Saturday, August 5, 2017

No Surprise: UAW Loses Vote at Nissan Canton Plant

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
I have not yet had the time to peruse all the details but the UAW had another crushing defeat in the union’s attempt to organize a Nissan plant in Canton Mississippi. More than 60% of the workers eligible to vote opposed the union. This defeat comes after a previous defeat at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga in 2014 and at another Nissan plant back in 2001 in Smyrna.
According to some reports I read, there have been issues of favoritism and racial discrimination with white supervisors favoring white workers with regard to promotions and job assignments. It would be hard to believe that this would not be happening, especially in the US South, as using color/race as a means of dividing workers on the job is par for the course. Wherever they can get away with this divide and rule tactic they will. About 80% of the eligible to vote workers are black from reports I have read.

I am hearing all the same excuses from the labor hierarchy as to why the vote went down the way it did. Last Friday, the UAW filed charges (7 of them) “claiming Nissan broker labor laws” (of course they did) The National Labor Relations Board has also filed charges against the company for “illegally threatening to close the plant”.

The NLRB is the bosses’ body that the union hierarchy appeals to in order to protect workers from such harassment in such cases. At no time will they seek to rely on the organizational and social power of their members, working class communities or the working class in general.
What did the employers and their political representatives in both parties do during the Boeing workers contract dispute a few years ago? They threatened to move to the South. Every rank and file worker and serious rank and file shop floor activist knows damn well that bosses are never neutral as the labor bureaucracy would have us believe. What workers suffer every day on the job to one degree or another is economic terrorism. This terrorism is heightened during unionization drives and disputes, in other words, when workers fight back.

“They’ve come out with some of the nastiest, most unprecedented attacks I’ve seen in the 20 years I’ve been doing this. This issue of threatening to close a facility is the worst threat you can put toward an employee.”  Gary Casteel, the second-ranking official at the U.A.W. told the New York Times.  Is it now! Where has he been for 20 years? It’s worse for the labor hierarchy and their army of full time staff because without a union they would have no job, and a good one at that. This official is talking as if that is something new.

"The enemy was the collective spirit.  I got hold of that spirit while it was still a seedling; I poisoned it, choked it, bludgeoned it if I had to, anything to be sure it would never blossom into a united workforce...." *

As I say above I am not denying claims by black workers of discrimination at all. But this in my opinion can be overcome with the right approach.  In the last analysis it is the economic issues that matter along with the militancy and power that has to be brought to the table. The UAW leadership has neither.  "There have bee racial overtones” the media reports. The role of leadership is to have a strategy, program and tactics that overcome this other than to deny it or claim we should all just get along. It is the bosses that are responsible for racial overtones and the UAW leadership's fault that racial overtones are not overcome.
These losses are entirely the UAW leadership’s fault. In the VW/Chattanooga loss, the UAW leadership signed a neutrality agreement with the boss and the boss will never, ever, remain neutral., and by signing one the anger of the rank and file worker is suppressed while the bosses continue to harass and terrorize. The community was not mobilized, the workers not mobilized, locally or nationally. And in the case of auto especially, international pressure has to be brought. At every step of the way the UAW leadership, like all of them atop organized labor appeal to the employers themselves and their representatives in the body politic. In the case of the Cleveland Five a local UAW leadership at a Freightliner plant in Cleveland NC that fought back, the UAW national leadership cooperated with the bosses in terminating militant leaders. This has happened in many UAW and other union struggles. An attempt organize a Boeing plant was lost by the IAM for the same reasons.

For more on auto and the UAW read: Rank and File Rebellion at Kokomo

At the Canton plant, some of the longer-term workers are earning $26 an hour which is far higher than the median wage in Mississippi which is close to equal that of the unionized veteran workers in the US owned plants.  According to the NYT, Nissan contributes roughly the same percentage of employees' incomes toward their retirement as do the US owned plants.  According to figures I came across, the median household income in Mississippi is around $40,000.

It is important to add that the plant has about 6500 employees and many of these are temporary employees who are not eligible to vote for one phony reason or another. I am sure it’s not just racial overtones that are an issue but workers working side by side, one earning 25% or less than the other. This would have been a tremendous pool of workers to tap in to. Some of these are classified as “permanent temporary workers” who have their wages capped, at $18.35 an hour according to one of them who testified at the White House in 2015. Even that is a decent wage for Mississippi but again a source of division and animosity. Union officials recommend contracts that do this all the time to new hires, pushing contracts that pay them lower wages and deny them benefits existing workers have. The policies of division are crucial to the labor hierarchy as there is nothing more frightening to them than a mobilized conscious membership.

Yes the bosses’ threats and terrorism played a role in forcing this no vote, that is a given. Workers are not stupid, especially when it comes to the workplace which is where the extraction of surplus value takes place. We know, and so do those workers at the Nissan plant and all the workplaces in the South and throughout the country, that voting yes will bring the wrath of the bosses down on them. They weigh up the situation, look around them, see the alternatives and most importantly we know that the defeats I mention above and nationally are on their minds as are thousands of defeated strikes.

To vote yes in a situation like this would mean a serious fight and change in conditions. The workers look at the UAW and what it is doing? It can’t even win an election. The UAW leadership has orchestrated defeat after defeat in the US plants. It has suppressed, as the entire leadership of organized labor does, any movement from the shop floor or within its ranks that rises to fight back and threatens the relationship the union hierarchy has built with the bosses' based on labor peace, at the expense of the dues payer’s living standards and rights on the job.

Every labor dispute or strike in particular is not much more than a long-term rally or protest where workers lose money for a couple weeks for a few less concessions than the bosses’ were calling for. There is no attempt to shut production, no attempt to broaden the struggle. Shackled by the Team Concept, the philosophy that employers and workers have the same interests as well as their own perks and obscene salaries, the labor hierarchy with their full time apparatus and often given intellectual legitimacy from left/liberal academia, ensure that the power of organized labor and inevitably that of the entire working class, is not brought to the table.

How right was George Schultz, one of the leading bourgeois strategists when he pointed out that, “Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table.”

When you add the corruption and deafening silence of the labor leadership of all matters of social importance why would these workers in the racist non-union South have voted for the UAW. Power attracts, weakness breeds aggression in these cases, and workers know weakness when we see it.

Organized labor will not escape the internal struggles that will arise as part of the generalized movement against the capitalist offensive that will take place throughout society. But union activists must not wait. There has to be an open struggle against the present leadership of our unions.  It is inevitable that any activist or opposition claiming to represent a serious alternative to the present collaborative polices of organized labor will be forced in to conflict with the leadership that promotes them.
* Confessions of a Union Buster: Martin Jay Levitt

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