After the sweeping losses in Wisconsin yesterday, AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka tells Greg Sargent that when it comes to politics, organized labor won’t switch its emphasis to raising money for ads, but will focus on developing strength in as a rank-and-file outfit. “Our emphasis will be on educating and mobilizing workers on the union and non-union levels,” Trumka says.
Part of that work is in rebuilding union membership, which has fallen dramatically over the last half century. One union, the United Auto Workers, has said it wants to start new locals at foreign-owned plants in the South. You can see one attempt at that unfolding at a Nissan factory in Canton, Mississippi, where workers have asked the UAW about organizing.
The workers say bosses at the Nissan plant don’t like the idea of their joining the UAW. From the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:
Nissan workers said they have sat through roundtable discussions in which they were told they didn’t need a union. They said they are told that the union just wants workers’ money.
“I went to one last week,” said Betty Jones, who has worked with Nissan for nine years. She said the meeting was simply to tell workers that “We don’t need a union, we’re anti-union at this company.”
They’ve pressed on, with vocal support from the NAACP and Congressman Bennie Thompson. AP’s report makes a point of noting that Thompson, the state’s only Democrat in Congress, is supported by labor unions. This should surprise no one. Unions generally support Democratic candidates – that’s why Republicans have been so set on breaking the unions.
The UAW faces significant hurdles to organizing in a place like Mississippi. Unions elsewhere have bargained away wage increases to non-union levels. And like the other Southern states, Mississippi has a right-to-work law, known in labor circles as “right to work for less.” If workers at the Nissan plant in Canton voted to form a union, the law would allow individual employees to enjoy life in a union shop – reduced as the union benefits might be – without paying union dues.
Much the same recipe decimated Wisconsin’s public-sector unions a year after Governor Walker signed the anti-union law. Reduce the benefits of membership, then make people choose again and again whether to pay for membership. Whittle away the unions and you whittle away support for union supporters, like Democratic Congressman Thompson.