MaryBe McMillan talked “South” at progressive conference in Detroit
North Carolina State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer MaryBe McMillan took the AFL-CIO’s call for unions to “organize the South” before a national audience of thousands of progressive thinkers, bloggers, online organizers, and activists gathered in Detroit July 17-20 for Netroots Nation 2014. Conference goers also heard keynotes by Rev. William Barber II, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Vice President Joe Biden.
McMillan sat on a panel, Organize the South: The Times They Are a-Changing, to discuss how workers – through Moral Monday, fast food strikes, new union organizing, and the battle for reproductive rights – are rising up to challenge Tea Party extremism and organized greed on its home turf. Joining McMillan on the panel were representatives from the fast food campaign Raise Up for 15, Planned Parenthood, United Auto Workers, and Working America.
With private sector union membership in decline and middle-class wealth and income declining along with it, AFL-CIO committed at its quadrennial convention in Los Angeles last Fall to developing a new southern workers organizing strategy to shore up the ranks of organized workers who, working together, can restore balance to an American economy and political landscape now dominated by corporate interests and to turn back the tide of austerity, gridlock, and regressive policies no longer isolated in the South.
“If you want to glimpse the future of the United States, look to the South,” says MaryBe McMillan. “As the South gains in population and influence, the problems of the South – low wages, union busting, more restrictions on voting and personal liberty – are becoming national problems.”
In recent years, workers in traditional union strongholds like Michigan and Wisconsin have seen their extremist legislatures enact right-to-work for less laws and curtail long-won public sector collective bargaining rights.
Tea Party members of Congress regularly block legislation that would create jobs and raise wages for workers who have not shared in the gains made by corporations and the investment class during the slow economic recovery.
North Carolina, once known for its tradition of moderate pragmatism among southern states, has been the scene of loud and growing discontent over right-wing policies adopted since Republicans captured the state legislature in 2010 and governorship in 2012 – policies including deep cuts to unemployment benefits, public education, and access to healthcare.
There is evidence that workers in the South, pushed to their resistance point by long-term unemployment, underemployment, and the predominance of low-wages in the few growing industries are ready for hope that the future can be brighter.
“Workers in the South are opening their eyes to the power of collective action,” says MaryBe McMillan.
“You can see it in the persistence of Moral Monday and its spread to other states, in fast food strikes sweeping across the South, and in major union organizing drives from Mountaire Farms in North Carolina to Volkswagen in Tennessee, Nissan in Mississippi, and home healthcare workers everywhere.
“Change is possible, even in the South. If we can build a new workers movement here, we can bring economic justice to every corner of this nation.”