'The past is never dead. It's not even past.'


AFT Local 1360

"The past is never dead," William Faulkner famously wrote. "It's not even past." The quote is supposed to describe his native South. 

Yesterday, a majority of workers at Boeing’s airplane plant in South Carolina voted against joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

“We’re disappointed the workers at Boeing South Carolina will not yet have the opportunity to see all the benefits that come with union representation,” said Mike Evans, the lead IAM organizer. “But more than anything, we are disheartened they will have to continue to work under a system that suppresses wages, fosters inconsistency and awards only a chosen few.”

The same could be have been said of failed union attempts to organize southern textile workers in the 1930’s, when up north, factory workers were flocking in droves to the new CIO unions.

Today, the old Confederate states are the least unionized states. South Carolina is dead last.

Anyway, W.J. Cash wrote about the old union drives in his 1941 book, The Mind of the South:

"...Under the essential Calvinism of outlook which had been fixed by slavery before the Civil War even in the non-Calvinist sects and riveted home by the conditions of Reconstruction, it was widely felt in all classes that strikes constituted a sort of defiance of the will of Heaven. Repeatedly I myself heard more or less definitely expressed in North Carolina at the time the conviction that God had called one man to be rich and master, another to be poor and servant, and that men did well to accept what had been given them, instead of trusting to their own strength and stirring up strife."

White, Protestant fundamentalist preachers also weighed in against the union, he added.  “Open denunciation of the strikers from the pulpit, or denunciation by innuendo, was common. Men should live together as brothers -- such was the burden of the pronouncements, with the clear implication that it was only strikers who were to blame for the fact that they did not."

Conservative, fundamentalist Christianity is still the dominant faith among Southern whites. I’d bet the farm that it was mostly white workers who voted against the union at Boeing.

South Carolina’s deep anti-unionism “goes back to the history of slavery,” according to Hoyt Wheeler, distinguished professor emeritus of management at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business. He was a labor-management arbitrator for 41 years.

The State, a newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina’s capital, interviewed him in a pre-vote story.  

“South Carolina has always been about cheap labor,” he added. “That’s how it lured the textile mills here after the Civil War in the 1880s. And South Carolina is a place where you have very high influence by the ruling class, which is the business class.”

During the Jim Crow era, which lasted for almost a century after the end of Reconstruction, white supremacist southern politicians—Democrats then—bitterly fought off unions. They feared they would undermine segregation because in a union, everybody is supposed to be equal. The white powers-that-be particularly hated the integrated CIO factory unions, which they smeared as communist or, as Cash wrote, “the flaming archangel of Moscow itself.”    

Historian Jeffrey Woods called playing the communist card “Southern Nationalism.” He defined the term as meaning “a shared sense of cultural values and traditions that promoted an idealized ‘Southern way of life,’ a way of life that found community, stability and order in a commitment to a Protestant Christian god, states rights, and, above all, white racial supremacy.”

The Evil Empire is no more. Dixie’s GOP now leads the region’s anti-union crusade. I’d also wager that most Boeing workers who turned thumbs down on the IAM are Republicans. Their man Trump is supposed to visit the plant tomorrow.  

The GOP, which dominates the old Confederacy, is largely what the Democrats used to be: the white folks’ party.

Not coincidentally, every former Confederate state is a “right to work” state. Trump prefers RTW states to non-RTW states.

“The labor-hater and labor baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth,” Martin Luther King Jr. told the AFL-CIO’s fourth constitutional convention in 1961. 

King’s words still ring true So do Faulkner’s and Cash’s.