Columbia, South Carolina - Hundreds of service workers from across the South gathered in Columbia, South Carolina, November 17-19 to launch the Union of Southern Service Workers (USSW), taking their fight to a new level. The new organization grows out of the Raise Up, the Southern branch of the Fight for $15 and a Union, a movement backed by Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In addition to fast food, members work in hotels, gas stations, retail, home care, sit-down restaurants, and more. Some of these workers have been organizing their industries for a decade with Raise Up—fighting for higher wages and better working conditions. Others have only recently joined the effort—including many who felt that the pandemic exposed how essential their work was, and how little corporations and politicians valued them.
Our dear brother, leader, confidant, mentor and model servant of our people, Saladin Muhammad, joined our revolutionary ancestors on September 19, 2022 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Saladin was 76 and had been battling illness for a while. When our revolutionary elders leave this material world, we often say another giant has fallen as a testament to their contribution and the love that we have for them. But sometimes, that characterization is just not enough. This is one of those times. Brother Saladin occupied a category that only a few have occupied. As one of only a handful of strategic thinkers and organizers of our movement that had not retired (how does a member of an oppressed nation and class retire from revolution?) Saladin continued to provide the leadership that he had given for well over five decades.
This summer I went on strike at Dollar General in Holly Hill, South Carolina. My coworkers and I were standing up for our rights and fighting back against a company that put our safety at risk, stole our wages, and made it impossible for us to take care of our families. Our organizing started when my coworker Tara Thompson called us to a meeting at her house. I said, "I don't feel safe at work," and everyone nodded. The store had been robbed three times since I've been here. One day a customer came into the store with a gun, having some mental health problems and talking about how he can't trust anyone. I called the police for help, but they never came. And my Dollar General manager reprimanded me for calling them. My coworker was robbed at gunpoint, and just 10 minutes later management was pushing her to reopen the store.
The maternal mortality rate in the United States is 23.8 deaths per 100,000 births — the highest of any developed country. The U.S. is also the only developed country where maternal mortality rates are rising. The crisis is especially dire in the South. As of 2018, Louisiana had the highest maternal mortality rate of any state with 58.1 deaths per 100,000 births — over three times the national rate. It was followed by Georgia with 48.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. Of the 10 states with the highest maternal mortality rates, six were in the South. Besides Louisiana and Georgia, they are Arkansas (37.5), Alabama (36.4), Texas (34.5), and South Carolina (27.9). The rates are even higher for Black and indigenous women.
To get to the big ballpark in Brookwood, Alabama, you drive down the Miners Memorial Parkway. The road goes by the local headquarters of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and close to the Miners Memorial monument, which remembers 13 miners killed in a 2001 explosion. A lot of coal miners work in Brookwood, and a lot have died here. Right now, more than a thousand are on strike there, at the Warrior Met Coal. It sits just off the same road. On Wednesday morning, a line of buses lumbered down the winding road through the woods, and a line of pickup trucks piled up behind them. All passed the “We Are One” UMWA signs lining the road for miles before turning into the ballpark, where the sprawling open grass was dotted with tents and a stage.
Almost a year ago, the roaring chants echoed in the streets: Defund the police! Abolish the police! The tide of public opinion spurred some of the nation’s more liberal cities into action. Los Angeles cut $150 million from its police department budget, New York City pledged to shift $1 billion from its police department to social services, and the Minneapolis City Council removed the requirement for a police department from its city charter. But in Southern states—home to the nation’s largest Black population—the pattern has been one of strengthening police departments in rural communities. This has been true even in towns led by liberal Black city officials, bringing into sharp relief the urgent need to protect some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens—Black rural Southern folks.
Oxford, MI - The woman’s face still haunts me. Lined from many years of work on the farm and then in the cotton mills, she is nameless in my memory, just another “linthead” in the eyes of the mill owners, “white trash” others might say, someone off the cow patch and now in a factory in some Southern backwater working 12-hour days. In her eyes, however, was a spark of something, a flicker of hope, and it came from the union she and countless other cotton mill workers were desperate to join back in the 1930s. “We began to feel we could be a part of a great movement,” she said in filmmakers George Stoney, Judith Helfland, and Susanne Rostock’s landmark 1995 documentary The Uprising of ’34.
For years, legal organizations and farmworker advocacy groups have sounded the alarm about the H-2A visa program — the most common legal route to hiring foreign agricultural workers. Faced with massive worker shortages, farmers in the South have increasingly turned to foreign laborers, who come to work on temporary employer-sponsored visas. The program, which ties employees and their visas to the employer, is rife with abuse. Wage theft is rampant, forced labor is common, and the contracts employers sign, which guarantee certain hours and living conditions, are rarely honored. On top of that the U.S. Department of Labor rarely enforces regulations, which allows mistreatment to go unchecked.
It’s no secret that the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States has steadily declined over the past few decades, replaced largely by low-wage work in the service sector. But in many rural communities, manufacturing is still the most important part of the local economy. In fact, manufacturing jobs account for 21 percent of all earnings for rural communities, more than triple the income from farming work. Manufacturing represents a particularly important source of employment for workers of color in many rural communities.