The following is an interview with New River Workers Power based in Christiansburg, VA. NRWP has helped to organize a strike of Target workers in the New River Valley area with the demand to terminate an abusive supervisor and for recognition from the company. They have already won their first demand. The interview was conducted because the strike raises important questions around the forms of working class organization in general that emerge from the present social condition and their relationship to political organization and should be seen as part and parcel of broader thinking about the strategic and historical context that militants and organizers need to base our activity.
Tell us about Christiansburg, VA. What are the social and political conditions of the town and the general area, e.g. the racial and class composition, how people make ends meet, etc? In what ways have these manifested at the Target at which you are working and how does it reflect or contradict these conditions?
Christiansburg is a relatively small town of 20,000 people. It is located in the Appalachian region of Virginia, and as such it is very white in racial composition – around 93 percent – the next highest racial group is African Americans at 4.8 percent. On a county level the Asian population rivals the African American population at around 4 to 7 percent depending on which source one looks at – this is due to the nearby university, Virginia Tech. Based on census data the workforce is around 50 percent. Virginia Tech is the economic powerhouse of the area and most industries in the area are built around it, including the service sector. The service sector – retail, food, healthcare – is the largest industry in the area. Education workers are the largest single sector at 30 percent. Healthcare is second at 20 percent, but if retail and food are combined it is on par with Healthcare. All other industries are in the single digits in terms of percentages of the workforce in the area. The region is generally conservative, while around Virginia Tech and Blacksburg it is considered more “liberal”. There is an animosity between Blacksburg as a college town and the rest of the county and region. The class divide is also largely reflected in this as well, with the local rich mostly concentrated around Virginia Tech. It’s important to view this area on a county or multi county level to understand the dynamics at play rather than just focusing on Christiansburg. This area is usually referred to as the New River Valley.
In regards to Target a lot of these facts carry over into the workplace. There is a division among the workers on the basis of age and education. Many younger workers are also going to the local colleges – the nearby Radford University and New River Community College are the more working class colleges – trying to get trained in skilled labor positions, such as nursing. But older workers seem to not have college degrees or are not able to find jobs related to their degrees that might result in higher pay. There also is division on the basis of locals vs non-locals.