In These Times: White Lawmakers Are Using Alabama’s Racist State Constitution To Keep Black Wages Down

As the sun reached its peak, dozens of people wearing “Fight for 15” shirts emblazoned with a raised fist punching through Alabama spilled out of white vans onto the hot asphalt of the parking lot. They stood in small groups, taking selfies and smoking cigarettes. Children held their parents’ hands.

Then Mark Myles, a barrel-chested Fight for $15 organizer with a penchant for doling out hugs, got on a bullhorn. “We are the workers!” he shouted. The crowd enthusiastically echoed him. “The mighty, mighty workers. We’re here for $15—$15 and a union!”

The workers are using protests to pressure corporate employers and state legislators to raise their pay. But they’re not counting on it happening voluntarily. On April 28, 2016, workers in Birmingham filed a lawsuit accusing the state of racial animus and violating the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection.

The lawsuit offers a novel approach in a struggle taking place across the country as blue cities battle red states for self-determination. Republicans often extoll the virtue of local governmental control, but not, it seems, when it comes to progressive change.

“We felt like there was… a need for local elected officials and local governments around the country to push back against the trend of preemption,” says Mike Alfano, the campaign manager. “The folks pushing these preemption laws are so coordinated and coalesced that there’s no other way to successfully slow it down or ultimately defeat it.” The organization is focused on educating the public on this little-noticed trend, as well as supporting legal efforts against preemption.

But it will take significant work to raise its profile enough to make an impact. “The question is which moves these state electeds more: the money [from ALEC’s corporate interests] or the organizing and the shaming from workers and people in their communities?” says Tsedeye Gebreselassie, a senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project.

“In an era when the federal government is going through a phase of being nonresponsive and non-responsible, then there are going to be increasing efforts to win and defend victories at the local level,” Douglas says.

Everyone is still waiting to see whether local democracy can prevail.

Read the full article in In These Times.

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