As reported by the Associated Press on July 10, workers at a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi will be able to vote for union representation after years of activism. This came months after the United Auto Workers (UAW), the union seeking to represent the plant’s 6,400 workers, accused Nissan of breaking U.S. labor law after a company security guard prohibited workers from distributing pro-union literature and petitions.
Unionization at the plant has been supported by notable national figures, including U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, actor and activist Danny Glover, and NAACP President Cornell Brooks. Civil rights organizations such as the NAACP have provided their unwavering support for the workers at a plant where eighty percent of the employees are African American.
Reacting to the UAW’s efforts to unionize workers at the Mississippi plant, Nissan stated: “While it is ultimately up to our employees who will represent them, we do not believe that UAW representation is in the best interest of Nissan Canton and its workers.”
In 2016, Governor Phil Bryant declared Mississippi a “non-union state.” About eight percent of the state’s workforce is represented by a union compared to a national rate of eleven percent. This is largely due to the fact that Mississippi is a right-to-work state, meaning employees who are represented by a union at a given business do not have to pay union membership dues. This encourages a free loader effect, causing many workers not to pay their dues even if they receive the full benefits negotiated on behalf of the union with their employer. Of course, since a union cannot properly operate without its dues, right-to-work laws lead to the evisceration of union representation. In right-to-work states wages are three percent lower than in non right-to-work states.
History quickly reminds us of the benefits of unions. Unions increase wages, improve working conditions, and reduce inequality. A third of the explosion of income gains to the top and little income gains for most of the population over the past few decades is explained by a fall in unionization. Referred to as the “Golden Age of Capitalism,” the period between 1945-1973 marked an era of record growth, low unemployment, financial stability, and low inequality mirrored by high rates of unionization.
During a rally at the location of the plant in March, Senator Bernie Sanders exclaimed: “If we can win here at Nissan, you will give a tremendous bolt of confidence to working people all over this country. If you can stand up to a powerful multinational corporation in Canton, Mississippi, workers all over this country will say, ‘We can do it, too.’”
The ability of the Mississippi Nissan workers to finally vote on union representation is a huge progressive victory and serves as a great example of the significance of labor organizing especially in anti-union states. Instead of doing what some say, which is to abandon these states, the progressive movement should dedicate essential organizing capital to assist those who are suffering first-hand from these regressive policies.