UPDATE: Organizations around the world are telling Nissan: Labor Rights ARE Civil Rights!

View article in: Español Español france-icon français

Nissan workers and community allies celebrate anniversary of civil rights march March on Washington Nissan Workers

Nissan workers from both the Canton, MS plant and the Smyrna, TN plant; community leaders from MAFFAN; and students from Concerned Students for a Better Nissan traveled by bus to Washington, DC to participate in a march to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.  There the Mississippi and Tennessee groups joined forces with thousands of UAW members, student supporters and others who share and support our mission.   “It was amazing to see all the support from the UAW,” said Tommy Terrell, a Nissan technician in Canton, Mississippi. Carrying signs that read, “Tell Nissan: Labor Rights are Civil Rights,” the UAW participants reminded marchers of the common goals of the labor movement and the civil rights movements.

Participants remembered not only Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” Speech but also the words spoken from the same podium that day by legendary UAW President Walter Reuther. “This rally is not the end, it’s the beginning of a great moral crusade to arouse America to the unfinished work of American democracy,” Reuther told the crowd.

The 2013 March was a symbolic reminder to the Mississippi and Tennessee Nissan worker delegations that in their fight for a fair election at Nissan they are carrying on Reuther’s moral crusade as they strive to realize MLK’s dream.

Students and community leaders call-out Nissan’s anti-union campaign at Jackson Day of Dignity

Dozens of students from the Mississippi Student Justice Alliance and community leaders from MAFFAN participated in a Day of Dignity, an August 28 rally at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington. Student activists from Tougaloo College and Jackson State University marched with signs that read, “Tell Nissan: Labor Rights are Civil Rights.”  MSJA leader Hyat Mohamed and Jaribu Hill from MAFFAN spoke to the crowd and encouraged rally participants to join them as they take on one of the most important civil rights struggles of today: the right to organize.  Mohamed and Hill, who also serves as Executive Director of Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights, explained how they have been building support for Nissan workers, and demanded that Nissan respect its workers’ right to organize.

UAW President addresses Mississippi General Missionary Baptist Convention

At the invitation of Rev. Dr. Isiac Jackson, President of the Mississippi General Missionary Baptist State Convention, and chairperson of MAFFAN (Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan), UAW President Bob King addressed the Convention on July 24.

To a group of over 3000 religious and lay leaders from more than 300 churches, President King drew on the rich history of the civil rights movement to express why he believes Nissan workers in Mississippi will be successful in winning a fair union election.  President King reminded the group that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died while supporting workers on an organizing drive and that Dr. King believed that the struggles for civil rights and economic justice were inextricably linked.  President King explained that workers in Mississippi are making the right to organize a civil rights issue.

President King also pointed out that like during the civil rights movement, today religious leaders, community groups, like MAFFAN, and students are standing side-by-side with workers at Nissan.  Faith leaders like Rev. Dr. Jackson and students from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in Mississippi and throughout the U.S. have been marching beside them every step of the way. 

Many of the church leaders in attendance vowed to bring the struggle of Nissan workers back to their congregations by sharing their stories from the pulpit and joining students who are leafleting at auto shows and Nissan dealerships.

Students stand strong after attack by Nissan dealer

At Passport Nissan, located in Marlow Heights, Maryland, a Nissan dealership employee approached and tried to intimidate students educating consumers about Nissan’s anti-union fear campaign.  The students, who were part of Concerned Students for a Better Nissan, were standing on public property near the Nissan dealership when the dealer’s employee used physical force by trying to pull and tear the @Choose_Justice banner from the hands of two students, Torrence Roundtree (Howard University) and Tom Hranac (New York University). Watch the video at (LINK) The students remained amazingly strong and calm in the face of this bullying.  These students were among a larger group of students from throughout the U.S. who spent the summer educating the public about how Nissan uses scare tactics to deprive its Mississippi and Tennessee workers of the right to organize.

