditions that they rioted, leaving one guard dead and 19 injured.

- Two years ago, the state Penitentiary at Parchman shut down its Unit 32, which housed death row inmates, as a result of lawsuits decrying conditions that allowed several killings and a suicide.

The first step Mississippi should take to rid itself of the “immorality” in its prison system is to get rid of private prisons. “If you’re getting paid per head, you want to keep ‘em coming in there,” Kevin Elders said about them.

The next step is to decriminalize minor drug offenses and migrant work.

Like usual, Father Jeremy was right. It’s a question of morals. Either you have them, or you don’t.

(This column recently appeared in the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Miss.)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Remembering the late Mississippi populist Gov. Bill Allain preaching social justice to 3,000 Pentecostals

More than 3,000 Pentecostals had gathered under their giant tabernacle in Raymond, Miss., that July night back in 1985. It was what one preacher called an “old-fashioned, God-sent, Holy Ghost camp meeting,” and on the stage was Mississippi Gov. Bill Allain, a devout Catholic.

Allain died at the age of 85 this past week, and it brought back memories of that long-ago Mississippi District United Pentecostal Church Revival Camp Meeting.

It was a night of foot-stomping, hand-clapping and palm-waving. Choirs sang songs like “He Ain’t Never Done Me Nothin’ But Good” and “I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me”. As 74-year-old Christine Craig told me that night, a man has “got to have the Holy Ghost, speak in tongues and be baptized in Jesus’ name” to get into heaven.

“Y’all better sit down,” the governor told the crowd as he stepped behind the microphone. “I might preach a little.”

Just two years before, Allain had suffered through the dirtiest campaign this reporter has ever seen in a nearly 40-year career as a journalist.

A fiery former state attorney general who had shaken Mississippi’s political elite to its core, Democrat Allain was coasting to an easy victory over Republican Leon Bramlett when just weeks before the election, deep-pocketed Republican financiers went across the state in an effort to tar brush him as a man who not only kept pornography in his Jackson apartment but who had paid for sex with three black male transvestites.

The Republican operatives held press conferences and dumped hundreds of pages of so-called “testimony” by Allain’s accusers on reporters. Television journalist Geraldo Rivera even came to the state to report on the sordid accusations, which evoked all the ghosts of Mississippi’s tortured past of race, prejudice and demagoguery. The Mississippi people didn’t buy it, however. On election day, 55 percent of them voted for Allain. He won 74 of the state’s 82 counties.

I’ve never been prouder of Mississippi. The prostitutes later recanted their stories.

“If you are not clapping your hands … I said if you go out there and you’re not clapping your hands, you either took the wrong road and are on the wrong campgrounds or you are spiritually dead inside,” the Catholic governor told his Pentecostal audience that night. An organ played in the background, and cries of “Amen” came from the crowd.

Jesus “fed the hungry, clothed the naked, healed the sick and infirm,” Allain told them. “That is the standard by what we must love one another.”

As much as any political leader in Mississippi’s modern history, Allain tried to live by those rules.  “Many times I sit in my office and think I only have four years,” Allain said. “Then I think: Jesus did what he did in three short years. Look at all the good things that can be done.”

As a young assistant attorney general in the early 1960s, Allain found himself on the wrong side when he had to represent the state in such cases as segregationist Gov. Ross Barnett’s fight to keep James Meredith from becoming the University of Mississippi’s first black student.

However, as attorney general and later governor in the early-to-mid 1980s, Allain fought the good fight – taking on the big utilities and the all-powerful state Legislature, led as it was then by entrenched pols such as state House Speaker C.B. “Buddie” Newman from the Mississippi Delta. Allain succeeded in getting legislators kicked off executive branch committees and winning approval of successive terms for governor (although he himself declined to run for a second term). He also appointed women and blacks to important positions. That includes appointing Reuben Anderson as the first black member of the state Supreme Court.

“He overcame a lot of stuff,” said Faye Moser, a 52-year-old housewife from Jackson, at that camp meeting back in 1985. “When a Christian has a trial and they overcome it, it makes them stronger.”

Allain did overcome his trial, and he helped Mississippi become stronger, too.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Walmart protests, South African pressure on Nissan, child labor in the tobacco fields, and taxpayers subsidizing fast-food profits - the latest Labor South round-up

This latest Labor South round-up finds Arkansas-based Walmart all prepped for its big sales extravaganza but also facing demonstrations across the country protesting its Scrooge-like treatment of its workers, labor leaders in South Africa promising to pressure Nissan there to treat Southern workers better, and new reports on child labor in North Carolina’s tobacco fields and how taxpayers subsidize fast-food industry profits.

Walmart’s Black Friday

Just weeks after the National Labor Relations Board found Walmart in violation of labor laws by punishing workers for striking or trying to join a union, the retail giant faces protests across the country on the biggest shopping day of the year, today, November 29, also known as “Black Friday”.

The Arkansas-based company expects to rake in plenty of profits from hordes of shoppers, but protesters in cities across the country, including the South, will also be reminding those shoppers that more than a million Walmart workers are forced to work on this day, most of them at bottom-level wages and minimal benefits. In the meantime, the Walton family can comfortably watch its $144 billion pile of personal gold grow.

