Note by Hunterbear:

This is somewhat lengthy -- and, if that troubles you, simply delete.  [If
you do that, however, be prepared to permanently vaporize immediately after
this coming Midnight.]

Yesterday, an interesting labor discussion began on our Redbadbear list --
stemming from the not impressive state of teacher unionism in Albuquerque.
Contributors included Mato Ska, Sam Friedman, Ed Pickersgill, as well as
myself.  All of us, obviously, are much committed to militant and democratic
unionism -- but none of us are under any illusions [stars in one's eyes]
about the current state of "mainline" American unionism.  Last May, an
interesting colloquy developed on several lists regarding the American South
and unionism -- with some mention of my native Southwest. Much of my own
life has been spent in the Dixie situation.  Here is a portion of that
interesting discussion [now on our website] which involves me, excellent
contributions from Michael Eisenscher. and critical perspectives from Leo
Casey of United Federation of Teachers [NYC.]  I'm posting this beyond
Redbadbear and our companion Marxist list.    Hunter [Hunterbear]

Note by Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]:
These are several posts -- most from me -- that appeared in May 8 - May 9 on
various discussion lists regarding union organizing [and the sad lack of it]
in the South.

>From Hunterbear on May 8, 2002:
Your question on the relative absence of unionism in the American South is
well taken, Duane.  The answer is long and complex -- but here's the

The basic reason now that the South [and there really are several different
Souths] is so relatively unorganized, union-wise, is that mainline American
Labor simply won't make the investment in intensive, pro-longed union
organization and servicing of locals.  It hasn't for many decades.

The historical reasons -- cynical use of racism historically by the power
structures to divide workers and keep unionism out, feudalism, extremely
hostile anti-union local jurisdictions especially at the town and city and
county levels, scab laws -- are all still very much around.

The most basic complex of factors -- racism and its attendant divisions --
is definitely fading at whatever glacial pace.  It's no longer the
dependable anti-union "silver bullet" weapon that it was for so many
generations.  But even in the Old South of the 1910s, the IWW could organize
interracially and effectively in the Louisiana lumber woods; and, in the
1930s and 1940s,  a radical union like  Mine-Mill was able to organize very
effectively on a completely integrated and egalitarian basis -- even in such
absolutely racist and repressive bastions as the Birmingham/Bessemer iron
mining district.  But that took guts and visionary commitment -- and most
unions were afraid to buck the racist status quo.

But, essentially, the AFL-CIO and its components simply don't want to invest
in what it takes:  much money, good organizers, lawyers and publicists, etc.
It pulled out of the South organizing-wise during the Cold War era.  In the
latter stages of the Civil Rights Movement, many opportunities existed for
unions to work directly with grassroots civil rights organizations -- which
often proffered their hand -- but, with some significant exceptions, Labor
simply got scared.

Good people, like an old friend, the late Claude Ramsay, President of the
Mississippi AFL-CIO, fought the very good fight for decades -- but it was
extremely tough and lonely.

It missed that great opportunity and, while talk about "organizing the
unorganized" continues, it's hard to see any meaningful tangible
unionization efforts in the South. There have been some victories for
sure -- but it's still only a scratch in the red soil and pine needles and
mill towns.

The South -- Deep, Border, Middle or Urban or Rural -- is a tough and
expensive setting for any social justice stuff.  It certainly is for labor
unionization.  It requires a very long-term commitment of many kinds.

It would certainly be great to see that commitment made.  Ultimately, it'll
have to be made -- or the relative absence of unionism there -- or
anywhere -- will of course retard and inhibit Labor everywhere.

I could cite a many examples involving this Southern situation -- some
relatively contemporary.  I have some of the historical stuff on our

Fraternally - Hunterbear
Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]  ( social justice )

Protected by NaŽshdoŽiŽbaŽiŽ


>From Hunterbear on May 8, 2002 -- responding to Michael Eisenscher's post
which is attached at the end:

Your points are thoughtful and solid, Michael.  Hearty congratulations on
your article!  The journal sounds great. We'll see if we can drum up some

We are  certainly not far apart.

I'm taking the liberty of posting this also on the DSA lists where this
colloquy began. Your post -- with your excellent thoughts and the name of
your article  and that of the journal --  is attached to this one.

