Introduction to Labor Studies Module 7 Assignment 2015

Professor’s Overview of Module 7 The readings for this module raise a couple of important issues that affected the prospects and working conditions of workers in the second half of the 20th Century in the U.S.A. First is the issue of the uneven economic development of the country in the earlier times, and the subsequent attempts of the underdeveloped area (the south) to catch up. Most of the industry of the country prior to the 1960s was in the north; emerging from a system of slavery and a plantation economy, the south had a relatively stagnant and low-wage economy. Poverty was rampant, particularly for the African-American descendants of slaves, many of whom had been sharecroppers living at subsistence levels. But even among white people, poverty was widespread. Beginning in the 1960s, southern states began to try to lure business investment from the north, primarily through government subsidies such as tax breaks, worker training programs, free buildings, and the like. The “BAWI” program you read about in Mississippi during this time was a typical — and early — example of what southern states were doing during this time. The “pitch” to northern companies to lure them to the south was primarily built around claimed cost advantages: low taxes and even no taxes for a period of time, very cheap labor, no unions or few unions to help workers raise wages, cheap land or free land, etc. It was this program that Archie responded to when he decided to open a second plant in Mississippi. As you read about his program and this move, consider the pro’s and con’s of what was going on. There were critics of this type of government inducement program: (1) local farmers, who worried about the loss of field hands; (2) “free market” ideologues, who felt that the government should not be involved in business matters like this and who therefore felt it was a form of “socialism,” (3) up north, unions and union members who feared that this would lead to competition lowering wages, (4) northern workers and northern governments worried about “runaway plants” destroying their living standards and tax bases as companies fled to low-wage, low-tax areas, and (5) critics of “corporate welfare” who felt that government money should be going to those truly needy rather than wealthy business owners. There were, of course, also boosters of this program, mainly businesses enjoying the tax breaks and local civic business-oriented entities in the south touting the new jobs and incomes. Ponder these questions, and particularly think from a worker’s point of view about who benefits and who loses from such government subsidy programs. One thing is certain: industrial manufacturing did begin moving south in the 1970s and 1980s, fulfilling the fears of northern workers and unions in the 1980s and 1990s: deindustrialization, loss of a tax base, high unemployment, and other symptoms affecting what came to be known as the “rust belt” in the north. And also, the south began to industrialize, although many of the “runaway plants” to the south later ran away even from the south, as we shall see later in the book. Labor was much cheaper in the south than the north, as noted in the book. Why were wages so much lower? One reason was of course the southern legacy of slavery and sharecropping, which dragged down wages for all. The intense poverty made workers willing to work for very little. Most southern states also enacted so-called “Right-to-Work” laws, making it illegal for a union and an employer whose workers it represented to sign a “union security clause” requiring payment of union dues at unionized facilities. This weakened unions greatly, thereby weakening the ability of workers to join together in a union to increase their compensation and improve their working conditions. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the system of segregation and the high degree of racism in the south made it virtually impossible for black and white workers to join together to improve their conditions, through a union or otherwise. “Divide and conquer” along racial lines worked very well to keep wages exceptionally low. The other overriding element in the reading is race relations and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. This was a period of intense unrest in the south: The Civil Rights Movement, the Freedom Riders, the backlash of local racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), murders of civil rights activists, and the like all dominated the political scene at the time. This of course impacted the entire story of Universal’s time in Mississippi, as you will discover in the reading. Universal had a “whites only” workforce at the beginning, and each step progressing toward greater equality was difficult and only accomplished through struggle. On this subject, note how race baiting was used to fight the union organizing drive in Mississippi, how similar tactics were used against union organizers as were used against civil rights activists (death threats, denial of facilities to meet, etc.), and how racists initially controlled even the new union after it was successful (even though the union later became a fighter for equal rights and part of the struggle for racial equality and elected African-American union leadership). For this lesson you will view the video “At the River I Stand,” which demonstrates the link between civil rights and union rights at the time in the south. It features Dr. Martin Luther King’s last battle, where he gave his life: the struggle to unionize the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. When viewing this video, consider both the alliance between organized labor (unions) and the civil rights movement, and the tensions or lack of complete congruence between the two movements, the labor movement and the civil rights movement. Despite these tensions, there is no doubt that organized labor has become an institution standing for racial progress and greater equality within the country. One final element is introduced in the reading for this lesson, but will not be explored further until the next module. This is the change in ownership of Universal from a single individual (Archie) to a “holding company.” The shift from personal ownership to corporate will further play itself out in the future lessons; for the present, just keep it in mind because it will become important later in the story.Discussion Forum1.) Universal was lured to Mississippi with the promise of cheap labor and a non-unionized workforce. But Simpson County Mississippi also passed a $41 million bond issue to build the company a factory to operate in, and another $200,000 bond to cover infrastructure costs such as road, sewer, etc. improvements for the new factory. Subsidies to companies like this started in the southern states in the 1960s, but eventually spread throughout the country. And they have gotten bigger and bigger; recently Alabama spent over $200,000 per job to lure an auto factory to the state. From the point of view of a worker, how do you evaluate such subsidies? Are they nothing but “corporate welfare,” giving public money to undeserving rich corporations? Or, are they wise investments, partnering with the private sector for greater prosperity for all? Discuss, going over both arguments and counter-arguments.2.) The company strongly fought the union organizing drive in Mississippi. Virtually all the important institutions in the community also fought the union mightily, using a wide variety of tactics. How do you look at this? Was its a legitimate, acceptable thing for the company to do, and therefore completely understandable as an act of self-interest causing no harm? Or, was it “bad behavior” that should be curbed, so that workers have a full and free right to join together and form unions for their betterment? Discuss, going over both arguments and counter-arguments. 3.) Martin Luther King believed in unions. He argued that economic advancement for blacks was crucial for the emancipation of African-Americans, and that unions provided a more just and democratic society. Some criticized him for doing so, arguing that he should “stick to his own issue only” and not ally his civil rights movement with the cause of labor. Discuss these two points of view. Which do you agree with more? Use facts from the video and from the reading to back up your viewpoint.

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