Showdown at Nissan: the 1989 campaign to organize Nissan in Smyrna, Tennessee, and the rise of the transplant sector

Source: Timothy J. Minchin, Labor History, Latest Articles, Published online: 05 Dec 2016
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From the abstract:
In July 1989, workers at Nissan’s plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, voted 1622 to 711 against being represented by the United Automobile Workers of America (UAW). At the time, many reporters saw the well-publicized Nissan vote – dubbed a ‘showdown’ by the New York Times – as a defining moment in modern labor history. The election deserves further exploration, especially as it played a key role in establishing the non-union ‘transplant’ sector. UAW leaders blamed the Smyrna loss on Nissan’s anti-union tactics, while the company claimed that workers did not need a union because they were already well paid (although this was largely due to the UAW’s presence). This article is the first to provide a detailed analysis that draws on the union’s records of the campaign, as well as many other sources. While the factors cited publicly were important, the article demonstrates that there were additional reasons for the union’s defeat, including internal divisions, unanticipated staffing problems, and the logistical challenge of organizing such a big – and new – facility. Although Nissan workers had many grievances, the company also fostered loyalty by not laying off workers, and by expanding the plant. Finally, it secured a high level of community support, and drew off the conservative political climate of the era.