Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thursday Reading

Hi Folks,

The first page of the Facing South blog has a lot of interesting posts for tomorrow's reading.

Pay special attention to:
1. Formaldehyde presents special problems for Katrina's children
2. Nagin to present upbeat "State of the City" amid ongoing social disaster
3. Jena 6 case still unfolding
4. Anti-coal pranksters target Duke Energy CEO at home
5. A day to remember
6. Coal lobby responds to Facing South report on deceptive phone call
7. Big Coal makes deceptive phone calls on climate change legislation

Also, remember that they are organized by newest first, so it would be better to read from the bottom up.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Emerging South

Most people tend to think of the Southern United States in terms of black and white, but the South also has a significant number of Asians and Hispanics. Migrant workers who play a key role in providing America’s food are scattered throughout the country, and there are around 400,000 undocumented immigrant workers living and working in North Carolina. Unfortunately, the living and working conditions of migrant workers are far from ideal. The ways in which migrant workers live are akin to those of people in an impoverished third world country. It is difficult to believe that such abuse takes place in a country that bases its main ideologies on the concept of freedom. Although slavery was abolished in 1865, unfair labor conditions still exist today. In fact, there have been documented cases of slavery recently. In particular, slavery has been a problem in Florida’s fields. For those interested, go to for Elias Lawless’ article “Ending Slavery and Sweatshops in Florida’s Fields”.

Sadly, as revealed in the Farm Labor Organizing Committee’s “The Story of FLOC”, the average life expectancy of a migrant worker in the United States is a mere 49 years. Many migrant workers and their families suffer are plagued by infectious and chronic diseases in addition to malnutrition. Infant and maternal mortality rates are much higher than the national average, and countless migrant workers and their children are forced to live in cramped huts without running water. Because farmworkers are oftentimes paid by the agricultural corporations according to a “piece” rate (ex. a set price for a basket of tomatoes, strawberries, etc.), they are not subject to laws regarding minimum wage. Although I knew that farmworkers received unfair wages, I was surprised to learn that they may receive less than 1 percent of the price that consumers pay for the foods that they helped to provide. I was also horrified to learn that if migrant and H2A workers complain of ill treatment or unjust conditions, they face either being blacklisted from future employment.

Urbano Ramirez’s story was heartbreaking to me. It’s terrible to think that it took people two weeks to even find Urbano’s dead body under the tree, and the people who found the body were not even the supervisors; they were Urbano’s co-workers. Sadly, Urbano was not the only worker to die of heatstroke in 2006; 4 others also died. I really feel for Urbano’s and the other workers’ families. All of this just goes to show how inhumane the conditions that they had to work under were. Personally, I feel that the agribusinesses and supervisors are responsible for the deaths.

Baldemar Velasquez, FLOC’s founder, has worked throughout the years to provide hope for impoverished farmworkers by encouraging them to fight for their basic rights and to recognize their dignity as human beings. I think that it is important for workers to be able to have the right to play a role in making decisions that ultimately affect them. I found it ridiculous although not surprising that Campbell Soup Company lied about not employing farmworkers when in fact they were. Fortunately, Velasquez and others spoke out against Campbell’s and took action. It was uplifting to read that farmworkers, not lawyers or politicians, eliminated the sharecropping system by 1988. This demonstrates that people have the power to make societal changes. As the article says, “History shows that those who wait for others to give them their rights rarely get them. It is those who take a stand for their own rights who see their potentials realized.” The FLOC has bettered the lives of many migrant workers not by sitting back but by actively seeking to change the world.

As a nation, we need to find ways in which we can provide ourselves with food without taking advantage of migrant workers. Some possible strategies, as outlined by the FLOC article, include extending the same legal rights given to other American workers to farmworkers. Agribusinesses can also give some of their benefits to basic production workers.


How much importance do you give to finding ways in which to better the lives of migrant workers?

What can we do to support the FLOC campaign? In what concrete ways can we help FLOC achieve justice for migrant workers and how can we get others involved in the effort?

What is your role in the system that is responsible for the invisibility, abuse, and exploitation suffered by immigrant workers? What are some ways in which you can change your role and work for bettering the lives of migrant workers?

What changes need to take place in our social and economic structures to ensure that migrant farmworkers are treated with respect?

What specific issues regarding migrant workers have you heard of recently or have been following? How do you feel about them? What do you think you can do?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Reading for Thursday

Hi Students,

For Thursday's class please read labor section of the Institute for Southern Studies' Facing South blog.

