Since the 1980s, various economists, academics, and other mainstream commentators have posited that the United States is undergoing a process of “deindustrialization” stemming from the offshoring and downsizing of domestic manufacturing employment. While many Marxists and other radicals have long subscribed to versions of this theory, the “deindustrialization” thesis appears to have become increasingly widespread among Leftists in the years since the outbreak of the Great Recession in 2008.
This said, in most cases over the past several years, radicals have shied away from providing detailed expositions of this theory or its implications. The reason for this is obvious: If it’s true that the United States is becoming “deindustrialized,” then this does not bode well for the prospect of building workers’ power during the current period. After all, throughout the history of the twentieth century, workers employed in manufacturing and related industries played a vanguard role within the broader labor movement – a function that stemmed (and stems) from their strategic position at the heart of the capitalist production process. Indeed, to this day, no other segment of the working class produces as much surplus labor value or possesses as much power at the point of production as manufacturing workers.
Tobacco workers celebrate en masse outside a R.J. Reynolds factory in Winston-Salem, North Carolina at the culmination of a successful 1947 strike. (Photograph from the Digital Forsyth archives)
The following article comes from a lengthy letter that I wrote last fall to members of the socialist group that I belonged to at the time. The letter — which is dated September 11, 2013 — summarizes the fast food strike protest that took place in Atlanta on August 29 of that year as part of the SEIU-backed fast food workers’ organizing campaign.
For a number of reasons — first and foremost being problems of internal democracy — I never actually got around to emailing this message out to Atlanta branch members. Recently, however, I discovered a copy of the letter saved on my hard drive. Since the document contains some worthwhile insights about the fast food workers’ organizing campaign — both in regard to Atlanta specifically and on a nationwide level, as well — I thought it might be useful to finally publish it here. Notably, in preparation for doing this, I have removed several sections of the letter for reasons of relevance. In addition, I’ve also edited the piece for readability and style.
In terms of broader context, it’s worth adding that the August 29 strike protest described below was the first action that the fast food workers’ organizing campaign sponsored in the Atlanta area. Since then, the SEIU and forces within the local labor movement have backed the formation of an established fast food workers group — ATL Raise Up. Over the past year, this group — which now has the support of a number of militant local fast food workers — has coordinated the Atlanta strike protests staged in conjunction with the national campaign. Most recently, this included the civil disobedience strike protest held on September 4, 2014.
The demise of the 1979 strike/boycott at Church’s Chicken
The following historical article is the second in a two-part series focusing on labor unrest at Church’s Fried Chicken stores in Atlanta during the 1970s. The first installment told the story of a 24-day strike and boycott that shut down the majority of Atlanta-area Church’s locations in 1972. This latter installment recounts two additional bouts of labor unrest at Atlanta Church’s stores that took place in 1977 and 1979. In addition, this piece also details a subsequent campaign launched by Church’s in the mid-1980s in an effort to rid itself of the then widespread reputation for racism and racial insensitivity that the company had acquired within the Black community.–Ben S, Atlanta
Changes at Church’s
One of the most significant effects of the 1972 strike/boycott at Church’s Fried Chicken was the movement’s impact on racial dynamics within the company. Most notably, the strike compelled Church’s to accelerate its integration of management. In the years following 1972, the company began promoting increased numbers of Blacks to store manager positions. What’s more, in 1973, the company elected the first Black member to its board of directors. Alongside these developments, the company launched a minor public relations campaign aimed at rehabilitating its image in the Black community. In a 1973 advertisement published in the Atlanta Daily World, Church’s touted itself as a paragon of opportunity for aspiring, hard-working Blacks. As the ad put it, “Church’s Fried Chicken offers the little man the opportunity to learn the necessary skills in operating a fast food outlet.” In order to further bolster its image and cultivate Black support, the company began making minor donations to local Civil Rights groups, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation. It also moved to sponsor several little league teams in Black neighborhoods. Continue reading →
The following historical article is the first in a two-part series focusing on labor unrest at Church’s Fried Chicken stores in Atlanta during the 1970s. This initial installment tells the story of a 24-day strike and boycott that shut down the majority of Atlanta-area Church’s locations in 1972. As I explain, this struggle took place within the context of a broader strike wave that swept Atlanta that same year. The second installment in this series will recount two additional bouts of labor unrest at Atlanta Church’s stores that took place in 1977 and 1979.
– Ben S, Atlanta
“Church’s Chicken Strikes Again!!,” The Great Speckled Bird, May 15, 1972.