While there are certainly a number of complex reasons why mainline American
labor has not invested substantially in the South in the context of the very
long-term commitment required, I do think it boils down to the very
substantial financial costs involved. Brutally, in a nation that's changed
in many ways -- for better and worse at different points -- the AFL-CIO has
consistently done little in the South for fifty years.

Here are a few examples involving individual Internationals:

The Left unions -- very visionary and very militant and very egalitarian --
were, of course, forced out of CIO in 1950.  I'm  quite familiar with the
Mine-Mill situation where, although it lost much of its Alabama iron-mining
membership in a vicious race-baiting and red-baiting raid by the Steel union
in 1949,  did still retain significant membership in Alabama. But the
excellent Mine-Mill had its hands full  protecting for years [and generally
successfully] its traditional non-ferrous metals jurisdiction elsewhere in
the United States and Canada [much of this in the West] in the face of the
most vicious attacks from the mining bosses, the Federal governments of both
countries [especially that of the US], and right-wing unions such as Steel.
It was never again able to do significant Southern organizing.

Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers -- well integrated in the
South and Southwest -- was quickly destroyed in the Red Scare atmosphere
from the Carolinas to the West Coast.  [I was still a kid in Northern
Arizona when the Food and Tobacco union halls were burned down in the Salt
River Valley. A friend of mine who had been an FTA organizer and who was
still a faithful radical near Phoenix survived by inventing an interesting
cotton picking machine. ]  The other ousted Left unions, most of which did
not  long survive with their old identities following the purge, had little
or no Southern involvement.

But certainly not all unions that remained in CIO and then in AFL-CIO by any
means could be termed "business unions" in that classic sense.  An example
would be International Woodworkers of America [lumber jurisdiction] which,
with much Southern involvement, had a variety of left currents in its
Pacific Northwest origin traditions which certainly continued to some
extent. But IWA sharply pulled back from meaningful Southern organizing.
The reason given to me by a friend, one of its very top staffers, in 1960
and early in 1961 when I myself was going into the Deep South , was simply
money and racial controversy.  In 1961, I was in Mississippi and, early in
'62, acting for NAACP, took many affidavits from Black workers at Masonite
at Laurel, in Jones County -- a big IWA local -- and later filed appropriate
formal complaints against both the company and union with the Federal
government and with national NAACP and with A. Philip Randolph. The total
segregation complex extended into the local itself with the result that the
Black workers, who had played significant roles in organizing the local,
were at the very bottom of everything -- and the lowest paid sawmill sweeper
in Oregon was making more than the highest paid White worker at Masonite.
[This is discussed on page 37 of my book, Jackson Mississippi --- under my
old name of John R Salter, Jr.]   IWA had bogged down in the South and was
simply pulling back.  It never regained its old momentum.

Another union, with an AFL background, which was certainly not a business
union -- and which had a good deal of Southern involvement, was
International Chemical Workers Union.  Its President, Walter Mitchell, a
White Alabamian was extremely good on the racial issue [Walter had an old
Mine-Mill background from TVA] and a number of its key staff,several of them
young who I knew well, had essentially left and visionary perspectives.  But
it, too, had pulled back -- because of money and racial controversy.   As
the Civil Rights Movement moved rapidly along, Walter did order the
generally segregated Southern ICWU locals to integrate or jump ship -- and
they integrated.  But its Southern organizing momentum had slowed

In April, 1966, with the Civil Rights Movement having now substantially
opened up much of the South, I met at Chicago with Ralph Helstein, President
of United Packinghouse Workers and Vice-President Charles Hayes and Director
of Organization Jesse Prosten.  Packinghouse, of course, although AFL-CIO,
was certainly anything except a business union. Its leaders were essentially
radicals.  I carried a complex but clear and direct proposal from the Deep
South that Jesse -- a friend -- strongly supported:  that Packinghouse would
fund a number of proven civil rights organizers in Mississippi and the
Carolinas who would focus on broad community grassroots organization.  And
those new, broad organizations would both stimulate new, interracial
unionism in those Southern settings and would provide significantly tangible
community support for union organizing and eventual strike actions.  In the
end, although Jesse -- Director of Organization -- continued to support the
proposal with the greatest vigour, Packinghouse backed away.  Again --
money, more than anything else.