“These big-box stores are killing mom-and-pop shops, profiting off our local dollars, and then they can’t even pay their workers enough to pay the rent and put food on the table?” said Jess Morales of the national AFL-CIO in a press release. “We can’t let them get away with that.”

South African union members plan to put pressure on Nissan

According to a recent United Auto Workers Solidarity report, South African labor leader Cedric Gina, who was also interviewed by Labor South after a recent visit to Mississippi, said he and other union activists in South Africa will “raise the issue of why the company is interfering with its American workers’ right to form a union,” and they “will demand that the next meeting” of Nissan corporate and labor leaders “be held in Mississippi or Tennessee.”

Nissan’s South African plant is unionized, as are other Nissan plants across the world. However, the auto giant has fought organizing efforts at its plants in Smyrna, Tenn., and Canton, Miss.

Nissan workers in South Africa even won a corporate agreement in 2010 to ban the use of brokers or agencies that hire temporary workers, a huge issue at the Nissan plant in Canton.

Meanwhile, an anti-union campaign by major right-wing groups is gearing up and targeting UAW efforts at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Nissan plant in Canton. In These Times magazine recently reported on leaked documents indicating Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform has committed huge amounts of cash to fighting unionization in the South. The National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation and Center for Union Facts are also involved in the campaign. In a recent op-ed piece for the Huntsville Times in Alabama, Center for Union Facts Executive Director Richard Berman brought out the same old tired tirade about labor bosses only wanting to organize workers so that they, the bosses, can continue to live in luxury from union dues. You’d think the anti-unionists could come up with something original after all these years!

Child labor in the tobacco fields

As a young boy growing up in central North Carolina, I worked many summers in the tobacco fields owned by my cousins. One year my father and a cousin leased a handful of acres for tobacco, and I was able to witness and partake in the entire process of growing and harvesting tobacco. We planted, topped (removing the flowers and tops that drain the plant’s energy), pulled suckers, primed (harvested), and hung the tobacco in barns. I did this in my teen years.

Federal labor laws have long allowed child labor in family-run farms. However, family-run farms today often are partnered with agribusiness giants, and those children working in the fields are likely to be poverty-stricken migrants from Mexico or further south.

A compelling report by writer Gabriel Thompson in The Nation magazine in November revealed widespread use of children on North Carolina’s tobacco farms. The state’s 90,000 migrant farmworkers do much of the fieldwork today, and they’re exposed to nicotine poisoning that can be potentially debilitating. A worker in a tobacco field in summer is daily exposed to nicotine levels that are the same as smoking a pack-and-a-half of cigarettes, Thompson reported.

Modern-day tobacco workers are exposed to pesticides and other hazards that endanger their health, particularly if they’re children. Monsanto and other companies have fought congressional efforts to provide better protection for these workers, much like Southern legislators in the 1930s worked hard to keep farm workers exempt from labor laws.

Russia, Kazakhstan and other countries have passed laws banning children from working in tobacco fields, Thompson reported. Ironically, the United States government has even given millions of dollars to efforts to ban such child labor in the country of Malawi.

Subsidizing fast-food profits

A recent editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch blasted the fast-food industry for low wages and benefits that have resulted in a $7 billion taxpayer annual subsidy to the industry.

“Seven billion dollars a year is what it costs taxpayers for Medicaid, food stamps and the other public assistance programs for fast-food workers who are paid poverty wages,” the editorial said.

The editorial cited a study by University of Illinois and University of California economists that said taxpayers last year funded $1.2 billion in assistance to workers at McDonald’s, a company that reported $1.5 billion in third-quarter profits.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Modern-day Southern "nullifiers" continue a tradition going back to John C. Calhoun and later Strom Thurmond

(To the left is the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.)

Way back in 1988, I sat across from Strom Thurmond in his Capitol Hill office in Washington, D.C., and listened as he explained his opposition to federal anti-lynching laws and any other federal encroachment on states’ rights during his long career.

“I felt it was dangerous to shift it all to Washington,” the then-85-year-old U.S. senator and former Dixiecrat presidential candidate from South Carolina told me.  “Lynching was nothing but murder. All states had laws against murder. … I’ve never had any feelings against minorities.”

Never mind that Thurmond, who died at 101 in 2003, led the Dixiecrat revolt out of the Democratic Party in 1948 and into the Republican Party in the 1960s largely as a reaction against civil rights legislation. Never mind that he was a segregationist superstar during much of the civil rights movement.

Thurmond’s disdain for the federal government that provided him a paycheck through much of his life was in classic Southern tradition. As far back as the 1830s, another South Carolinian, John C. Calhoun, led the so-called “nullification” effort to allow states to “nullify” federal laws on tariffs and other issues. It took a fellow Southerner, President Andrew Jackson, to put the lid on that campaign after sending troops down to Charleston.

The tradition is going strong today. Southern conservatives in Congress deserve much of the blame for the recent federal government shutdown that cost the economy $24 billion. In the U.S. House vote to re-open government, 73 Southern Republicans voted “No” and only 18 voted “Yes,” according to Zack Beauchamp in ThinkProgress. The much-talked-about Tea Party leading the charge against government speaks with a decidedly Southern accent.

Yet who have these Southern leaders represented through the years? Calhoun and his fellow nullifiers risked civil war in large part to defend planters worried that higher tariffs would cost them British customers for their cotton. Three decades later, hundreds of thousands of Southern farm boys went to war to defend the right of those same planters to own slaves.

