Still Fighting: The Relationship Between Contemporary Preemption in the South and the Continued Struggle for Black Worker Rights

Swanson, Resha T.

Post-Reconstruction Black Codes implemented throughout the South stunted the economic mobility of Black workers and replicated the free labor system of slavery (Nittle, 2021). While these laws were abandoned or outlawed over time (Nittle, 2021; PBS, 2017), the use of contemporary preemption in Southern states acts as a de facto continuation of Black Codes by barring legislation, often from progressive cities and municipalities, that seeks to strengthen rights and protections for Black workers throughout the region. In order to properly understand the unique racial, political, and economic entanglement between twenty-first century preemption and the oppression of Black workers, one must first explore the origins of preemption and the history of Black worker oppression in the South. This examination provides the backdrop for modern attempts to suppress Black workers in states like Alabama and Tennessee. A closer look at the deep political divisions between Southern legislatures and urban municipalities in their states offer arguments, though unfounded and insufficient, in favor of preemption, and outline the challenges worker advocates face when addressing the problem. Despite its challenges, it is critical for organizers to continue fighting preemption using creative strategies and to reaffirm the rights and advancement of Black workers.  


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Columbia Social Work Review

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Published Here
August 29, 2022


preemption, South, Dillon’s Rule, Home Rule, Black Codes, workers, oppression