I could cite a good many more examples across the many years into recent
times but these convey, I think, where the problem basic always lies:
Mainline labor simply doesn't want to invest substantially over the long
pull in the always very costly and complex Southern [and environs]
situation.  It's often hard enough to get them to act significantly and
effectively anywhere in the country.  But the South -- and all of its
variants -- make up a consistently very tough challenge.

But, of course, the South can and must be organized.  And ultimately it will
be. AFL-CIO itself, with its very substantial resources, is going to have to
get heavily into this -- come hell or high water.  In the meantime, any
solid organizing efforts at all are always significant sparks anywhere --
and certainly in Dixie.

I'm sure we agree, Michael, that bona fide organizing is Genesis.  The old
argument that one has to fight first in the legislative arena -- getting rid
of Southern right-to-work scab laws etc -- before one can begin to organize
simply means waiting for the Ice Age to melt. Things have to start with
intensive, direct organizing at the point-of-production and continue,
feathering out and with full commitment, over the super long haul: possibly

Solidarity -

Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]  ( social justice )
Protected by NaŽshdoŽiŽbaŽiŽ

>From Michael Eisenscher on May 8, 2002:

I would like to add an observation or two about why unions have not
succeeded in gaining a foothold in the South.

I agree with you, Hunter, but I think your analysis omits a couple of
important factors.

First and foremost is the postwar influence of business unionism.  It was
not simply that the AFL and CIO (until 1954) and AFL-CIO (thereafter) were
cheapskates or skinflints.  They failed to put resources into Southern
organizing because under the terms of the postwar labor-management
'arrangement' it was in their interest to simply collect dues revenue which
grew with the rapid expansion of the 1950-60s economy in which already
organized sectors added tens of thousands of new union members.  It was not
in their interest (that is, labor's bureaucracy) to go head to head with
capital by challenging its control over the Southern economy.

Secondly, the forces that were most likely to spearhead a campaign to
organize the South in both funding and staffing it were in the process of
being purged from the labor movement.  Add to that the race factor to which
you point, and you have all the ingredients for the failure of Operation
Dixie, labor's half-hearted and largely symbolic campaign in the South that
collapsed almost as soon as it began.

Finally, while few unions are putting resources into Southern organizing,
there is labor organizing going on now in the South.  But it is not always
in the form of traditional union organizing.  Black Workers for Justice,
for example, is organizing in the Carolinas, a large non-majority union
sponsored by CWA is organizing public workers in Texas, there is some
organizing going on in the chicken processing industry, etc.  It is,
however, embarrassingly inadequate to meet the challenge presented by the
open shop South which is now the locus of much of the productive investment
in manufacturing that remains in the U.S. and much of the food processing
and service sector as well.

I address these issues in more detail in an article that appears in the
latest issue of WorkingUSA entitled "Is the Secret to Labor's Future in Its
Past?"  Its rather lengthy so if anyone wants a copy and can't get the
journal, I can send it as an attachment.  But I urge folks to support
WorkUSA by ordering a copy and getting a subscription.  It is more than
worth the price.  It, the Queens College semi-annual New Labor Forum,
Social Policy, and Labor Studies Journal are among the few remaining venues
for thoughtful analysis of the contemporary labor movement.

In solidarity,


>From Michael Eisenscher on May 9, 2002:  Response to Hunterbear's post of
May 8th


Your response is much appreciated.  Your personal experience and knowledge
of the Southern movement gives you a vantage point that few others have and
makes all the difference in the analysis you share with us.  I am taking
the liberty of sharing this exchange with some labor movement activists in
the South who I am sure will appreciate learning from this history.

The influence of business unionism as an ideology and set of institutional
practices should not be viewed in isolation from other factors, such as the
costs, but they are also related.  The AFL-CIO annually squanders millions
of dollars on projects and activities whose importance follows from the
leadership's integration into the two-party system of interest group
politics, on conferences and conventions at first class resorts, on
lobbying, on junkets and a variety of other things that suggest there is
money but not the will or commitment required to invest those funds in the
politically risky venture of organizing, especially in the South.  It is
not whether a union is or is not a "business union."  The point I am making
is how the ideology of business unionism pervades the entire labor
movement, contaminating even those organizations which nominally retain a
social movement orientation (i.e., UE, ILWU, 1199, etc.).

