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Race and Organizing Southern Auto

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The UAW is continuing to organize the South after its catastrophic defeat in Chattanooga. It is targeting a Mississippi Nissan plant. Unlike Volkswagen, Nissan is fighting the union. The difference between the two campaigns is that in Mississippi, ministers are on the side of the workers, potentially lending important community support to the campaign lacking in Tennessee. But when I read this article about it that stresses the civil rights angle of the struggle, the main difference I see, and of course I have no ability to know the demographics in the plant, is that the workers and presumably the ministers are black. That hardly surprises me. In the early 21st century, people of color are more likely to support unions than whites. Given the sharp racial divides that determine much of American politics at this time, probably the ability of the UAW to win has as much (or nearly as much) to do with the racial demographics of the Nissan plant as its own organizing strategy. I’m not prematurely letting the union off the hook for another loss, but it’s impossible to ignore the racial issue within southern unionism, an issue that has never been separable from southern organizing campaigns and something that employers have always exploited to divide workers.

In other words, labor rights are indeed civil rights, but if the a lot of the white workers in the plant oppose civil rights, it’s unlikely they will support labor rights.

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