One of the Most Important Union Fights in Years Is Happening in South Carolina Right Now

Feb 2 2017, BY COLE STANGLER - If a Boeing plant of 3,000 workers successfully unionizes, it will represent a major victory for labor in the Deep South. As opposition to Donald Trump's presidency mounts, progressives have scrambled to find signs of hope. Will Democratic senators vote against Trump's cabinet picks or try to block Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch? Can street protests coalesce into a movement at the ballot box? In South Carolina—an area hardly on liberal America's radar—a multiracial group of blue-collar workers is poised to deliver a simple message that requires no question marks and should resonate with wage-earners nationwide: They want a union.

Last month, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) filed for an election to represent roughly 3,000 workers at Boeing South Carolina, a sprawling complex that has churned out more than 100 state-of-the-art 787 Dreamliner jets since it opened in 2011. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent federal agency that regulates most private-sector labor relations, has set the voting day for February 15.

The stakes are enormous: A union victory of this scale could energize the labor movement's long-tortured efforts to make headway in the American South, a region whose low wages and lack of collective bargaining helps depress employment standards nationwide. It may offer a lesson that labor's future under Trump requires gambling on expansion—not merely "hunkering down" to defend the status quo. And it would mark a not-so-subtle rebuke to race-baiters in the White House: About a third of the plant's workforce is African American.

"If the union were successful in this campaign, presumably it would galvanize other workers in heavy-industry sectors in the South to unionize," says Daniel Cornfield, a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University who studies labor and social movements in the region. "So far, it's been a tough nut to crack for the labor movement."

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