Amendment 4 Does not Fix Racist Constitution

Tuscaloosa News does not seem to like my letters.  None of the letters I have written in the past 3 years have been published.  The newspaper seems more interested in publishing such pieces as “President is inviting the wrath of God”  which reduces this column to an entertainment section equivalent to the National Enquirer than serious debate.  After a week of waiting for a response or for publication, I am posting my letter in response to their editorial.

To the Editor:
The recent editorial supporting Amendment 4 (October 18) to the state constitution  does not seem to understand how racism works. Amendment 4 claims it will remove racist language from our constitution which was established in 1901 with the sole purpose of creating a White Supremacist State. Removing racist language is only a cosmetic touch as it does not and cannot fix the institutionalized racism that is still embedded in the constitution. The paragraphs that will not be removed by this amendment because they are not explicit in their racism are still racist. This particular section was written in the 1950’s when it was believed by the White majority that Blacks were not educable but merely trainable and that language remains. These terms, education and training refer to the alleged abilities that Whites versus Blacks had. The belief was Whites could be educated while Blacks could only be trained. The only way to fix our 1901 constitution is not by deleting phrases but by a complete rewriting of the constitution. Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Henry Mabry is right when he states Amendment 4 removes the guaranteed right to an education. That is how institutionalized racism works. It is so embedded into our state constitution that to remove racist language actually restores racist policies. Cosmetic fixes are not enough, we need a new state constitution if we are indeed serious about undoing our racist heritage.
Fred L Hammond
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Postscript:  Since writing this letter, there have been  several conversations as to what the motivations or reasons are behind this amendment.  The author of the amendment claims it is purely to remove the stain of racism from the constitution.  Perhaps. One can never fully know what those intentions might be.

What is clear is this.  While removing racist language seems a laudable act;  this amendment REENACTS a provision that had previously been held unconstitutional that for racist reasons eliminated a right to public education. When actions to remove language is being undertaken within a document created specifically to create a white supremacist state then the whole constitution needs to be looked at to see where else racism is imbedded.  There are systemic aspects of racism  interwoven in the document that must be examined and rooted out.  For example; racism is also in the constitutional policies guiding the  actions of the governing body.  Removing racism demands not just a cosmetic touch but a full reworking from scratch in order to remove all forms of racial oppression.

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Collective Bargaining is a Human Right

Article 23 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration adopted by the United Nations in 1948 reads:

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

What we are seeing in Wisconsin and in Indiana is the attempt not to balance a budget but rather the attempt of elected officials to do the bidding of the corporations to strip the fundamental right of workers to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests.  This is a violation of their human rights under the UN’s declaration of Human Rights.

In June of 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada  ruled:

“The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers by giving them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work… Collective bargaining is not simply an instrument for pursuing external ends…rather [it] is intrinsically valuable as an experience in self-government… Collective bargaining permits workers to achieve a form of workplace democracy and to ensure the rule of law in the workplace. Workers gain a voice to influence the establishment of rules that control a major aspect of their lives.”

While Canada’s Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the US, what its ruling does do is affirm  emphatically that the right to unionize and to have collective bargaining is indeed a fundamental right as declared in the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights.  It is part of what a democracy looks like for its people.

Wisconsin and Indiana are not the first states to attempt to rid collective bargaining nor would they be the first states to not have collective bargaining for their public workers, including teachers.  There are five states that explicitly make collective bargaining illegal in their state for their public sector employees.  There are additional states where restrictions apply to the bargaining process.   Many more states prohibit teachers and other public employees from striking should collective bargaining efforts fail.  Again, all of these violate the fundamental right of workers to have unions to protect their best interests.  If a union is unable to negotiate with an employer on basic work conditions or to use non-violent strategies such as a strike to bring resolution to the issues at hand, their rights are being violated.

In my state of Alabama, which does not allow public employees to have collective bargaining, David Stout the president of the Alabama Education Association which is not union, recently stated, “I don’t think people in Alabama are ready for collecting bargaining laws.”   This attitude that people need to be ready is a slap in the face of workers dignity.  Similar statements have been made before regarding groups of people needing to be ready to have the vote, needing to be ready to have democracy, needing to be ready to have equality.  The fact that it comes from the organization that is supposedly best equipped to support the interests of teachers reveals just how far the AEA is from representing their constituents.  Instead comments like these represents the state’s and corporate  interests  just like the false trade unions in corrupt corporations in Mexico.

The essential right for the workers in Indiana and in Wisconsin to be able to sit down in negotiation with their employers is about reclaiming and resurrecting our most treasured American values of democracy.  We have seen in the last 40 years such a deterioration of democracy in this nation while we pandered to the wishes of corporations as if they are people under the law with rights and privileges inherent in their being.   Our nation has stripped away through this pandering all avenues of upward mobility for the poorest of the poor in this country and for the middle class.  The divide between 90 % of the people and the top 1% has never been greater.  The average income for the bottom 90 % is $31, 244.  The average income for the top 1 % is 1, 137, 684.  The average income for the top 1/100th percent is $27, 342, 212.   Further the income of the bottom 90% has decreased significantly per year over the last decade while the top ten percent have seen astronomical gains in income.   Stripping the right to collective bargaining from employees will ensure this trend not only continues but accelerates at an alarming speed because unlike a democracy, it places an imbalance of power into the hands of the government and corporations.

The Corporations are not people.  They are only a vehicle towards sustaining our lives in what hopefully will be one with a certain level of quality of life.  If they no longer serve the people towards the advancement of a quality life for all who work for them, then corporations and governments should be held accountable for their actions against human rights.  Our elected officials must represent the people and not the corporations who line their pockets.  If they do not then they must be removed from office and replaced with elected officials that will represent the best interests of the people.

This is one of many moral issues facing our nation today.  It is essential that we stand with our workers in this fight because the survival of our democracy depends on it.