Time to Stand up For Workers’ Rights in Mississippi

hattiesburgamerican.com

Via hattiesburgamerican.com

Workers in America are entitled to justice, decent wages and decent benefits.

A pro-union rally targets Nissan Canton with Bernie Sanders’ help Wochit

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., congratulates workers for their courage “in standing up for justice” during the March on Mississippi. Actor Danny Glover, NAACP President Cornell Brooks and UAW President Dennis Williams also spoke.

On March 4, thousands of people gathered in Canton to “March On Mississippi.”

Various news sources cited that between 3,000 and 5,000 individuals converged on Canton with one goal in mind: to show support for and solidarity with workers fighting for the right to join a union and for a safe working environment.

There were several recognizable names on hand for the march including U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.; former Ohio Sen. Nina Turner; U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Sierra Club President Aaron Mair and actor Danny Glover. All came out to show support for the auto workers and to lend their voice and social capital to help raise awareness of the auto workers’ plight.

Nissan’s plant in Canton opened in 2003. Since that time it has provided jobs for Mississippians and given back to the surrounding community in various ways. However, in addition to Nissan’s benevolent activities, there have been some allegations of various types of less than desirable behavior. The March on Mississippi was, in part, an effort to publicize some of those allegations.

Workers at the plant are fighting for a living wage. The plant has faced criticisms from UAW that many workers get hired as temporary workers with the promise of eventually being made full-time employees. They often end up working for years as a temporary worker, which means that they (and their families) don’t have access to employee benefits. As temporary workers, they also don’t have the same rights and privileges that full-time employees do. For instance, they can be fired for very small infractions.

Worldwide almost all the plants that Nissan operates have worker unions. The only exceptions are in the U.S. South.

The UAW also has criticized the plant for worker safety. In September 2015, 37-year-old Derrick Whiting collapsed and died while working at the plant. Some workers criticized Nissan for not doing enough to try to save Whiting’s life after he collapsed in the plant. Nissan maintains Whiting’s death was simply an unfortunate incident and was not a result of unsafe working conditions and that the company did not exhibit any negligible behavior.

When Turner spoke, she evoked and recited some of the lyrics to one of Nina Simone’s songs that specifically refers to Mississippi. This song memorializes the lynching of black people in this country, especially in Mississippi. She said, “Even though there may not be any physical lynching, the fact that Nissan would take away workers’ rights to be able to make a living wage and to be able to organize, people are being lynched in their living. It is not too much to ask that Nissan, that has received billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, taking corporate welfare, to treat the workers here in Canton, Mississippi, with the decency they deserve.” She also recited the words of A. Philip Randolph; founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters: “The essence of trade unionism is social uplift. The labor movement has been the haven for the dispossessed, the despised, the neglected, the downtrodden and the poor.”

Workers in America are entitled to justice, decent wages and decent benefits.

As Mair took the stage, he took a moment to put on his father’s UAW union jacket. He explained that the Sierra Club’s 2.8 million members stand with the auto workers in Canton and workers around the country. He went on to explain the intersectionality between the environmental movement and the labor movement in an effort to ensure everyone understood why the Sierra Club would lend its voice to this event and others like it: “You cannot have clean air, water and soil if we have a degraded work force. You can’t have a clean democracy if you have dirty money from billionaires who attempt to drive labor down. The first fight in the environmental fight is the condition of the laborer.” In essence, you can’t build a flourishing country with a booming economy on the back of a degraded labor force and expect that there will not be any problems and issues.

It is time to stand up for workers’ rights in Mississippi. It is ironic that being a “right to work” state, Mississippi has a history of suppressing workers’ rights. It is time that individuals that are willing to work full time be able to comfortably support their family by enjoying a living wage. The “baby boomer” generation was able to achieve the American dream with jobs just like those at Nissan’s plant in Canton. They could purchase a home, raise a family and send their kids to college on the wages they earned. This generation can’t follow suit working the same types of jobs.

It is time that we demand that the American labor force is taken care of. This should be part of the foundation of making America great again.

Nkrumah Frazier is the sustainability officer for the city of Hattiesburg. Contact him at nkrumah_frazier@yahoo.com.

 

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