Monday, November 14, 2011

Southwest & South Labor in United States

The South and Southwest Labor-Worker Question

rubensolisgarcia 10.2011 at University Sin Fronteras
Southern Labor Exceptionalism: Exclusion by Race, Wage and Class

150 Million workers in US hold jobs
54% are men and 46% women as of 2006,
Women today are 55% of the workforce! (paradigm shift)
In 2005:
62% of jobs were service; (now about 78%)
6.5% farm work;
      15.1 % goods & products;
      14.9 % government workers, and
      1.5% agriculture.
      9.1 % unemployment nationally
      TX 8.5 % unemployed
AZ 9.3 %
CA 12.1%

NV 13.4 %

CO 8.5 %

NM 6.6 % (high 8.9%)


AL 9.9 %
TN 9.7 %
GE 10.2 %
AK 10.2 %
SC 11.1 %
NC 10.4 %
MS 10.3 %
LA 7.2 %
FL 10.7 %
Labor Unions membership and unionism in the US is falling and stands at 13% of the work force today due in part to de-regularization (Reagan), shift in labor markets (offshore since free trade agreements), service industry (quicker returns of profits), downsizing (technology), and increased competition. According to several scholars, US unionism is tethered by its committed to capitalism and sees itself only as adversaries of the company management and not social actors which makes them more vertical than horizontal in nature. Unionism is diminishing also because of a growing number of unfair labor practices by employers, court decisions, and a pro-corporate administration in the White House regardless of the political party in power. Unionism and federal labor laws have systematically excluded sectors of workers from the protection of their rights. Traditionally excluded workers include 'Bracero' guest workers, farm, domestic, and restaurant & hotel workers, and others. Many of the practices and politic of excluding workers takes place in the Southern half of the United States, why?

Labor unions and worker organizing has been less successful in the US South (southern half of US) that in the North, according to Timothy J. Minchin in his book “Fighting against the Odds: The History of Southern Labor since WWII”. Historiographically, the southern labor history is often termed as the “Southern Exceptionalism”. This term defines itself with high labor union organizational membership in the North (40% at the end of WWII), and low unionization and low wages in the South and a reactionary job climate making sure the numbers of unionized (organized) workers and wages stays low. Southern exceptionalism can be identified by various characteristics including:
  1. Low unionization
  2. Low educational level of workers
  3. Reactionary and repressive political climate
  4. Low wages-wide gap between wages in the north and south
                      [“Anti-union employers supported politicians committed to bring industry south, by clergy, whose churches were often subsidized by anti-union employers, and by police and vigilantes who assaulted and abused union activists and organizers”]
  5. Limited social capital
  6. The South pulls the political economy to the right
  7. Not equal rights for all
  8. Racism based on racial superiority and anti-union rage combined
    [“anti-unionism had practically replaced racism as the South's signature prejudice” (pg 183)]
  9. Undermines unionization (the South) and union wages in the rest of the United States
  10. South as the low wage enclave with in the US economy
  11. Hostile employers
  12. Cold war anti-communist hatred see labor organizers as 'communists'
  13. Migrant labor (documented, guest workers and undocumented)
  14. Excluded worker sectors (from labor law or social protection)
Low road development in the South and Southwest is the political and economic model of the Southern half of the United States which requires a consistent anti-union, anti-worker, stance to keep the wages down because lower wages were the only reason industry was attracted to a region with poorly educated workers and poor social infrastructure and capital. This regional South policy of low road development has continually failed to invest in human and social capital, has left much of the South with little to offer except unspecialized labor at low wages. “The South labor is no better than that offered at even lower wages in Mexico, Latin America, East Asia, and now China”. This could be a reason it was easy for industry in the south (poultry for example) to replace US African American and Latino workers and replace them with migrant labor (majority Mexican) because the wage system and production system remained intact.

Other policies established under low road development to insure institutionally the 'reactionary regime' by making into State law; anti-worker and anti-unionism measures such as prohibiting collective bargaining, strikes and concerted labor actions by public employees. Ironically, the public sector has given more successful results to unionism than any other sector. Private industry unionism lost after the corporations went 'offshore' starting in the 1980's and set up assembly plants in Mexico, Central and Latin America and Asia. Before moving overseas, much of this industry was moving from New England and Detroit to the 'sunbelt' region because of cheap wages, the same reasons that motivated the industry to move over seas under free trade.