Common joins Danny Glover in supporting Nissan workers

Grammy award-winning singer, actor and activist Common traveled to Canton on August 3 and 4, 2013 to join his friend and fellow actor and activist Danny Glover in a meeting with Nissan workers. The two men met with and listened to numerous workers explain why they’re organizing a union and what the company has been doing to fight their unionization efforts for years. Common spoke to workers, student activists and community supporters during his visit and explained that he believes in their fight to have a voice on the job like workers have in other auto plants around the world and that he will do what he can to support them.

Common, who was invited to join in the meeting by longtime UAW supporter Glover, spoke directly with the workers about his feelings towards the labor/civil rights movement. “Earlier today I was reading my Bible and the chapter talking about God is love. I’m a real advocate for love and spreading love. It was talking about when you operate out of love, there is no fear. I see everybody that is committed to this. I feel love in this room. There is no fear anymore, we’re ready to stand up for what we believe in and stand up for justice.”

Mr. Glover also reported on his participation in delegations of Mississippi Nissan workers and community leaders to South Africa and Brazil. He described the strong union support for their campaign in those countries and said the support actions included a dealership leafleting action by trade union activists. “It’s important to build a coalition,” said Glover. “Building support, whether that support is international or whether that support is local.”

Brazilian union leaders visit MississippiSao Paolo - Brazil

Leaders of the Forca Sindical labor federation, the second largest federation in Brazil, representing 9.5 million workers, visited Canton, Mississippi September 11-13. The delegation was led by Miguel Torres, vice president of Forca Sindical and president of the CNTM (metal workers union) that represents workers at Renault, Nissan’s alliance partner.  The delegation also included Sergio Luiz Leite, first Secretary General, Nilton Souza da Silva, International Relations Secretary, Ortelio Palacio Cuesta, International Relations Advisor (all of Forca Sindical), as well as Elida Maria Souza Capitao, Advisor to the Puerto Alegre union.  The delegation came to Mississippi to learn more about the struggle for a fair election and to demonstrate their support for the workers in Canton.

They had learned about Nissan’s anti-union activities when Danny Glover and a delegation of Nissan workers from Canton visited Brazil earlier this year and spoke with union leaders about how Nissan has responded to its workers’ efforts to form a union.  After hearing about Nissan’s attack on the right to organize, Forca Sindical held a huge support rally in July at the Renault plant in Curitiba, Brazil.   At that rally Nissan workers from Canton told their stories and hundreds of the Brazilian workers signed a banner in solidarity with the Canton workers.  That banner is now hanging in the Workers’ Center in Canton.

To learn more about the situation in Canton, the delegation joined Nissan workers at a large dinner meeting at the Workers’ Center, and heard about the workers’ experiences.  They also visited with elected leaders including Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, State Representative Jim Evans, and State Senator Sollie Norwood.  There were lengthy discussions with leaders of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, the Mississippi NAACP and with the Mississippi Student Justice Alliance.

The Brazilian delegation came away shocked at the way Nissan has responded to its employees’ attempts to form a union.  In Brazil, the workers at the Renault plant have a strong union contract and work very well with management.  The union leaders pledged to take the story of Nissan’s violation of international labor rights back to Brazil and to increase their solidarity actions urging Nissan to change its behavior in Mississippi.  By the Monday after the delegation’s return to Brazil, CNTM members from the Renault plant in Curitiba were leafleting two dealerships there.

Leaders of Japan Auto Workers union and Nissan Roren meet with Canton workers

On September 15-17, 2013, a delegation of leaders from the Japan Auto Workers Union-Nissan Roren, including President of Nissan Roren and JAW Vice President Akira Takakura, JAW Assistant General Secretary Masahiko Ichinowatari, and Executive Director of the Policy and Planning Department of Nissan Roren Tsuyoshi Kasuya visited Canton, Mississippi.

The delegation met with Nissan workers who expressed that they are striving for the same kind of relationship that their Japanese Nissan brothers and sisters already enjoy, one based on mutual respect and cooperation. Mississippi Nissan workers explained how Nissan management in the U.S. has used threats of plant closure to scare workers about unionization and why they are demanding a fair union election.   Community and faith leaders from the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN) and members of the Mississippi Student Justice Alliance (MSJA) shared their plans to travel to Nissan’s world headquarters in Japan to publicly express their support for Nissan workers.  The JAW delegation pledged their continued support for U.S. Nissan workers as they fight for a fair union election, and said they would demand that the company respect workers’ right to organize in the U.S.