There are substantial reasons why any given organization would not want to
risk precious organizing funds in the South, particularly when those funds
will obtain a far better return when invested elsewhere.  But across the
board throughout the 1950-70s unions dramatically cut back ALL organizing
activity.  Furthermore, no one union could reasonably expect to make
significant breakthroughs in the South while the rest of the labor movement
shunned the effort.  It will take a commitment that is movement-wide, not
just union or industry specific to make any breakthroughs that can be

Having spent a number of years in the Silicon Valley trying to organizing
electronics and other high tech workers, I am painfully aware of how
resistant the national leadership of unions is to commit to long-term
strategic organizing efforts.  Given that the electronics industry is and
has been for some time the nation's largest manufacturing industry and its
least organized (about 2-3%), one would think that industrial unions
seeking to recoup membership losses suffered in the deindustrialization of
their traditional base in the Midwest and Northeast would see the wisdom
and opportunity, if not imperative need, in tackling this strategic
sector.  But I was unable to get a single national union to invest even
exploratory funds in the SV.  My union, the UE, did not have the resources
or staff to tackle the industry by itself.  Despite the fact that we were
able to develop organizing committees in a half dozen major plants, I
remained the lone organizer with no office, no resources and no support
staff.  The story of that experience is documented in another unpublished
paper I authored "Silicon Fist in a Velvet Glove" (1993).

While John Sweeney was regaling the leadership of the affiliates to invest
a significant portion of their budgets in organizing, and his staff was
promoting "strategic" multi-union organizing projects, the AFL-CIO and its
affiliates allowed a promising effort (L.A. MAP) to organize tens of
thousands of (mostly immigrant) unorganized workers in LA's Alameda
Corridor to falter for lack of financial support and institutional
commitment.  The examples are too numerous to catalog here.

Even now, after seven years of New Voice leadership, only about a half
dozen affiliates have come even close to committing the 25-30% of their
budgets to organizing which Sweeney has sought despite the fact that the
General Executive Council of the Federation committed itself to that goal
several years ago.  When you remove SEIU, HERE and a few others from the
equation, it is evident that the rest of the labor movement has changed
little in this respect since Kirkland and Meany led the labor movement.

Suffice it to say that a significant turn-around for the labor movement is
unlikely to occur unless and until union leaders and members dramatically
alter their attachment to play-it-safe, don't-rock-the-boat strategies that
depend on the beneficence and protection of politicians and "responsible"
corporate executives.  As my father was fond of reminding me, 'You can't
get an omelet without breaking some eggs.'

Yours in solidarity,


Hunterbear's post of May 9, 2002 -- responding to that of Leo Casey, whose
post is attached at the end

I've just read your post, Leo, which seems somewhat sarcastic and quite

In my initial post, I certainly made it very clear about distinctiveness of
the "several Souths" -- and I said:

"The historical reasons -- cynical use of racism historically by the power
structures to divide workers and keep unionism out, feudalism, extremely
hostile anti-union local jurisdictions especially at the town and city and
county levels, scab laws -- are all still very much around."

But, in the Civil Rights Movement, we were able to do some very big
things -- often with little funding but always with very, very strong and
enduring moral commitment.  Commitment right into and through the very Pits
of Hell.

Beyond that, I'm not  sure there's much point in responding to your post in
any great detail.  I do have a few things to say and then that's it.

AFL leadership to some extent, very much that of CIO, and certainly AFL-CIO
and IUD [CIO] at various  points over time have provided funds, technical
and even direct organizing staff, and have stimulated and coordinated
large-scale organizing campaigns.  Never enough, ever -- but in some
situations, some. Point is, almost all dimensions of mainline unionism
backed out of the South in any on-going fashion -- because it is indeed
tough and expensive.

And that, frankly, is all the more reason for a concerted,  all-out and very
long-range campaign to crack Dixie.

I'm really not sure how much you know about the South, Leo.  [I wouldn't
profess to say a great deal about New York City and its unique situations.]
Please don't become an authority on something that you certainly do not
appear to be.

