Independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders lambasted the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi for the campaign it is waging against efforts by employees to unionize. The criticism was made in an article published in The Guardian on August 3.
In it, Sanders accused the automaker of using contract workers to drive down employee wages, and of seeking to dissuade employees who are undecided about unionization by telling them their coworkers’ unionization efforts could cost them their jobs.
Corporations like Nissan single out states like Mississippi, Sanders said, because it’s easier to exploit the working poor.
“Sadly, these kinds of threats matter a great deal in towns like Canton. Mississippi is the poorest state in the country, with over 30% of children living in poverty,” he wrote. “The average weekly wage is just $727, the lowest in the nation. Very few people in the state have a defined benefit pension plan, and one out of five suffer from food insecurity.”
“Large corporations like Nissan like to set up shop in states like Mississippi because they know that when safety nets are frayed, and people hit hard times, they’re more likely to accept low wages and poor working conditions. They know how to exploit human misery and insecurity, and turn them into high profits.”
Forty-two of Nissans 45 factories around the world are unionized – the Canton factory is one of the three that aren’t.
In March, Sanders joined Nissan employees and Mississippi activists in Canton at the “March on Mississippi,” in support of unionization efforts at the Nissan plant.
“The truth is Nissan is an all too familiar story of how greedy corporations divide and conquer working people,” Sanders wrote. “The company has brought in large numbers of contract employees and paid them less than they paid full-timers for the same work – an old trick for driving down everyone’s ages. The company is also telling those undecided about the union that their pro-union co-workers would cost them jobs.”
“This could go down as one of the most vicious, and illegal, anti-union crusades in decades,” he said.
Sanders argued that workers’ rights are intrinsically connected with civil rights – a message he believes will resonate at a plant where 80% of its 3,500 employees are black.
He cited a famous passage from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “We know from painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”