Southern Towns and Northern Industry

Louisiana-born and today one of the most invigorating and independent of Southern editors, HOODING CARTER received the Southern Literary Award in 1945 and the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1946. Educated in the public schools of Hammond. Louisiana, and in the North at Bowdoin College, at the Columbia School of journalism, and as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1939, Mr. Carter served as a cub reporter on the New Orleans Item-Tribune, then as Manager of the AP Bureau in Jackson, Mississippi. Since 1939 he has been editor and publisher of the Delta Democrat-Times in Greenville, Mississippi.

by HOODING CARTER

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AS EDITOR and publisher of the Delta DemocratTimes (circulation 12,000, rates on request), I have often been astonished and gratified bv my fellow citizens’ tolerant acceptance of editorial opinions which are contrary to theirs, and of stories which many would prefer to go unpublished. At no greater cost than occasional nervousness, I have been able to denounce flaccid sheriffs, sundry community inequalities, drinking at football games, the city council, bonuses for veterans, and even the New Look, with the certainty that occasional subscription cancellations will be offset by new subscribers and that those who differ will be content to denounce me in turn.

But there is one sacrosanct topic which, even were I so minded — and I hastily add that I am not

— I would not dare to discuss save in the most favorable terms. That topic is the advantages which Greenville, Mississippi, offers the prospective industrialist.

At least once a month, and preferably more often, a group known as our business leaders is summoned to play collective host to Northern industrialists in search of plant siles. In this welcoming assembly are, invariably, the mayor, all three bank presidents, the managers of our two principal industries — both operated by Northern corporations— the district manager of the power company, the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, the executives of the principal retail stores, the city engineer, and. for occupational reasons, myself. Each has a role to play, and an honest, hopeful one, as an authority on some phase of the community: its housing and recreational and utility facilities, its industrial program, its tax rates, its available labor, its attitude toward new industry. And each visiting delegation gets our earnest, whole-spirited attention.

If these industrial site-seekers can spare us as much as a day of their time, they get to know a great deal about Greenville. They see our wide, tree-blessed avenues and older residential districts, the store fronts of our business dist rict, and the new suburban additions which prove our proud claim that our population has nearly doubled in twelve years. They are dined and unlawfully wined in our country club or in the pleasant hotel whose modernity surprises them. Their brief cases are crammed with statistics and the Chamber of Commerce’s illustrated brochure; and even though they undoubtedly knew of it in advance, they are reminded of Mississippi’s now successful experiment in industrial subsidization, the BAWI plan — Balance Agriculture with Industry.

After they have departed, we hold depressed post-mortems or more hopeful reviews of these conferences. Was the question about schools sufficiently answered by the figures on the new school bond issue? Was it clear that the supply of natural gas is as great as in any area in ihe valley?

These monthly meetings are evidence of a tremendous competitive struggle, composed of many interseclional and intrasectional contests. On the outer fringes of the campaign for a more balanced and richer economy, towns within each Southern state are battling each other; these, however, are diversionary skirmishes, meaningful only in that the well-being of a Greenville may or may not come to surpass that of its sister Mississippi communities. More decisive is the competition among the Southern states for the decentralizing or expanding industries of the East and Midwest, for upon its outcome depend the relative developments of entire states. But the elemental conflict is that which is being waged among the separate regions of the nation for the industrial payroll.

Thus it is that we in Greenville are happy if a hill town in eastern Mississippi gels the factory for which we had fought, even though we find it hard to forgive the town’s spokesmen tor iheir base calumny that the Delta is fever-ridden, populated only by lazy, rich planters, and inundated twice a year by the Mississippi. We are delighted even to learn that a paper mill is being built in Alabama, a viscose plant in Georgia, and a great new chemical factory in Louisiana. For these accomplishments mean that we, the inclusive Southern we, are beginning to catch up after the long, lean years.

But, although the South is gaining ground in this intersectional industrial war, it is not yet effeeling thereby the basic decentralization of financialindustrial direction itself. The legacy of economic domination from outside still influences greatly not only our industrial development but our social and political thinking, so that it remains difficult for too many of us to distinguish between our own best long-range interests and the frequently conflicting best interests of our hereditary liege lords.

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DURING my boyhood, that part of Louisiana in which I lived and much of adjoining south Mississippi were scarred and gutted by the harvest of the sawmills. The countryside was pocked with ugly little sawmill villages which thrived unhealthily while the timber lasted, then languished in decay aflcr the pine and cypress forests had been cut away. We have no local timber millionaires. What we furnished was the trees, the labor, and some of the supervisory personnel. The resident managers were Northerners. Most of the timber and all of the profits went somewhere else.

