Monday, May 19, 2008

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.


Jessica Markham said...

Korstad's article reminded me of my time spent in Virginia this past September. During the trip, I went to Richmond, where I walked right past the Reynolds factory. While I was in the car, I saw incredibly rundown areas of the city, which are inhabited by blacks. It was very disappointing to see that the Virginia Capitol Building is right near a squalid neighborhood. Of course, politicians pass by and see the conditions of the neighborhood (how could they not?), yet it's still a disaster.

I, too, found the descriptions of the living conditions in Winston-Salem to be interesting, yet disheartening and alarming at the same time. This quote about Winston-Salem's elite really stood out to me: "Equipped with all the tools of wealth and power, this oligarchy attempted to sculpt the physical and social landscape in its own interests, which it equated with the good of the whole" (148). This quotation reminded me of the conquistadors who pillaged the New World while claiming that they were bettering the indigenous peoples by introducing them to Christianity. In actuality, they were interested in obtaining gold, land, and other resources.

Music and church gatherings at least provided African Americans with strength and inspiration, but I still can't even imagine the pain they went through while living under such harsh conditions. This article reinforces that yes, extreme poverty is a part of this country and that we are far from equality. Articles such as Korstad's can be difficult to take in, but citizens need to be aware of the hardships that people have endured and continue to endure today.

Mari said...

I felt as if this reading brought up many good issues, Some of the important points it talked about were the physical economic groups and the cultural control. This reading brought up some difficult issues such as the one of Cora Eliza Randle’s grandmother faced. She was raped by a Wight man, Eliza because of this situation she had to face of knowing that a white person raped a loved one of hers might have been something that really hurt her in every single aspect. I also think that what this presenter wrote in there blog is very understandable, once one person becomes incharge of something they are bond to feel as if they can tell everyone what to do. And because of this I agree with what the presenter said “It seems almost ignorant to believe that after one group of people have total physical, economic, and cultural control over another group that these two groups could coexist peacefully. This is not to say that attempts at this should be abandoned, but by learning more about these differences I believe will allow us to set more achievable goals for future civil rights endeavors.” I agree with this because if people would understand the different issues going on everything would improve drastically in every perspective.

ylimeucsc said...

In the Winsotn Salem reading I was really intrigued by the role that African American women played in the days of Jim Crow. The first story about Robert’s mother couldn’t help but remind me of Coming of Age in Mississipi, and how much Anne’s mother was just trying to get by. Throughout the book Anne cannot help but be raised in the struggle, and though her mother is erradic when it comes to relationships, I think Anne knew at the end of the day her mother was going to get them all through.
I think, often the role of African American women get’s underplayed and this article seems to counter that. It was interesting to me to read that most of those who migrated from the South were women, either single or with children. The Article refers to them as “kin keepers” able to provide a strong sense of community. We can also see this in reference to churches and schools where women would often lead community programs, as mentioned in the article.

Christina Decker said...

I think the points you make about the role of women in these movements is very interesting. I had never really thought about the unfortunate situation of having multiple jobs could actually be helpful in a labor movement, by widening one's contacts in the workplace and therefore one's sphere of influence. At the same time, I find it sad that the most common, if not the only, way that women could enter the homes of wealthy white families was through service. And in service positions, the presence of workers is often seen as ideal when it is at a minimum. This happens in our lives even today. Why do we not like to see those who are doing the jobs that make our lives easier. I believe that this is an indication of persisting attitudes that workers should be disassociated with the results of their work that we enjoy. Perhaps this is one of the sad reasons that workers just can't seem to get the widespread respect and recognition they deserve.