Monday, March 21, 2016

Students and activists to protest Nissan's anti-union policies April 2; a union vote at the plant is expected within the next three months

(Nissan's plant in Canton, Mississippi)

Students and activists in Mississippi and around the country will gather in front of the mile-long Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., April 2 to protest working conditions within the plant and demand the company allow a fair union election.

United Students Against Sweatshops, the Mississippi Student Justice Alliance, Young Democrats of America, and students activists and organizers with the national AFL-CIO in Washington are among the groups organizing the rally, the latest in a series of events in Canton and around the world challenging Nissan’s anti-union policies in the U.S. South.

The United Auto Workers has had a presence in Canton since 2005 and worked with community leaders to build a coalition that began with only a couple dozen local residents but which today can produce hundreds at pro-union rallies.

Workers at the 6,000-employee plant--built with the aid of a $363 million Mississippi taxpayer subsidy-- have complained of multiple worksite issues, including poor medical treatment of workers injured on the job, the hiring of temporary workers at lower pay and minimal benefits, and harassment of those who express pro-union sympathies. Proclaiming that “Labor Rights Are Civil Rights”, the campaign has tapped into a still-resilient and passionate civil rights community in Mississippi—most of the Canton workforce is black--including ministers from a wide range of denominations and students from historically black colleges and universities in the area. The UAW, recognizing the modern-day reality that major labor campaigns have to be global, has brought activists, students and workers in from as far away as Brazil to show international solidarity.

Sources say that a union vote at the Canton plant is likely to take place within the next three months.

The UAW doesn’t want to lose another major vote like it has in the past with Nissan in Smyrna, Tennessee, and with Volkswagen in Chattanooga. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn helped scuttle the vote in Smyrna in 2001 with his day-before-the-election threats to workers, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, both Republicans, did much the same in Chattanooga in 2014.

The UAW got a big boost in December when the skilled trades workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga voted to join the union. However, even at a plant where the company says loudly it is neutral toward a union, workers have complained of a fear among Volkswagen’s Tennessee workers that their pro-union sympathies could eventually cost them their jobs.

Nissan workers are represented by unions at company plants around the world. Yet the company has joined other foreign-owned automobile manufacturers in resisting unions in the U.S. South.

The South remains a tough battleground for organized labor. However, Facing South, the flagship Web magazine of the North Carolina-based Institute for Southern Studies, reported earlier this year that union membership in the South grew from 2.2 million in 2014 to 2.4 million at the end of 2015, or from 5.2 percent to 5.5 percent of the workforce. Eight of the South’s 13 states saw increases, including Mississippi.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Marco Rubio's top finance guy is the "Vulture" who soaked Argentina for $4.65 billion

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio has tapped as his national finance chairman the “Vulture” who put the squeeze on Argentina for a $4.65 billion payback on his $50 million investment, according to investigative journalist Greg Palast, The Guardian, and other press reports.

 Hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, known as “The Vulture”, is set to become Rubio’s top money guy in a campaign that may reach its demise soon if the Florida senator can’t win the primary in his native state.

Singer, long a huge supporter of Rubio’s campaign, has been criticized around the world for his aggressive wheeling and dealing, both on Wall Street and in political circles, including his financial backing of neo-liberal Mauricio Macri’s rise to the presidency in Argentina.

Macri came into office vowing to respond to Argentina’s indebtedness to international lenders, which has led to major financial crises in the South American country. According to reports, Singer was able to score a $4.65 billion payment from Argentina out of a $50 million investment in old Argentine bonds.

Labor South--and a big thanks to one of this blog's most loyal followers and best labor friends, Lew Smith, for helping the blog stay on top of this issue--has been following the situation in Argentina since last November, when voters went to the polls to choose between the Perónist Daniel Scioli and Macri for president.

Macri won the election, ending 12 years of pro-worker, neo-Perónist rule. Now just months later, people are in the streets demonstrating against the resumption of neo-liberal “austerity” principles that helped ruin the Argentine economy in 2001 and which are still wreaking havoc in Greece and other European economies. It’s the same old free-trade-at-all-costs, corporate-worshipping philosophy that further enriches the rich at the expense of working people.

According to labor leaders in Argentina, Macri has overseen a 500 percent hike in electricity rates and a 10-to-15 percent decline in wage purchasing power. Some 40,000 public and private workers have been fired or seen their jobs discontinued since Macri took over in December.