Also, have a look at the (Black Workers for Justice), (Coalition of Immokalee Workers), (Farm Labor Organizing Committee) websites.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Labor Struggles

I felt as if this topic of Labor Struggles, was very important for all of us to read about. The reason I say this is because reading the first reading Winston Salem, North Carolina, by Robert Korstad really made me think of all the struggles the color black people actually went through during that time. As I read I noticed that the reading mentioned a lot about unity and how they were all always united. For instance Robert Korsad mentioned on page 161 that "the church often provided classes in reading and writing and in some cases hosted public school classes as well." "in most denominations, women formed powerful, autonomous department and fought to secure the right to ordination. Even when they were banned from preaching, they served as teachers, missionaries, and musical directors". In other words women where the ones who did everything and because of the church they where able to spend as much possible and all be united. Another thing that was mentioned that kept these people united was music. Music I believe was a big part in there lives, because Korstad says" Often identified with a particular institution (the drivers and mechanics of the safe Bus company, for instance, formed a choral club in 1938), these singers competed against one another, staged benefits for a community projects, traveled widely, and launched individual on music careers". This quote explains what i mentioned about music being another factor that kept these people united even while they where on a bus. Music was something that kept color people united, while they all worked in Winston -Salem in the farms and in the Tobacco Companies. The workers that worked in these companies at times used there singing and there unity of church to be able to work in a comfortable place and be able to feel united in a comfortable environment. These people always sang while working which was something to be as close as they where.
Another reason why I felt this reading was very interesting was because Korstad mentioned how there where twice as much women as they where men, so pretty much women where the ones who were doing all the movement during that time, working in the tobacco companies and not getting paid the sufficient for the work being done by them, was not a good thing but these women needed to stay in these jobs in order for them to be able to support there families. Women I believe played a very important role during that time. And another thing I could not believe while I was reading this reading was how it was mentioned that these women worked in the tobacco plantations as well as the rich family homes. These jobs these women held were very difficult but the good thing was that they were still able to hold them. It comes to show that women are very strong and they we are also able to hold many difficult tasks at once.

by Maria Campos

Labor Struggles

Like many of the earlier readings for this class, the Civil Rights Unionism reading demonstrated that the oppressed conditions of the African American community and the traditions that have emerged from these conditions allowed for a strong sense of unity and in this case, unionization. There seem to have been three driving factors that are common to most all the movements/acts of resistance we have looked at in this class: church, song, and a strong female influence. The case of unionization of tobacco workers in Winston-Salem is no different.
In this reading, I found the church's involvement to be particularly interesting. Because of the exclusion of African Americans from participating in politics (through voting, etc.), the community turned to their churches for political involvement. Voting to elect deacons, etc., "(t)he surrogate politics carried on in the Black Church became an intensive training ground of political experience with all of the triumphs and disappointments of which the political process is capable." (pg. 161) In this way, African Americans were perhaps more ready to participate in union politics that white workers (who could participate in local, state, etc. politics), as the church more closely mimics the scale, etc. of a union and parishioners that may not otherwise vote, might be more likely to participate within their church.
Song also played an interesting role in the unity among the workers in Winston-Salem and elsewhere. The reading describes the singing during work (as begun in the plantation fields of the antebellum South). Not only did workers sing during their work, but some began choral groups with their fellow workers outside of the workplace. Workers often overlapped as preachers, parishioners, and neighbors, and singing together created the unity needed for a successful workers' movement.
Again, women seem to be an important part of the movement. It seems that in nearly every movement we have looked at, women have played a very important role. I think that the success of women in organizing goes back to the many different roles they are forced to play. In Winston-Salem, women were workers, mothers, often heads-of-households, many times domestic workers, and the caretakers of the community. These different roles gave them the power to influence the community as well as the perspective to know how and what needed to be done. One of the most interesting points for me was the fact that many women worked both in the tobacco plants and in the households of the rich, white community in Winston-Salem, giving them an insight on the inner-workings of white society. They were able to better understand the way the people in power thought and worked, and thus how to effectively influence them.

