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:

(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:

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.