When Thurmond and his vice-presidential candidate, Fielding Wright of Mississippi, led the Dixiecrat ticket in 1948, a major plank in their platform was opposition to organized labor. Like their predecessors, their hot-button issue may have been race, but they were also determined to protect the interests of the Southern business and political elite.

Today, the Tea Party rank and file rants against the federal government, but just try to take their Social Security and Medicare away from them. Thanks to the demonization of not only Uncle Sam but also labor unions by Fox News and its counterparts here in Mississippi and elsewhere, the progeny of those same Southern farm boys who fought for slavery think they now have to fight for the rights of business owners and corporate CEOs to enrich themselves at the expense of a docile and voiceless workforce.

A South African delegation led by Cedric Gina, president of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa, visited the Jackson, Miss., area recently and was shocked at the uphill fight Nissan workers in Canton, Miss., have to wage just to exercise their legal right to a union election. “We think this is not supposed to be happening in a so-called First World country, a so-called bastion of democracy,” Gina told me in a telephone interview. “To be so fearful, the workers, with no intervention. This is not supposed to be happening.”

NUMSA represents 325,000 workers in South Africa, including 2,000 Nissan employees near Pretoria.

Workers at the Nissan plant in Canton say they have been subjected to repeated meetings with managers who threaten a plant closure and lost jobs if they opt to join the United Auto Workers. Although well paid by Mississippi’s low standards, most of them have gone years without a pay raise and are subjected to arbitrary decisions by management on health and pension benefit changes, work hours, and working conditions.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has gone on record saying he supports outside groups that help keep unions out of his state.  He’s probably happy now that the Virginia-based National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has issued a special notice to Nissan workers in Canton warning them of the horrors of joining together and speaking with a united voice.

After a majority of workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., indicated their support for a company-and-union-backed, German-style works council at the plant, the same foundation filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging UAW coercion. The UAW says the claims are ridiculous.

A thread that runs through Southern history even stronger than race is class. The ruling class in the South doesn’t tolerate challenges to its rule well—whether that challenge comes from united black people or from united working people.

(This column ran earlier in the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Miss.)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A "Crimmigration" conference, Walmart on the dole in Mississippi, and Kellogg locks out Memphis workers

It’s time for another Labor South roundup, and this one tells of the upcoming “Crimmigration” conference sponsored by the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA), a report by the Good Jobs First organization on how the nation’s poorest state has shelled out $27.1 million to the Walmart corporation in addition to more than $750 million in subsidies to Nissan and Toyota, and Kellogg’s lockout of hundreds of union workers in Memphis.


The 7th annual MIRA and Southern Christian Leadership Conference “Unity Conference” will feature speakers and panel discussions on “Crimmigration: The Tragic Consequences of US Drug Policies on Families and Youth”.

The conference will take place in Jackson, Miss., Nov. 15 and 16 and include a keynote address by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, and also feature Javier Sicillia, poet and leader of the Mexican Movement for Peace and Justice.

MIRA has worked tirelessly for years on behalf of immigrants in Mississippi and along the Gulf Coast. By developing a close coalition with the Black Legislative Caucus and white moderates and liberals, the organization has been successful in keeping draconian anti-immigrant legislation from becoming law in Mississippi. This is despite the fact that Republicans dominate both houses of the state Legislature and Mississippi’s Republican governor, Phil Bryant, owes his political success in part to his demagoguery of the immigration issue.

The nation’s poorest state has plenty of cash for corporations on the dole

In its report “AccountableUSA”, the Good Jobs First organization, a self-proclaimed “resource for grassroots groups and public officials seeking to make economic development subsidies more accountable and effective,” says state and local governments in Mississippi have given $27.1 million in subsidies to 13 or more Walmart locations in the state. This is in addition to the three-quarters of a billion dollars Mississippi gave away in subsidy packages to land and nurture Nissan and Toyota automobile plants.

“Many Wal-Mart workers are ineligible for health coverage from their employer or choose not to purchase what is available, because it is too expensive or too limited in scope,” Good Jobs First reports. “These workers often turn to taxpayer-funded health programs such as Medicaid.”

Good Jobs First made news in Mississippi back in May when it reported that state and local governments have actually provided more than $1.3 billion in subsidies to the Nissan plant in Canton alone since 2000. This includes the $363 million subsidy package awarded by the state Legislature plus a wide range of other subsidies, amounting to the equivalent of $290,000 per job at the plant.

Kellogg locks out workers, idling hundreds in Memphis

 The cereal-making giant Kellogg, based in Battle Creek, Mich., has locked out 220 workers at its plant in Memphis after failing to win union approval of its plan to hire new “casual” workers at what will likely be reduced wages and to change production scheduling as well as staffing.

The Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union has filed a charge of unfair labor practices against the company. The lockout does not extend to Kellogg’s plant in Rossville, Tenn. The lockout affects Memphis because of the expiration of the previous agreement at that plant.

Kellogg’s Memphis plant produces Apple Jacks, Froot Loops and other cereals. It announced plans to lay off 70 workers at the plant back in April. Kellogg profits totaled $352 million for the quarter ending June 29, up $28 million from the same period last year.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Southern Right-Wingers wage war against labor, plus a feature column on "The Last of the Letter Writers"


(On the far right in the photograph is the late raging Southern liberal Sander P. Margolis with yours truly and my wife Suzanne at a restaurant in Oxford, Miss., several years ago. This is my only photograph of Sandy.)

