Saturday, 13 March 2010

Civil Rights Showdown

Not so long ago, we looked at America`s United Steelworkers trade union, their involvement with the Blue Green Alliance and their agreement with Spanish co-op Mondragon to establish a number of  co-operatively-owned manufacturing businesses in the US. (my article `John Muir`s Blue Sierra`, this blog, 12 December 2009).

Now we find the same union mounting a call for what they call a "Civil Rights Movement 2.0", centred on the fight for jobs. Speaking on the 50th anniversary of the `Greensboro 4` *, union leaders Fred Redmond and Leo W Gerard commented "The involvement of young people in that movement - along with religious, labor and other community leaders - cannot be underestimated...they forced America to change for the better." They called on young people to force America to solve "the critical civil rights challenge of this time : good jobs to enable all America to thrive into the next century."

"Good jobs provide health insurance" they added "Good jobs create strong communities. Good jobs create a high quality educational system."

They pointed out that young Americans are disproportionately likely to lack health insurance, and that 50% of the 16 - 24 age group were jobless last year. African-Americans and Latin Americans were more likely to be uninsured and/or unemployed than their white peers.

Tellingly, they pointed out that each manufacturing job supports five other jobs, compared to just one job supported by a service sector position, and that manufacturing jobs tend to pay better. They believe that the manufacturing sector created America`s black middle class and that the decline in America`s manufacturing sector has therefore hit the African American population disproportionately. 

Interestingly, their statement implied strongly that they would advocate some sort of protectionism to protect the American economy from cheap imports. This seems to have been picked up by others, and I notice the Steelworkers blog carries a statement from one Dave Johnson (13 March 2010) headed When Conservatives are Right, commenting on an article by an American conservative called Pat Buchanan. Mr Johnson comments "This free trade stuff has worked for us about as well as the free market stuff worked out for the economy. Free market and deregulation destroyed the economy. Free trade has destroyed our ability to earn money and recover." **

Arguments over the case for/against protectionism fall outside the scope of this blog as I want to keep it cheap and cheerful. Leaving that aside, the two trade unionist leaders do have a good point when they comment that cheaply-produced consumer goods imported into the US are often produced in countries with limited safety regulations and few requirements for environmentally-friendly working practices. "Cheap goods come at a high price" they say.  


Pepe Lozano - Steelworkers Call For Civil Rights 2.0 : A Youth-Led Jobs Revolution - People`s World, 17 February 2010

L W Gerard / F Redmond -Black History Month Challenge : A Youth-Led Jobs Revolution - Statement, 11 February 2010

On the Web

United Steelworkers -


* The Greensboro 4 were four young African-American students who defied segregation by sitting at a whites-only lunch counter, rather than standing in the designated `colored` section as the store`s policy required. They were refused service, but did not leave. The following morning, they returned and repeated their action, this time accompanied by 23 sympathisers. They continued in this vein and within a week had rallied around 1,000 supporters. Others began to copy their actions in equivalent situations. Within 6 months, F W Wolworth, owners of the store in question, had de-segreated their lunch counter. Civil rights veteran W E B Du Bois, by then a very elderly man,  was effusive in his praise for the youg men`s actions and commented, in answer to a question, that he had no advice for them "maybe they should be giving advice to me".

For articles and links relating to the Civil Rights Movement past and present visit

** US politics can be confusing to outsiders - including myself - and I`m not sure I`ve helped here.  In Britain,  both major parties (Labour and Conservative) have seen the growth of the Chinese and Indian economies as representing new markets for British goods and services. Obviously they are not going to jeopardise that by placing tariffs on Indian and Chinese goods exported into the UK, in case those countries retaliate in like form. ( The two Liberal parties I believe are committed to free trade as a matter of principle).  In the US however (as I understand it)  Conservatives have tended to see India and China as potential economic rivals, hence Mr Johnson`s choice of words.

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