Then there is this strange statement of yours -- which makes no sense:

"It is sheer fantasy to point to a couple of Mine, Mill, Smelter locals in
the hills of Arizona and say, there but for the AFL-CIO and its
anti-communism, goes the entire South. "

Arizona, which has some "border South" characteristics, is not the South --
it's the Southwest.  More to the point, the "hills of Arizona" abounded with
Mine-Mill locals -- as did the entire Rocky Mountain and environs region in
both the United States and Canada  -- and  many other parts of both
countries. The last time I spoke at a Mine-Mill gathering was in early
December, 1963, when I came up from the Deep South under the aegis of the
Arizona Mine-Mill Council to speak all night to large delegations from the
Arizona locals.  That is discussed and the locals named on this very easy to
find website page of mine:   Click into
it, Leo, and you'll see  many more than a "couple of Mine, Mill, Smelter
locals in the hills of Arizona."

In Alabama, where things were as tough as they could get with respect to
racism and anti-unionism, Mine-Mill retained -- interracially -- many
members right up to the merger with Steel in 1967. International
Vice-President Asbury Howard of Bessemer was a veteran Black civil rights
and Mine-Mill activist of many decades. The fact that it could organize
Black and White iron miners in the Deep South into fully integrated and
fully egalitarian locals and maintain those locals indicates what could
indeed be done --  and can be done -- by any responsible and  visionary
union with guts.  The intensive Steel raids in 1949 against Mine-Mill
featured much KKK support of Steel -- which consistently referred to
Mine-Mill as "the N_____r union". It was during those vicious raids that
Mine-Mill International Secretary Treasurer Maurice E. Travis had his eye
kicked out in Bessemer, Alabama -- by Steel partisans who were certainly
tied in with the Klan.

As a result of that extraordinarily concerted Steel raiding attack -- openly
using racism and red-baiting at every point -- Mine-Mill did lose  much of
its Alabama membership when frightened whites bolted and ran.  But, as I
say, it did retain, interracially, many members in the Birmingham/Bessemer
district all through its remaining years to the '67 merger.  For anyone
interested in the Mine-Mill / Alabama situation -- with especial reference
to the 1949 Steel assaults -- I strongly recommend Horace Huntley's
excellent and full, "The Rise and Fall of Mine Mill in Alabama: The Status
Quo Against Interracial Unionism, 1933-1949," Journal of the Birmingham
Historical Society, Volume 6, No. 1, January, 1979.

But the basic points I'm making are these:  The mainline American labor
movement -- at all levels and certainly that of AFL and CIO and AFL-CIO --
has made no concentrated and committed long-term commitment to grassroots
union organizing in the very tough South. This has been essentially true for
half a century.  If racial concerns and money were, as I'm sure, the
basically inhibiting factors, racism is now diminishing [however slowly] but
the financial concerns still obviously remain.

[ Here, BTW, is another page from my website which gives a bit of the flavor
in the rural South of the latter 1960s:  POVERTY WARS AND THE SEEDS OF LABOR

AFL-CIO  certainly has a great deal of money -- as witness its many very
substantial non-organizing project expenditures. Organizing is Genesis --
and the South -- and other regions -- have to be organized sooner or later.
And I'm convinced the South and the other settings will indeed, in the end,
be very effectively organized.  The Civil Rights Movement has opened the
South and put racism on the skids.  The South is now ripe for activism --
and, as far as that goes, there are still many components of the old Civil
Rights Movement around which would still be delighted to work with bona
fide, egalitarian, militant, and visionary unionism.

It's going to take everything that all of us -- organizationally,
collectively, individually -- can do.  Let's do it!

Fraternally -

Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]

Post of Leo Casey, May 9, 2002
From: Leo Casey
Sent: Thursday, May 09, 2002 9:20 AM
Subject: [ASDnet] AFL-CIO and the South

It is foolish and doctrinaire sloganeering, not critical and informed
thinking, that reduces the failure of American unionism to make any inroads
into the South to a failure of will on the part of the AFL-CIO. It does not
even meet the test of simple logic: assuming the correctness of the premise
[a failure of the AFL-CIO to provide sufficient resources to do organizing
and servicing], it would be true for all of the U.S., and not just the
South, yet the failure to break through in organizing is clearly hugely
disproportionate in the South. The "explanation" being offered explains
nothing about the distinctiveness of the South.

