[Marxism] re talkin about a union and the Swift raids

robert montgomery ilyenkova at gmail.com
Tue Dec 19 13:25:28 MST 2006

>From Revolution:
The RCP reporter did an excellent job in these excerpts getting
salient quotes on how Smithfield management manipulates racial
divisions-- African-American vs Latino vs white-- as well as the
attitudes of the different groups of workers themselves. The entire
article is worth reading even for those who know the facts of the
Smithfield situation.


North Carolina Workers Strike Against Anti-Immigrant Firings
by Mike Ely

Smithfield's Tar Heel plant is the largest slaughterhouse in the
world, sprawling over 830 acres in southeastern North Carolina.

On November 16 this plant flared into national headlines, as a
thousand workers walked out on strike against the company's firing of
immigrant workers who, Smithfield claimed, were working with false

Hell in the Hog Belt

This Tar Heel plant was built close to hog farms, but far from almost
everything else. The nearest town is 20 miles away--but most workers
have had to travel much farther than that to get there. Over 60
percent of the 5,000 workers here are originally from Latin
America--most from Mexico, but also from Honduras and Guatemala. About
30 percent of the workers are African American workers, many drawn
from the surrounding rural areas where other jobs are hard to find.
Plantation-style, the foremen like to call each other "boss man" and
talk to the workers like they are dirt...

One Black worker described to Revolution how insult is piled on top of
the danger. He works running the 250-pound hogs up the concrete lane
to the kill floor. "Here we are," he said, "splashed with hog urine
and feces because the drains don't work. And they want to harass you
if you go to the bathroom just to wipe it off your face."

Another worker told Revolution , "I've seen hogs fall off the
shackles, knock a worker down and the foreman is hollering 'Grab that
hog and fill that gap in the line!' all while that worker is still
lying there unconscious!"

Smithfield Foods, a global corporation with sales over $11 billion,
was just declared one of "America's Most Admired Companies of 2006" by
Fortune magazine.

Targeting Immigrants

After years of hiring and exploiting immigrant workers, Smithfield
turned over their hiring records to the federal government--saying
that they were being pressured by the Department of Homeland Security.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that 600 social
security numbers from the Tar Heel plant did not to match the employee
names. In October, Smithfield told workers they had two weeks to
provide explanations. One Smithfield representative told workers at
the Tar Heel plant that the ICE had threatened to raid the factory if
Smithfield had not gone ahead with these firings. (They have already
been carrying out raids against immigrants in other factories in North

People wondered what would happen to their jobs, their families and
their very lives. And the answer came quickly: company guards and
officials suddenly took over 50 workers off the line and fired them.

There was sharp controversy among the workers over what to do. Quite a
few workers have been influenced by the company's argument that they
were just obeying the law. And many workers were afraid to take
action: over the last 14 years there had been repeated attempts to
organize a union among the workers, and the company had responded
harshly by firing active workers and by threatening to call the
immigration police on immigrant workers. In addition, there are real
divisions between Black and Latino workers, including a view among a
section of workers that immigrants are ''taking jobs'' that should
''belong'' to workers born in the U.S.

Eduardo Pena is one of the organizers for the United Food and
Commercial Workers union, who have been waging an intensified campaign
over the last four years to unionize this plant. He told Revolution
that divisions among the workers are actively encouraged by Smithfield
and its hiring practices--that first seemingly "favored" African
Americans, then switched to mainly hiring Latino immigrants, and
recently leaned back toward hiring African American workers. This
promoted an atmosphere where different nationalities feel they are
competing against each other for available jobs. And then on the plant
floor, the workers are often segregated into crews by language.

Pena told Revolution, "A big part of what the union has been doing has
been dealing with the way the company has been pitching Black against
Latino." In the organized core of about fifty or sixty that have been
attending union meetings, the workers share their stories and
experiences with each other through translators."A lot of Latinos,"
Pena said, "don't understand how African Americans were brought into
this country. They see that Black people are part of this country, and
they don't realize the tremendous struggle they have gone through just
to gain the most basic rights. Also many Latinos have come to share
stories of their home countries, and what it is like to go through the
desert, how it was a major decision to come all this way. That they
didn't just wake up one day and decide, 'Gee, I'm going to go get a
meatpacking job in North Carolina.'"

A sharp sign of this continuing division is that when company
officials came to fire the targeted workers, some workers on the line
openly supported the firing, shouting "You are illegal, get out of

At the same time, many of the workers felt very differently.

One white worker, a Gulf war vet and an active supporter of the union
drive, told Revolution : "Latinos are experiencing the the same thing
that used to happen to the Irish and Chinese. I have total respect for
people, whose country is so devastated, who are willing to leave their
home to make a living. … People have to have compassion for other
people. I've always felt that way."

Another worker said, "Being an African American--I know the struggles
I had in life. It's not like the Latino-Americans who came over are
not trying to get a job; these people have put their heart and soul
into it, hoping to live like decent human beings. When we are cut, we
all bleed the same blood… If you know how it feels to be kicked when
you are down, why would you turn against others who face the same

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