It would have been easier for Glover to choose to take Hollywood money and the fame and ignore the suffering of the working class, many of whom are black and brown. Glover, however, is as far as anybody could be from being a "good black", an "Uncle Tom" if you will, who desires never to rise above his allocated station in life. Glover's social activism demonstrates a man firmly in touch with the Zeitgeist.
Take, for instance, the lengthy battle of automotive workers to organise themselves at Nissan's plants in the American Deep South, to which Glover has lent his considerable influence. It would come as no surprise that 80% of the affected workers are black. Shockingly, the two plants in the Deep South, Canton and Syrmire are Nissan's only plants without union representation. The fact that in Japan, Nissan's home country, unionisation was enacted in 1965, at the insistence of the conquering Americans is frankly, outrageous. Today, Japanese workers enjoy more protection than many American workers, least of all, the Black workers of Canton, Mississippi and Smyrna, Tennesse.
Many South Africans would be rightfully confused as to how a global car manufacturing giant, as Nissan is, which has a sizable presence in South Africa, and where all its workers are unionized and enjoy the protection of a well crafted Labour Relations Act of 1996, would even allow such a situation to arise.
Many would baulk at the fact that Renault, the French carmaker that enjoys a highly successful partnership with Nissan (even sharing a Chairman) would take no issue with the matter. Particularly because, Renault, being a European company, adheres to strict laws that govern labour relations. In fact, France - Renault's home country, allowed unionisation in 1884.
Currently, France has some of the most progressive worker's rights in the world. For example, in 2017, the right to disconnect law was enacted. This law stipulates at which times an employee may or may not answer work related emails - this is a significant protection for workers during this permanently connected digital age.
A few months ago, things came to a head at Canton. A secret ballot that ended on the 4th of August 2017, was held and 60% of the workers rejected unionisation. At face value, it seems like resounding loss for the working class, but as is with matters socio-political, nothing is as it seems. In the months preceding the vote, Nissan waged what Senator Bernie Sanders calls, "....one of the most vicious, and illegal, anti-union crusades in decades".
Sanders, together with Glover led a 5000 strong "March on Mississippi" a few days before the ballot. The senator from Vermont is himself a seasoned campaigner, who (had it not been for a Clinton supporting Democratic Party establishment) came close to winning the party's Presidential nomination. This would have put him head-on against Trump. It's history now of course, but Sanders enjoyed a healthy lead in the polls over Trump during said primaries, and who knows, perhaps it would be POTUS Sanders right now, instead of the nightmare that is the Trump presidency.
Sanders writes that "Workers should never have to endure this type of threatening campaign or walk through a minefield just to vote for a union." The senator further berates Nissan, stating that "Supervisors have called workers off assembly lines for one-on-one interrogations. Anti-union videos are being run on a constant loop in employee break rooms. Groups of workers have been called into ‘roundtable’ meetings to hear management disparage the United Auto Workers (UAW). Nissan has been saturating local TV and radio with anti-union propaganda.”
Nissan, says Sanders, "is no stranger to trade unions. It has union representation in 42 out of 45 of its plants throughout the world – from Japan to France, Australia to Britain. But the company does not want unions in the US south because unions mean higher wages, safer working conditions, decent healthcare and a secure retirement."
The union concerned is the UAW. The battle for recognition began in 2005 with workers meeting at a local church to discuss working conditions. The UAW soon started to support this group, and the battle began in earnest. The union has managed to build a solidarity front that includes the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), the local clergy, prominent individuals such as Glover and Sanders, as well international partners such as South Africa's largest union the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, who have in past marched on the Japanese embassy in South Africa to put pressure on Nissan.
It's no surprise that after Nissan's dirty campaign, which went so far as to threaten the local community with the plant's closure and a massive loss of jobs should the union succeed, the ballot failed.
The next step in the fight, as Glover sees it, is to lobby the Emmanual Macron, the French president, for a second vote. The French government owns a 20% stake in Renault.
Speaking to the Guardian in September of 2017, Glover said that Macron, “would protect the rights of workers in France with respect to Nissan,”. He would protect the rights for those workers, so why wouldn’t he protect the rights of workers in the United States, as well as particularly in the south?”
In the meantime, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), an independent US government agency responsible for enforcing US labour law has alleged that Nissan violated the law in these anti-union sessions by warning that workers would lose wages and benefits if they supported the union. The NLRB also found that a supervisor at the plant told workers that if they spoke out against the union, he would personally ensure that they received increased wages and benefits.
This outrageous situation calls for all progressive formations of the working class to once again take to the streets in solidarity with the workers of Canton and Syrmire. South African workers must express their strong objection of the denial of the most basic of rights to Nissan SA, the Japanese Embassy and the French Embassy.
In fact, all progressive African labour unions must do more to create partnerships and collaborative efforts with like minded unions in the US and elsewhere in the West in order to combine resources and offer a powerful bloc to represent the interests of all working class people in the world. It is true that an “injury to one is an injury to all”.
At the "March on Mississippi", NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, powerfully stated that
“The right and need to collectively bargain is not only a matter for the workers in the plant but their families at home. Without representation, workers and families, as well as rights and pay, are vulnerable."
It's major indictment that, what the capitalists and neo-liberals term is the most advanced economy in the world, fails provide its workers with the most basic of rights: the ability to organise and bargain in the work place. It's shameful.
Indigenous Knowledge Activist, Writer and Musician
Head Creative: Blaqst*r Kreativ
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