Friday, June 24, 2016

Labor South roundup: Brexit & neoliberalism; a visit with veteran Hollywood character actor Nehemiah Persoff; and Nissan hypocrisy in Mississippi

It’s time for another Labor South roundup, plus a heads-up on things to come.

The Brexit vote and neoliberalism

The British vote this week to exit the European Union is causing huge disruption in U.S. and international markets while being treated to a lot of handwringing by a head-scratching mainstream press. Yet Enrico Tortolano of openDemocracyUK says the following:

“Voting to leave the EU is a no-brainer for the Left. The European Union is remote, racist, imperialist, anti-worker and anti-democratic: It is run by, of, and for the super-rich and their corporations. A future outside austerity and other economic blunders rests on winning the struggle to exit the EU.”

Furthermore, “Neoliberal policies and practices dominate the European Commission, European Parliament, European Central Bank, European Court of Justice and a compliant media legitimises (sic) the whole conquest.”

Of course, anti-immigrant forces have also been on the Brexit side of the issue in this complex development. What we’ve seen in Britain is some of the same populism that has helped drive the Trump and Sanders presidential campaigns in the United States—a deep disdain for the longstanding collusion of Big Banks, Big Corporations and Big Government, yet on the Trump side one that is confused by an equal disdain for the migrant workers victimized by that same collusion.

Still, it is hard to argue with Tortolano’s description of the EU and its worship of the “neoliberal Holy Trinity of public spending cuts, privatisation (sic) and the removal of trade union rights.” Witness European leaders’ hard-fisted policies toward Greece and other economically struggling countries in Europe.

 Tortolano believes migrants actually suffer more under the EU because it supports the policies that force workers to leave their home countries in an often tragic search for better work and a better life.

In California with veteran actor Nehemiah Persoff

(To the right, Nehemiah Persoff in 1960)

Yours truly recently returned from a week-long trip to California, where I, among other things, interviewed veteran character actor Nehemiah Persoff, approaching his 97th birthday, at his Cambria, Calif., home. I’m doing a profile of Persoff for Noir City magazine.

Jerusalem-born Persoff, a painter for the past quarter century, was once one of Hollywood’s most familiar faces in film and on television, beginning with his brief appearance in On the Waterfront (1954) to major roles in Humphrey Bogart’s last movie, The Harder They Fall (1956), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956), and—my favorite--as Nazi Carl Lanser in the segment “Judgment Night” on television’s Twilight Zone (1959). Each of these films addressed important social justice issues without being didactic. Persoff also was memorable as Little Bonaparte in Some Like It Hot (1959) and Barbara Steisand's father in Yentl (1983)

 Persoff began his career with theater and acting groups in New York City, including the famed Actors Studio, and recalled during my interview his early work performing for striking union members and for workers on the picket line.

Be on the lookout for Noir City’s next issue at the end of the summer!

UAW fighting Nissan hypocrisy in Mississippi

Students and activists will join with the United Auto Workers this weekend in bringing attention to the hypocrisy of the Nissan corporation’s sponsorship of a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of civil rights activist James Meredith’s 1966 “March Against Fear”.

Many among the predominantly black workforce at the company’s Nissan, Miss., plant have complained of its virulent anti-unionism, its use of temporary workers at lower wages and benefits, arbitrary decisions regarding work hours and medical treatment, and the overly restricted use of its air-conditioning units during Mississippi’s hot summer months.

Popular Resistance, a University of Mississippi student organization led by rising sophomore Jaz Brisack, is among the groups planning to bring light to Nissan’s hypocrisy this weekend.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The heart of darkness: Mississippi and North Carolina politics

(To the right, my front porch. It's dark in Mississippi.)

This column, which appeared recently in the Jackson Free Press, in Jackson, Miss., is a follow-up to an earlier Labor South posting in which I republished the original 2011 column cited below. Here I take a look at Mississippi and my native North Carolina, both the heart of darkness in their politics these days.

OXFORD, Miss. – I told you so.

Yes, I did. It was way back in November 2011 when the Republicans took over the Mississippi Legislature as well as the state’s Governor’s Mansion.

At the time, I was telling you about relatives coming to visit me and one of them remarking how “it sure is dark in Mississippi.” She was referring to the long, unlit roads and highways they traveled during the night to get here. “It’s about to get a lot darker,” I told her.

And then I told you, my column readers, this:

“Better roads and highways? Not on this watch. Better public transportation? Education? Health care? Mental health services? Social services? Are you kidding? It’s going to be Tea Party heaven down here. People finally get to see what it will be like in a Tea Party world.”

Thank you, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and state House Speaker Philip Gunn for proving what a prophet Joe Atkins is. I always knew it. Now the world does!

In the poorest, most woe-begotten state in the United States, the Mississippi Troika and their loyal minions have managed to cut even deeper into woefully underfunded state education, health care, mental health care, roads and highways maintenance. As they slashed away at agency budgets like machete-wielding tribesmen clear-cutting a scraggly forest to make way for more desert, they even found they had overestimated revenue projections by $56.8 million!

And this is the state government that wants to take over the Jackson, Miss., airport. One of the minions at the state Capitol has even proposed that the state take over all of Jackson, that black-run state capital that’s wont to challenge the Tea Party revolution from time to time. State Rep. Mark Baker, a Republican from Brandon, came up with that brilliance. Should we call it “Revenge of the Suburbanites”?

As they slashed budgets and services, however, the Troika and its minions did manage to find the wherewithal to give $274 million plus lots of juicy tax breaks to Continental Tire the Americas and Edison Chouest of Louisiana, two more companies promising jobs and Nirvana in exchange for big taxpayer-funded handouts. They both saw the $363 million handout poor ol’ Mississippi gave Nissan back in 2000 and the $356 million it gave Toyota a few years later, and they wanted their share.

At the time of the Toyota deal, the state wouldn’t even fund a burn center and had to send burn victims to Memphis.

The state’s pols also managed to kill efforts to limit themselves in how they spend their campaign money, making them the envy of politicians across the country who face jail terms for doing what Mississippi politicians can do with impunity.

Something else they did during the past legislative session, of course, was make discrimination legal and call it the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”.

When I first arrived in Mississippi back in the early 1980s, many folks told me how much they admired my home state of North Carolina. They talked about the beautiful mountains and beaches. Many talked with a degree of envy about North Carolina’s longheld commitment to public education and wished Mississippi were more so inclined.

Well, here we are more than three decades later, and we find Mississippi politicians actually are looking at North Carolina as a model. Trouble is, North Carolina today is a Jesse Helms dream come true—and that’s not a good thing.

The Tarheel state’s so-called HB2 legislation, known as the “bathroom bill”, preceded Mississippi’s HB 1523 (now the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act) in putting state authorities on bathroom detail. North Carolina leaders took it a step further, however, by also making it illegal for troublesome cities such as Charlotte (where the whole bathroom controversy began) to adopt regulations contrary to what state rulers prefer. This includes raising the minimum wage, an issue far removed from gender identity.

So both North Carolina and Mississippi share something besides a strong connection to Joe Atkins. Their leaders are the kind of hypocrites my Pentecostal Holiness preaching Uncle Eb would’ve raked over the coals in his Sunday sermons. They talk of the sanctity of local government when it comes to defying federal mandates, but they’re quick to impose state rule over municipalities, whether it’s a minimum wage hike in Charlotte or airport control in Jackson.

Don’t let anyone pull the wool over your eyes. It’s already dark enough in Mississippi.