Saturday, August 27, 2016

Americans: Facing a choice between the billionaire and the millionaire, and desperately needing a friend

 
It’s time for Labor South to check the nation’s temperature as we enter the Fall political season. The diagnosis? Blood pressure is up, people are nervous and they’re suffering from more than a little disillusionment. No surprise as they face a choice in November between a loud-mouthed billionaire demagogue and a long-compromised Wall Street insider-turned-“I feel your pain” Democrat for president.

(To the right, the billionaire (from Reuters' Lucas Jackson) and the millionaire)

A GenForward poll that was released this month shows that as many as 72 percent of young people in the country feel neither major political party is doing a good job looking out for their interests. This includes whites, Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans. The Democratic Party gets a little better numbers than the Republican Party, but neither can take much consolation. An Associated Press article on the poll noted that “Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton (are) the two least-popular presidential nominees in the history of modern polling.”

Young people have reason to be skeptical. Many are entering the workplace after college saddled with mind-boggling debt, the result of a political leadership that long ago lost interest in the post-World War II dream of a higher education system that can be a gateway to success for the non-millionaire class.

Both parties have also failed to push for an economy that means good jobs for those young people, embracing instead the neoliberal mantra of free trade and free flow of capital across borders. Trump’s speeches against the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement are enough to make even a lefty like me stop and listen, but then I remember this is the guy who also demonizes the migrant workers caught in the trap of TPP-NAFTA-like agreements.

J.D. Vance, author of the recent book Hillbilly Legacy: A Memoir of Family and a Culture in Crisis, makes the case that poor white people are embracing Trump because they feel abandoned by both the Republican and Democratic parties. Yes, Trump may be a demagogue, but at least he is paying attention to them and their concerns. “Trump’s candidacy is music to their ears,” Vance told Ron Dreher of The American Conservative. “He criticizes the factories shipping overseas. His apocalyptic tone matches their lived experiences on the ground. He seems to love to annoy the elites, which is something a lot of people wish they could do but can’t because they lack a platform.”

Then there’s Hillary Clinton (net worth estimated at roughly $30 million to $45 million), once a champion of TPP who now says she opposes it. Her old buddy, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the quintessential Clinton insider, told POLITICO last month that she’ll switch again once the election’s over and support TPP. “Yes,” he said when asked if she’d switch. “Listen, she was in support of it. There were specific things in it she wants fixed.”

When a public outcry followed his comments, including a denial from the Clinton camp, McAuliffe did some of his own switching and insisted he only was saying what he wanted Clinton to do, not what she will do. Hmmmmm.

People wonder by the British rejected the European Union with their June “Brexit” vote. Racist anti-immigrant fools, many of my friends on the Left called them. Those friends simply have no clue how the EU has become the flagship of neoliberalism today, a global economic policy that has been the prime mover in forcing people to migrate to other countries so they can find work and simply survive.

Oh, well, Bernie Sanders will never be president. The next president will either be a billionaire real-estate/casino magnate or a Wall Street-loving pol who pals around with Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein when she’s not kissing babies on the campaign trail.

(To the left, my friend)

I think I need a friend to help me deal with my own high blood pressure, nervousness and disillusionment.  Old Jack Daniel’s, you haven’t failed me yet. Yet.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The "Sans-Culottes" in Canton, Miss., get French support to organize at Nissan's Mississippi plant

 
(The Sans-Culottes in revolutionary France)

JACKSON, Miss. - A longstanding French tradition upholds the rights of working people—and it goes back as far as the 1789 revolution with the so-called “sans-culottes” who were too poor to afford the fashionable silk knee-pants of the nobility.

It’s that tradition that recently brought prominent French National Assembly member Christian Hutin to Jackson, Miss.

“For me, I believe there is something in the genes of the French people, in the French republic there is something that is human rights,” the vice president of the Commission on Social Affairs and mayor of Saint Pol Sur Mer told me during an interview at the ornate Fairview Inn near downtown. “It is very difficult for the French government not to react in this situation.”

(To the right, French National Assembly member Christian Hutin in Jackson, Miss.)

The situation Hutin referred to was the ongoing resistance by Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn to unionization efforts at the company’s 5,000-plus-employee plant in Canton, Miss.. In April of this year, Hutin asked the French National Assembly in Paris to use its leverage with Nissan’s partner company, Renault, to pressure the automaker to step back and allow Canton workers to decide without intimidation whether they want to join the United Auto Workers.

His trip to Mississippi was to fulfill a promise to see first-hand what is happening here.

