August 4 – In a serious defeat, Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi decided against joining the United Auto Workers (UAW). Had this drive been won, it would have echoed across the country as an important step toward rebuilding the power of the labor movement. This comes in the wake of the defeat of the International Association of Machinists organizing drive at Boeing in South Carolina earlier this year and the 2014 defeat of the UAW at Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Union leaders recognize that the bosses’ ability to keep unions out of the South undercuts workers across the country, but they have broadly failed to convince workers in these recognition fights that they have a strategy to win real gains if they vote for the union.
Of course, the bosses’ hardline anti-union tactics, on full display in Nissan, play a big role. Despite a recent NLRB ruling of unfair labor practices against Nissan, the UAW was faced with a serious disinformation campaign as well as threats by the company to close and move production and to fire any union member who went on strike. This, cumulatively seems to have had an effect.
The Canton, Mississippi plant is mostly black and the UAW made a big point of its historic pro-civil rights record. But again, without a real strategy to win economic gains this was not enough. The election also omitted 2,500 part-time or subcontracted workers, who earn half of the $26 an hour that experienced full timers make. Therefore all organizing was among a workforce receiving a wage way above the Canton, Mississippi median. One of Nissan’s weapons was pointing to the failure of the UAW to prevent job losses and wage reductions in Detroit during the recession. Especially for workers making a good wage, this point delegitimized the UAW’s efforts.
Nissan waged an unrelenting anti-union campaign and the UAW filed a new NLRB complaint as the votes came in. The UAW may use this to argue to invalidate the results, but, after the defeat, the odds are further against a victory in Canton. Workers who are organizing should see that the corporate bosses will threaten to close the work place, layoff pro-union workers, and spread all sorts of misinformation and outright lies about the union. With Trump appointees to the NLRB expected soon, it’s unlikely that the scales will tip toward workers.
The UAW put considerable energy and resources into this campaign–see our article from March. In addition to rallies, informational meetings, and mailers, Bernie Sanders and DNC Chair Tom Perez sent solidarity messages to the workers supporting the union.
To succeed going forward, the UAW needs to acknowledge that its overall strategy is deeply flawed. Only by acknowledging the defeats it has suffered can it hope to regain the trust of autoworkers. To do this it should adopt a class-struggle based approach–like the strategies that founded and built up the UAW in the 1930s. This means seeing the union as the workers in the workplace and that a union is a collective tool to fight the bosses, rather than the UAW’s recent history of endlessly negotiating concessions, partnership with the bosses, and not relying on the collective power of the workforce except as a last resort.