The Southern Right-Wing's assault on labor remains under-the-radar of most mainstream media even as it becomes increasingly war-like:

- In North Carolina, conservatives in the legislature are calling for a constitutional amendment to ban collective bargaining for public employees. The Southern Workers Assembly says a "South-wide and national campaign for labor/workers rights" is needed against "this right-wing  push."

- The loathsome National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board to prevent workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., from getting a German-style works council at the plant. Both company leaders and the United Auto Workers as well as a majority of workers at the plant are supportive of the works council, but Tennessee leaders like U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Gov. Bill Haslam are aghast at the idea of a major union-friendly plant on their home turf. The anti-union foundation alleges the UAW fooled and pressured workers into supporting the works council.  The UAW told Reuters the charges were "frivolous and baseless."

- Cedric Gina, president of the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa, and a South African labor delegation visited UAW headquarters in Canton, Miss., last week and met with workers at the Nissan plant there to get a better idea of those workers' struggles to get a union election at the 5,200-worker plant.  "We think this is not supposed to be happening in a so-called First World country, a so-called bastion of democracy," said Gina about Nissan anti-union tactics such as one-on-one meetings between management and workers warning of plant closures and lost jobs. NUMSA represents 325,000 workers in South Africa, including 2,000 Nissan workers near Pretoria. "This is really a shame. People in authority must be ashamed that a Japanese company has come and is allowed to exploit people in their own state, in their own country."

- The recent federal government shutdown in Washington, D.C., can be largely blamed on Southern conservatives in Congress, more and more analysts are saying. According to Zack Beauchamp in ThinkProgress, the U.S. House count of Southern Republicans on last week's re-opening of government was 73 voting "No" and 18 voting "Yes". The Southern accent at Tea Party gatherings is strong, even dominant, and it validates something I said in my 2008 book, Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press: "The South's political, business, religious and journalistic elite" continue to wage a civil war, and it's against working people. The regular folks among the Tea Party ranks sadly don't realize they're fighting a war against themselves. They hate government, but just try to take away their Social Security and Medicare. The South has always had plenty of people who work against their own interests. After all, this is the same South that South Carolina's John C. Calhoun rallied together in the failed "nullification" campaign of the 1830s, when he wanted Southern states to be able to override federal laws. It took another Southerner, President Andrew Jackson, to nullify the "nullification" effort.

Lots going on in the South these days, and the more things change, the more they stay the same!

(On a different note: Below is a feature column of mine that was recently published in the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Miss. It's about a fellow Southerner and diehard liberal whom I call The Last of the Letter Writers.)    

OXFORD, Miss. – The letters from Edwards, Miss., began arriving around 11 years ago.

The penmanship was a big, wild scrawl not always easy to read. Jumping off those pages, however, was the passion of the writer.

“There will be unions in the South in time because it is right,” lawyer and former journalist Sander P. “Sandy” Margolis wrote in one of them, responding to a column of mine about unions and the raw deal working-class people get.


I miss getting those letters. Sandy Margolis, the last of the letter writers, died at age 74 two years ago last month. His had been a long illness, and the letters had stopped long before. Still, I knew, as long as Sandy Margolis was breathing, things like justice, truth and honor had a champion.

A Virginia native, he came from a Jewish immigrant family with roots in Lithuania. A grandfather lived in South Africa, and an uncle once wrote for the Yiddish newspaper, the Jewish Forward, in New York. His parents struggled during the Depression. His father lacked education and lost his job, but “FDR’s New Deal gave him hope for employment and a better life.” They lost family members to the Holocaust.

In the Margolis household, politics and social justice were part of the regular conversation.

“My father … saw through Nixon’s `Southern Strategy’ in 1968. He remembered when LBJ said after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that `we’ve lost the South.’ But my father never let racism dishonor his soul.”

Sandy studied at the University of Virginia and Notre Dame and got his law degree at Ole Miss.  He worked as a liberal reporter and columnist in political boss Harry Byrd’s Virginia during the time of  “massive resistance” to racial integration. He marched with Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph, United Auto Workers leader Walter Reuther and many thousands of others in the 1963 March on Washington.

He wrote columns for different newspapers, worked as a lawyer, and until he became ill fired off letters to the editor—perhaps the last place in the world where people still actually write letters.

Ah, those letters! Whether to me or to a newspaper they were full of fire. After Republican Haley Barbour’s election as governor in 2003—a campaign in which Barbour brandished his state flag lapel pin with its Confederate insignia and allowed his image on the ultra-right-wing Committee of Conservative Citizens’ Web site--Sandy said this in a letter to the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger:  “He orchestrated a racist campaign. He knew that playing the ‘race card’ works in Mississippi. … Will Haley Barbour now seek the way of honor and apologize to African Americans for his campaign methods?”

Those words produced an outcry. Another letter writer responded angrily by linking Sandy with columnist Bill Minor and yours truly as three “hysterical” liberals unable to cope with Barbour’s victory. Sandy said he was proud to be in such company.