Labor law expert releases report showing Nissan violated international labor standards

An extensive report by Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson and international labor law scholar Lance Compa was released in Washington, D.C. on October 8th and in Paris, France, on October 22nd, showing that Nissan in Canton, Miss., is in violation of international labor standards on freedom of association through its aggressive interference with workers trying to exercise their fundamental right to organize a union.

The report, which also will be outlined at events in France and Brazil, concludes that under international law, the company should respect human rights standards on workers’ freedom of association, including the right to organize and the right to collective bargaining. But in the Canton plant, according to the report, Nissan has launched a campaign of fear and intimidation to undermine these rights.

“Under international law and pursuant to its own stated commitments, Nissan is supposed to respect human rights standards on workers’ freedom of association – the right to organize and the right to collective bargaining. But in the Canton plant, Nissan has launched an aggressive campaign of fear and intimidation to nullify these rights,” said Johnson.

“Our research shows that Nissan is not living up to the standards of worker treatment enshrined in International Labor Organization (ILO) core labor standards, UN labor rights principles, and other international norms. It also belies Nissan’s own public commitments to honor international standards through its participation in the United Nations Global Compact,” said Compa, an American lawyer currently based in Europe. “Workers’ descriptions of how they are treated behind the walls of the massive Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., affirm that Nissan is systematically interfering with the internationally recognized right to form a union.”

The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work and ILO Conventions 87 and 98 are the foundation of international standards on workers’ freedom of association. They prohibit:

  • Imposing pressure, instilling fear, and making threats of any kind that undermine workers’ right to freedom of association.
  • Creating an atmosphere of intimidation and fear with respect to union organizing.
  • Pressuring or threatening retaliatory measures against workers if they choose union representation.
  • Denying reasonable access for workers to hear from union representatives inside the workplace.

Workers at Nissan’s Canton plant, who are supported by a growing student movement, community organizations and trade unions around the world, described in the report treatment that violates the ILO’s 1998 declaration and conventions 87 and 98 – and the standards included in the UN Global Compact, which Nissan joined in 2004.

Worker Jeff Moore, a body shop quality technician hired in 2001, stated that anti-union intimidation began early on. “In the first meetings, managers told us that Nissan is totally non-union and didn’t want any part of unions, that unions make plants close,” said Moore. “Everything they said about unions was negative, nothing positive. It’s like they were drilling it into our heads, stay away from the union,” said Moore.

Workers also recounted “captive audience” meetings in which they were forced to watch films and hear speeches with implicit threats of plant closure if they formed a union, and to attend orchestrated one-on-one meetings with supervisors warning of dire consequences if they choose union representation.

Nissan, the report says, also targets their anti-union behavior at hundreds of “associates” or temporary workers, known as precarious workers globally, many of whom do the same work as regular Nissan employees but are paid lower wages and have less job security. The report concludes temp workers, because of their tenuous situation, often feel even more susceptible to the company’s intimidation and climate of fear if they support a union.

The report’s authors say call on Nissan to change its practices; specifically:

  • Affirm workers’ right to organize in keeping with the core labor standards of the ILO and ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association.
  • Make clear that Nissan will not close the plant or fail to introduce new product lines because workers choose union representation.
  • Assure workers that if they choose representation, Nissan will negotiate in good faith with a sincere desire to reach a collective bargaining agreement; and
  • Grant access to UAW representatives so that employees can receive information from them inside the workplace.

The report also recommends that socially responsible investment firms “ … re-evaluate their portfolio holdings of Nissan stock in light of ILO standards and the company’s actions at the Canton plant, and engage with Nissan management to encourage adoption of the recommendations in this report” and that “ … The United Nations Global Compact and the OECD … consider whether the company’s actions in Canton are consistent with its commitments to, and obligations under, international labor standards.”