With nearly 20 percent of Renault stock and 32 percent of its votes, the French government indeed can wield a heavy hand in Nissan affairs. Renault owns 43.4 percent of Nissan shares. Ghosn is chairman and CEO of both Nissan and Renault.

In Jackson and Canton, Hutin met with worker after worker at the Nissan plant who told of management’s arbitrary control over health and safety issues, how injured workers must go to the company’s medical personnel who tend to dismiss their claims and order them back to their jobs. Other complaints range from shifting work hours without notification, unsafe speed-up productions on the assembly line, and threats against and intimidation of pro-union workers.

Hutin said he asked for but was denied a meeting with the plant’s manager, Steve Marsh, and he was denied permission to visit the plant. “They hired security guards to prevent me from entering,” Hutin told me. “This is a sign that there is no dialogue at this plant and no transparency.”

I contacted the office of Nissan Corporate Communications Manager Parul Bajaj in Franklin, Tenn., and this is the statement I received:

“In every country where Nissan has operations, we follow both the spirit and the letter of the law. Nissan not only respects labor laws, but we work to ensure that all employees are aware of these laws, understand their rights and enjoy the freedom to express their opinions and elect their representation as desired.”

As for Hutin’s request for a meeting with Marsh, the statement said, “due to the demands of the business, we were not able to accommodate the request.”

Indeed, Nissan workers are represented by unions at the company’s other plants around the world. Ghosn told French National Assembly members in February that “Nissan has absolutely no tradition of not knowing how to cooperate with labor unions nor does it consider that it is a bad thing.” He also said that unions are present in all Nissan plants.

In other words, given the testimony of the workers in Canton, Ghosn lied. Born in Brazil of Lebanese descent, a British knight as well as French citizen, Ghosn has a long history of antipathy to unions—at least unions at plants his company operates in the U.S. South.

“It is unbelievable,” Hutin said about Ghosn’s statements. “It is not acceptable. To lie to a commission of Parliament is something that is unacceptable.”

Hutin said he wrote a letter to Ghosn that was co-signed was 35 members of Parliament asking the company to allow a fair vote if workers choose to decide on whether to join a union. Ghosn never responded. “Not to react to a letter signed by 35 members of Parliament is also something totally unacceptable,” Hutin said. “This reflects an attitude of contempt, of political contempt, of human contempt when you consider what is happening at the plant. I believe they can only respond to pressure.”

Nissan and Ghosn will soon be feeling pressure on a number of fronts. Not only did Hutin return to France with a renewed commitment to expose conditions at the Nissan plant in Canton—the issue has already gotten considerable media attention in France--but also protesters staged major public demonstrations against Nissan at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero this week. The IndustriALL Global Union says the company’s sponsorship of the Olympics is hypocrisy considering its treatment of its workers in Mississippi.

This column appeared recently in the Jackson Free Press of Jackson, Miss.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"The Free State of Jones", a film about Southern rebels against the rebellion known as the Confederacy

 
(Newt Knight)

OXFORD, Miss. – Newt Knight is described as a “deserter, renegade, and assassin” on the Web site of the local Sons of the Confederate Veterans chapter in Jones County, Miss., but Lew Smith in the nearby town of Sumrall has a different view.

“Old Newt is a big hero to me personally,” says Smith, who describes himself as a “life-long union man, white guy” who has been married to an African American woman for 45 years. “His willingness to stand tall for his ex-slave wife and bi-racial family.”

Add to that Knight’s willingness to challenge the “rich man’s war and poor man’s fight” that essentially was the Civil War.

Smith hasn’t seen the new film “The Free State of Jones”, starring Matthew McConaughey and Mississippi-bred talent such as Oxford’s own Johnny McPhail. “In a way I’m hesitant to watch the movie. … So often Hollywood screws things up.”

He needn’t worry. I’ve seen the movie, and it’s excellent. Director Gary Ross, whose credits include the now-classic “Seabiscuit”, spent two years researching the complex history of Jones County, Miss., during the Civil War, research that included Victoria E. Bynum’s book, The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War.

It’s a 150-year-old story that resonates today as Mississippi still wrestles with the Confederate symbolism that rests on its flag as well as on its countless courthouse lawns. It’s a story that’s also still current in its challenge to the racial divisions that have forever haunted Mississippi and the South.

