Weeks ago, the United Auto Workers (UAW) seemed poised to secure a major labor victory: a Nissan sub-plant in Canton, Mississippi was scheduled to hold a union vote. A yes vote would also mark a major civil rights victory, as 80 percent of the Canton plant workers are African-American.
Instead, over 60 percent of Nissan’s vote-eligible workers voted no.
“The reality of this campaign is the employer—Nissan—was hell bent in terms of making sure there was no union in this plant,” Marc Bayard, who directs the Institute for Policy Studies’ Black Worker Initiative, explained to Rising up with Sonali.
Once UAW filed for the election, Nissan had 30 days “to do anything they could to scare and intimidate the workers.”
“One-on-one meetings, having management wearing these ‘Vote No’ t-shirts, threats of moving the plant,” Bayard listed. And all this on company time, too, while UAW had to meet with workers in their communities.
Nissan also played to the economic insecurity of the African-American communities surrounding the plant, Bayard said.
Fear that the company might leave, might close down, might stop leasing cars to the employees at a very good rate—“This is where Nissan saw a point of leverage, in realizing that these communities need these good paying jobs.”
But the union campaign was about more than wages.
Over the years, Bayard said, Nissan had reduced pensions, stopped contributing as much to 401k plans, and played around with healthcare policies.
The fact that 42 out of 45 Nissan plants are unionized also fueled UAW’s campaign.
“It was a fight,” Bayard summed up. “But it was not a fair fight.”
At least UAW’s failed campaign had one success: the relationships it built with the African-American community in the area. Those ties will be essential for any victory going forward, Bayard said.
It’s also a good example of what the labor movement should do moving forward.
We have to really push from the ground up, Bayard said, and figure out ways to build more relationships that will help make mainstream labor issues more important.
“Change it from just being a fight between a particular worker in the company,” Bayard said, “to a much broader community struggle,” a call-back to the Fight for $15’s campaign style.
“I think labor needs to push a broader moment,” Bayard said. “Really capitalize on the energy out there to see real social change.”