In the new neo-liberal free trade development model, once the shops moved overseas the South went from a low wage region to a receiving region of low-income wage earners; migrants from the global South. The US South thus became part of the global South. Poultry, land scape and construction industry became the path for migrant workers to reach the US and get the jobs no one else would do and for the lowest wages possible. We can conclude that the work force changed radically in the South from plantation to low wage industry, and the changed the composition and type of industry but the policy of low-road development continued and flourished with the new found source of cheap labor, supporting free trade, and therefore able to offer investors from the Global North a bigger profit in the South.

The Industrial revolution of the 1880's was marked by the laying of the railroad, cotton as king, and an economic BOOM. A hidden opportunity factor for employers was 'importing' workers as unskilled workers, 200,000 Chinese and 450,000 Mexican workers to build the railroad for one monopoly owned by Jay Gould. The Chinese were deported after the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act. It was in 1886, the year of the “Great Upheaval” that included 610,000 workers active in 1,400 strikes and in May 1st, 350,000 workers rallied demand an 8 hour work day. Harvard economist, FW Taussig describes “one strike stood out in particular it had the widest effect and the greatest significance”. The Great Southwest Strike was important according to Taussig because of it was “an extreme case-extreme in magnitude, extreme in methods and the temper of the strikers”.

One important characteristic of the low-road development and the Southern exceptionalism model is the importation of migrant works, whether under the 1922 agreement of guest workers from Mexico under Carranza presidency, migration due to the Mexican Revolution , after the revolution, and the Bracero guest worker program of 1945 (born alongside world bank and International Monetary fund) that ended in 1965. When workers were no longer needed or in times of economic crisis, migrant workers were deported en masse. Repatriation programs of the 1930's and 1950's used military 'force' to repatriate millions of Mexican workers.

Today most of the South States are signatures to the section 14-B of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), known as the Taft-Heartly Act. The 14 B section claims to protect workers rights to work but is really an anti-union measure prohibiting any 'closed shops'. Closed shops are those union shops that are 100% union and require new employees to join the union as a condition of employment. Still other measure is to not recognize unions as labor-worker organizations but as 'associations of employees' therefore negating workers the right to assembly, the right to organize, and the right to free speech. Rights guaranteed under the US constitution but not enforced because of the 'southern exceptionalism'.

Public employee organizations in the South have to go to the state legislature, obtain the backing of a legislator, introduce and successfully pass a bill into law in order to allow collective bargaining contracts for police, emergency personnel, and Fire fighters. Poor workers and unionism in the South will not get legislative backing and the employer's legislative friends who will block any efforts to introduce or pass a law protecting all public employees' rights to organize and to a contract just like all other workers. One worker put it like this, “the employer's in the public sector intimidate union activists by threatening to fire them constantly, or firing them without cause and even have the police arrest Union organizers when they come meet with us during our duty free lunch period”. This public employee explained, “the administration of public sector employees use the Taft Heartly 14 B section to say that ALL workers are 'at will' meaning that you are hired or fired totally at the discretion of your boss, director or supervisor, which is NOT true”. All public employees have a right to due process, a basic constitutional right, the right to a hearing to prove cause. In many instances a system of 'political patronage' existed whereby you only got a public job if you voted for the established politicians.

“Generally administrators at public jobs refuse to hear grievances and simple tore them up in front of the workers and even in the presence of his or her union representative” explained James Manley. James Manley, a public employee documented, “ the unions controlled by Whites who were not interested in helping African American with grievances, in fact union officials often simply ripped up the grievances filed by African Americans”.

In Local 150 UE in North Carolina waste collection workers were often subjected to racist intimidation by the supervisor who had a hangman's noose on his desk. Racist supervisors treated workers disparately downgrading African American or Latino workers at every turn, during work assignments, evaluations, promotions and wages. Most public jobs explained Saladin Mohammed, a Union representative with UE local 150 and with Black Workers for Justice (BWFJ), “are structured on a system of favoritism where the supervisor decides who get a raise and who does not and who gets promoted or not. It is not based on an objective evaluation and work performance but on favoritism. Under this punitive system, union activists are often wrote up for infractions until they are forced out or fired”.

Timothy J. Minchin maintains that the reason unions failed to support African Americans was because of local union autonomy. He states, “local unions were allowed to pursue racist policies and actions because the national unions feared that if they pursue the race issue that Whites would quit their unions en masse.” Politicians on the other hand feared that unionism would scare investors and corporations from setting shop in their state or city and thus supported the reactionary regime against unions and organizing of workers.

