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Auto Workers in South Don’t Want the Union, But That Isn’t Stopping UAW

Image via Flickr by Hannu-Makarainen

When the Rust Belt in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and other northern, heavily unionized states began to decline and lose jobs to non-unionized right to work states in the south, such as Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama, many blamed the unions. Even as automakers struggled financially, unions hurt their chances of survival through strikes and demand for more wages and benefits. 

As those jobs moved south, joined by foreign automakers such as Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, and Honda, workers haven’t embraced the union. Generally, they are happy with their wages and benefits and have consistently voted to keep the unions out of their plants. But the UAW, fresh off a loss to unionize a Nissan plant in Tennessee by a two-to-one vote of no, have employed a new strategy to try to unionize another Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi.

Most of Nissan’s Canton workers don’t want the union. Wages and benefits are good, and the plant has far fewer rules and regulations than unionized plants. It’s common to see a worker wearing a T-shirt expressing, “Want a union? Go back to Detroit.” So the UAW has taken the battle to unionize the plant out of those workers’ hands and to the streets of … Brazil.

The UAW has organized union workers to picket and demonstrate at Nissan dealerships in Rio De Janeiro, just as the country tries to prepare to host the 2016 Olympic games. In a related maneuver, the UAW hired American actor Danny Glover to speak to college students in the southern states and convince them to hand out pro-union fliers. According to University of California, Santa Barbara professor and labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, if these tactics fail to sway the Canton, Mississippi Nissan plant to accept unionization, it could be the labor union’s final hurrah.

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