Sen. Eastland symbolized Old South segregationism and anti-unionism.
Sen. Eastland symbolized Old South segregationism and anti-unionism.

An action-packed 2013 in store for Southern labor

Sen. Eastland symbolized Old South segregationism and anti-unionism.
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By Joe Atkins, Labor South

The year 2013 promises to be an action-packed one for labor in the South as well as across the country. Republicans lost major ground in the national elections, but they’re digging in their heels at the state level -- nowhere more so than in the South. Expect more efforts to further entrench and enrich the plutocrats at the expense of the people.

Labor South will be covering a wide range of developments in the coming weeks and months. The nation soundly rejected the Southern model of governance in the presidential election, an anti-union, anemic-government model that the Koch Brothers and their ilk pushed hard with their billions.

Down here in the South, however, that model is our reality, and the fight from the ground up continues.

Longshoremen along the East Coast and Gulf Coast are digging in their heels in their demands for a viable contract, and some progress has been made. Whether a threatened strike by the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) ultimately takes place remains to be seen. The longshoremen in Charleston, S.C., are ones to watch. Their successful protest of an anti-union shipper in 2000 got international support and was called "the first major labor battle of the 21st century."

Things are also heating up in Canton, Miss., where the United Auto Workers continues to benefit from growing grassroots support for an election to determine if workers at the giant Nissan plant there want to join a union. Again international support is coming in from workers in Brazil and beyond.

This blog has followed the events in Canton closer than any other news operation, so stay tuned. The next item on the calendar comes as early as the end of this month when a major community event is planned around the union question at Nissan.

On Jan. 10, by the way, Nissan celebrated its 10th anniversary in Canton with the announcement of the addition of the Murano crossover to its line of automobiles in production.

Immigration will be another hot topic this year. Republicans at the national level saw their Latino deficit at the polls on election day and desperately want to do something about it. However, at the state level, politicians like Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant built their careers in part on immigrant-baiting, and their Tea Party constituents aren't going to let them off hook just because of last November.

Rest assured, however, that groups like the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance are prepared to take on the challenge, just as they have in the past.

Another special you'll get at Labor South in the near future is a feature column/review of the compelling new book "Fever Season: The Story of a Terrifying Epidemic and the People Who Saved a City" by Jeanette Keith. This is a book about the 1878 yellow fever epidemic that devastated Memphis, Tenn., and changed its character forever. A city that was a "Casablanca on the Mississippi" filled with European immigrants, many of them poor, became home to poor Southern whites and blacks.

Keith's book details how political leaders failed miserably in dealing with the 1878 crisis, leaving it to brave volunteers to chip in and help those suffering. The question of public/private responsibilities and the role of government is not a new one, as this book makes obvious.

Another interesting new book is Maarten Zwiers' "James Eastland & The Shadow of Southern Democrats 1928-1966." The Dutch scholar describes how Southern segregationists thought they represented the true American ideal. His book also provides a long-overdue, in-depth, scholarly treatment of arguably the most powerful of all the Southern segs, the late James O. Eastland of Mississippi, plantation owner and chair of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee at the height of the civil rights movement.

It was Eastland who in the 1950s called for a South-wide effort "to fight the Supreme Court, fight the CIO, fight the NAACP, and fight all conscienceless pressure groups who are attempting our destruction," organizations that, he said, want to "socialize industry and the great medical profession of this country." Sound familiar?

Lots of action coming! And, as always in the South, it comes with a lot of baggage from the past.

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