Freedom Rider: The Defeat of American Workers

By Margaret Kimberley

Aug. 9, 2017

Capital is winning every round of the class war. Nissan scared Mississippi auto workers out of joining a union, and Foxconn extorted $3 billion to locate a plant in Wisconsin. Republicans cheered. Democrats just looked useless.

American workers have been completely crushed by capitalism. That is the goal of the capitalists after all but working people in this country have fallen further and faster because they are without any political friends and because they declare allegiance to a compromised political party. The evidence can be seen in the vote against union representation at the Renault-Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi. Additional proof of the assault can be seen in the decision by the state of Wisconsin to promise electronics giant Foxconn $3 billion in subsidies to create 3,000 jobs.

Foreign auto makers and other industries have been building plants in southern states for many years. That region of the United States is the modern day embodiment of enslavement and Jim Crow segregation. It is among the most conservative regions, has little history of unionization and is always run by the white peoples’ party, which for the last 50 years have been the Republicans.

Mississippi won the race to the bottom to lure the Renault-Nissan corporation to build a plant in Canton, a suburb of Jackson, in 2000. The state made good on its promises and has given Renault-Nissan over $1.3 billion in subsidies. The governor called on the workers to reject unionization in what can only be seen as part of an orchestrated campaign of intimidation which succeeded all too well.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) has again failed to organize southern workers. There was hope that the majority black work force at the Nissan plant would be less likely to reject unionization than their white counterparts in that part of the country. They may not have a reactionary anti-union sentiment but they were still afraid and with reason.

Mississippi is a state which ranks last in anything good and first in everything bad. It is one of the poorest states with one of the most reactionary political systems. The large black population is under constant political assault. Medicaid expansion was rejected, SNAP benefit recipients are required to work for benefits or suffer from hunger.

All the stars were arrayed against the workers who agitated for union representation. Even in their oppression at a non-union plant their salaries are much higher than those of most other black people in Mississippi, the state with the lowest median income. Given the relative degrees of oppression most of them reasoned that they had more to lose if Nissan left the state or increased automation at the site or if the state stopped subsidizing the multi-national corporation or acted on any of its other threats. No one should have to ask why the workers voted not to unionize.

While Nissan workers made a choice based on risk aversion the state of Wisconsin and the Donald Trump administration announced another theft of public assets to benefit a multi-national corporate giant and once again under the guise of helping workers. Foxconn, maker of LCD screens for Apple and other companies, announced plans to open a plant in Wisconsin in 2020. That state agreed to give Foxconn $3 billion in tax incentives and pay $200 million every year in order to keep 3,000 people employed.

If the state of Wisconsin wants to provide 3,000 jobs it could simply hire 3,000 people, but employment is obviously not the real point. Wisconsin is under complete Republican control, the worst of the worst as it were, with the Koch brothers and their ilk in charge. In 2011 they succeeded in ending collective bargaining rights for state employees. The Obama administration neither said nor did anything on behalf of these workers. Other Democrats and labor unions chose to involve themselves in a losing electoral recall campaign and ended up with ignominious defeat for themselves and their voters.

These two states exemplify how the two wings of the political duopoly work together to eviscerate workers rights. The far right Republicans are openly hostile and the center right Democrats talk a good game. Unions also deserve some of the blame. They cling to the Democrats, even when they do less and less for their members. Union leaders are like many Democrats, political chumps, locked in the duopoly with a party that is dismissive of them and their people and never daring to make demands.

While Republicans attack openly and Democrats barely go through the motions, workers suffer with fewer unionized jobs and stagnant low wages. The Democratic Party recently made a big announcement about a “better deal” for working people that is even more insulting than their usual rhetoric. Despite all of the fanfare the deal doesn’t even advocate for an increase in the minimum wage. It says only that “many Democrats are calling to increase the minimum wage” and then presents a plan to raise the minimum to $15 per hour but not until 2024. This legislation is co-sponsored by the “revolutionary” Bernie Sanders.

Of course, all of the Democrats could have fought for workers when they had the opportunity. In 2009 and 2010 Democrats controlled Washington. They could have enacted card check legislation which would have made the unionization process much easier.

But the Democrats don’t care about worker rights any more than Republicans do. It is just one of the many reasons that the Democrats must be resisted. With winks and nudges they signal to their corporate sugar daddies that they have nothing to fear. There will be no minimum wage increases, nothing to benefit the people who think they have no choice but to support a party that is hostile to them and to their interests.

Wisconsin residents will be on the hook for billions of dollars to Foxconn. Not only are their pockets going to be picked but the deal allows Foxconn to bypass environmental and other regulatory approvals so that it can dredge wet lands and access fresh water from lake Michigan. Theft of public funds and environmental degradation will all happen with an assist from government officials.

The litany of betrayal is a long one and there have to be new strategies to deal with an onslaught that shows no signs of abating. We know what doesn’t work. We know that the Democrats aren’t our champions on any issues. They even announced that they will fund campaigns of anti-abortion candidates. Abortion was one of the few issues that they claimed was inviolate. But there is never any honor amongst these scoundrels.

“Dump the Democrats” should be the rallying cry. A true left-wing, workers, peoples movement will be hard to build but we must cut our losses with the duopoly and our phony champions. Everyone will be at the mercy of capital, defenseless and powerless unless we choose to act in the only way that makes any rational sense. Wisconsin and Mississippi will be the future for millions more people if we do not.

Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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