Grammy award-winning singer and actor Common performed before a sold-out audience at Jackson State University March 21 in support of Mississippi Nissan workers as they expand their effort to organize a union at the Nissan plant in Canton. Other guests at the event included actor and activist Danny Glover, local performance artists, Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN) members, Nissan workers, and student supporters from Mississippi Student Justice Alliance (MSJA) and Concerned Students for a Better Nissan (CSBN), who are calling on Nissan to respect its workforce’s labor rights. Workers who have adopted the slogan “Tell Nissan: Labor rights are civil rights” see their effort for a fair union election as an extension of the civil rights movement from half a century ago.
Singer, producer and actor Sean “Diddy” Combs added his support to the campaign with a welcome greeting video to the audience before the performance began.
The event was held in support of Nissan workers in Canton who want the company to stop intimidating and threatening workers to discourage them from considering a union. Workers want to exercise their civil right to form a union so they can have input into a variety of workplace concerns, including unsafe working conditions, and the company’s growing use of temporary workers who do the same work for years as direct hires for much less pay and benefits and no job security.
Concert participants also unveiled upcoming stops on CSBN’s multi-city Nissan Truth Tour, which is exposing the intimidation and threats pro-union workers have faced from Nissan for years. Young people are a nationwide, growing part of the movement to support Nissan workers, saying they don’t want to work in an economy based on temporary work status. At the event, students announced a petition drive they’ve launched in support of Nissan workers.
Common said workers can rest assured that their desire for a better life is attainable. “I’m a real advocate for love and spreading love. When you operate out of love, there is no fear,” said Common. “There is no fear anymore. We’re ready to stand up for what we believe in and stand up for justice.”
Actor and activist Danny Glover, who is involved in a variety of humanitarian causes, said the Nissan organizing campaign is of special importance to him. “Of all the worker struggles around the world, the Nissan workers of Mississippi stand out to me. For a place that’s one of the most important battle grounds of the civil rights movement to now be the center of the global workers’ rights movement is significant. I am committed to the campaign to win the right to organize for Nissan workers,” said Glover.
“When workers at Nissan began to organize a union, Nissan responded with implied threats that they would leave Mississippi if workers unionized,” said Reverend R. Isiac Jackson, Jr., MAFFAN chair and president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention of Mississippi. “While we welcome the presence of foreign-owned companies like Nissan in Mississippi, we will not tolerate a company treating Mississippians as second-class citizens. The Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan will carry the message in Mississippi and throughout the world insisting that Nissan allow a fair process that allows workers to freely decide on unionization,” said Jackson. MAFFAN was founded after Congressman Bennie Thompson called on Mississippi leaders to form a committee to stand up for Nissan workers.
Mississippi NAACP State President Derrick Johnson says the workers’ efforts to have a voice on the job are a civil and labor rights issue. “The NAACP and labor unions have long history of collaboration,” said Johnson. “The NAACP fully supports this campaign, and believes the campaign is a strong example of that partnership.” Johnson said Nissan’s treatment of Mississippi workers is wrong, particularly because Nissan has unionized auto plants around the world but not in Mississippi.
Canton Nissan worker Shelia Wilson says Nissan’s anti-union intimidation campaign has been going on for years and that the company needs to respect the labor and civil rights of workers, which are the same. “We have a fundamental human right to organize in the U.S. Nissan’s intimidation and threats are keeping us from exercising those rights,” said Wilson. She said the company holds one-one-one and roundtable anti-union meetings with workers, shows anti-union videos and creates a climate of fear by implying the plant will close if workers unionize, all without allowing pro-union discussion. Wilson said workers want a union so they can improve workplace safety and the company’s treatment of injured workers, and have input into the company’s growing use of temporary workers who do the same work as direct hires but for much less pay and benefits and with no job security, with many left in temp status for years.
MSJA and CSBN member Monica Atkins says young people are an expanding part of the Nissan organizing struggle because they don’t want to enter a workforce built on insecure temporary jobs and denial of workers’ labor and civil rights. “We want better for today’s Nissan workers and for ourselves tomorrow,” said Atkins. “College students around the country are a growing force behind these workers. We are continuing the strong civil rights movement that students have historically participated in, particularly in Mississippi. Young people are part of this state’s civil rights legacy and we will be a part of the civil rights future,” said Atkins.
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