It’s day two of the Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Conference and Youth Congress, where Edwith and I are representing Feminist Campus while we learn more about the issues of voting rights and labor rights that surrounded the Civil Rights Movement and are still relevant today. While we’re here, we had the chance to meet Monica Atkins, a representative at the conference from the United Auto Workers Global Organizing Institute, and I asked her a few questions about the intersections of women’s rights and labor rights. You can watch a short clip of the interview on our Instagram.
Taylor Kuether: First, could you tell me who you are here with?
Monica Atkins: I’m here representing United Auto Workers (UAW) Global Organizing Institute as well as the Mississippi Student Justice Alliance that’s been founded here in Tougaloo.
Taylor Kuether: Tell me about what’s going on with UAW and Nissan?
MA: The Auto Workers, the history of it is it’s a union, it represents automobile workers from all over, so the fight that we’re here supporting is that the Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi and in Smyrna, Tennessee, are trying to form a union and so what’s been happening there is they’ve been facing a great amount of intimidation. Nissan has been threatening them by saying if they form a union, they will shut the plant down. One of the first things that we always hear at companies like Nissan is they [Nissan executives] sit you down and have you watch this anti-union video, they tell you all the reasons why having a union is bad, and talk about dues and money and trying to make it seem like the union is more about money than it is about protecting their rights. We want to give UAW an opportunity to come in and tell the other side. The organization is run off of members’ dues, but it also helps when workers may get laid off or have to strike. The union helps them then.
TK: Could you connect labor unions and fair labor rights to feminism? How is that a feminist issue?
MA: We actually have a women’s committee. A lot of the issues there at Nissan, a lot of the women are placed in a certain department, the paint department, a lot of those women are coming out with breast cancer, they’re working there with unsafe working conditions, that’s how labor issues connect to feminist issues. We have a women’s committee that connects women with other women and specializes in different issues. Some of them are injured; this one woman had a back injury and she had to be off work for a couple months, even a year, that was the doctor’s orders, but she was fired because of that.
TK: How does all of this relate back to Freedom Summer? Let’s talk about labor unions then and now and how it relates to this conference.
MA: The Freedom Summer conference and how this connects to labor unions and what the Nissan workers are fighting for is essentially a vote. It’s all about organizing people to mobilize them to actually vote. So what the fight is in Canton [Mississippi] is the opportunity to vote. They have not had an election or decided whether they want a union or not, so I guess you could say they haven’t had the opportunity to give them the other side of the story. So what we’re fighting for is just to give them a fair vote, without being intimidated, without Nissan impressing upon them that unions are bad for them. I think they’re telling them it’s bad because it will take control away from the company and let the people be in power.
To learn more about Monica’s work with UAW, visit www.uaw.org or follow @UAW on Twitter. To follow our Freedom Summer adventures, find us on Twitter and Instagram @feministcampus and read the Feminist Campus blog.