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Anti-Trans Bigotry Will Save North Carolina

by Anthony Mercando

It’s old news now, with Title IX funding days from being slashed in North Carolina, and Gov. McCrory making more and more statements about “open dialogue and not threats.” HB2 nipped spring in the bud here in North Carolina, but at least chased a winter’s funk that had refused to let go. It brought people into the streets to demand equal rights under the law in Greenville, Raleigh, and Charlotte.NOHB2

HB2, proposed and approved during a hastily called “emergency session” of the General Assembly, limits the authority of city governments to pass ordinances in regards to discrimination and minimum wage, and most notably requires citizens to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate. It also forbids workers from bringing civil suit against their employers at the state level. There are other things, but this, in a nutshell, is the bundle of joy the Assembly dumped in our laps.

For what could easily be considered an “omni-bill,” it only garnered attention because it happened to target the LGBTQ community. Save the city-level politicians griping about the loss of power, the only people rallying to the mostly figurative barricades erected by this legislation were the trans community and its allies.

This isn’t a bad thing, by any standard. A triumph for the trans community is a triumph for all of us. The issue isn’t with the hundred or so people I stood with at city hall to protest HB2 or what they were saying, but rather the lack of attention towards other sections of the bill. I’m sure the bigoted man who spoke at last Monday’s city council meeting about “sharing the bathroom with a transgender” could agree that, if his boss fired him for sneezing the wrong way, he would like to have some legal recourse.

Workers in North Carolina cannot stand further erosion of their rights. There is, sadly, no true identity of the worker as a person who can work and make a living in this state. The vast majority of active voters have decided that their employers may do as they please with them. Labor lawyer and author Thomas Geoghegan was thinking of workers in the American southeast – not the militant UMW’s wildcat strikes, nor the Molly Maguires’ engagement in a shooting war with strikebreakers and vigilantes – when he recently told German students that Americans can be fired at any time, for any reason.

We’ve got so-called “right-to-work” laws in a region of the country that’s never seen a militant labor movement. The current generation has been brought up thinking terrible pay and no rights as an employee are the norm, that a “work or starve” society should be the norm, that entry-level jobs aren’t worthy of dignity or decent wages, and in some cases even that the struggles of countless labor organizers across a spectrum of ideologies are, at best, a troublesome footnote in history.

HB2 gives the left a perfect cause to unite around. It serves as the place for resistance to form, as it is copied and pasted into other state legislatures in the usual fashion, with key paraphrasing–if we’re lucky. The obviousness of its intent – to endorse second-class citizenship of trans citizens – will hopefully result in its repeal. Tuesday’s decision of the 4th District Court surely points in that direction.

While the world speaks of “bathroom bills” and tacks on the additional changes that HB2 gave us as an afterthought, good can still be done. The coverage on HB2 has disproportionately been focused on the most obvious section–the one denying basic human rights to trans people. However, the furor surrounding HB2 doesn’t address the destruction of the last major protection afforded workers: the freedom to bring suit against their employers on grounds of discrimination. Many workers in the US are unable to bring suit at any level, due to the insecurity and instability that results from losing a job; Thanks to HB and other laws like it, they will now be forced to pursue such claims by first challenging these laws themselves, which is the slowest and most expensive approach imaginable.

The result: Those are already in a tough place are finding themselves in an impossible one. Employees now face the difficulty, the runaround, the long arduous journey of taking an employer to court – where they will be already disadvantaged, since the employees do not hold the high ground in American society. But worse, they are guaranteed of nothing, other than legal fees and a reputation as a troublemaker that nobody will want to hire.

This is nothing new for the forces of division, just another cudgel in their toolbox. But we, as activists – as members of a society, workers, and individuals – all need to band together and stand against these attacks. An injury to one is an injury to all.

HB2’s attacks on workers are yet another blow against the struggling workers in this country. It has struck hardest at the 47 percent of workers who cannot afford an emergency costing $400. It has attacked those working multiple jobs and scraping by on low wages. It has attacked those who have had their positions cut down part-time hours, so their employers can avoid providing  benefits. It silences people who are working full time yet still rely on government assistance to feed themselves and their families. nd let’s not forget the constant war on those very programs, which the war on workers has forced them to use, generally against their wishes.

Dignity can be hard to come by when society refuses to give you a modicum of respect. It’s even more elusive when your state and the ideological gang running it take away your chances to obtain it. HB2 makes sure you don’t get any ideas. HB2 tells you to thank your boss when wages are cut to the minimum. HB2 says, Keep your head down and your mouth shut–and keep hoping everything will work out in the long run.”

Especially in Greenville, where you can hardly walk two blocks without stumbling over a chain restaurant paying its workers substandard wages, people need to know the power they inherently hold. Regardless of their stance on the LGBTQ community, regardless of what they think of cities passing laws within their own jurisdictions, workers’ rights are under assault.

Here in Greenville, where our employers think they have the right to dictate our time on and off the clock; where our employers think they can turn us against each other in a race to the bottom, we can show them we won’t roll over. Do not expect PFLAG and the ACLU to do all the fighting for you.


Responses (3)

  1. Sydney Moseley says:

    The last paragraph left out a significant affront to workers rights. It is one that, after working a lifetime of lower middle class jobs (construction, restaurant etc.) in dozens of cities nationwide I only experienced thrice – all here in Greenville. Basically it is a pure bully tactic used without assistance of law. After a week of work I was told I would not be paid – not for cause but because it would be too difficult to recover the wages legally. Paraphrasing the collective miscreant bosses, I was simply told there would be no payday because they “didn’t have the money.”
    I know, I heard it all before. “Sue their ass!” It makes your friends and acquaintances feel better to offer that sage advice but for only a week’s pay its not practical to sue. Undocumented workers are dissuaded for other reasons. The only recourse for many workers is to walk away and suffer the loss.

    • Tony Mercando says:

      Hey Sydney, I’d love to hear your story in more detail. Think you’d be willing to send me an e-mail? You or anyone else willing to talk about it can send me an e-mail at tmercando@gmail.com

  2. Don Clement says:

    Anthony has voiced the essential problem with HB2–the ongoing assault on workers’ right to fair and equitable redress of discrimination. Just as voter IDs was a red herring to distract us from voter suppression, the restroom clause in HB2 is a red herring to distract us from the attack on worker’s rights and local communities’ efforts to do the right thing. (It’s a pleasing irony that many corporations, whom our Republican legislators would look to for support, have condemned HB2.)

    The concept of honorable labor has almost vanished in the US. Historically the state has typically used its resources, including armed force, to defend companies against workers. Capital has ruled over labor. Workers have gained voice most often when they were part of strong unions. However, those several unions corrupted by power gave ammunition to the capital barons to finance legislative attacks on unions, which have largely succeeded, and have left a general populace that cares little about labor issues and looks in vain for corporate success to trickle down.

    Today, employers “own” the jobs, and can demean workers, use take-it-or-leave-it tactics to keep wages low, and can easily resist individual workers’ efforts to redress grievances. There are signs, though, of resurging interest in unions, and not just among blue-collar workers. For example, adjunct and non-tenure-track faculty at Duke University are beating the drum to unionize. It’s time we all realize that our belief in individualism and independence is mocked by the organized and powerful forces of capital and politics. It’s nice to think that one person can change the world, but it’s a surer bet that many people united for a cause will actually do it.

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