(Bernie Sanders at the March 4 "March on Mississippi" rally in support of the workers at Nissan's Canton, Mississippi, plant)
Looking back at workers’ rejection of a union at Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi, plant earlier this month, I, like many others, still wonder what might have made a difference in that election.
After a dozen years or more of slowly, methodically helping to build a pro-union community network that included civil rights-era veterans, area preachers, students from several colleges and universities, activists, supporters from as far away as France and Brazil, and, of course, workers, the United Auto Workers mustered only 36 percent of the vote on election day.
Here’s one thing I’ve come up with: One of the key elements that was missing was a national, concerted effort by the nation’s leading civil rights organization, the NAACP, to use it prestige and leverage to make a difference. The NAACP gave lip service to the rights of the 80 percent African American workforce at Nissan Canton to form a union, of course, but where were the boycotts or other high profile efforts to show its unity with those workers? Nowhere to be seen.
“If Nissan allows workers in Brazil to collective bargain, why not workers in Canton, Mississippi?” Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson told thousands at the March 4 “March on Mississippi” rally in Canton in support of the union.
Echoing those sentiments was national NAACP President Cornell William Brooks at the rally.
Words are cheap, however. Where was the action?
Was it missing because Nissan has funneled plenty of cash in the direction of the NAACP, which partnered with Nissan for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 2013? That same year Nissan gave $100,000 to the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute to commemorate the life of the martyred Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers. Although Hollywood celebrity and strong UAW supporter Danny Glover had been a featured speaker at past annual Medgar Evers dinners, he was significantly NOT invited at the 2013 event.
The NAACP’s Murfreesboro, Tennessee, branch was so thankful for Nissan’s largess in 2016 that it named the company’s North America operations “Organization of the Year”.
Yet this is the organization that virulently fought against its Canton workers’ efforts to organize, much as it did years before at its plant in Tennessee. Workers were subjected to meetings with management—interrogations might be a better word—and anti-union videos, threats of lost jobs and a shut-down plant. Charged by the National Labor Relations Board with various labor violations, Nissan waged such a media campaign that workers said they couldn’t turn on the television without seeing an anti-union commercial.
“Labor rights are civil rights” was the rallying cry of the union effort at the Canton plant. As former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told workers and supporters at the March rally, “the eyes of the country and the eyes of the world are on you!”
The eyes of the NAACP were, too, but only briefly, very briefly, before they returned to the $$$$$$$$ signs that Nissan was waving in the distance.
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