Newt Knight was a tee-totaling backwoodsman from southeast Mississippi who volunteered to serve in the Confederacy. He began his own rebellion against the Confederacy after passage of the so-called “Twenty Negro Law”, which allowed Southerners to avoid conscription if they owned 20 slaves or more. Most of the small farmers who dominated rural Jones County and surrounding counties owned no slaves and had little interest in preserving slavery.

Furthermore, the Confederacy allowed troops to confiscate small farmers’ crops and livestock as a kind of insidious “tax” to support the war effort. “You think they do that to the plantation owner in Natchez?” McConaughey’s Newt Knight tells his fellow Southerners as he launches his rebellion. “We got no country. We are the country. No man ought to stay poor so another can get rich.”

Knight leads an armed and violent resistance against the Confederacy that declares Jones County a “free state”. His break with Southern tradition extends to his personal life when he enters into a long-term relationship with a slave named Rachel and sires children by her. Their descendants still live today in the Jones County area.
  
“The Free State of Jones” stands out in the recent crop of Civil War or slavery-related films—“Lincoln”, “12 Years a Slave”, and Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation”. Each challenges the myths and stereotypes embedded in Hollywood classics like D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” in 1915 and David O. Selznick’s “Gone With The Wind” in 1939.

What distinguishes “The Free State of Jones” is its direct challenge to prevailing myths such as what Ross calls the “monolithic” ante-bellum South. “There were areas of Southern unionism all across the South,” he says in a Huffington Post Facebook video.

Jones County may one of the more famous examples, but another is the entire state of West Virginia, which exists because it refused to follow Virginia’s secession from the union. Many of the small farmers and mountain folk in the western portion of my own native North Carolina rebelled against the Rebels. They didn’t own slaves and saw no reason for the fight.

“The Free State of Jones” points to a dark consistency in Southern history that stretches from ante-bellum day until today. Soon after the Civil War, a landowning elite returned to power and instituted the so-called “Black Codes” that allowed black children to be taken into a forced “apprenticeship” that meant back to the fields. Of course, Reconstruction was eventually followed by Jim Crow, sharecropping and tenant farming, the entire retinue of the Southern elite’s insistence on cheap and, if possible, free labor.

Mississippi and the South as a whole are still dealing with the legacy of what forced Newt Knight to rebel against the Southern rebellion. Witness the ongoing controversy about the Confederate flag emblem in Mississippi’s state flag. At the University of Mississippi, a plaque is being placed next to the Confederate statue on campus that says the monument may honor Confederate soldiers’ sacrifice but it “must also remind us that the defeat of the Confederacy actually meant freedom for millions of people.”

Newt Knight’s story reaches beyond the South. His statement in the movie that “no man ought to stay poor so another can get rich” could be a rallying cry for the entire nation.

This column ran recently in the Jackson Free Press of Jackson, Miss.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Labor South roundup: Brexit & neoliberalism; a visit with veteran Hollywood character actor Nehemiah Persoff; and Nissan hypocrisy in Mississippi

 
It’s time for another Labor South roundup, plus a heads-up on things to come.

The Brexit vote and neoliberalism

The British vote this week to exit the European Union is causing huge disruption in U.S. and international markets while being treated to a lot of handwringing by a head-scratching mainstream press. Yet Enrico Tortolano of openDemocracyUK says the following:

“Voting to leave the EU is a no-brainer for the Left. The European Union is remote, racist, imperialist, anti-worker and anti-democratic: It is run by, of, and for the super-rich and their corporations. A future outside austerity and other economic blunders rests on winning the struggle to exit the EU.”

Furthermore, “Neoliberal policies and practices dominate the European Commission, European Parliament, European Central Bank, European Court of Justice and a compliant media legitimises (sic) the whole conquest.”


Of course, anti-immigrant forces have also been on the Brexit side of the issue in this complex development. What we’ve seen in Britain is some of the same populism that has helped drive the Trump and Sanders presidential campaigns in the United States—a deep disdain for the longstanding collusion of Big Banks, Big Corporations and Big Government, yet on the Trump side one that is confused by an equal disdain for the migrant workers victimized by that same collusion.

Still, it is hard to argue with Tortolano’s description of the EU and its worship of the “neoliberal Holy Trinity of public spending cuts, privatisation (sic) and the removal of trade union rights.” Witness European leaders’ hard-fisted policies toward Greece and other economically struggling countries in Europe.

 Tortolano believes migrants actually suffer more under the EU because it supports the policies that force workers to leave their home countries in an often tragic search for better work and a better life.