The fact of the matter is that the AFL-CIO as an entity does not do
organizing as such: anyone with the slightest familiarity with this question
knows that it is internationals which are affiliated to the AFL-CIO which do
the actual organizing. The AFL-CIO is organized along federal lines, with
the affiliated internationals having complete discretion as to how they
divide up their own budgets between such areas as servicing existing locals
and organizing new ones. The AFL-CIO's role in organizing is a limited one:
it can act as a force of moral suasion for new organizing, which it has
certainly done under the Sweeney leadership, and it can provide a center in
such bodies as its Organizing Institute, where organizers can learn the
basic skills of their organizing jobs; it can dedicate a portion of its own
resources to specific "strategic" organizing drives by internationals, but
it simple does not have huge amounts to money to do that. In a few
exceptional instances, it can coordinate campaigns which involve more than
one international jurisdiction. But its role is limited, and its resources,
based on per capita contributions from the interntionals, are limited; the
great bulk of the job is clearly up to the internationals.

Among internationals, the record on new organizing varies widely.  Some
unions, including my own, the AFT, as well as SEIU, HERE, AFSCME and CWA,
have a very strong organizing component and record, and are adding new
members at a significant rate, even while the AFL-CIO as a totality
continues to lose more members than it adds. [A article in the latest issue
of the _New Labor Forum_ also includes the USWA, UAW amd UNITE in the list
of internationals with serious organizing efforts, but I have some questions
about how much organizing they are doing in their basic jurisdictions.] But
even when you look at these unions,  which no one seriously criticizes for
not pulling their weight in the organizing efforts, they have difficulties
in the South that they do not have anywhere else. Take public education,
which is the most heavily unionized "industry" in the U.S. The only states
which are not significantly organized are states in the South which have
some combination of "right to work" laws and laws which expressly prohibit
collective bargaining for teachers and/or other public employees. To ignore
that context, and make claims about a failure of will on the part of unions
at the same time, is mindless dogma. And it is especially useless for
figuring a way out of this problem in the South, since it refuses to come to
grips with the specificity of Southern exceptionalism.

It demonstrates a particular ignorance about the question of how to do
organizing to claim that the problem is that the AFL-CIO does not spend
adequate resources on servicing locals _and_ organizing, since the key
question in budgetting money and resources that needs to be decided is the
trade-off between servicing existing locals and doing new organizing. Unions
do not have unlimited funds, and they have responsibilities to the members
they have already organized and now represent. The problem that
internationals need to come to grips with is that when you have a declining
and/or percentage of an industry organized, your ability to represent and
service even those workers you have organized is diminished. Just as the
academic must "publish or perish," unions must "organize or ossify."

But what the inability of unions under the leadership of John Sweeney at the
helm of the AFL-CIO to make a significant dent in increasing labor's ranks
has shown, if anything, is that the problems of organizing the unorganized
are so much more vast that a simple question of will. As long as Lane
Kirkland was head of the AFL-CIO, unionists could comfort themselves with
the belief that with a proper effort, the declining fortunes of the American
labor movement could be easily reversed. Now it is clear that if they are to
be reversed, it will be anything but easy. While the simple minded continue
to talk as if more effort is all that is needed, a serious discussion has
begun, in such contexts as the latest issue of the _New Labor Forum_, on
what to make of where we now are, and where we must now go.

One last word: there were always outposts of unionism in the South, even
during the height of Jim Crow -- steelworkers in Birmingham, dockworkers in
New Orleans and Galveston -- but they were clearly isolated pockets, forever
fighting just to hold on. There were also moments of promise, such as the
textile strikes in North Carolina and the sharecroppers' unions, which just
never came into full fruit. There was also the most significant organizing
drive in AFL-CIO history, coordinating the efforts of a number of different
international unions, in Operation Dixie, which was undertaken at the moment
when the American labor movement was its strongest, and still failed. It is
nonsense to point to any of these developments, and say that they prove that
there could have been a significant labor movement in the South, but for the
failure of the AFL-CIO. What they show is that despite the best efforts of
American unionists, we were unable to break through Southern exceptionalism.

