Today and tomorrow, workers at the Nissan plant in Canton will vote on whether to unionize, but the implications of that vote go far beyond Canton and the roughly 4,000 workers who will make that decision.
Almost since the day the plant opened in 2003, the United Auto Workers began plans to unionize the plant in an effort to break through the “Solid South,” as the auto industry moved away from states with traditional support for unions to an region that has been openly hostile to unions.
Should Nissan workers vote for the union, it will mark a significant break-through for unionized workers in all industries in all parts of the state. If workers reject the union, the anti-union front will not only have held but have been strengthened.
Both sides have enlisted outside help in efforts to persuade Nissan workers. Civil rights and union supporters have arrived in the state to bolster support for union, while the anti-union forces have the support of corporate-backed lobbyists organizations such Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers.
The anti-union forces also have the support of the state’s Republican leadership, especially Gov. Phil Bryant, who has no reservations about telling workers how to vote on this subject even as he has steadfastly refuses to tell Mississippians how they should vote on the state flag.
Bryant said it’s up to the voters to determine the state flag issue. But he is not shy to tell Nissan workers how to vote on this issue. His inconsistency is revealing.
Bryant’s main claim — unions ruined Detroit — is a simplistic, badly distorted understanding of what lead to the collapse of “Motor City.” Even a cursory examination of Detroit’s decline reveals that the unions were just one factor — and most likely not even among the most important factors.
What we do know is that the decline of unions corresponds with the decline of America’s middle class. Chart both and you will immediately see the correlation.
The fear-mongering of people such as Bryant — who threaten workers with the prospects of the Nissan plant closing if they choose to organize — is not consistent with the facts. Forty-two of Nissan’s 45 plants world-wide are union plants. The sky will not fall if Nissan Canton makes it 43 of 45.
Granted, Nissan workers in Canton are paid well, well above the state average. But that is as much an indictment of Mississippi’s rigidly anti-worker, feudal economy as it is the Nissan’s supposed generosity. Mississippi auto workers are still paid less than union auto workers.
Without unions, companies may or may not pay well. They may or may not offer good benefits. They may or may not be sensitive to the workers’ needs.
Without the collective voice an union provides, workers can only hope management does the right thing, even when it cuts into profits.
I am hopeful that the Nissan workers will vote for the union I believe it would be a significant step forward for the people, whose interests have almost always been subservient to those of the ruling class.
As Republican President Theodore Roosevelt observed almost 100 years ago, “It is essential that there should be organization of labor. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize.”
Unions ensure fair play.
But ultimately, it’s up to the workers themselves.
The outcome will be an historic moment in Mississippi.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.
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