Nissan recognizes and bargains with unions all over the world, but not in the U.S. Nissan workers and their supporters want Nissan to change how it treats workers, including:

  • Stopping the anti-union campaign at its U.S. operations and treating workers with dignity and respect. Allowing union supporters equal time to address employees on the issue of union representation. Apologizing and retracting past statements that imply the future of the plants would be at stake if workers choose union representation.
  • Providing permanent jobs for all temporary workers and paying these workers the same as it does its regular employees.

Nissan union leaders from South Africa shocked by anti-union conduct in U.S.

“In South Africa, the Chief Operating Officer of Nissan sat down and listened to me,” said Witness Ndlovu, a union steward at Nissan’s South Africa South Africa Delegationplant .   Ndlovu is a member of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the national autoworkers union in South Africa.  “I am surprised and shocked,” he said, “by the fact that Nissan interferes so blatantly with the right of U.S. workers to have a voice in the workplace.”

In October, a delegation of union leaders from South Africa visited Mississippi and Tennessee, where they met with workers, students, community leaders, and public officials to hear about how Nissan responded when U.S. workers launched an effort to organize a union.  The group leafleted at the Canton plant inviting the workers to meet them.  At the meeting, workers shared stories of the company’s intimidation tactics.

The South Africans were incredulous when they heard what U.S. workers have encountered from Nissan: characterizing the union as a bad thing for workers and wanting only money; saying that unions cause companies to close; implying that workers will lose their jobs if they form a union.  “Why is Nissan taking such a negative, hostile attitude towards the workers and their desire to have a union?” asked Ndlovu. “I don’t understand why U.S. workers are treated differently from Nissan workers in other countries.”

“You are entitled to representation just like every other nation’s Nissan workers,” said auto union President Cedric Gina. “In the future, when the Nissan corporate leaders invite us to meetings, we will raise the issue of why the company is interfering with its American workers’ right to form a union. We will demand that the next meeting be held in Mississippi or Tennessee.”

NUMSA National Treasurer Mphumzi Maqungo, who is employed by GM, explained to the U.S. Nissan workers how in 2010 the union won during their negotiations a ban on the use of labor brokers (similar to the temporary agencies used by Nissan in the U.S.).  Nissan workers applauded loudly when hearing about this.

NUMSA steward Jacob Mashego explained how Nissan respects the union structure in South Africa, which includes 13 shop stewards paid for by Nissan and regular work time meetings in the plant with workers, their union leaders and management.

The big question on the minds of the South Africans was: why does Nissan imply that it will remove work from factories in the U.S. if workers exercise their right to form a union?  Certain political officials repeat over and over that it’s the absence of unions that allows them to attract new businesses.  While Nissan has not contradicted this, the company opens up factories around the world with full respect for, and the expectation of working with, unionized workforces. Why are Southern U.S. workers second-class global citizens?

The South Africans took note of the irony that the people and the unions of the United States stood up for the South African people when they were suffering under the racist apartheid regime.  The United Auto Workers union was a lead actor in the international struggle to free Nelson Mandela and to end the racist policies. Now, the people of South Africa can freely join unions while U.S. workers face threats of losing their jobs.

Derrick Johnson, President of the Mississippi NAACP, explained that the civil rights movement has always struggled against economic injustice and the suppression of rights, and the struggle for union rights is part of that fight. He told our South African guests that employers have long taken advantage of workers the U.S. South.

The South African delegation included the President of NUMSA, Cedric Gina; Mphumzi Maqungo, National Treasurer; Jacob Mashego, Nissan union steward; Witness Ndlovu, Nissan union steward; Nkululeko Beauchamp, Nissan Union steward; and Skhumbuzo Phakathi, NUMSA International Affairs Officer.

The South Africans pledged their support and solidarity. “You will win this fight,” said President Gina. “Forward ever. Backward never. We promise that we will go back to South Africa and engage in solidarity actions and do everything we can to get Nissan to respect your right to have a union.”

Our South African friends have already helped us enormously, lifting us up with their warmth, their strength, their beautiful spirits, and their commitment to the dignity of all human beings, forged through long, harrowing struggle.