Half of the 22,500 now-jobless workers in the private sector had construction jobs.

Macri, former mayor of Buenos Aires, has vowed to restructure the nation’s finances to meet its indebtedness to international lenders, and, of course, the neo-liberal mantra for meeting such goals calls for reduced government programs and, in turn, reduced worker wages and benefits as well as resistance to the unions that try to protect those wages and benefits.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The ghosts of the Old Populists are groaning at the South's failure to support Bernie Sanders

(A Populist campaign poster featuring Tom Watson of Georgia)

The ghosts of the old Populists of the late 19th century South let loose a long, communal groan Tuesday as neo-liberal Democrat Hillary Clinton claimed a strong majority of black Southern voters and thus the South in the Super Tuesday primaries. The victory came despite a record and Clintonian legacy of little support of issues important to blacks or the working class.

Clinton defeated her rival, populist Bernie Sanders, in Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas, while Sanders’ lone victory in the greater South was in border state Oklahoma. Right-wing populist Republican Donald Trump also scored big in the South Tuesday.

Sanders’ poor showing in the South brings to mind the fate of the most important third party movement in U.S. history, the Populist Party of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which itself grew out of earlier uprisings such as the Farmers Alliance and the Grange Movement against East Coast corporate hegemony and the so-called “Bourbon” Democrats of the South.

Just as Sanders has decried the fixed system that has Wall Street controlling not only the economy but also the nation’s corporate-financed politics, the Populists railed against railroads, absentee landlords, and other moneyed interests. Just a few decades after the Civil War and Reconstruction, Populist leader Tom Watson of Georgia called for unity among black and white farmers and factory workers to take back the country from the 1 percent that controlled it in those days.

“You are kept apart that you may be fleeced of your earnings,” Watson wrote in 1892. “You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both.”

(A 1908 cover to Tom Watson's Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine)

As historian C. Vann Woodward noted in his biography of the Georgia populist, “Tom Watson was perhaps the first native white Southern leader of importance to treat the Negro’s aspirations with the seriousness that human strivings deserve.”

Watson, who like Bernie Sanders in 2016 called his movement “a revolution”, fought against the convict lease system that affected countless black prisoners, called for free schools for blacks, prevented the attempted lynching of a black preacher by organizing a small army of Populists to defend him. An Augusta, Ga., newspaper subsequently charged Watson with preaching “anarchy and communism.”

The Populists, also known as the People’s Party, succeeded in electing five U.S. senators, 10 U.S. representatives, three governors, and 1,500 state legislators in the 1892 elections. The party took over both houses of the North Carolina legislature two years later.

The rise of populism so frightened the Bourbon Democrats that they began a concerted and ultimately successful effort to take control of the black vote.  “Bribery and intimidation, the stuffing of ballot boxes, the falsification of election returns” were among their tactics, according to historian John D. Hicks.  “The planters sometimes herded their employees to the polls and voted them in droves for the Democratic ticket.”

After 1896, the Populist uprising was on the wane, co-opted by the Democratic Party and, in part, self-destructed by distractions such as the call for a silver-based currency. It wasn’t long before Jim Crow took over the South, and the black vote disappeared.

Watson became so bitter by the turn of the century that he emerged as one of the most notorious and foul-mouthed racists in all of Southern demagoguery, championing the lynching of blacks just as he once had fought against it. His conversion from racial unifier to venom-spouting bigot is one of the tragedies of Southern history.

The Super Tuesday primary elections in the South this week certainly are far removed in important ways from the sad story of the Populists. Black voters in the South stayed loyal to Hillary Clinton for a variety of reasons, but it doesn't appear bribery and intimidation were among them. Furthermore, many prominent black intellectuals, such as Bill Fletcher Jr. and Spike Lee, have come out in strong support for Sanders.

However, the Democratic Party of Clintonian-style “Third Way”, Republican-apeing, corporate-financed, pro-Wall Street neo-liberalism and the Southerner-dominated flagship organization, the Democratic Leadership Council, that once guided it aren’t all that far removed from the Bourbon Democrats of yesteryear.

That’s why the Bernie Sanders campaign has been and remains so important, not only to African Americans, the working class as a whole, and the nation, but also to the Democratic Party, which needs to re-discover its soul.