A Southern Workers’ Movement Can Change the Nation

by Eric Fink

OrganizeTheSouth-640_Feb17“Organize the South” was the call on Monday evening February 17 in Durham, North Carolina, where an overflow crowd gathered for a discussion on “How a Southern Workers’ Movement Can Change the Nation.” Worker advocates and adversaries alike have identified the South as a crucial battleground in the fight to reverse the long decline of the U.S. labor movement. This Fall, the AFL-CIO committed itself “to develop a Southern organizing strategy” as “one of its top priorities”. The UAW’s bid to represent workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee became a focal point in that fight, and the union’s narrow defeat in last week’s NLRB representation vote has led some to suggest–dolefully in the case of union supporters, cheerfully in the case of union busters–that a southern organizing strategy remains futile.

The panelists at Monday’s event in Durham rejected that pessimistic conclusion. Their common message was that unions can win in the South, and doing so is an essential part of the broader goal of defeating the reactionary political and economic agenda nationwide. The key to labor’s success in the South is cultivating and mobilizing community support for workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions.

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