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 plentiful 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 why 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 seem to have no clue that 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.