In California with veteran actor Nehemiah Persoff

(To the right, Nehemiah Persoff in 1960)

Yours truly recently returned from a week-long trip to California, where I, among other things, interviewed veteran character actor Nehemiah Persoff, approaching his 97th birthday, at his Cambria, Calif., home. I’m doing a profile of Persoff for Noir City magazine.

Jerusalem-born Persoff, a painter for the past quarter century, was once one of Hollywood’s most familiar faces in film and on television, beginning with his brief appearance in On the Waterfront (1954) to major roles in Humphrey Bogart’s last movie, The Harder They Fall (1956), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956), and—my favorite--as Nazi Carl Lanser in the segment “Judgment Night” on television’s Twilight Zone (1959). Each of these films addressed important social justice issues without being didactic. Persoff also was memorable as Little Bonaparte in Some Like It Hot (1959) and Barbara Steisand's father in Yentl (1983)

 Persoff began his career with theater and acting groups in New York City, including the famed Actors Studio, and recalled during my interview his early work performing for striking union members and for workers on the picket line.

Be on the lookout for Noir City’s next issue at the end of the summer!

UAW fighting Nissan hypocrisy in Mississippi

Students and activists will join with the United Auto Workers this weekend in bringing attention to the hypocrisy of the Nissan corporation’s sponsorship of a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of civil rights activist James Meredith’s 1966 “March Against Fear”.

Many among the predominantly black workforce at the company’s Nissan, Miss., plant have complained of its virulent anti-unionism, its use of temporary workers at lower wages and benefits, arbitrary decisions regarding work hours and medical treatment, and the overly restricted use of its air-conditioning units during Mississippi’s hot summer months.

Popular Resistance, a University of Mississippi student organization led by rising sophomore Jaz Brisack, is among the groups planning to bring light to Nissan’s hypocrisy this weekend.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The heart of darkness: Mississippi and North Carolina politics


(To the right, my front porch. It's dark in Mississippi.)

This column, which appeared recently in the Jackson Free Press, in Jackson, Miss., is a follow-up to an earlier Labor South posting in which I republished the original 2011 column cited below. Here I take a look at Mississippi and my native North Carolina, both the heart of darkness in their politics these days.

OXFORD, Miss. – I told you so.

Yes, I did. It was way back in November 2011 when the Republicans took over the Mississippi Legislature as well as the state’s Governor’s Mansion.

At the time, I was telling you about relatives coming to visit me and one of them remarking how “it sure is dark in Mississippi.” She was referring to the long, unlit roads and highways they traveled during the night to get here. “It’s about to get a lot darker,” I told her.

And then I told you, my column readers, this:

“Better roads and highways? Not on this watch. Better public transportation? Education? Health care? Mental health services? Social services? Are you kidding? It’s going to be Tea Party heaven down here. People finally get to see what it will be like in a Tea Party world.”

Thank you, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and state House Speaker Philip Gunn for proving what a prophet Joe Atkins is. I always knew it. Now the world does!

In the poorest, most woe-begotten state in the United States, the Mississippi Troika and their loyal minions have managed to cut even deeper into woefully underfunded state education, health care, mental health care, roads and highways maintenance. As they slashed away at agency budgets like machete-wielding tribesmen clear-cutting a scraggly forest to make way for more desert, they even found they had overestimated revenue projections by $56.8 million!

And this is the state government that wants to take over the Jackson, Miss., airport. One of the minions at the state Capitol has even proposed that the state take over all of Jackson, that black-run state capital that’s wont to challenge the Tea Party revolution from time to time. State Rep. Mark Baker, a Republican from Brandon, came up with that brilliance. Should we call it “Revenge of the Suburbanites”?

As they slashed budgets and services, however, the Troika and its minions did manage to find the wherewithal to give $274 million plus lots of juicy tax breaks to Continental Tire the Americas and Edison Chouest of Louisiana, two more companies promising jobs and Nirvana in exchange for big taxpayer-funded handouts. They both saw the $363 million handout poor ol’ Mississippi gave Nissan back in 2000 and the $356 million it gave Toyota a few years later, and they wanted their share.

At the time of the Toyota deal, the state wouldn’t even fund a burn center and had to send burn victims to Memphis.

The state’s pols also managed to kill efforts to limit themselves in how they spend their campaign money, making them the envy of politicians across the country who face jail terms for doing what Mississippi politicians can do with impunity.

Something else they did during the past legislative session, of course, was make discrimination legal and call it the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act”.

