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The racially-charged fight for a union

UAW vote at Nissan: The racially-charged fight for a union

The Japanese carmaker warned that the presence of the UAW union could harm the plant's global competitiveness.

'Feeding families'

When Nissan opened the plant in 2003, the Mississippi state government gave the company $1.3bn in tax breaks, in the hope that it would provide good-paying, full-time jobs to the community.

"Nissan is the best thing to happen to the state of Mississippi", said Tony Hobson, a Nissan technician.

He's been with the company for 15 years and is firmly anti-union.

"We have something to lose. We are feeding families here," he explained while wearing a T-shirt with "vote no'" emblazoned across it.

The UAW has worked for years building support in Canton.

Past efforts to organise at Nissan, Volkswagen and Mercedes, to name a few, have been pushed back. In part because the message the South sent to foreign manufacturers was: "Come here, and we'll keep unions out."

Facing a political climate hostile to organised labour, supporters in Mississippi have linked unionisation to civil rights among the plant's majority African-American workforce.

"It's about inequality which is about civil rights," according to Mississippi minister Dr Isiac Jackson Jr, chair of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan.

He has memories of growing up in Mississippi during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

"When blacks would go to register to vote, somebody might come by their house burning a cross or wearing a hood," he said.

"Now they don't wear the hood or burn the cross but they come by saying we're going to close the union, we're going to close the plant."

Game changer?

Nissan worker Tony Hobson calls that the biggest falsehood of all.

"Slaves don't make what we make," he said. "Slave labour is like what they make at these fast food restaurants."

A win at Nissan could be a game changer.

The UAW has never won a union vote at any of the South's foreign-owned car assembly plants.

In Canton a victory could provide a model for organising across the rest of the South.