The Margolis pen was just as sharp in a column as in a personal letter. “The promotion of extreme corporate wealth and favoritism is corrupting and corroding the bedrock institutions of our republic,” he wrote in a piece for the alternative publication Planet Weekly in 2004. “Even the press and media, the sentinels of our liberty, are being subverted by corporate ownership and used as public relations and propaganda tools.”

Like the great crusading Jewish journalists Abraham Cahan, George Seldes and I.F. Stone, Sandy was an unabashed intellectual. His writings are replete with quotes—Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, Edmund Burke, Lewis Carroll, William Faulkner.


Although proud of his Jewish heritage, he admitted he was “not a formally religious person.” Yet, he said, “we must treat every human being as a child of God, with justice, mercy and love.”

His wife Alice and his daughters Kate and Amanda keep his memory alive. And now maybe I’m helping a little, too. A postcard from Sandy and Alice hangs on the wall next to my desk, and I’ll never forget what they wrote. “We believe you have a Jewish heart because you believe in justice and truth and honor.”

No letter has ever pleased me more than that card.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Nissan's Canton, Miss., plant violates the international labor standards the company promised to uphold, report says

(Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn at the India Economic Summit in 2009. Photograph by Matthew Jordaan)

Nissan, a company with headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, a Brazilian-born CEO who divides his time between Japan and France, and plants around the world, including Canton, Miss., is in direct violation of international labor standards that it promised to uphold, an international labor law expert told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., today.

“Nissan has committed itself to … international standards,” said Lance Compa, author of Choosing Rights, a 46-page report on Nissan practices at its Canton plant. “Unfortunately Nissan is not living up to these international standards at the Canton plant. Nissan has engaged in a longstanding, aggressive campaign of interference with workers’ freedom of association.”

The report, commissioned by the United Auto Workers, includes a long litany of complaints from Nissan-Canton workers about a “Big Brother”-like atmosphere at the plant, where television screens in break areas broadcast repeated anti-union messages claiming the complicity of the UAW in the downfall of the nation’s Big Three automakers. The same message is hammered home again in intimidating and threatening one-on-one sessions with management.

The intimidation has only increased since the growth of a grassroots campaign calling for a union election at the plant over the past year, Compa said. Others at the press conference agreed.

Nissan-Canton worker Wade Cox, a 10-year veteran and production technician, said supervisors and even a vice president have joined in a chorus of union-bashing that includes threats that the 5,000-plus-worker plant will shut down if workers vote union. “They place fear in people’s hearts because of job security,” Cox said. “We’re just asking that we have this opportunity to have a fair and free election, free from intimidation and free from threats. Right now we don’t have a fair process. We ask that Nissan do better.”

According to the International Labor Organization’s 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and ILO Conventions 87 and 98, companies like Nissan that are members of the United Nations Global Compact are prohibited from “imposing pressure, instilling fear, and making threats” against workers seeking union representation, the report said.

These standards prohibit a company from “creating an atmosphere of intimidation and fear,” from “pressuring or threatening retaliatory measures against workers,” and from “denying reasonable access for workers to hear from union representatives inside the workplace.”

Nissan joined the UN Global Compact in 2004. Yet, in a Feb. 25 letter to Compa, Nissan officials said, “our understanding of the principles of freedom of association and the effective right to collective bargaining as defined at the international level is that it does not require companies like Nissan to abrogate or otherwise disregard rights available to it under national law.”

Furthermore, “international labor standards … do not apply to private enterprises like Nissan. Rather, they apply to governments, which then use them as guidance to structure national law.”

In other words, Nissan prefers the much more lax interpretation of rights available to workers under U.S. labor laws, laws that have been weakened after decades of conservative and corporate pressure.  Compa said at the press conference that U.S. labor law, for example, allows companies to “predict” plant closings or use other conditional language, language perfected by the anti-union attorneys and consultants hired by companies like Nissan as a tool to keep workers fearful of unions.

“This is psychological pressure that violates international standards,” Compa said. “It’s also unethical and unfair.”

In an interview last summer, Nissan spokesman Travis Parman said, “Our communications meetings with employees are not new. We continuously and routinely meet with our employees to openly discuss matters pertinent to our business.”

Compa said workers testified to hearing management claim repeatedly that Nissan is a non-union company even though its plants outside the United States are unionized. Furthermore, “captive audience meetings” such as those in Canton are prohibited at Nissan’s unionized Japanese plants. At Canton, the UAW has no opportunity to counter claims by Nissan management, another violation of international standards.

The situation at the Canton plant “is like a political race, and one candidate has a monopoly on television advertisement, and the other has to pass out flyers,” Compa said.

“Let us be fair with the only resource Mississippi has—people who are willing to work hard,” said Isiac Jackson Jr., a prominent Jackson, Miss.-area minister and chair of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, at the press conference. “Mississippi people work hard, and they (Nissan) discovered they can work cheap.”

Jackson decried the growing use of “temporary” workers at the Nissan-Canton plant. These workers earn just half the wages of fulltime workers.

The report calls on Nissan to give full compliance with the international labor standards it agreed to uphold and to allow workers the right to a free and fair opportunity to consider whether they want to join a union.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Labor South featured on "The People's Station" in Cleveland, Ohio

It has been a busy week for yours truly. Ed “Flash” Ferenc of WERE-AM 1490 in Cleveland, Ohio, interviewed me Wednesday, Sept. 25, about the United Auto Workers campaign at the Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. WERE-AM is “The People’s Station”, a radio station devoted to talking about labor issues and telling the stories of working class people, and it’s living proof that corporate media haven’t quite yet shut down the discussion on those stories or on labor issues in general.

