The workers at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, had high hopes when the state-of-the-art factory complex moved in fourteen years ago to a small, majority black town where more than a quarter of residents live in poverty and decent jobs are scarce.
As the manufacturing economy stagnated in the early 2000s, Nissan brought a streak of Clinton-era economic optimism into this struggling corner of the South. The global auto giant erected a multinational enterprise that is now the largest local employer, with more than 5,000 blue-collar jobs for an area with a workforce of fewer than 8,000. The factory’s launch was intended to make Canton a keystone of Mississippi’s “advanced manufacturing” growth agenda, promising decades of job development.
But paint technician Morris Mock sees his hopes evaporate every day on the line.
After fourteen years at the plant, he says, “People are hurting inside of my factory.” His fellow coworkers have been concerned by what they see as increasingly unstable working conditions and general deterioration in benefits and safety protections. A few years ago they campaigned to organize with the United Auto Workers (UAW). Since then, he says, the workers have faced growing hostility from management for seeking to unionize, which only confirms its disrespect for a community that’s invested decades of public funding and faith in Nissan’s promise of stable manufacturing careers.
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