When I first arrived in Mississippi back in the early 1980s, many folks told me how much they admired my home state of North Carolina. They talked about the beautiful mountains and beaches. Many talked with a degree of envy about North Carolina’s longheld commitment to public education and wished Mississippi were more so inclined.

Well, here we are more than three decades later, and we find Mississippi politicians actually are looking at North Carolina as a model. Trouble is, North Carolina today is a Jesse Helms dream come true—and that’s not a good thing.

The Tarheel state’s so-called HB2 legislation, known as the “bathroom bill”, preceded Mississippi’s HB 1523 (now the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act) in putting state authorities on bathroom detail. North Carolina leaders took it a step further, however, by also making it illegal for troublesome cities such as Charlotte (where the whole bathroom controversy began) to adopt regulations contrary to what state rulers prefer. This includes raising the minimum wage, an issue far removed from gender identity.

So both North Carolina and Mississippi share something besides a strong connection to Joe Atkins. Their leaders are the kind of hypocrites my Pentecostal Holiness preaching Uncle Eb would’ve raked over the coals in his Sunday sermons. They talk of the sanctity of local government when it comes to defying federal mandates, but they’re quick to impose state rule over municipalities, whether it’s a minimum wage hike in Charlotte or airport control in Jackson.

Don’t let anyone pull the wool over your eyes. It’s already dark enough in Mississippi.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

LabourStart conference in Toronto promotes worker solidarity and new Atkins book on migrant workers; the neoliberal takeover in Latin America

 
(To the right, Larry Cohen in Toronto)

TORONTO, Canada – LabourStart “might be the most efficient campaign organization for global labor” in the world, former Communications Workers of America international president and current top Bernie Sanders labor adviser Larry Cohen told activists and organizers from around the world here this month.

Cohen was one of several key speakers at LabourStart’s May 6-8 Global Solidarity Conference in Toronto. The London-based organization indeed calls itself the “news and campaigning website of the international trade union movement” and reaches a global audience of thousands of labor activists around the world. Its campaigns have helped free jailed activists as well as boost and gain success for labor campaigns.

Workers need organizations like LabourStart in a global economy where mega-corporations work hand in hand with governments to push a neoliberal agenda that enriches the powerful while impoverishing the working class and the poor, Cohen and others at the conference said.

“U.S. labor is trapped,” Cohen said. “It’s in this box. … Under 7 percent of workers in the private sector are organized. When I grew up in Philadelphia, it was 35 percent.”

Cohen pointed to the importance of ongoing campaigns such as strike by some 40,000 workers against the practices of corporate giant Verizon. “It’s a real strike, not a symbolic strike. The Verizon CEO makes $18 million a year and wants to limit the health care options of workers.”

Other speakers at the conference included Lee Chuck-Yan, general-secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions. Labor South interviewed Lee during a visit to Hong Kong back in the summer of 2013. (See Labor South: http://laborsouth.blogspot.com/2013/07/hong-kong-communists-capitalists-versus.html)

(Leaflet promoting The Strangers Among Us)

Another highlight of the Toronto conference was a panel discussion with yours truly, Labor South founder and writer Joseph B. Atkins, talking about my new book, The Strangers Among Us: Takes from a Global Migrant Worker Movement. The book will be published by the conference sponsor, LabourStart, in June and features essays by 10 writers from around the world on the global migrant worker issue and workers’ rising consciousness of their rights.

“From tobacco workers in North Carolina to Vietnamese domestic workers in Taiwan and the network of organizations that support them, a movement is emerging that will pose a growing challenge to neoliberal rule,” says a flyer promoting the book that was distributed at the conference.

LabourStart has hosted several international conferences in cities as far-flung as Sydney, Istanbul and Berlin. The Toronto conference wasn’t without controversy. An estimated 60 of the hundreds of activists who registered to come were denied visas, and at least one was detained at the Toronto airport. Those denied visas were coming from places such as Bangladesh, Jamaica and Afghanistan.

The neoliberal class war is underway

Recent international developments in Central and South America point to the desperate need for progressive, pro-labor forces to join together and fight the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that is leading to right-wing takeovers in Brazil, Argentina, Honduras and other Latin American countries.

The recent ouster of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in a bogus impeachment effort essentially amounts to a coup by the right wing, which has succeeded in putting into power unelected former vice president Michel Temer, a pro-corporate shill himself implicated in a widespread corruption scandal involving the oil company Petrobras.

Supporting the Brazilian Senate’s impeachment efforts against Rousseff, of course, is fellow right-winger Mauricio Macri in Argentina.