On Ferenc’s “America’s Work Force” show, we discussed the labor movement in the South, its obstacles, how the image of the union-hostile, low-wage, low-benefits, environmentally lax South lamentably has become a model for the rest of the nation. The UAW’s success at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., also came up. The union says it has enough signed cards from workers for a German-style works council to be set up at the plant. Check out the show at:

The UAW’s turn to the South is also the subject of a lengthy piece I just completed for upcoming edition of the New Labor Forum in New York. The NLF is arguably the finest journal devoted to labor issues in the country today, and I was proud to write for them.

The South indeed is again a battleground, and the outcome will affect the entire nation. Workers need a united voice. That’s the only way to counter the Republican-backed corporate juggernaut. I shouldn’t let Democrats off the hook here. A lot of them spend too much time acting like Republicans. Working people have to look past party lines to see who their real friends are.

Teachers are protesting in North Carolina. They ought to protest. They’re the lowest-paid teachers in the nation, according to one recent report. Fast food workers have had it with sub-minimum wages and disrespect at the workplace. Auto workers get better pay than most folks in the South wearing a blue collar these days, but they know it isn’t only about the pay. It’s about respect. The United Auto Workers and other unions realize that, and it’s why their message is getting heard in Dixie. Let it ring loud and clear!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Palestinian makes a go of a Middle Eastern restaurant that serves falafel but no alcohol in a Southern college town

  (To the right is restaurant owner Maher Alqasas)

(The following feature column by yours truly appeared in a recent edition of the Jackson Free Press in Jackson, Miss. For this reason, please cite the Jackson Free Press when publishing this elsewhere.)

 OXFORD, Miss. – The great journalist, raconteur, and connoisseur of good food A.J. Liebling loved to venture off the beaten tracks of New York and Paris to find little restaurants and bistros overlooked by the culinary critics and trend-setters but where a man with a taste for good dining could enjoy himself.

Liebling knew such places—“lost Atlantises” he called them--often have a precarious existence. “The small restaurant is evanescent,” he writes in his 1959 classic Between Meals. “Sometimes it has the life span of a man, sometimes of a fruit fly.”

A more recent writer, the former chef and current TV food and travel personality Anthony Bourdain, had this to say about the perils of the restaurant business in his own book Kitchen Confidential: “To want to open a restaurant can be a strange and terrible affliction. What causes such a destructive urge in so many otherwise sensible people? Why would anyone want to pump their hard-earned cash down a hole that statistically, at least, will almost surely prove dry?”

Maher Alqasas, 50, a native of the Mount of Olives in Palestine and longtime resident and veteran restaurant owner here in Oxford, acknowledges the risks. “This is a tough business. Imagine working 12 hours a day and having a smile on your face for 12 hours, and to like what you do. The kitchen is a fireball, booming, loud, and I have to be a part of that. What makes it worth it at the end of the day in seeing the smile on their faces.”

He’s talking about the smile on the faces of customers at his Middle Eastern-Mediterranean restaurant Petra Cafe, open since February, a long, narrow stretch of a place in the corner of the town’s famous Square that once housed Wiley’s shoe shop and later Parrish’s bar. “Food is the moment of celebration,” says Alqasas, who grew up in Qatar, “because when you are hungry you are willing to eat anything, but if you know you are eating something good, it is a joy. You are nourishing your body.”

The food at Petra--falafel, kibbeh, hummus, labneh, dolmas, chicken shawerma, shish kabob, gyros with tiziki sauce—isn’t exactly what you’d find on the tables of most Southern homes. But it’s just as homemade and just as likely from old family recipes, says Petra chef and Alqasas’ wife, Angela, also a native of Palestine. “My customers come to my kitchen and tell me it’s the best falafel they’ve ever had, customers from Chicago, Michigan,” she says with pride. “I love it. I remember when I was a kid, my mom asked me to do the falafel. We used to help my mom. I learned from my mother and my mother-in-law.”

The Alqasas—their three children work at Petra, too--like the idea of a homey atmosphere, even though home for them would be exotic to most Oxonians. The walls feature paintings of street scenes and merchants from Old Egypt. The music is Turkish, the carpet at the front door is Persian. “I’m trying to keep the Oxford look, too, the old and new,” Maher Alqasas says. “This is an old building (a century old, he estimates) but with fresh legs … new ceiling, new floor, new electrical, new everything.”

Still, running a successful restaurant on Oxford’s Square can require more than good food and good atmosphere. Most of the two dozen or more restaurants and bars on or near the Square also serve alcohol. They’re why the town’s thriving night life rivals that of much larger cities. Petra allows brown-bagging but serves no alcohol.

Does it hurt business? “It does,” Alqasas admits, “but eventually it is going to be known. Customers can bring their own. It is worth the wait. It is all about the food.”

Alqasas is Muslim. His religious faith is one reason he wants to avoid serving alcohol. Another is the bar he once had in an earlier version of Petra a few blocks away. “It made my life miserable as far as inventory, keeping kids working, no stealing. … I don’t want to be a part of it.”

