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Organizing the South: History and Future of the U.S. Labor Movement — Socialist Night School #4

Socialists have historically been strong supporters of the labor movement, but what is the history of the labor movement and how, precisely, have socialists interacted with it? What are the key moments in the history of the US labor movement, and what role have Southern workers played in them? W.E.B. DuBois once wrote that “as the South goes, so goes the nation,” so what are the prospects for the labor movement in the South in the twenty-first century?

Recommended Readings

“The Failure of the Labor Unionism in the US South” by Cody Melcher and Michael Goldfield (~17pp).

“The Crisis of Labour and the Left in the United States” by Mark Dudzic and Adolph Reed Jr. (~21pp)

“Snapshot: Unions in the U.S. Today,” DSA (~2pp)

We also encourage you to watch Democracy at Work’s brief explanation of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 (~4min; more detailed ~30min version available here) and Chris Kromm’s brief presentation, “The South is Our Future” (~11min).

If you’d like to go a bit deeper — and we highly encourage it! — we recommend the following readings and videos:

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the most important lesson we can learn from the history of the US labor movement?
  2. Are there any important additions you would make to the session materials? Or is there anything you think we should consider in a different way than it was presented?
  3. Why was and is organizing the South so important for the US labor movement as a whole?
  4. What would you say to someone who claims that Southern workers cannot be organized or mobilized?
  5. Does a worker have to be in a union to participate in the labor movement? What does the history of the labor movement teach us about the place of unorganized workers in working-class struggles?
  6. Our goal is to make unions and the labor movement the best they can be, but what does that mean? What are the most important characteristics of good unions and a good labor movement? 
  7. How would a union help you in your workplace?
  8. How does your experience with your union compare to the presentation or readings? Is there anything your union does particularly well or needs to work on? 
  9. What is something you can do (or have done) in your workplace to help build the labor movement?
  10. What are the prospects for the labor movement in the South and the wider US in 2021?
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