But the lumber companies were unchallenged. They were welcomed for their payrolls; their resident executives were privileged citizens, and the interests of the local bankers and attorneys and businessmen were identical with theirs. If the sawyers wanted more money, they found the leading citizens of the lumber towns allied almost solidly against them. When legal involvements, from injury claims to land controversies, occurred, the best lawyers represented the companies. Only a maverick few among the politicians spoke out against the domination of the timber interests in local affairs. And when the policy of reforestation was mercifully adopted, it was only because the operators themselves saw the light. Before that happened, almost the whole of south Mississippi was cut bare, its land exhausted, its people reduced to marginal living, and its leaders so aroused, belatedly, that — going to the opposite extreme— the state enacted legislation which, until it was repealed, made it all but impossible for a foreign corporation to operate in Mississippi.

So, too, with the mineral resources, the transportation system, the fen processing industries, and even the raw agricultural materials of the South. No more than twenty years ago it could be proved that, in ils relationship to the East, the South was one great company town. This is less true today. Yet even now, control of most of the oil companies, the textile mills, the railroads, the steel mills, the utilities, and ihe major industrial plants lies in the hands of absentee owners.

We are told that we made our bed and must lie in it; that the South chose more than a century ago to be and to remain agricultural and that we are just waking up. Yet it is not Southern decision which preserves the old colonial status, but consolidation of industrial-financial control in the East.

The techniques of control are multifold: patent monopolies and freight-rate differentials; protective manufacturing tariffs; the centralization of capital in the Eastern money markets resulting from a century of concentrated industrial development and the channeling of profits on the raw materials of the South and West; political mastery; and willing Southern mercenaries.

Just as multiple are the results. In the New England and North Central states are concentrated 89 per cent of the high-wage, skilled-worker, mobile industries — chemical processing, air conditioning, ceramics, electrical devices, scientific instruments, internal-combustion engines, radio equipment, plastic products, textile processing. In the East are located the life insurance companies doing 95 per cent of the total volume. As of 1940 — and the picture cannot have changed greatly since — the total assets of each of at least seventeen Eastern corporations were larger than the assessed valuations of any of the Southern states. Five were life insurance companies, the principal private financiers of enterprise. Four were banks, with chains of control extending down to the bankers of Greenville. Three were railroads, so adamant against the ending of freight-rate differentials. The others were Standard Oil, United States Steel, General Motors, Alleghany Corporation, and Commonwealth & Southern, and for each of them the South represents principally a source of raw materials, a sales territory, or an area for branch operations.

And 2 per cent of the total number of American manufacturers, most of them based in the East and the Midwest, employed, as of 1944, 62 per cent of the total number of industrial workers. Sometimes their hearts bleed for their fellow men, too, as when a governor of Connecticut urged New England manufacturers to contribute $500,000 to aid in the unionization of Southern labor — in order to arrest the “drain of Northern industry into the sweatshop areas of the South.”

Let us concede that the North earned this monopoly because of superior initiative, thrift, know-how, determination, wisdom of choice, and a more skilled and intelligent population. The copybook virtues can be very real, and I have no wish to detract: from the success stories so abundant in the history of New England, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

Let us admit, too, that branch plants in Mississippi are far better than no plants at all, and that these new industrial payrolls have helped to increase our per capita income to two thirds of the national average even though the industrial profits have been skimmed off for consumption elsewhere. I am in complete accord with my fellow Greenvillians in trying to induce industries to locate in our city, even if their owners live in Tibet. A Northerner with new ideas may get a quick brush-off or worse, but a Northerner wilh a new factory - right this way, gentlemen, and do you realize the advantages of river transportation?

But why endorse that self-immolating Southern philosophy which identifies the objectives of the absentee owner with our own, and which provides Southern spokesmen for Eastern self-interest ? Nonunion labor and wage-scale differentials are desirable to the industrialist in search of a branch plant location, for example; and it is understandable that Electric Bond & Share would like to hamstring the Tennessee Valley Authority. It is not understandable that there should be such wide Southern support for these attitudes.

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OF COURSE, it is not majority support. But the South is not yet a place where the majority exercises economic or even political self-determination. The politico-economic alignments, especially in the towns and smaller cities of the South, are made through the traditional coalition of the banker, the lawyer representing absentee corporation interests, the large landowner, and the executive of existing local or branch industry. Flanking these leaders is an army of subordinates — the merchants, the professional men, usually the politicians, and more often than not the newspaper publisher.

