DETROIT - With Detroit's huge North American International Auto Show taking place a block away, the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), an organization representing clergy, elected officials, civil rights activists and students, held a press conference to emphasize how the auto giant is unfairly treating its 3,300 workers at its Canton, Mississippi plant.
They were joined by actor, humanitarian, and activist Danny Glover.
Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson said, "in Mississippi we have struggled far too long, far too hard, for disenfranchised workers to have a voice. If Nissan allows its workers in Japan, France and Israel to organize, why shouldn't workers here have the same rights? Democracy calls for that."
When the Canton workers began to organize with the United Auto Workers (UAW), plant worker Morris Mock said Nissan responded by showing anti-union videos and implying "the factory is going to shut down" if the union came in.
Mock, who started at the plant when it first opened ten years ago, said, "All we want is a fair election." He declared: "The UAW didn't call us, we called them."
He also questioned Nissan's public stand that there is little support for the union saying "If they believe there is no support, why are they afraid of having a union election? We are not focused on pay, we want a voice," he added.
Another ten-year Nissan worker, Michael Carter, said workers are afraid to report injuries because they must first see a company doctor who often recommends a quick return to work. Termination is likely if workers can no longer perform their old job, he said.
Glover said while auto manufacturers are unveiling their "new models" we are expected to buy, there has to be a "new model of engagement" with Nissan workers "centered around fairness, justice, and focused on raising the standard of living for workers in Mississippi."
He said by standing up for their families and their community, Nissan workers have taken a "courageous stand" and he'll be travelling over the world and country, giving voice to their fight for justice.
Reverend R. Isiac Jackson Jr., President of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi and Chair of MAFFAN said it was outrageous in a state where voting was long oppressed, for Nissan to come and again say "you don't have the right to choose."
He noted when Nissan first came to Mississippi they were given all kinds of tax breaks because of their promise to provide full-time jobs. However since 2006, those being hired at the plant are temporary workers. What's "strange" said Jackson is that Nissan pays the temp agency $24.00 for each worker hired while the workers receive only $12.00. "Why can't Nissan hire employees straight out and pay them the $24," he asked.
Mock, who has travelled to Brazil to meet with Nissan workers, said Nissan workers from Japan to South Africa are behind us "100 percent."
"We have global support. It's a great feeling to have rest of world behind us."
For more information on the fight of Nissan workers to organize, go to www.beneaththeshine.org
Photo: Michael Carter, Nissan worker. John Rummel/PW