It's Bigger than the South
by Morris Mock
March 7, 2021
Morris | My name is Morris Mock. I've been working at Nissan now for around 18 years. Back in 2017, we had a union campaign with the UAW. It was an aggressive campaign.
Everybody understands that we don’t have a strong union culture in the South, so we were having to educate workers from the ground up. People don't know what a right-to-work state is. We had to explain that. We had to explain what a union is. We had to explain what a union can do and what it can't do. There is a learning curve in the South.
I've been doing this for quite a bit now. I've traveled to Brazil. I've traveled to Paris. I've met with delegates in these countries about labor rights.
It is important to realize that this is not just a problem in the South, this is a global issue.
Why was it so difficult to organize at Nissan?
My factory is an 85% African American factory. When you look at the Amazon factory in Bessemer, and even when you look at the chicken factories across Alabama, you have predominately African-American or Latino groups. So now you ask, why can't they come together and get organized?
The fear of termination and the threat of the plant closing play a major role. These companies have the right to fire you for anything. And the company's tactics have evolved. They have gotten specialists out there to fight us in organizing campaigns. We can no longer organize the exact same way that we have been because if we do, we are going to keep getting the same results.
Can you describe what the captive audience meetings look like?
They will show a video of a factory closing down. Though they will never directly say that the factory closed down because of the unions, they imply it through these videos.
They never tell the truth that a lot of these factories closed down not because of labor unions, but because it cost way too much to retool these factories. You can't compare a factory that was built back in the 40s and 50s to factories now. Oftentimes, it is just cheaper to tear it down and rebuild it.
I mean, to be honest, the National Labor Relations Board is weak as a hell man. Nissan threatened workers, and all Nissan had to do was publicly apologize. This is a billion-dollar factory, and when they were accused of threatening workers, the only thing they had to do was write an apology and post it up.
The whole system is weak and fucked up. I'm being straight up with you.
We can't sit here and think that we can form a union and have the protection of the federal government. The only way to actually fix that this if people in the community stick together and boycott or strike the factories when they threaten workers.
Is there any correlation between union presence and factories closing down?
Unions don't close factories down. We don't have the power to close them down. All we have the power to do is to negotiate a contract that is agreed upon by two parties. The union has the ability to do is look at a contract and say, “Hey, look, this contract does not fit the needs of the workers.” And the company has the same right to say “Hey, this contract does not fit the needs of the business.” If they can’t agree, then we go back to the negotiating table until we can come up with a solution together.
You mentioned at the beginning you think this is a global issue. Can you elaborate on what that means?
I remember when there were workers here in the US that were going to be terminated and factories in Brazil and a few in one of the factories in France did a major protest.
The Brazilian unions went out and protested in solidarity with the Mississippi unions?
Yes. They protested in solidarity. They shut the factory down. It was really amazing how Brazilian unions reach out.
They are having the same problems that we are having here in the South. It's important that unions hear the stories of factories that are non-union. It's important that we keep sharing stories. That's why I'm always in contact with the people in Brazil. That is why I'm in continuous contact with the people in France.
I've met with President Lula three times. The last time that I met with Lula, he said, "If they pick on you again, fly back and we will protest and help you fight." We have had amazing conversations. He doesn't see himself as a former president or whatever. He looks at himself as a factory worker. The culture of organizing is much different in the US than in Brazil.
I feel like the big difference between the US and Brazil is that there seems to be empathy for business over empathy for the people in the US. Do you see a difference in how citizens respond to organizing in the two places?
When it comes to American culture, especially in the South, organizing is made to be a Black issue. There is a racial divide. when it comes to thinking about the welfare system. There is a lot of history in Bessemer, and to have a majority Black workforce, and a majority Black female workforce, leading this push is really something.
Do you see pitting people against immigrants and immigration as part of the tactics used as well?
Yeah. I mean, that's politics. That’s American politics. That’s Southern politics. That is the way we treat immigrants.
It's a hard question to answer because I am the guy who, when they do a raid, is going out to look for these people on the side of the road to give them a safe house.
These actions make it seem as though, even though you didn't win the union vote, you are moving and acting as a union because there's really no one else looking out the workers except each other.
Yes. Right before I called you we picked up seven pallets of water, with 48 cases of water on a pallet, that we're going to bring out into different rural areas.
One of the areas that we're going to go to today is a chicken factory that has been closed for a whole week. These workers don't have power, and they don't have water. These are people who haven't taken a bath in probably three or four days. But these corporations, the Walmarts and the Nissans, constantly have power. They are allowed to use up all the power. You have people who can't even take a bath, but they're asking them to come to work. And if they don't come to work, they will be terminated.
I'm sitting here in Mississippi and I'm off really pissed of about it, man. Just yesterday I found out that a friend's brother froze to death. Right. It's just this the sad thing here, man, that's going on here in the South, it's sad.