At least some of his customers don’t mind. “It didn’t stop us,” said Ole Miss student Shelby Herring, a 21-year-old hospitality management major from Houston, Texas, during a recent meal there with her friend and fellow Ole Miss student Molly Thrush. “I like Mediterranean food. I’m a vegetarian, so I like the falafel (fried ground vegetables), the salads, the hummus. Back home, I’d go once a week to a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean restaurant.”

Restaurants typically take a couple years to turn a decent profit. Petra just suffered through the summer doldrums that tend to hurt the bottom lines of most college town businesses. Many tables remained empty during the summer evenings.

“I am a patient person,” Alqasas says. However, he admits, he was more than ready for the fall invasion of Ole Miss students.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Labor South roundup: Calls for a new "Operation Dixie", GOP-appointed "Czars" in Democratic strongholds, and striking fast-food workers in Dixie

 In this latest roundup. Labor South looks at calls for a new “Operation Dixie”, GOP-appointed “Czars” in Democratic strongholds, and striking fast-food workers.

Calls for a modern-day “Operation Dixie”

Delegates at the 2013 convention of the AFL-CIO in Los Angeles this week adopted a a resolution proposed by the Savannah (Ga.) Regional Central Council “to develop a Southern organizing strategy” as “one of its top priorities” and one that will “include a long-term commitment to organize the South.”

Resolution 26 decries the fact that the U.S. labor movement “has never successfully developed a concerted and coordinated effort to organize workers in the 11 Southern states” of the Southern Region, thus “allowing the most conservative political forces in the South to operate without effectively being challenged by organized workers.”

The South today is “a major player in the new global economy,” the resolution says, “and has become a haven for US manufacturing, foreign investments and finance capital, and because of this reemergence is now playing an integral role in shaping US labor and social policies.”

Yet “corporations in the South have not only exploited Southern workers but have also been responsible for the negative environmental impact on many working class families, especially the African American, Latino, Native American, Asian and poor white communities.”

Conservative Southern politicians have okayed “billions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives” to corporations “at the expense of these struggling communities.”

Even as convention delegates adopted this resolution, however, much work is already underway to, indeed, organize the South, an effort tracked closely by Labor South.

The United Auto Workers, in a do-or-die effort to rebuild, is actively working with the IG Metall union in Germany and even some company officials to establish German-style works councils at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala. Despite opposition from political leaders in both states, VW officials are talking with union leaders about the move, and Mercedes-Benz officials say they’re neutral to the idea.

In fact, in a major breakthrough, Gary Casteel, UAW regional director for the South, said this week that a majority of workers at the VW plant in Chattanooga have now signed cards supporting a works council. Casteel told Associated Press that the cards are the legal equivalent of an actual election. He declined to say when the union would seek formal recognition.

Besides its work at the German plants, the UAW has helped build a wide-ranging grassroots campaign over the past eight years to organize the 5,200 workers at the Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. That campaign has taken activists around the country and as far away as Brazil and South Africa to make the case for a union vote in Canton. Hundreds now attend union-related events, even as Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and other state leaders lock arms in opposition. Bryant attacked a recent study showing Nissan will receive up to $1.33 billion in government incentives over a 30-year period despite never living up to all the promises that came with its arrival in Mississippi. To counteract the UAW, Nissan has waged a high-stakes campaign to endear itself to the area black community—an estimated 80 percent of the workforce at the plant is black—offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to local schools and civil rights organizations.

Even back in 1946, when the original “Operation Dixie” was launched, labor leaders recognized the crucial importance of the South to labor’s future, the potential for Southern-bred anti-unionism to spread to the rest of the country. The campaign ended in failure in the early 1950s, but the predictions that prompted it have proven true. The South has to be organized, or the U.S. labor movement will eventually shrink into nonexistence.

Who needs democracy? Let’s appoint a “Czar”!

Detroit’s fiscal woes are widely known, and the Republican version of what caused them is the familiar tirade against a government-run-amuck with fat pensions and greedy unions at the heart of the problem. Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, and the financial manager, Kevyn Orr, he chose to rule over the bankrupt city have targeted pension plans in their plan to restore fiscal integrity.

The plan fails to take into account the myriad reasons why Detroit got into such trouble, including NAFTA and other trade deals that put U.S. workers at a disadvantage (Michigan lost more jobs to NAFTA than any other state). Like Republican pols in the South, Michigan’s “fiscal conservative” pols aren’t above spending taxpayer money for causes they do support, such as $283 million for a pro-hockey stadium.

Oh, and by the way, Orr refused requests by the AFSCME to meet despite promises that union leaders would be part of the discussion about Detroit’s future.

When Tennessee State Comptroller Justin Wilson issued a warning to the city of Memphis this spring regarding its finances, local media and other observers wondered, “Is Memphis the next Detroit?”

Wilson told Memphis that its future depended on city leaders getting their fiscal act together in fixing the city’s ailing $622 million operating budget. Memphis has long been a Democratic stronghold in a very Republican state. Local economists insist Memphis is a long way from a Detroit-style state takeover, but how much will pension holders and other regular folks in Memphis have to suffer to keep that from happening?

Eerily similar to these developments is a recent decision by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) in California to take away San Francisco City College’s accreditation by the summer of 2014 if it fails to implement a multi-part plan that critics say essentially moves the school toward privatization.

