Labor Finds Eager Ally in Black Lives Matter Movement in the South

By Sahid Fawaz

With more and more organizing campaigns occurring in the Deep South, the Black Lives Matter is taking an interest in supporting workers who seek a voice on the job.

The Guardian reports:

“After decades of decline unions have found a new champion in efforts to organize workers: the Black Lives Matter movement.

Unions have suffered as manufacturing has moved south away from their old strongholds in the north of the US. Membership rates were 10.7% in 2016, down from 20.1% in 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time the shift from manufacturing to service industry jobs has hurt them too.

But as the Black Lives Matter and other social justice campaigns increasingly focus on economic justice, unions see a new opportunity. And ironically, a series of defeats for labor in the south is helping to fire up recruitment drives and attracting international support in the process.

Last August’s bitterly fought attempt to unionize Nissan’s plant in Canton, Mississippi is a case in point and one that labor leaders say has made multinationals wary of becoming embroiled in high-profile union-busting drives lead primarily by black workers.

The fight at Nissan, where 80% of the workforce is black, drew international attention as Americans for Prosperity, the rightwing Koch Brothers-backed lobby group, ran ads blasting the United Auto Workers, and the former Democrat presidential hopeful senator Bernie Sanders and the actor and activist Danny Glover descended on the plant to lobby for unionization.

After a narrow defeat, labor leaders charged Nissan not only with illegal anti-union conduct, but with racism. The company denies the charges of racism and illegal anti-union busting. But already labor leaders say they are starting to see a shift and that multinationals, particularly European companies, are concerned about being seen as racist when they move their operations to the South.

“Nissan has been a warning sign on the road. The bad PR, the amount of money that has been lost, the tarnishing of the brand, the sense that they are racially insensitive to the community, no company domestic or foreign wants to be labeled racist,” said Marc Bayard, director of the Black Worker Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies, who has spent more than two decades attempting to organize multinationals . . .

In the meantime, Black Lives Matter is using the voice it has built in social justice campaigns to expand its remit. On 12 February, the Black Lives Matter movement and the low wage workers campaign Fight for $15 are combining for a series of strikes in cities across the US in order to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Memphis sanitation strike.

The union-backed Fight for $15 has been pushing for more union representation in the fast food industry and has successfully pressed for increases in pay in states across the US but, once again, the southern states have proved harder to crack.

The fight will not be easy. Labor leaders like Maria Somma, the first Asian American to act as director of organizing for the Steelworkers, says that multinationals go down south to take advantage of racist power structures that make people of color afraid to speak up in the workplace.

‘It to run a hardball anti-union drive at the majority African American plant.

Free T-shirts with a slash through the IBEW logo were distributed throughout the plant while TV screens broadcast anti-union messages.

Supervisors at Electrolux forced workers to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings, where they were grilled about their views on union membership and their work performance. Managers also warned workers that if they unionized, the plant could close. Workers voted against the union by a narrow margin of 57 votes in February of 2015.

After the vote Randall Middleton, the IBEW’s director of manufacturing, flew to Stockholm to meet with IF Metall, the 325,000-strong union that represents Electrolux in Sweden, and brief them on the tactics that had been used to scare workers.

Under pressure from the union, Electrolux reigned in anti-unionization tactics, and workers planning a new vote found support from the Black Lives Matter activists marching in the streets. In July 2016, during the lead up to the election, some workers took part in a protest occupying the Hernando De Soto Bridge over the Mississippi river.

‘When they saw us occupying that bridge, they knew that power, and that people in the community had their back,’ said Keedran ‘TNT’ Franklin, an organizer with Coalition of Concerned Citizens.

The IBEW subsequently won a landmark victory at Electrolux’s plant by a margin of 461-193.”

For the rest of the story, check out the full article at the Guardian here.

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