The civil rights movement is at the center of the UAW’s endeavour to organize Nissan Motor Co.'s plant in Mississippi. The UAW hopes to take inspiration from the battle for the right to unionize freely as a basic civil right. This strategy is expected to be effective at the Canton, Mississippi plant where blacks comprise about 70% of the workforce.
Gary Casteel, the UAW's top official in the U.S. South, agrees with the sentiment of many people that “worker rights” is the civil rights battle of the 21st century. The UAW is hoping that with this new tactic, it will be able to reverse almost 30 years of botched organizing attempts at foreign automakers.
According to labor experts, the civil rights strategy is smart but the problem is that the union is faced with huge obstacles in its first major organizing effort at the Canton plant, which started operations in 2003. The union hasn’t had much luck in getting through to Nissan’s workforce. The union succeeded twice at forcing a vote at Nissan's Smyrna, Tenn., facility.
On both times, the UAW lost. The latest vote took place in 2001. In early summer, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn announced via Reuters that it has created a smooth manufacturing process that depends on direct communication with workers.
He said that UAW involvement would make a mess of the process. The UAW said that there are higher stakes at Canton than at Smyrna. UAW membership has continued to drop. It’s now at about a quarter of its peak size in 1979, weakening the UAW's clout and reducing its cash.