I was also interested in the description of the living conditions in the African American parts of Winston-Salem followed by the line, "You wouldn't believe it, living in a country like America, that people would have to live under those conditions." (pg. 59) This seems to be a common sentiment in this country-the idea that certain things 'just don't happen' in the United States. It is an interesting and conflicting idea that I think has both good and bad repercussions. In some cases, I think it drives people to work for change. When someone sees or experiences and injustice, this mentality can drive them to work for change/justice, because in the US, we are supposed to be entitled to certain things. On the other end, however, I think people who are not experiencing the injustices can be disillusioned. They think that hunger, etc. is something that happens in other countries, but not here in the U.S., and they go about with their lives. This, clearly, can be dangerous.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Remembering Jim Crow

I thought this section of Jim Crow brought up some interesting sentiments. I was interested in Maggie Dublin's story because i feel like religion plays somewhat of a contradictory role in it but in the end works to her benefit. Maggie was born in 1924 in Kentucky and her grandmother was a very religious woman but as a child Maggie didn't understand religion. her grandmother said that "everything that happened that was good in the community, she'd say, "Oh, Lord, the Lord did that. If it hadn't been for the Lord, I don't know what we'd do." i thought this statement and mentality took the power away from the people and could hinder political action. If everything that is good that happens is due to the hand of god then why bother trying to do good because god will just make it happen? this is not to say i think that this mentality made people bad but the civil rights movement took a lot of planning and this mentality i think takes the credit away from the people on earth who worked hard to make change happen. Maggie begins to understand religion only when she is taught from a 'bad' woman and she believes that it is god doing his work through a sinner, which doesn't make sense to me really, because if she was a bad person then why would she be one of gods tools. under that logic i would say she is comparable to a messiah rather than a bad person. After Maggie embraces religion i feel it empowered her though because she is able to tell her dad that she was worried about him not going to church, which allowed her to be a leader for her family. she also takes up leadership later in life to build and own her house. this makes me think that religion guided her to become a leader in some way because it made her confident. this i feel is somewhat of how i feel religion impacted the civil rights movement. in some ways it hindered it because people were more invested in the afterlife but in others it breed leadership and community and empowered a lot of people.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism Reading

The handout focused upon the misconceptions and the truths of women in the Blues. The second part of the handout based upon Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit,” explored the meaning behind the song as well as its social implications. The blues was used as a way to deal with reality and in a way acknowledge it’s existence Davis mentions in the chapter that blues served as a way to make known which would have otherwise not had a voice, “they begin to articulate a consciousness that takes into account social conditions of class exploitation, racism and male dominance as seen through the lenses of complex emotional responses of black female subjects.”(Pg 119)
Throughout the first handout Davis is responding to other authors criticisms of blues singers, and the idea that blues is music of apathy. When you hear the blues there is not a feeling of apathy left within you, as much as there is a feeling of sadness. Davis describes them as addressing, “seemingly insurmountable but obscure social forces that have created the overall contest of misery and oppression.”(Pg 116) The feeling or portrayal of apathy that Paul Oliver expresses is because none of the blues songs actually say “Action.” Davis comes back to this by saying that they were not really in a position to be saying things like take action. I mean Billie Holiday said she remembered not even being able to eat at restaurants in the south when she performed with one of her bands.
Davis also points out that by just describing a situation, they were calling attention to the harshness of life in the poor community which would later help the flame of the uprising. Davis commented directly on the nature of these songs, “requires absolute honesty in the portrayal of black life.......As a rule, these songs do not criticize the institution, but simply treat it as an existing reality.” (Pg 107)
It was strange reading this quote because if we were to read any text describing the religious spirituals at the time, all of them were about hope, and escaping the hardships on earth. The blues was about recognizing the harshness, and embracing and mourning their way of life. I use the word mourn because of the feeling it evokes, like a helpless cry, but none-the-less a cry. Humans need this expression, even if it isn’t supposed to get at something directly, there still needs to be expression. Their worth is in the sincere human suffering that is catalogued in these songs. Davis said they do not criticize a poor mans way of life, but simply relay it.
It is this recognition of the living conditions that these people endured that allowed some identification from all the poor community in general. In the Strange Fruit chapter they mention how the depression had an effect on race relations, “circles of people who had been sensitized by both the transracial economic and social tragedies of the Great Depression and by the multiracial mass movements seeking to redress the grievances of the blacks and whites alike.” She goes on to talk about the movement among the white community which began to trickle into mainstream mentality. Because of the depression there was a recognition that the power was not just in the hands of white people, but a very few white people. This distinction left for identifications with class instead of race.