Labor’s Southern Organizing Strategy

By Alvaro Rodriguez - Houston, TX

Houston has been an important focus for Southern organizing because of its size; the fourth largest city in the US, its demographics: 44% Hispanic, 24% African American and high poverty levels (based on 2012 Census survey). Approximately 34% of Houston’s children live in poverty. Overall, 22% of the people live below the official poverty level, with racial minorities the hardest hit: 28% of African Americans live below the poverty level and 29% of Hispanics live below the poverty level. This poverty exists in the mist of plenty, with Houston having one of the largest concentrations of millionaires in the world.

There is also a concerted effort to turn Texas from a red state to a blue state. An impediment is the racial gerrymandering results from Representative Tom Delay efforts in 2003, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Voter suppression is in full force, with the Texas Voter ID law in effect. Labor, Democrats and progressives are heavily at work to turn the state around.

The AFL-CIO Executive Council convened the week of February 17 in Houston, Texas. At their press conference, Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO reaffirmed the AFL-CIO’s continuing commitment to organizing in the South. The 2013 AFL-CIO Convention passed Resolution 26: Resolution to Develop a Southern Organizing Strategy:

• the AFL-CIO adopts as one of its top priorities a Southern Strategy that will include a long-term commitment to organize the South

• the AFL-CIO strongly impress upon every one of its affiliates to adopt the same long-term commitment necessary to sustain a strong and viable workers’ movement in the Southern Region of the United States.

The reasons stated for the Southern Organizing Strategy are as follows:

1. The US labor movement has never successfully developed a concerted and coordinated effort to organize workers in the 11 Southern states making up the Southern Region, allowing the most conservative political forces in the South to operate without effectively being challenged by

2. Corporations in the South have not only exploited Southern workers but have also been responsible for the negative environmental impacts on many working class communities, especially the African American, Latino, Native American, Asian and poor white communities

3. Billions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives are being given to corporations at the expense of hese struggling communities

4. The main strategy of the corporations in the South has been to divide the working class and the oppressed peoples in every way possible

5. The South has reemerged as a major player in the new global economy, and has become a haven for US manufacturing, foreign investments and finance capital, and because of this reemergence is now playing an integral role in shaping US labor and social policies.

6. Anti-immigration bills are being introduced and are rapidly moving through Southern legislatures for the sole purpose of creating another source of worker exploitation that is based on race, ethnicity and fear

7. acknowledging the shortcomings of the US labor movement to organize the South is in no way meant to suggest that workers in the South have not been organizing and resisting these attacks

8. Organizing and campaigning in the South have been localized and not connected to a Southern or national movement, thus discouraging sustained efforts to organize unions in the South

9. a successful Southern organizing strategy must include Southern people familiar with local culture and customs

Much was discussed at the meeting on the narrow loss of the union vote at VW plant in Chattanooga Tennessee. The ultra-right from around the country made a special effort to defeat the workers’ right to collective bargaining. US Senator Corker, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Grover Norquist threatened the workers with job losses and blamed unionized workers for Detroit’s woes. One important lesson here is the need to address labor union struggles in the South as a movement, where the full collective efforts of all union affiliates and the broader progressive movement, work in concert

There have been ongoing important union organizing activities in Texas. Union organizing victories in

• ATT Mobility workers

• Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign resulted in the largest

labor victory Houston in the last 25 years. SEIU has also led the struggle locally for low wage

• The Teamsters successful organizing drive of ramp workers at what was then Continental Airlines, now United.

• Texas State Employees Union has successfully signed up thousands

• Organizing of nurses by National Nurses United led by the National Nurses Organizing

• Working America has recruited some 40,000 workers in Texas, including 23,000 workers in

• Fe y Justicia, a Worker Center for low wage workers, led the passage of the Wage Theft Ordinance by the Houston City Council.

• The Texas Organizing Project has mobilized thousands of people in support of Medicaid expansion in Texas and support for immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Republican Governor Perry is denying more than 1 million Texans the right to Medicaid available under the Affordable Care Act.

• Mi Familia Vota has register thousands of Hispanic families to vote.

• The Texas Alliance for Retired Americans has taken off very well in the last 2 years

tough texas women

Photo caption: (Dallas AFL-CIO Photo) Tough Texas women: Linda Bridges, Wendy Davis, Nancy Hall, Becky Moeller (Dallas AFL-CIO) Linda Bridges is president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers. Wendy Davis is Texas State Senator and Democratic candidate for Texas governor Nancy Hall, Executive Vice President of Texas CWA Becky Moeller is the President of Texas AFL-CIO and VP of the Southern Region for national AFL-CIO