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The UAW and Southern Auto Plants


The United Auto Workers has tried to organize southern auto plants for more than 20 years. It has failed in every major campaign, sometimes even when the auto company is encouraging its workers to vote for the union. It’s not that unionizing workers is impossible in the South–there are southern union locals after all–but it has proven impossible in auto. But the UAW is back, filing for an NLRB election for the Canton, Mississippi Nissan plant. We will see. I’ve never seen racial demographic data for southern auto plants, but my assumption is that the UAW really struggles to win over southern white workers. If the Mississippi plant has more black workers, and it likely has more than the VW Chattanooga plant does just based on where it is located, then the chances go up. Just winning one of these big plants and getting a contract signed might open the doors to widespread victories. Let’s hope this is the time.

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  • LosGatosCA

    Yes- good luck! Hope they get a win there.

    It would also be good to see them develop a strategy to participate in the growth of Tesla on the non-exempt side. Same for tech in general. Those strategies would help get the non-service unions oriented on future oriented industries instead of just constantly fighting consolidating industries that have reached scale and the norm is productivity driven workforce reductions (across the industry, not necessarily for any particular company or site).

    It would be nice to see a proactive model for unions to participate in new industries on a regular basis instead. Easier typed than done.

  • TheBrett

    I wish them luck. It sounds like they managed to rally community support for the cause, although the response from the state government (and others) is likely to match Nissan’s hostility. They’ll pull out all stops to stop it, and then drag out the contract negotiations as long as possible.

    • cpinva

      “although the response from the state government (and others) is likely to match Nissan’s hostility.”

      up to and including threatening to relocate the plant, i’d wager. or calling workers at home and threatening them. I put nothing past these people.

      • JdLaverty

        I’ve worked years as a labor organizer in northeastern cities, places that theoretically speaking should be friendly to unions, and the first thing I learned was just how outspent and outgunned even powerful unions like the UFCW really are. The “rights” given to workers have no real penalties so they’re violated at will; illegal firings, threats; bribes etc. I can’t imagine having to overcome things like state governments abusing their power to throw elections and the racism problem we have up north x10 on top of the barriers workers face everywhere. Until the laws are changed so that workers can join or form unions with ease the south will remain fucked up; and the laws aren’t getting fixed anytime soon

  • Now, why in the world would these southerners need a union when they’ve got their man Donald Trump looking out for them?

    • Steve LaBonne

      Bless his heart.

  • diogenes

    It is a sticky wicket. Southerners of a certain age learned to hate Yankees and unions at grandma’s knee – we don’t need no outside people minding our business!

    There is a time machine down South. Get on the edge of a city, and driveaway for 90 minutes. You will also go back in time 30 years.

    There are a lot of good folks down here and I am never going to leave, but we are a “stiffnecked people”.

    • JdLaverty

      I wish it was as simple as an organizer getting up in a room full of southern auto workers and saying “I’ve heard that people here don’t trust unions, don’t like unions, are conservative by nature. I don’t care. You can either put that aside and follow the lead of northern union plant workers with 30-40% more pay and due process and a real pension and everything else or you can stick to your guns and stay poor”

  • Aaron Morrow

    It looks like the demographics are indeed different. The Chattanooga site was “a plant that workers estimate is about 90 percent white,” whereas the above link states that the Canton “plant is approximately 80% African American.”

  • Kubricks_Rube

    I’ve long wondered whether the key to reviving the labor movement is to rebrand “unions” as “confederacies.”

  • prognostication

    Do you know about Payday Report, Erik (and commenters)? I can’t say I have the qualifications to have an opinion about their coverage, but seems like an interesting source for labor news: http://paydayreport.com/ … Mike Elk reports that the plant is ~80% African-American.

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