[Marxism] Labor Notes on Smithfield

Jon Flanders jonathan.flanders at verizon.net
Mon Dec 18 19:46:24 MST 2006

This article about the Smithfield struggle came out in
the August Labor Notes, which I didn't read throughly at the time, since
I was on vacation.

But it is an excellent overview.

Jon Flanders

Blood, Cold, Heat, Gore...Organizing Meatpacking Hell
— Jane Slaughter

After suffering two election defeats at the 5,500-worker operation, the
largest hog-processing plant in the world, the UFCW has adopted a more
long-term, multi-pronged approach. The union will rely on a combination
of Tar Heel workers’ own activity, support from UFCW members in other
facilities, and actions by supporters around the country who see the
union drive as a civil rights and workers’ rights crusade.

Gene Bruskin, who began working on the campaign in January 2006, says
it’s the largest organizing drive in Southern manufacturing in years.
“If the labor movement can’t organize the South we can’t succeed,” he
says, pointing to the dozens of auto plants built there in recent
decades and the 25,000 packinghouse workers in North Carolina alone. The
largest turkey processing plant in the world is a Smithfield plant in
North Carolina.

“The Tar Heel plant is big enough and important enough and close enough
to other places that it has the possibility of moving other people,”
Bruskin says. “The possibilities of organizing packinghouse workers
would be transformative for the labor movement, for immigrants, for
African American workers, for the South.”

To establish a presence in the Tar Heel community and build a base of
trust for the union, the UFCW founded the Eastern North Carolina Workers
Center over three years ago. Peña describes the workers center as a
place “where workers could come in and ask questions about their rights
without it being the union office. The idea was to create a safe space.”

The union faces huge obstacles, though, including a ruthless,
notoriously anti-union management and a workforce divided by race.

Smithfield worker Edward Morrison was fired after he tore cartilage in
his knee pushing 200-400-pound hog carcasses, one of the hardest jobs in
the plant. He is one of the approximately 30 percent of plant workers
who are African American, and he’s now a representative-in-training for
the union.

He describes a segregated workforce, with some lines made up of Latino
immigrants (60 percent of the plant) and others of Blacks. “They
[management] want to pit you against each other,” he says. “They want us
to think they [Latinos] want our jobs, and they want them to think we’re


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