Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Southern Living Requires Docile and Dim Population

"Cheap labor. Even more than race, it’s the thread that connects all of Southern history—from the ante-bellum South of John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis to Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Alabama’s Richard Shelby and the other anti-union Southerners in today’s U.S. Senate."
"The idea of working people joining together to have a united voice across the table from management scares most Southern politicians to death. After all, they go to the same country clubs as management. ...

"The South today may be more racially enlightened than ever in its history. However, it is still a society in which the ruling class—the chambers of commerce that have taken over from yesterday’s plantation owners and textile barons—uses politics to maintain control over a vast, jobs-hungry workforce. After the oligarchy lost its war for slavery—the cheapest labor of all—it secured the next best thing in Jim Crow and the indentured servitude known as sharecropping and tenant farming. It still sees cheap, pliable, docile labor as the linchpin of the Southern economy."

The essay quoted above is from this story at Alternet, mentioned in posts at The Crone Speaks and KnoxViews.

Sen. Corker has earned the many criticisms this article heaps upon him - outrage at the Big Three automakers, obedience to Wall Street's calls for cash. East Tennessee certainly relies on cheap labor for the thousands of manufacturing jobs and those same businesses often use temp agencies to supply them while importing workers from out of state for high-skill jobs -- though that is not always the rule.

It is a deeply complex issue, which perhaps gets some glossing over in the Alternet piece. Still, since Republicans have dominated federal and state offices in this part of Tennessee, the status quo of low education among poorly paid workers - jobs earning much higher salaries in other locations - that status quo seems more like bedrock foundation. Some years back I pointed out this dire and thorny problem.

And likewise the fact remains that while many folks here idealize a sort of rugged individualism and brook no interference, time and again the voice of the individual and the needs of their collective good are far in the background behind the lobbying professionals who dictate the bills and laws which govern.

Perhaps it's that those who rule and those who serve both get something that allows each a perception of independence which is beyond question - but the reality is that Southern living comes at a high price.

UPDATE: See Mary Mancini's post at Liberadio(!): "And, really, if an employer doesn’t need the permission of their employees to join the Chamber of Commerce, than why should employees need the permission of their employer to join a union?"

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