It is sheer fantasy to point to a couple of Mine, Mill, Smelter locals in
the hills of Arizona and say, there but for the AFL-CIO and its
anti-communism, goes the entire South.

Leo Casey

Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]  ( social justice )
Protected by NaŽshdoŽiŽbaŽiŽ

Note from Hunterbear:

This is worth noting.  As a result of an astute question from Duane Campbell
about the basic failure of American unionism to organize the South, an
interesting discussion has developed.  Leo Casey responded to one of my
posts and, on ASDnet and SocUnity, his response -- to which I have now since
responded at length -- started out one way.  But, on his own List,
"Democratic Left," he posted it -- with an obvious smear attack on me as a
prelude.  This is why it is simply impossible, as David McReynolds has noted
in another context, to rationally discuss anything at all with Casey.

Here's how his post appeared on ASDnet and SocUnity -- sans prelude:  [I
have, as I've noted, now responded  at length to this basic post on ASDnet

Leo Casey :

It is foolish and doctrinaire sloganeering, not critical and informed
thinking, that reduces the failure of American unionism to make any inroads
into the South to a failure of will on the part of the AFL-CIO. It does not
even meet the test of simple logic: assuming the correctness of the premise
[a failure of the AFL-CIO to provide sufficient resources to do organizing
and servicing], it would be true for all of the U.S., and not just the
South, yet the failure to break through in organizing is clearly hugely
disproportionate in the South. The "explanation" being offered explains
nothing about the distinctiveness of the South.  etc


But here is how he introduced his post/response to me on his own List -- and
some of his List members who have commented on the matter are routinely
carrying the poisonous little prelude right along.

Date:  Thu May 9, 2002  9:27 am
Subject:  AFL-CIO and the South

 Dear DLers:

I wrote this for the old DSA list, in response to an rather dogmatic
partisan of the old CP unions which were expelled from the CIO and of their
sort of politics. While his views are not worthy of much thought, the
question itself is important, so I thought I would pass it on here.

Leo Casey

It is foolish and doctrinaire sloganeering, not critical and informed
thinking, that reduces the failure of American unionism to make any inroads
into the South to a failure of will on the part of the AFL-CIO. It does not
even meet the test of simple logic: assuming the correctness of the premise
[a failure of the AFL-CIO to provide sufficient resources to do organizing
and servicing], it would be true for all of the U.S., and not just the
South, yet the failure to break through in organizing is clearly hugely
disproportionate in the South. The "explanation" being offered explains
nothing about the distinctiveness of the South.  ETC.

   Replies  Author  Date
1441  Re: AFL-CIO and the South   Melvyn Dubofsky  Thu  5/9/2002
1442  Re: AFL-CIO and the South  David Walls  Thu  5/9/2002
1443  Re: AFL-CIO and the South

Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]  ( social justice )
Protected by NaŽshdoŽiŽbaŽiŽ

I have only a bit more, at this point at least, on the South and unions.
The topic has generated some very solid input on the Redbadbear list -- and
a helpful comment or two on ASDnet.  But the most impressive characteristic
of ASDnet is its oft-silence.

I know the South [its many variants and its many "New Souths"] very well
indeed and I have for decades. I went to Mississippi in 1961 for the
Movement and remained in the hard-core South until 1967. I've been in many
of its jails, was sometimes badly and very painfully beaten, almost died
there.  Two of my children were born in the South.  My oldest grandson, here
with us, is one-half Mississippi Choctaw [Neshoba and Leake counties.]  My
collected papers are held by Mississippi State Department of Archives and
History, I'm a Life Member of Mississippi Historical Society, and I have
discouraged an effort or two to rename a short street in Jackson for me [my
former name of John Salter.]

I have several basic points on Dixie:

[1] It is not, simply, the "rest of the country exaggerated."  It's
regionally unique and, despite the changes of the past several decades, it
remains unique.  The heritage of chattel slavery, the War and the
Occupation -- all of this and much more continue to function as an effective
skeleton hand to this very moment.  But there is also the grand legacy --
the high courage and the vision -- of the Civil Rights Movement.

