(Nissan's plant in Canton, Mississippi)
Students and activists in Mississippi and around the country will gather in front of the mile-long Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., April 2 to protest working conditions within the plant and demand the company allow a fair union election.
United Students Against Sweatshops, the Mississippi Student Justice Alliance, Young Democrats of America, and students activists and organizers with the national AFL-CIO in Washington are among the groups organizing the rally, the latest in a series of events in Canton and around the world challenging Nissan’s anti-union policies in the U.S. South.
The United Auto Workers has had a presence in Canton since 2005 and worked with community leaders to build a coalition that began with only a couple dozen local residents but which today can produce hundreds at pro-union rallies.
Workers at the 6,000-employee plant--built with the aid of a $363 million Mississippi taxpayer subsidy-- have complained of multiple worksite issues, including poor medical treatment of workers injured on the job, the hiring of temporary workers at lower pay and minimal benefits, and harassment of those who express pro-union sympathies. Proclaiming that “Labor Rights Are Civil Rights”, the campaign has tapped into a still-resilient and passionate civil rights community in Mississippi—most of the Canton workforce is black--including ministers from a wide range of denominations and students from historically black colleges and universities in the area. The UAW, recognizing the modern-day reality that major labor campaigns have to be global, has brought activists, students and workers in from as far away as Brazil to show international solidarity.
Sources say that a union vote at the Canton plant is likely to take place within the next three months.
The UAW doesn’t want to lose another major vote like it has in the past with Nissan in Smyrna, Tennessee, and with Volkswagen in Chattanooga. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn helped scuttle the vote in Smyrna in 2001 with his day-before-the-election threats to workers, and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, both Republicans, did much the same in Chattanooga in 2014.
The UAW got a big boost in December when the skilled trades workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga voted to join the union. However, even at a plant where the company says loudly it is neutral toward a union, workers have complained of a fear among Volkswagen’s Tennessee workers that their pro-union sympathies could eventually cost them their jobs.
Nissan workers are represented by unions at company plants around the world. Yet the company has joined other foreign-owned automobile manufacturers in resisting unions in the U.S. South.
The South remains a tough battleground for organized labor. However, Facing South, the flagship Web magazine of the North Carolina-based Institute for Southern Studies, reported earlier this year that union membership in the South grew from 2.2 million in 2014 to 2.4 million at the end of 2015, or from 5.2 percent to 5.5 percent of the workforce. Eight of the South’s 13 states saw increases, including Mississippi.