hold nissan accountable

Donald Trump riding the GOP elephant with a confederate flag by DonkeyHotey

Progressive Mississippians have got their pantsuits in a wad.

Justifiably so. This weekend, which marks the bicentennial of Mississippi’s initial entry into the Union, also heralds the grand opening of the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

At the last minute, the KKK-endorsed, white supremacist Donald Trump accepted Phil Bryant’s invitation to attend and speak at this event. In response, many groups — from the Hillary-honorific “Pantsuit Nation” to the Obama-inspired Organizing for Action — are planning kneel-ins and sign displays along the motorcade route.

Trump’s visit is certainly a dishonor to the integrity of the Civil Rights Movement’s valiant fighters against racism and injustice. Worse, it is not the only affront to their legacies.

For Nissan, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is just the latest in a long line of ostensibly justice-oriented entities to serve as a cover for the company’s ugly history of denying its workers’ civil right to unionize, a history that culminated in the United Auto Workers’ devastating election loss last August.

Together, the two museums cost $90 million to build. They received a $500,000 donation from Nissan (which, by the way, only received a whopping $1.3 billion subsidy from the state of Mississippi to build in Canton).

This contribution bought Nissan spokeswoman Pam Confer a spot in the Civil Rights Museum’s concluding exhibit, where her song “Mississippi Beautiful” will play on loop. It’s even being considered as a replacement official state song.

The current selection, “Go Mississippi,” is rooted in the state’s segregationist past (it was written to the tune of Dixiecrat governor Ross Barnett’s campaign song). However, exalting the work of a paid Nissan celebrant would further enshrine this culture of inequality, injustice and racism — the culture Nissan has striven to perpetuate.

Condemning Trump’s upcoming visit, Derrick Johnson, formerly president of the Mississippi NAACP and now head of the national organization, said, “He has created a commission to reinforce voter suppression, refused to denounce white supremacists, and overall, has created a racially hostile climate in this nation.”

These are all things that Nissan also did — even as the NAACP happily co-sponsored events with the company (its Murfreesboro, TN, chapter went as far as naming Nissan North America its “Organization of the Year”). In fact, all of the groups protesting Trump’s visit did little to support the unionization effort and hold Nissan accountable for its crimes.

Voter suppression?

When it comes to union elections, Nissan scoffs at fair election principles, instead intimidating workers and subjecting them to a barrage of lies, threats and empty promises.

Refusing to denounce white supremacists?

Flyer with hate symbols circulated on social media just prior to the Nissan vote
Flyer with hate symbols circulated on social media just prior to the Nissan vote

This flyer, shown at right, circulated on social media just days prior to the vote. Endorsed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the (seemingly defunct) Citizens’ Councils, a reference to the White Citizens’ Councils that terrorized civil rights workers sixty years ago, the graphic promotes Confederate and Nazi symbols along with anti-union sentiments. Nissan never disavowed, condemned or commented on this image.

Creating a racially hostile climate?

Nissan fomented existing racial tensions. Although the plant’s workforce was approximately eighty percent black, white workers received preferential treatment. They were usually hired as full-time Nissan employees rather than as temporary workers, and were typically given easier or more prestigious jobs, often in maintenance or management. “You don’t want to be part of a black-run union, do you?” was a common theme.

In short, Nissan has abused and exploited its employees. It has forced them to labor in unsafe work environments, fought against and denied the claims of workers injured on the job, illegally fired and discriminated against union supporters, maintained unequal pay for equal work, enforced long hours and last-minute scheduling changes and denied its workers financial security (stripping health insurance and pension plans and reneging on promised pay increases).

Sadly, most of the “honored guests” who were scheduled to speak before Trump crashed the party have been on the take from Nissan for years.

From Congressman Bennie Thompson, who has taken thousands of dollars from Nissan and celebrated its history of buying off local organizations and universities, to former governor William Winter, whose law firm represents Nissan, to Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar, who allowed the Medgar Evers Foundation to take $125,000 from the company, corruption has infiltrated even the bastions of Mississippi’s supposed progressive community.

Groups as diverse as the Mississippi Center for Justice, the Sierra Club and the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement have all cosponsored events with Nissan, even as they voiced (predictably feeble) protest at the company’s unjust treatment of workers. Their refusal to organize a consumer boycott or to call out Nissan’s donations as the hypocritical P.R. stunts they are, undermined the workers’ campaign to form their union.

When Mississippi’s State Sovereignty Commission papers were finally released to the public in the 1990s, they revealed the complicity of supposed “reformers,” who took money to rat out true activists even as they publicly railed against racism and repression.

The only difference between these co-opted individuals and their current-day counterparts is the paymaster.

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Image: Donald Trump riding the GOP elephant with a confederate flag by DonkeyHotey (flickr/cc) – plus, a tiny bit of revision to add the sign by LikeTheDew.com; the flyer with hate symbols circulated on social media just prior to the Nissan vote is not worthy of attribution.

Jaz Brisack

Jaz Brisack is a student at the University of Mississippi and president of their College Democrats chapter. She worked as an organizer on the UAW's Nissan campaign at the Canton plant and can usually be found protesting some societal injustice.