San Francisco City College has been a democratic haven—known for shared governance, strong unions, and local activism—for years, and thus a burr in the saddle of conservative Republicans and even some Democrats.

Fast-food workers tired of working for less than living wages

The nationwide strikes and worker actions against low wages in the fast-food industry had spread to the South by the end of August, according to the North Carolina-based Institute for Southern Studies’ Facing South online magazine.

Fast-food workers in at least 11 Southern cities joined the nationwide strike, including workers in the Triangle region of North Carolina. North Carolina is perennially the nation’s least-unionized state.

Workers struck in Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Atlanta, Houston, Austin, Dallas, Memphis, New Orleans and Gretna, La.

The workers are seeking an hourly pay of $15. Their current average pay nationwide is $8.94 an hour.

This is a $200 billion industry. McDonald’s last year posted profits of $5.47 billion.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Labor South looking at Republican "czars" overseeing Democratic strongholds, and the rise of fast-food worker protests

Labor South is still on the watch although other writing duties have kept yours truly from posting recently.

Coming soon will be a look at a potential trend among conservative state political leaders to take over local entities that don't fit their preferred political profile.

We've seen this already with the state takeover of the city of Detroit, a city that granted has a lot of problems but which as a Democratic stronghold also makes a mighty juicy target for Republican pols. A recent warning from state officials in Tennessee that city leaders in Memphis better get their fiscal house in order raised concerns that Memphis could be another Detroit--another inviting target, that is.

More recently, students at City College of San Francisco have protested the possible loss of accreditation and shutdown of the school, popular for its low tuition and strong network of campus and community activists.  CCSF has an active teachers' union and a tradition of shared and democratic leadership. It has also been under attack by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. The state community colleges chancellor has designated a "czar" to oversee campus operations. These political entities question the college's budget decision-making, among other things.

Of course, another growing issue is the spreading protest by fast-food workers about their wages, a protest that has included several Southern cities.

Labor South will be taking a look. Keep posted.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Old-fashioned American hypocrisy: The NAACP partners with Nissan, and Walmart pushes "Made in America"

The central theme of this short Labor South round-up could be hypocrisy.

What would Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers say?

At the recent 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington, the NAACP joined hands with the Nissan Corporation in welcoming tens of thousands of participants.

“This event is a celebration of diversity, community and inclusion,” said Rob Wilson, director of diversity and inclusion at Nissan, in a press release about the Nissan-NAACP partnership at the event. “We live by these values every day at Nissan, and our success demonstrates what a talented and diverse workforce can accomplish.”

Of course, what the August 23 press release doesn’t say is this: If civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers were alive today, they’d be fighting Nissan’s strong anti-union stand at its plants in Canton, Miss., and Smyrna, Tenn., tooth and nail. In his last years, King made economic and workers rights the core of his mission for true equality in the United States. He died after standing in solidarity with the striking sanitation workers in Memphis.

Evers worked closely with Mississippi AFL-CIO leaders Claude Ramsay and Ray Smithhart during the Mississippi movement in the early 1960s, and they all worked hard both for civil and worker rights.

As proof of Nissan's support for the NAACP's mission and King's vision in 1963, the press release said the company “and its generous employees” have contributed more than $8 million to 100 Black Men, Habitat for Humanity, United Way and other organizations since 2003. What it hasn’t done, of course, is raise wages for its Canton workers in years, and what it’s not likely to ever do is willingly accepted a union for its Southern workers.

A $100,000 gift by Nissan to the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute earlier this year is believed to have been a factor in the absence of actor-labor activist Danny Glover on the rostrum at the subsequent annual Medgar Evers dinner in Jackson, Miss. Glover was expected to speak.

Walmart once more wants to “buy American”

You got to give it credit. The Arkansas-based retail monster Walmart has audacity. At its two-day “Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Summit” in Orlando, Fla., this month, the company reiterated an earlier promise to buy $50 billion more in U.S.-made products during the next 10 years. Other companies should also increase their purchase of U.S. goods, Walmart officials said as they pushed for a “made-in-America” movement.

On hand to applaud the challenge were U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, eight governors (including Mississippi’s Phil Bryant), hundreds of manufacturers, and many more.

Bear in mind, this $50 billion pledge by Walmart accounts for just 10 percent of its projected retail sales for this year alone. Big whooping deal!

Walmart has done this before. As reported recently in this blog, the company preached “Buy America” 30 years ago then proceeded to turn to foreign countries for 80 percent of its suppliers. More recently, it has found itself in hot water—at least publicity-wise--for the horrible working and safety conditions in the factories of some of those suppliers, conditions believed to have contributed to hundreds of tragic deaths. 

Rising wages in China and Cambodia have made U.S. corporations like Walmart look elsewhere for the cheaply made products they put on their shelves. In the meantime, however, why not sound a patriotic note and talk “Buy America” again? Besides, wages are down in the United States, and this new “Made in America” campaign may make good business sense.

Of course, Walmart has played as large a role as any other corporation in helping keep the wages of blue-collar workers in the United States flat despite their increased productivity. Wages “for the entire bottom 60 percent of the wage distribution” of earners “were flat or declined” between 2000 and 2012, write Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz in their August briefing paper on a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute. This is despite a nearly 25 percent increase in productivity over the same period.