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Covering for the Bosses

Labor and the Southern Press

Publication Year: 2008

Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press probes the difficult relationship between the press and organized labor in the South from the past to the present day. Written by a veteran journalist and first-hand observer of the labor movement and its treatment in the region's newspapers and other media, the text focuses on the modern South that has evolved since World War II. In gathering materials for this book, Joseph B. Atkins crisscrossed the region, interviewing workers, managers, labor organizers, immigrants, activists, and journalists, and canvassing labor archives. Using individual events to reveal the broad picture, Covering for the Bosses is a personal journey by a textile worker's son who grew up in North Carolina, worked on tobacco farms and in textile plants as a young man, and went on to cover as a reporter many of the developments described in this book. Atkins details the fall of the once-dominant textile industry and the region's emergence as the "Sunbelt South." He explores the advent of "Detroit South" with the arrival of foreign automakers from Japan, Germany, and South Korea. And finally he relates the effects of the influx of millions of workers from Mexico and elsewhere. Covering for the Bosses shows how, with few exceptions, the press has been a key partner in the powerful alliance of business and political interests that keep the South the nation's least-unionized region. Joseph B. Atkins is a widely published journalist, professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi, and editor of The Mission: Journalism, Ethics, and the World. Stanley Aronowitz is professor of sociology and cultural studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author, most recently, of Left Turn: Forging a New Political Future; The Knowledge Factory; and How Class Works.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

John Sweeney, the leader of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), led a revolt of a gaggle of large unions and was elected American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) president in 1995, an unprecedented challenge in modern labor history to a sitting administration. Not since 1908 when an insurgency within the AFL opposed the reelection...

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pp. xiii

Many people played important roles in bringing Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press to completion, too many to name them all. However, I would like especially to thank the following, and their names come in no certain order: Bill Tapscott, Vivian Centenio, Bill Russell, D. Peters Wilborn Jr., Tony Bartelme, Chris Marston, Robert Shaffer, Martin Fishgold, Tim Shorrock, Chris Kromm, Karen...

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CHAPTER 1: Labor, the Southern Press, and the Civil War That Never Ended

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pp. 3-18

Ray Smithhart and Robert Bracken, old soldiers of the Southern labor movement, are trading war stories in the conference room of the Mississippi AFL-CIO headquarters on Jackson’s North West Street. This is a long, bumpy stretch of road that runs alongside one of the city’s oldest cemeteries, between crime-and-poverty-haunted neighborhoods to the west and, ...

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CHAPTER 2: Labor in the Old New South

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pp. 19-36

In the little northeastern Mississippi town of Nettleton in the early 1980s, the Tapscott family was going through the many rooms and countless closets of the century-old, long-vacant home of my late wife Marilyn’s four never-married great-aunts, the last of whom—Aunt Cam (for Camille)—had recently died in a nearby nursing home at the age of ninety-eight. ...

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CHAPTER 3: The CIO and Operation Dixie: A “Lamp of Democracy” in the South

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pp. 37-63

Clarice Kidder sits across from me, ladylike, her hair nicely coiffed, her voice soft but clear, a sense of dignity about her. At sixty-eight, she’s a lean woman, a legacy of her childhood as one of nine children in a sharecropping family in the Arkansas Delta. “You eat beans and potatoes seven days a week, you don’t put much meat on your bones,” she explains about the life she later ...

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CHAPTER 4: Labor, Civil Rights, and Memphis

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pp. 64-85

The seeds of the civil rights movement that rocked the South in the 1950s and 1960s were planted long before by workers and labor organizers in the Southern textile mills and coal mines, by labor leaders like John L. Lewis and Walter Reuther of the CIO, and, of course, A. Phillip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Also planting those seeds ...

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CHAPTER 5: Labor, Race, and the Mississippi Press

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pp. 86-97

Claude Ramsay, the crusty, barrel-chested president of the Mississippi AFL-CIO from 1959 to 1986, delivered a stem-winder of a speech at the University of Mississippi in 1966—a time when the fires of the civil rights struggle were still burning—that included a snapshot history of the labor movement, a discussion of the twin legacies of Samuel Gompers and ...

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CHAPTER 6: The Sunbelt South and Its Shadows

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pp. 98-126

The “Sunbelt South” is only the latest reincarnation of a region that has been proclaiming itself renewed, redeemed, and reconstructed since the Civil War. Henry Grady of the Atlanta Constitution introduced the first “New South” in 1886. Political analyst Kevin Phillips became his spiritual descendant when he announced the arrival of the “Sun Belt” in 1969. ...

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CHAPTER 7: Southern Exposure: “A New Style of Southern Journalism”

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pp. 127-141

The first thing I thought about when I drove up to the modest two-story, red brick building on Chapel Hill Road in Durham, North Carolina, was Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s comment when he visited the equally unimposing headquarters of the Al Jazeera network in Doha, Qatar. “All this noise from this matchbox?”1 It’s an easy-to-miss...

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CHAPTER 8: Pillowtex Says Goodnight

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pp. 142-159

I was a green reporter, in my rookie year as a late-blooming journalist, when I stumbled onto a story that would haunt me for the next thirty years. My newspaper was the Sanford Herald in the textiles-and-tobacco county seat of Lee County, North Carolina. “Go to Harnett County and come back with at least two stories,” my editor told me. The assignment...

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CHAPTER 9: Wal-Mart Conquers the World

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pp. 160-175

She once played an elf outside a Wal-Mart along the Tennessee-Mississippi border during the Christmas season, handing out pro-union leaflets while a fellow member of Wal-Mart’s bête noire, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), stood at the front entrance in red suit, black boots, and flowing white beard, distributing candy to the eager children of ...

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CHAPTER 10: Charleston: “The First Major Labor Battle of the Twenty-first Century”

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pp. 176-192

The first sign of trouble ahead was the swelling crowd of police at the entrance of the Columbus Street Terminal off Morrison Drive. It was 5 P.M.,Wednesday, January 19, 2000, still the dawn of the new millennium in Charleston, South Carolina. Hundreds of battle-ready, black-clad police and highway patrol officers stood in formation, armed with riot helmets, ...

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CHAPTER 11: Detroit South

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pp. 193-209

James Fisher, his hair closely cropped, his blue Nissan work shirt clean and neatly pressed, his demeanor serious, stood at the podium in the meeting hall of the Canton United Methodist Church and surveyed the assembly before speaking. He was there to give his personal testimony—not about “One of the first things they showed us when we came in was an ...

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CHAPTER 12: Immigrants from a Deeper South

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pp. 210-221

When Mexican artist Diego Rivera traveled to the great metropolis of New York City during the Great Depression, he was both “amazed and appalled” at the shantytowns, breadlines, starvation, and suicides that he found to be endemic to a city that was for non-natives like him the very symbol of the United States. As New York journalist Pete Hamill wrote in his book ...

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POSTSCRIPT: My Hometown: From Tobacco and Textiles to an Iglesia on Main Street

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pp. 222-223

It is the first anniversary of my father’s death, and I’ve come home with my brother, sister, and mother to put flowers on his grave. We spend much of the rest of the day and evening on a nostalgia tour through the It seems that every other building or house in Sanford, North Carolina, is a landmark in our personal history—the boarded-up elementary ...


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pp. 225-247


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pp. 249-264

E-ISBN-13: 9781604733259
E-ISBN-10: 160473325X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781934110805
Print-ISBN-10: 1934110809

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2008