[2]  Tough as the South is -- and it can be very brutally tough -- it can
certainly be cracked. It's been  much cracked on other things -- e.g., civil
rights.  You had to be "down there" -- behind the Cotton Curtain -- in, say,
1961 to understand how ostensibly impregnable the "dominant" dimensions of
social geography certainly appeared.

[3]   You start cracking NOW.  To wait until the political landscape of the
United States has changed until you launch Normandy-for-Dixie will, as I
noted a day or so ago,simply be tantamount to waiting until the Ice Age has
melted. [There were many nay-sayers who advised and warned the incipient
Civil Rights Movement to wait -- and wait -- and wait.  The Movement did not

[4]   We would all agree that  organizing  every working person into an
effective union is absolutely compelling.  That applies to the South -- as
it does everywhere else.  But there is also a very special reason for
organizing Dixie from one end to the other.  That region, for various and
generally well-known reasons, has exerted a disproportionately negative
influence on the United States as a whole [and well beyond.]  If it isn't
effectively unionized, it'll continue to do so forever.

[5]   Finally, the South can be very surprising.  When it moves, it can move
[for better and worse] with a passion and rapidity unnerving to some
Yankees.  Some of the finest and most committed Anglo union activists that I
know in the Mississippi of today, were once very militant members of the
White Knights and the United Klans and comparable groups.

In my response to the recitation of the standard AFL-CIO "line" -- i.e,
organizing is solely the responsibility of the internationals, the AFL-CIO
itself has limited funds, etc etc -- I made several points yesterday, among

"AFL leadership to some extent, very much that of CIO, and certainly AFL-CIO
and IUD [CIO] at various  points over time have provided funds, technical
and even direct organizing staff, and have stimulated and coordinated
large-scale organizing campaigns.  Never enough, ever -- but in some
situations, some. Point is, almost all dimensions of mainline unionism
backed out of the South in any on-going fashion -- because it is indeed
tough and expensive."

There are a number of classic examples of top-level money and other
resources coming "down" directly from top-level "federation" sources into
the grassroots to supplement and stimulate efforts by the internationals --
even to the point of sometimes engaging in its own direct organizing.
Certain "federal local" structures emanating directly from AFL -- in time,
turned over to the appropriate internationals -- come immediately to mind as
does the classic matter of Lewis and other top CIO activists directly hiring
and utilizing a myriad of bright young Left-wingers [ socialists and
communists] to not only,  in its very springtime,  launch the initial
momentum of CIO but also to continue that momentum at various points in a
feathering-out sense.  Examples of this top-level-oriented grassroots
activism faded [but not completely] during the the Cold War period -- and
increasing retreats by mainline labor's leadership-- and beyond.

There are also, of course, examples of one well-established international
organizing workers for another: e.g., Mine-Mill organizing teachers for AFT
in such settings as Montana and Arizona-- before the top AFT leadership
panicked-- and then turning them over to AFT.

But, even if all of these precedents and more of related nature did not
exist, there's every reason for the AFL-CIO from its "federation peak" to
pour money and staff and all other appropriate resources into intensive and
long-term grassroots union organizing.

I  made the point yesterday, "AFL-CIO  certainly has a great deal of
money -- as witness its many very substantial non-organizing project

As simply just one of many examples --  a fiscally mountainous one -- each
major election has seen  AFL-CIO channel 30 or 40 million dollars into
various Democratic party campaign coffers.  While the Wellstones may be well
worth it, there are many others who are not.

And, without discounting the importance of work with Congress and state
legislatures -- to a point and only to a point -- it's obvious that anytime
those settings become the key "organizing arena" for Labor, Labor is in the
Okeefenokee [Swamp.]

Grassroots organizing at the point of production is Genesis and, until
American Labor genuinely goes back to that and takes the initiative with
creativity and militancy and vision and long-term endurance, the Bosses will
continue to call the basic shots.

We can and must -- and will -- return to that Genesis.

Fraternally [if hastily] --


Hunter Gray  [ Hunterbear ]  ( social justice )
Protected by NaŽshdoŽiŽbaŽiŽ

Leninist-International mailing list
To change your options or unsubscribe go to:

Reply via email to