This coalition is conservative not only by occupations and tradition, but through social identification with the managerial and absent-owner groups. The spindle operator down at ihc mill may be dividing his pay cheek among them, but he is not sitting around in the locker room or the home bar, disinterring the remains of that damn radical who wrecked the country and discussing the alliance of Joe Stalin and Philip Murray, It is not the fear of Red rebellion that causes Southern representatives of Northern industry and the industry hunters of the South to shrink from the ballooning specter of unionization. Rather, they are fearful that increased operating costs will reduce profits and jeopardize the already established industry, or that the prospective industry will shy away.

This point of view is not necessarily malicious. Once there was reason for the South to emphasize cheapness of labor as its principal attraction for industry. Low standards of literacy and health, an unskilled population, transportation handicaps, an individualistic, rural society’s mistrust of collective effort — all these combined to make cheap labor the principal lure. And even today there is a hard practicality behind Southern emphasis of the willingness, the abundance, and the good behavior the 100 per cent Americanism — of Southern workers. The intensity of the labor-management struggle elsewhere in industrial America must make the South seem like heaven to a strike-harassed manufacturer, even though that heaven is temporary.

That is why we never mention our long-ago strike in Greenville, and why I should feel like a Judas when my newspaper reports that the CIO. is seeking an election at the mill. Such stories may be upsetting to the next delegation from Toledo. We need the payrolls. A dollar-an-hour minimum would be nice, but even 50 cents an hour, multiplied by 500 workers whom mechanization is shunting from the plantations, would add much to the local economy. After all, if we get them here on a 50-cent premise, the CIO and the AFL will come along soon.

Why becloud the issue by observing that in the organized textile mills of the South the average minimum wage has risen from 05 cents to 75 cents an hour, and that if in the wood-products industries alone the wages of white and Negro workers could he equalized, the spendable income of the South would increase a billion dollars a year? Let us get the new industry now and the less said the better.

This is part of a war for survival and for growth. As such, it is understandable. The coalition prospers and the town itself becomes more stable, even though the steady job at the new plant may be disillusioning to the new, fumbling employee from the farm.

But this alliance wilh distant interests cannot be condoned when it is formed in opposition to the TVA, which I am singling out as the paramount example both of regional development and of absentee recruiting of mercenary or thoughtless opposition, No part of the country stands to profit as much as does the South from the restitution and development of its resources and the increased purchasing power of its people. In the Tennessee Valley, the per capita income has risen in fifteen years from 40 to 70 per cent of the national average; land long ago abandoned has been made again fruitful through TA-directed farming practices; new industries have come in, shutting their eyes to socialism where it prolits t hem; and the Tennessee River, navigable now to Knoxville, is virtually flood-free. But I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard my fellow citizens tell me the TVA is Communistic and we want no part of it.

And there is the pitifully special concern which we show for the faraway manipulators of our economic destiny. No one in Greenville worried when my printers organized or when the unions invaded the locally owned machine works or cottonseed-oil mills. We are home folks, and we are not going to leave.

When my employees first engaged in collective bargaining three years ago — and. by coincidence, added a good many thousands of dollars to the annual payroll — I wrote an editorial pointing out that Greenville now had a $100,000 payroll and that we certainly were entitled to a five-year tax exemption and a modern plant, to be built by a municipal bond issue and amortized over thirty years. Even - one laughed and said that we were lucky to have such a sense of humor. But the absentee owner is a disembodied ogre. No one smiles at the report that Sewell Avery is upset in faraway Chicago because the mill organizers have come to town.

The South, so proud in all things else, is in this respect prideless. We have set too small store by the worth of human sweat, put too low a price upon what we have. Nowhere else in the United States is there such a happy conjunction of climate, end products, potential water power, diversity of resources, and hopeful determination to catch up with the rest of the country. Nowhere else is there such disparity from the norm, so many who lack so much. Nowhere else are sons and daughters the principal export commodity, not only because jobs are fewer but because the pay for the obtainable job is less.

The conviction that the South’s economy rests on cheapness of labor antedates our late surge toward industrialization. Cotton was historically a product of unskilled labor and had to be produced cheaply to compete in the markets of the world. Cotton was the South’s one cash commodity. Thus the unskilled field hand, slave and free, set the South’s wage standards, depressing inevitably the incomes of all who rode on his back. And all did.

When I was a boy, the farmers used to say that no Negro was worth more than a dollar a day. They do not say it as often now. But the insistence that the Southern worker, white and Negro, should be; grateful for less than his fellows get elsewhere persists; and boasting that his costs of living are lower, we forget that his standards of living are lower yet.

It is time that we remember this disparity; time to recognize positive heritages. We have too long undervalued ou manpower and wasted our resources. We have more to offer the cruising industrialist than docility, cheapness, and a blank check.