Justice in the factory: how Black Lives Matter breathed new life into unions

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.

Mike Elk in Justice in the factory: how Black Lives Matter breathed new life into unions (Guardian)