How the American South Drives the Low-Wage Economy

Source: Harold Meyerson, American Prospect, Vol. 26 no. 3, Summer 2015

Just as in the 1850s (with the Dred Scott decision and the Fugitive Slave Act), the Southern labor system (with low pay and no unions) is wending its way north. …. The American South before the Civil War was the low-wage—actually, the no-wage—anchor of the first global production chain. Today, as the auto and aerospace manufacturers of Europe and East Asia open low-wage assembly plants in Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi, the South has assumed a comparable role once more. Indeed, the South today shares more features with its antebellum ancestor than it has in a very long time. Now as then, white Southern elites and their powerful allies among non-Southern business interests seek to expand to the rest of the nation the South’s subjugation of workers and its suppression of the voting rights of those who might oppose their policies. In fact, now more than then, the South’s efforts to spread its values across America are advancing, as Northern Republicans adopt their Southern counterparts’ antipathy to unions and support for voter suppression, and as workers’ earnings in the North fall toward Southern levels. And now as then, a sectional backlash against Southern norms has emerged that, when combined with the Southern surge, is again creating two nations within one…..