Emboldened by their involvement in a modern civil rights struggle, inspired by the great actor and moral leader Danny Glover, and energized by original hip hop music and poetry, student activists have embarked on a Nissan Truth Tour to campuses around the South. At events in Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and Georgia, members of Concerned Students for a Better Nissan (CSBN) have spoken to thousands of college students about why the campaign by Nissan workers for a fair union election is important for their future.
The students, accompanied by the amazing Danny Glover, kicked off a five-stop tour in Chicago in March at a multi-campus event hosted at Columbia College. When these young people stage an event, you can be sure there are no boring speeches or lectures. Through poetry, rap, dance, fashion and music, the students dramatized the struggle for freedom and justice that the Nissan campaign represents. Local Chicago groups joined the program, including Power 92, Deeply Rooted ’07 Clothing, Columbia College Black Student Union, DePaul Poets, and others.
Excitement was over the top at the Jackson State University event, where hip hop superstar Common headlined, and where superstar rapper Sean Puff Daddy Combs sent a video message of support. Endorsements of the Nissan campaign by top celebrities helps to put a spotlight on the issue of the right to organize unions here in the United States.
More than 1,000 young people at over 60 college campuses are participating in activities to support the Nissan workers. In addition to staging poetry slams and concerts, the students are engaged in distributing flyers at Nissan dealerships and holding campus meetings.
As the student movement grows, workers are strengthened by both the outpouring of support, and also by the reminder that this struggle is not only for the current generation of workers, but also for future generations.
Nissan is relying more and more on temporary workers hired through temp agencies who often do the same work as direct hires but for much less pay and benefits, rather than giving workers regular employment that provides security and a decent standard of living. Nissan is implying that if workers organize a union, the company may pick up and move their plant elsewhere. Yet the company cooperates with unions all over the world, including in Japan, the home country, raising the question whether the company views workers in the U.S. south as second-class citizens. Instead of allowing a free election with equal access for all sides to be heard, Nissan is using intimidation tactics to suppress union activity.
When students learn of the unsavory business model that Nissan is using in the U.S., they are rightfully alarmed and rise to action. Just as earlier generations fought for civil rights at the ballot box and in the schools, this generation must fight for civil rights in the workplace as they become the next generation of workers.
And as many of the poets and hip hop artists have repeated, “Labor rights are civil rights!”
The tour is continuing throughout the spring, so keep a lookout in your community and come out for an exciting and spirited event!