A lot of people claim socialism is a bad thing. People are naive to think that.
Especially right now with what's going on with COVID and the economy, socialism is the only damn thing that's keeping people alive at this point.
We need to have a culture of thinking, I am my brother's keeper. We need this union. I'm hoping that Bessemer is victorious because that will be a huge deal here in the South.
Is there anything about the coverage of these things that frustrates you? Do you think media coverage perpetuates this sort of false debate about whether unions are good or bad?
On a local level, it is very hard to get anything positive said about the union. Why? Follow the money. Local companies have a constant flow of money into the newspapers.
I don't take it personally. These outlets not for the people. Certain outlets are for a certain class of people, right? The working class that is out here every single day busting their ass, knows that these outlets are not for them. Half the people that I work with don't even watch the local news. They work with their heads down, and they hope for the best. They hope that the company treats them right. That is the mentality.
I don't really think anything of these one-sided news stories. I think that we need to knock on doors. I think we need to have a direct conversation with workers to tell them what's going on in the community.
The thing that struck me when I covered Chattanooga, was that not only are there flashing, anti-union billboards throughout the plant but when you drive through the community there are anti-union signs in front yards. What does that feel like?
Inside the factory, you had managers and human resource reps with “union, no” shirts on. Nissan says that they are going to remain neutral and allow the workers to make these decisions, but the same people that you are supposed to tell your problems to are against you. It feels like the whole world is against you.
And it goes deeper. The South is probably the most religious area in the United States. In the Jackson-Kent area, we probably have roughly around 800 to 900 churches. They start bringing in pastors and ministers. They had a mandatory event with some of the most charismatic preachers in the area. And later, you find out that they were paying preachers thousands of dollars just to go out and say the Lord’s Prayer.
So now you feel that the whole community is against you too. And you really see the true evilness of capitalism because now they have infiltrated even your churches.
When I was there, I know $17 million was spent on TV ads, and every 10 minutes they had commercials running. You couldn't go anywhere in that part of Mississippi without seeing anti-union ads.
Well, you know, then you look to the Labor Board. How far can a company go when it comes to fear, threats and intimidation? The Labor Board is supposed to make the rules of what's fair and what's not fair. We pay our taxes to them so that they can draw the line.
If I find out that Nissan has sponsored an ad of threats and intimidation, that is a Labor Board violation. But, they are allowing companies to just do whatever the hell they want.
They are taking advantage of people here in the South. They feel like they can juice us because they have the protection of the local government. A few years back they passed bills that we can’t protest in the state of Mississippi. It feels like you are being trapped in a box and it feels like they feel they can threaten us as much as they want.
Especially if you were pro-union. One time I was run off the road. I mean people are just really…
You were run off the road?
Yeah. I mean people are really mad. Imagine you're working a job and you are told that you're not going to be able to feed your family if the union comes in. And this guy, Morris, is the one who is going to keep you from feeding your family. Can you imagine how upset these workers would be at me every single day? They are looking at me thinking, “My family is going to starve to death and die if the union comes in.” They turn these workers against you. You have to very fucking tough skin to organize here.
Can you speak more to how you have continued to operate as a union after the election?
Yes. We formed our own association — Nissan Organized Workers, N.O.W. It is a little nonprofit thing that we do. We have our own private webpage with about 2000 Nissan workers on it.
If a manager tries to come on it, we say that we're gonna look at that as spying on your workers. We may report you to the Labor Board.
We needed a safe space where workers can have a comfortable dialogue about what is going on. Because of the anti-union workers and anti-union sentiment, many workers were too afraid to go to the union hall in person. We needed our own safe space to have a private conversation with workers.
Its been really powerful, particularly among women, There were so many managers that have sexually harassed women, but when women talk among themselves about sexual harassment, things change. The culture of sexual harassment has decreased quite a bit because of this space.
A lot of people say the South isn't organized, but it seems that there is a lot of organizing going on already.
Yeah. That's just like saying slaves, weren't organized. If you start abusing your workers enough, the only thing they can do is stick together.
In every organization that has abuse in it, you're going to find unity somewhere.
In the African-American community, often, something drastic happens that brings people together. I think that what is going on in Bessemer, like the fact that it takes them 15 minutes to walk to the bathroom, could be that spark.
Bessemer reminded me of what a worker told me in Brazil. This worker told me that that they weren’t allowed to use the bathroom unless it was on break. So, the company took all the tissue out of the bathroom and only put it back in during the break. You have workers looking for anything to wipe their ass with.
I cried when I heard that.
Even at Nissan, there were workers who would go to the bathroom on themselves because they were too afraid to leave the assembly line. One of my buddies has done it twice. It's like, wow. I mean this is really something man, it's really something.