Why Now is the Time to Organize the South

Union membership is below the national average in every southern state, and working families are suffering because of it. Join the campaign to #OrganizeTheSouth by texting SOUTH to 235246.

Over 50 years after the civil rights movement caught fire, and 125 years since the IAM was born in an Atlanta locomotive pit, social and economic unrest are being revived in the American South.

The region is home to fried food, sweet tea, warm weather, “yes, ma’am’s” and “yes, sirs.” But for many, the South lacks a lot of southern comfort.

Poverty rates are the highest in the country. Only a few southern states have a minimum wage higher than the federal floor of $7.25 an hour. People are less likely to move up the economic ladder than anywhere else in the U.S. Affordable health-care coverage is being denied to millions. See the sobering statistics for yourself by clicking here.  

Something needs to change.

“Organize the South – that’s my mantra,” says MaryBe McMillan with the North Carolina AFL-CIO, one of seven members of at a recent Duke University panel on how a southern workers movement can transform the nation. “It’s what I say over and over again because I believe that for the labor movement and for worker justice, it is ‘Organize the South or die’.”

Click here to watch video of the panel.

The gathering came on the heels of the United Auto Workers’ narrow defeat at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, TN, plant. In the final days before the election, anti-worker politicians and corporate interests came together to threaten and coerce Volkswagen employees into voting against union representation.

Corporations that have long taken advantage of cheaper southern labor fear an organized opposition because it threatens their power, says Chris Kromm with the Institute for Southern Studies.

“That’s why they have to fight something like the VW campaign so hard,” said Kromm.

One exception to the South’s traditionally low union membership rate is Alabama, where 10.7 percent of workers are represented by a union. The IAM represents over 6,000 workers in the state.

McMillan says that even in the birthplace of the Tea Party and right-to-work (for less), the South has a very bright future. “If unions make investments in southern states, if we grow this movement, we can change the South and by doing so, we can bring economic justice to every corner of this nation.”

You can help lift up working families in the South. Join the campaign by texting SOUTH to 235246.