South Carolina's cultural DNA keeps us living in the past 

There's No Hiding It

Through the generations, on the male side of my mother's family, runs a distinctive widow's peak. More pronounced in some than others, this little point of hair over the middle of our foreheads comes down through the years like a trademark, proclaiming, "Yup, I'm a Fuller."

DNA is hard to hide and impossible to change. People carry it, but so do organizations and institutions — not actual nucleic acid, of course, but habits of thought and behavior dating back to their earliest generations, habits that are as inescapable as eye color or hair patterns.

South Carolina has a dark and twisted legacy, which stalks us from generation to generation. It runs through our veins like an ancient disease and erupts in frightening ways, even in the 21st century.

Slavery was a part of the Carolina colony from its first days. The great wealth of antebellum South Carolina was built on the backs of people who were chained, beaten, and terrorized. Needless to say, they were not paid or respected. Today, the chaining, beating, and terror are over, but labor still gets no respect and little pay in this state. It's in our DNA.

Our past returned to haunt us recently when the International Association of Machinists and the AFL-CIO went to federal court seeking an order against Gov. Nikki Haley and her director of the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, telling them to remain neutral in matters of union activity. The litigation comes as Boeing erects a giant assembly plant in North Charleston, slated to begin production next year. The Machinists represent Boeing employees at the aviation firm's Washington state plants.

At issue was a remark made by Haley in December, shortly after she nominated union-bashing attorney Catherine Templeton to head the DLLR. "We're going to fight the unions, and I needed a partner to help me do it," Haley said. "She's the right person to help me do it."

Templeton added, "In my experience I have found there is not one company that operates more efficiently when you put another layer of bureaucracy in ... We will do everything we can to work with Boeing and make sure that their workforce is taken care of, that they run efficiently, and that we don't add anything unnecessarily."

On learning of the lawsuit against her, Haley doubled down. "There's no secret I don't like the unions," she said. "We are a right-to-work state. I will do everything I can to defend the fact we are a right-to-work state. We are pro-business by nature. I want us to continue to be pro-business. If they don't like what I said, I'm sorry, that's how I feel."

If Haley was staking out an official position on labor unions in South Carolina, she is breaking the law and will get us sued by the federal government. More likely, she was just playing tough to assure those corporate sponsors who funded her gubernatorial campaign that they will get their money's worth. Either way, it's an ugly picture of corporate and political power in this state and how they collude to keep working people under heel.

We got another peek into our past last month as the state Senate began debate on its first order of business for 2011. For most of this state's long history, voting was reserved for the privileged few. In 1860, a mere 5 percent of the state population had the vote. They were white males of property. After the Civil War, byzantine laws and Election Day chicanery — to say nothing of guns and torches — were used to disenfranchise the black majority. Not until the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 were the polls opened to blacks in large numbers.

Now we have Senate Bill 1, which is clearly designed to turn the clock back and turn voters away from the polls on Election Day. SB 1 would require voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot. There are many thousands of poor and elderly people in this state who have no photo ID and have no ready means of obtaining one. And without one, they might as well stay home on Election Day. Of course, Republicans claim that voter IDs will stop people from committing voter fraud. Unfortunately for the GOPers, they cannot produce a single verifiable case in recent decades of someone attempting to cast a vote under a false identity. Yet, to prevent this nonexistent crime, they are prepared to disenfranchise up to 100,000 citizens, according to an estimate from the S.C. League of Women Voters.

You don't need a map to know where you are around here. Just look at the attitudes toward voting rights and workers' rights.

Yup. It's in our DNA. This is South Carolina.


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