The historical bedrock of the 'southern exceptionalism' is the legacy of slave plantation in the South under Spanish, English, French, and US imperialism and slavery. It was this agricultural boom in the South, the era of King Cotton, that financed the industrial revolution of the 1800's and the industrial revolution at the turn of the twentieth century. The Southern exceptionalism grows out of segregation and the Jim Crow laws and thus they were laws to prevent African Americans from voting, moreover from exercising their constitutional rights, including labor union organizing. It was not until the Civil Rights movement connected the racist segregation, Jim Crow laws and workplace, did things began to change for unionism and workers progress.

In the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement and the integration of schools and pubic spaces, and the winning of the Voting Rights Act, social movements begin to grow and form 'workers centers' throughout the South of the US now in the expanded version of the South (South and Southwest) where geo-politcally it has become in this new period, the South within the Global North (US & Canada). Circumventing existing National Union top down leadership, structure and subservience to the local unions who had racist policies and or practices against Black and Brown people; workers centers sprung up by the dozens in the late 1980's all over the Southwest and the South and now number in the hundreds. Non profit social movement worker centers brought new life to a faltering strategy and politic by official unions. Workers Centers brought together labor/union strategies and fused them with the already acquired in the civil rights and community organizing social movements. This Labor-community strategies went to workers not traditionally organized by official unions, like day laborers, domestic workers, undocumented migrant workers, farm workers, bus riders unions, and public employees. This labor-community strategies success stems from the fact that workers (Black and Brown, and others) not only needed economic-job protection and representation but also social and political rights needed to be protected against racist segregationist practices. In Latino communities mutual-aid societies were the first form of social, political and economic organization and remains culturally relevant today in migrant organizing.
Today most workers' centers in the South and Southwest not only organize the unorganized workers, organize communities, they build up alliances with official labor unions, established networks and alliances between communities, workers and youth, fight globalization and the taking of jobs overseas, and fight the corporations who profit from this super exploitation. Workers centers have fought Wall Mart, and other big box stores and corporate chains like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers who beat McDonald's, Burger King and other food giants into paying a just wage for low income tomato pickers. Farmworkers remain as an excluded sector of workers prohibited from organizing by their employers, blocked from collective bargaining rights, food stamps and unemployment, even after Cesar Chavez's work with United Farm Workers and the grape boycott. Most farmworkers housing remains deplorable at best, and working conditions poor with not even drinking water or restrooms provided. Many of these conditions exist today with migrant workers particularly undocumented workers often victims of wage theft by unscrupulous and greedy employers. PCUN (Pine & Agricultural workers union) in Portland works both as a union with collective agreements and as a worker community-labor strategies center. Centro Sin Fronteras in El Paso utilizes the labor-community strategies to organize bi-national farm workers. The LA Community-Labor Strategies Center was one of the first workers center to establish this combined the labor & community organizing approach. Justice for Janitors in Los Angeles is an example of 'community labor-strategies' involving labor unions (HERE & SEIU) organizing the janitors that clean office buildings, an excluded worker sector, in alliance with community social movements and community organizations and faith movements.

Southwest Workers Union, a community-labor strategies center, founded as a worker center in Hondo, Texas in May of 1988, established its central office in San Antonio, Texas and has for 23 years focused on bringing together economic and environmental struggles in Texas. Organizing the excluded sector of public school workers, together with community and youth, proved successful where SWU today has grown to over 3,000 members. SWU proved that you did not have to be an official union to organize public school workers, and proved that you can organize, defend workers rights and grow under a 14 B employer reactionary regime, and gain social changes in fighting the entrenched politicians, employers, by educating the workers to 'know their rights'. SWU mobilized school workers to the school board meetings and when refused to allowed to speak as school employees and referred to Human Resources, SWU responded that we where there to speak as community residents and taxpayers of the school district and could not be denied a voice. SWU signs up members at schools as their representative in matters of wages, working conditions and benefits.When the school districts refused to collect union membership dues, SWU argued it was being discriminated as other 'associations' like health insurance or credit unions were allowed deductions from payroll. SWU was flexible to morph from a workers organization to a community organization to an environmental justice group demanding workers be trained on MSDS (material safety and data sheet) sheets and the dangers of chemicals in use. As a social movement organization, SWU could mobilize youth that are members of the Youth leadership organization to protest student rights violations, and lack of relevant cultural studies in schools. SWU mobilizes parents (who are school workers and parents of youth members) as concerned parents who go speak and protest at the school board and who participate in civic engagement drives and campaigns to unseat reactionary employers and their politicians. SWU can also morph into a civic community involvement organizations and mobilize to protect the voting rights act, the one person one vote right in redistricting, and even participating in budget developments and adoptions, green areas and urban community development, and education.

