The UAW’s Do-or-Die Battle in Canton

Source: Joseph B. Atkins, New Labor Forum, Vol 23 no. 1, January/February 2014
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…The unionization of [Canton, Mississippi’s] 5,200-employee Nissan plant is organized labor’s most important campaign in decades….

…This is the union that helped spark the rise of labor in the 1930s with its historic sit-down strikes, its “Battle of the Running Bulls” in Flint, Michigan, and the “Battle of the Overpass” at Ford’s River Rouge plant where Reuther himself was beaten by Ford goons. Even though those sit-downs actually began at a General Motors plant in Atlanta, the UAW, like other major unions, has always struggled in the South, a region New York Times writer Peter Applebome has called “American labor’s Waterloo, the nut that never cracked.”

The UAW has to crack that nut if it is going to survive. With a membership that has declined by 75 percent since 1979 to less than 400,000 today, its once-fiery image tarnished by concession after concession, and in an industry that has seen the rise of “Detroit South” where foreign-owned, non-unionized auto plants dot the Southern landscape, it has no choice. It cannot allow a union-free South to be an industry model, where foreign companies like Nissan and Toyota thrive while the Big Three increasingly look abroad to locate new plants. …