On April 9, 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. It ended the Civil War. The surrender was actually a great victory for the American South because it was another nail in the coffin of slavery.
On July 27, 2011 Southern workers at Danville, Virginia’s Swedish-owned IKEA plant voted overwhelmingly for union recognition with the International Association of Machinists (IAM). This was another great victory for The South. Although both slavery and legal segregation are gone, the scourge of cheap labor & poor working conditions remains. These are not just material hardships for Southern workers, but an insult to their honor and self respect as human beings.
People often confuse the Confederacy with The South. Don’t. Thousands of Southerners joined the Union Army or fought in irregular guerrilla bands to put an end to the Slavocracy. Appomattox was a liberation day for the South and the beginning of a long difficult struggle that would abolish slavery and eventually lead to full civil rights for all US citizens.
After the Civil War die-hard Confederates vowed that “The South Will Rise Again.” Sipping their mint juleps and sweet tea on their ruined plantations, they imagined that the rebel flag would someday fly over Washington DC. Fat chance.The South did rise again, but not in the way they planned. The South rose during Reconstruction and fought for racial equality and economic justice. It rose again for those same values during the Populist Revolt of the 1890’s and during the farmer-labor revolts of the Great Depression.
Unfortunately the Old Confederacy rose again also, this time as segregationists instead of slaveowners. Each time, the the descendants of the Slavocracy were able to beat back the challenges to their rule with white supremacist legislation and white-sheeted terrorism. They’d had a lot of practice at this. Preying upon the racial divisions their ancestors had created in the 17th century was their area of expertise.
Finally The South rose again in the form of the Civil Rights Movement to gain full citizens’ rights in a struggle that changed the entire face of the nation. Angry white supremacist Democrats switched their allegiance to the Republican Party in revenge. However as important as those citizens’ rights were, they did not directly address the deep social and economic inequalities in the South. That was left for future generations.
Those deep social and economic inequalities could be seen in full living color at the Danville, VA IKEA plant:
- IKEA Management demanded such onerous mandatory overtime that IKEA worker Tawanda Tarpley worked 3 months without a single day off.
- IKEA workers in the USA get 4 days vacation selected by workers, 8 days selected by management. IKEA workers in Sweden get 5 weeks of vacation.
- The Machinists Union was quoted as saying that,” Danville’s plant is the most dangerous furniture factory in the U.S., with 1,536 days lost from work due to injury since 2007.”.
- OSHA fined the plant $13,500 for lying about its accident rates and hiding eight serious injuries
- Minority employees have begun a racial discrimination suit saying that the the promotions policy is racially biased.
- IKEA workers in Sweden make $19 per hour. Wages at Danville were around $9 per hour. Many of the workers came from a local temp agency and made even less.
That kind of inhuman mis-management has a devastating effect on families and communities.
The IKEA workers had help from unions in Europe and Asia who put pressure on the IKEA owners. Even Jon Stewart of the Daily Show got in the act borrowing a phrase from IAM organizer Bill Street saying that, “The USA was turning into ‘Europe’s Mexico.’ ” Stewart made an important point, but there is more to the story. The entire American South is being turned into a low wage high exploitation manufacturing center with the enthusiastic support of the region’s Republican Party.
Within the next five years, the United States is expected to experience a manufacturing renaissance as the wage gap with China shrinks and certain U.S. states become some of the cheapest locations for manufacturing in the developed world, according to a new analysis by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).—press release of the Boston Consulting group. May 5, 2011
Southern governments fall all over themselves giving away huge subsidies and tax breaks to foreign and domestic companies to come and set up manufacturing plants.These subsidies are paid for by the taxpayers by cutting funds for education, healthcare, infrastructure, emergency fire and police services, aid to the elderly and help for the disabled.
Southern state governments and business associations brag about their “low labor costs and high productivity” as this example from a South Carolina website shows:
Wage rates for skilled manufacturing workers are the lowest in the Southeast, and workers compensation and unemployment insurance costs are significantly lower than the U.S. average. A right-to-work state, South Carolina has the lowest unionization rate in the nation as of 2006, and the work stoppage rate is likewise among the lowest. Recent layoffs in the textile industry have added to the region’s large available pool of skilled labor, giving manufacturers tremendous hiring flexibility. ——-Sourced from the Carolinas I-77 MEGA•Site
What does it mean to work non-union in South Carolina? At the German owned BMW auto plant, workers talk about high turnover, injuries due to poor ergonomics, cutbacks in the their pension funds, loss of overtime benefits, cutbacks in medical benefits and other issues. The production speedup at non-union southern plants wears out workers both physically and mentally, leading to high turnover rates.
It’s clear that companies like BMW, Honda, Nissan & Kia want a high turnover work force so they don’t have to pay out pensions and health costs. If workers are crippled by RSI and forced to leave, well tough luck, there always a meager disability check or a minimum wage job accompanied by constant pain. The UAW has announced plans(again) to organize these Southern auto plants but their previous missteps will add to the challenge of organizing.
In the old days the Slaveocracy forced Southerners to stand chained on the auction block where they were sold to the highest bidder as slaves. Now in the 21st century Neo-Slaveocracy, state governments and business associations sell Southern labor to foreign and domestic companies for the lowest possible wages and the most miserable working conditions.
Republican leaders like Nikki Haley, Rick Scott, Bobby Jindall and Haley Barbour actually beam with pride at this accomplishment, as if they were canny 19th century slave traders who had finally made a big score. They are now a part of the global race to the bottom and they’re lovin’ it.??
The victory at IKEA will have to replicated across the South to break the power of the modern Neo-Slaveocracy. It won’t easy. Centuries of racial division and terrorism have left their mark. Racist and anti-union propaganda is everywhere. The Republican Party is well organized, well financed and totally ruthless. But the Southern fighters for justice are a tough bunch. They have to be. They also need our help. One of the reasons the Southern Civil Rights Movement was successful was because of the support it received from the rest of the nation.
Today’s Neo-Slaveocracy is more than a labor relations nightmare. It is the epicenter of political reaction of all types from religious extremism, to climate change denial, to militarism, to gender oppression, to the teaching of creationism in the schools, to the Tea Party Republicans. States outside of the The South will compete with it for economic development thus speeding up the race to the bottom. If we are to move forward as a nation, the Southern fighters for justice hold the keys to our future. My hat goes off to them for their courage, patience and dedication.
And what will happen to the economic elite of the Neo-Slaveocracy when their power is finally broken? Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.
This diary is dedicated to my North Carolina born mom and the rest of her North Carolina extended family. The dream is still alive.