Regionally, SWU is part of and founding member of the Southwest Network for Environmental & Economic Justice (SNEEJ), Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJA), South x Southwest Experiment, South-Southwest Labor Congress, Turn the Tide on Migrant Rights, National Domestic Workers Union, Southern Front (of struggle), US Human Rights Network, Bi-national Coordinator for Border Human Rights, Youth Power Shift, food sovereignty movement, and alternative energy coalition and other formations such as the Peoples Movement Assembly associated with the US Social Forum process and its national planning committee.

Emerging trends in labor unionism movements today are faced with a divided labor congress with the AFLCIO and Winds of Change unions split and divided. An emerging excluded workers sector that is having success in organizing is the organizing of day laborers, farm workers, restaurant, domestic and migrant workers.
Day labor is a nationwide phenomenon. On any given day, approximately 117,600 workers are either looking for day-labor jobs or working as day laborers. The dimensions of the day-labor market are fluid; on a daily basis new workers enter this market while others leave it. Similarly, hiring sites diminish in size or disappear, while new ones emerge. The national count of the day-labor workforce represents a snapshot of this workforce in the United States. The largest concentration of day laborers is in the West (42 percent), followed by the East (23 percent), Southwest (18 percent), South (12 percent) and Midwest (4 percent).
Day laborers search for work in different types of hiring sites. The vast majority (79 percent) of hiring sites are informal and include workers standing in front of businesses (24 percent), home improvement stores (22 percent), gas stations (10 percent) and on busy streets (8 percent). Most of these sites are near residential neighborhoods. One in five (21 percent) day laborers search for work at day-labor worker centers.
Day laborers are primarily employed by homeowners/renters (49 percent) and construction contractors (43 percent). Their top five occupations include construction laborer, gardener and landscaper, painter, roofer, and drywall installer.
Day laborers search for work on a full-time basis. The vast majority (83 percent) relies on day-labor work as their sole source of income. Seventy percent search for work five or more days a week, while 9 percent seek work only one or two days a week. Three-quarters (74 percent) of day laborers have worked in this market for less than three years, suggesting that many make the transition into jobs in other sectors of the economy. The National Day Laborers Network is a national formation to address the national need for organizing and giving voice to the excluded.

Domestic Workers Organizing is the most dynamic organizing of excluded workers taking place today is a national formation giving organization and voice to the excluded. Domestic workers won a bill of rights in new York, and are fighting for one in San Francisco and San Antonio. Internationally, the US Network of Domestic workers fought for and got a resolution of the bill of rights approved at the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva.
We can say that as the service sector of excluded workers grows for example, the service sector went from 58.9% in 1967 to 78.6% in 2005, the changing demographics (migration and displacement) are making the population majority of people of color in the South X Southwest region of the US, the organizing social movement s and worker centers will continue to 'grow' the movement in the area of excluded workers developing new economic paradigms for all workers to be included, to change economic distribution of capital (or close the gap), and have justice and equality.

In an era of a budget deficit of ½ trillion annually, and a corporate agenda and structure that establishes dual and triple markets to squeeze more profits of workers. The primary market are the good jobs. The secondary and third sectors are the bad jobs. Bad jobs go now were and leave many low income workers feeling little incentive for education. The good jobs have a high promotional ceiling where education and high skilled labor is rewarded. Based on these tiers the corporate economic model indexes the rate of profit desired or wanted, then plots the production levels and workers lowest wage possible, essentially profits over people.The third sector is the youth worker particularly in fast food markets where they are more exploitable.

The social movements and the excluded workers organized a 'Peoples Movement Assembly' (PMA) at the US Social Forum in Detroit in June 2010 and have since have 'exploded' in expanding organizing campaigns and anchor organizations leading the organizing drives both locally, regionally and nationally, in some case like the Domestic Workers internationally. The PMA seemed to have brought a national 'convergence' of forces to work together and is resulting in the integration of social movements, worker centers and unorganized excluded workers forging a new approach to organizing in the South and Southwest. The occupy wall street movement, as a social movement, allows for a greater convergence of a greater number of social actors and sectors that make another world possible and another US Happening. We are at the full circle back to 1886 Great Southwest Railroad strike and the year of the 'great upheaval'.

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