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.

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