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Dr Sarah Taber @SarahTaber_bww
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The Southern labor movement has a long, successful, & noisy history.

The reason you don't hear about it? It doesn't fit the image of the South as backwards & obedient to its masters. Labor activism has been sold as all about white guys in northern factories and it's just NOT.
Textile mills in NC were the site of some of the largest strikes in US history.

Loray Mills in 1929: strikes fizzled after key organizers were murdered. But they set the stage for ramped-up labor activism & victories across the entire US. You're welcome!…
High Point in 1932: 15,000 textile workers walked off the job. Remarkably, there was no union or formal organizing involved in these strikes. WILDCAT STRIKE. FIFTEEN. THOUSAND. PEOPLE.

It goes way back further than the 1920s & '30s. Pissed-off mill workers stabbing their bosses in the back played a big part in taking down the Confederacy's economy.

That's just a brief taste of "traditional" labor activism (as defined by the North), aka white men (or "enough" white men) in manufacturing.

There's a looooot more to working-class activism than white guys in factories. And the South is really good at that too.
Black farmers & farmworkers formed their own co-ops and unions to protect themselves against ex-slaveowners during Reconstruction, because the gov't & even most white labor orgs wouldn't do anything about Jim Crow-era landlords.
A biracial coalition of socialist sharecroppers formed the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in Arkansas in 1934.

Its leaders were harassed, attacked, and many ultimately killed.…
Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the most badass organizers of all time, started out as a sharecropper in Mississippi.

It was her work that tipped the Democratic Party from its century-plus tradition of support for slavery & segregation, into the party of civil rights that it is today.
After winning the battle for the Civil Rights Act, Fannie Lou Hamer turned her work back to farm organizing. She raised money & bought land for black folks to do independent, cooperative farming- right in the heart of the Mississippi Delta.…
It's not the traditional factory-centered labor organizing that folks usually think of. But Fannie Lou Hamer's work in cooperative farming was all about working-class power and breaking the grip of the planter class.
Folks are used to thinking of Martin Luther King Jr as a voting rights guy. But like Fannie Lou Hamer & most black activists of his time, he saw voting rights as just one issue facing black folks- and economic issues were also huge.

Hence, the Poor People's Campaign.
The Civil Rights movement WAS a labor movement.

Why were voting rights so important in the first place? In large part, to secure better labor conditions for black and working class Americans in the South.…
We're also used to looking back on the Civil Rights Movement with these rose-colored glasses, because we're retroactively decided that MLK was a Nice Black. Not militant like that Malcolm X guy.
Which is hilarious, bc back when MLK was actually alive, capitalists & white folks in general were TERRIFIED of him.

He & other civil rights leaders hung out with a lot of Communists. A lot of them WERE Communists. Because the Civil Rights Movement was a labor movement.
Bottom line, there's a reason the Jim Crow South was a reign of terror. It was to keep wages down.

The South wasn't a backwards, underdeveloped, proto-modern regime waiting to become a fully capitalist society.

It WAS a fully capitalist society.

That's what MLK was up against.
So: if folks are looking for "an example of Southern labor activism," a great place to start would be THE ENTIRE GOTDANG CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.
The Civil Rights movement is the prototype for activism that we're still using today.

It's the reason that the modern, mainstream US protest customs revolve around peaceful marches, civil disobedience, and getting arrested on purpose.
(Before the Civil Rights Movement, US protest traditions were more in the lines of storming boats in fake Indian costumes while blind drunk & chopping up the tea chests up with hatchets.)
In other words: modern US protest culture WAS BORN IN SOUTHERN LABOR ACTIVISM.
Southern labor activism doesn't look like "traditional" labor activism because it's very black. It was, and still is, led by Black women and men. And white labor activism has a long-standing blind spot with recognizing Black labor organizers' work or existence.
That's why it's so incredibly tacky for northern progressives to sneer at the South for being backwards.

There's a TON of progressive activity down here. White northern progressives don't see it because they're too damn racist to notice Black activism right in front of them.
It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to just … miss that.

So my suggestion for: if the South being

1. an activist powerhouse and

2. the cradle of US protest culture

is news to you, take some time to do some reading! This thread's got some links. Start there, & keep going.
ah fack can't believe I missed this link- the 1929 strikes at Loray Mill NC were mill workers going straight-up Communist…
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