Friday, March 21, 2014

Labor South roundup: Snowden & the South's history of spying, and a reported breakthrough on Kellogg lockout

Here are a couple items for this Labor South round-up of the week's goings-on: a recent panel including Labor South’s Joe Atkins considers NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s status as hero or villain; and a possible breakthrough on the Kellogg lockout of its Memphis workers.

Southern history should tell you whether Edward Snowden is a hero or villain

Yours truly was on a panel titled “What We Learn from the Snowden/NSA Files” held at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi March 19.

Also on the panel were: Mike German, former FBI agent and former senior counsel of the ACLU and currently a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University; and Matthew Hall, senior associate dean at the University of Mississippi School of Law. The moderator was Douglass Sullivan-Gonzales, dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi.

Given the history in Mississippi and the South of state-backed spying on innocent citizens, Southerners should be particularly sensitive to the sprawling international snooping and spying on private citizens by the National Security Agency that whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed last year.

Snowden, a North Carolina native given refuge for one year by the Russian government, appeared recently by video link at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, and urged citizens to assert their privacy rights against an overreaching government that seeks to know what we talk about on our cell phones and access on the Internet.

I pointed out that I reside in a state (Mississippi) where a government-funded spy agency, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, collected information on private citizens during the civil rights movement with the direct intention of using it to intimidate, threaten, and damage those citizens promoting racial integration. More than 138,000 pages of secret, sealed documents compiled by the Sovereignty Commission were ultimately released. Like the Stasi in the former East Germany and other spy agencies, the Sovereignty Commission was particularly interested in private sexual information that it could use to threaten or silence dissidents. NSA files are also believed to contain such information.

Former NSA official Bill Binney, who helped establish the agency’s surveillance program, recently said the United States has already become a “police state,” something Mississippi in many ways was in the 1960s. Binney said much of the NSA’s collected data has been funneled to law enforcement agencies across the land to assist them in gathering evidence and other information—without warrants—to use against citizens in criminal or other legal cases.

Is it any accident that the United States has 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. One in four adult citizens in this country has a police record. Snowden’s NSA revelations may be telling us why. By the way, Louisiana and Mississippi lead the nation in putting people in prison.

I’ll be writing more about this later, but below is the link to our recent panel, where Mike German and I took Snowden’s side on the issue, and Matthew Hall took the position that he is a villain.

The link to the panel discussion (I often have difficulty linking to YouTube on this blog, so you may have to copy and paste to gain access):

or try:

Video from March 19, 2014.

Possible new developments in the Kellogg lockout of its Memphis workers

WMC-TV in Memphis reported Thursday (March 20) that NAACP officials are saying that the Battle Creek, Mich.-based cereal giant, Kellogg, is now willing to negotiate with the 226 workers it locked out from their Memphis plant after a labor contract disagreement last October.

Their union, the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, refused to approve a company plan to cut wages and benefits as well as hire new “casual” workers at lower pay. As a result, they were forced to endure five long months without jobs or benefits. Their picketing outside the plant in often-subfreezing temperatures and hard rains galvanized local support from many organizations.

Most recently, the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C., pledged its solidarity with the locked-out workers.

Let’s hope Kellogg will do the right thing.

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