Labor South has followed closely Macri’s rise to power in Argentina after visiting there in 2015. (Labor South: http://laborsouth.blogspot.com/2016/02/what-eva-peron-would-say-to-mauricio.html)

Former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary  Clinton has anything but clean hands in the rise of a brutal dictatorship in Honduras that overthrew a reformist regime. Under Clinton’s watch, the United States gave its approval to a takeover that has turned Honduras into one of the world’s most dangerous and repressive countries.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Top French official calls on French government to use its leverage on behalf of worker rights at Nissan plant in Mississippi

 
OXFORD, Miss. – A top deputy in the French National Assembly is calling on the French government to weigh in on behalf of workers at the giant Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., who want to have a union vote without management intimidation and threats.

Christian Hutin, deputy chairman of the Social Affairs Commission and a member of the French National Assembly, addressed that nation’s governing body last month and asked that it help Mississippi workers by using its leverage as a major stockholder in the Renault corporation and thus a power broker with Renault’s partner, Nissan.

The French government controls nearly 20 percent of Renault stock and 32 percent of its votes. Renault, in turn, shares an “alliance” with Nissan and owns 43.4 percent of Nissan shares. Carlos Ghosn is chairman and CEO of both Nissan and Renault.

“The situation in (Canton) is dire and sadly not new, with the rights of workers seriously being compromised,” Hutin said in a recent statement. “Every possible step is taken to prevent the personnel from organizing a union inside the plant. Pressure, threats, harassment, routine propaganda … .

“Every possible step is taken to prejudice the rights of workers in what is known as a historic cradle of the civil rights movement in the United States of America.”

Hutin is right. In the global economy that exists today, global corporations only respond to pressures at the highest level. Nissan’s Ghosn appeared before three leading French National Assembly members in February and actually lied about his company’s views on unions in Mississippi, claiming that Nissan respects and upholds U.S. labor laws, respects workers’ right to organize, and works with unions at its plants around the world.

In an April 14 letter to Ghosn, Hutin called out the man once known in France as “le cost killer” for his slashing of 25,000-plus jobs en route to his status as corporate super star. “The affirmations (Ghosn made to French National Assembly members) do not correspond with the facts,” Hutin wrote. “In effect, two weeks after your testimony, management at the Canton plant showed an anti-union video to the 5,000 workers at the site, which we have now seen.”

Workers at the plant enjoy some of the best blue-collar wages in Mississippi. However, many of them believe recent hikes in pay came directly as a result of pressure from the United Auto Workers and a grassroots pro-union movement that has evolved in Canton over the past decade. Workers say management harasses anyone with pro-union sentiments. Management holds all the cards regarding medical treatment for injuries on the job, shifts in work hours, and production speed on the assembly line. Workers have no say when company doctors dismiss their health complaints, in arbitrary or sudden changes in work hours, or with safety concerns.

As many as 50 percent of the workers at the Nissan plant were hired as “temporary” workers, which means lower wages, fewer benefits and little or no job protection—this at a plant that enjoyed an initial $363 million Mississippi taxpayer-funded infusion to come to the nation’s poorest state. More government-spawned incentives were to follow.

“There are unions in all the factories were Nissan is located,” Hutin quotes Ghosn as telling the French National Assembly members in February. “Nissan has absolutely no tradition of failure to knowingly cooperate with unions nor does it consider this a bad thing.”

Wouldn’t such obviously false statements be considered contempt of Congress here in the United States?

Sources have indicated to me that a union vote could take place at the Canton plant as early as this summer. However, worker fear is a cold reality in the face of what UAW activists say is intensifying anti-union activity in Canton, and it could still kill any union effort.

Anti-union allegations are nothing new to Ghosn. Back in the early 1990s, he was based in Greenville, S.C., as head of the French tire-maker Michelin’s North American division. When plans became known that a Spartanburg Technical College class wanted to show the groundbreaking documentary Uprising of ’34, Ghosn’s Michelin weighed in and helped squash the showing. The documentary depicted the tragic slaying of seven striking textile mill workers in Honea Path, S.C., in 1934.

Ghosn is notorious for appearing in an anti-union video that was required viewing for workers at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tenn., plant on the day before a union election there in 2001. “Bringing a union into Smyrna could result in making Smyrna not competitive, which is not in your best interest or Nissan’s,” Ghosn told the workers. The workers voted down the union, of course.

I’ll bet their hands were shaking as they cast those ballots.

This column appeared recently in the Jackson Free Press of Jackson, Miss.