[Marxism] Smithfield Strike

Jon Flanders jonflanders at jflan.net
Mon Nov 20 07:58:33 MST 2006


I think the Smithfield struggle is quite important to examine now.
It's been over twenty years since the P9 battle in Minnesota saw
the defeat of the packing house workers there. The composition of
the P9 workforce was largely white and male. They went to the wall
battling to preserve the gains the workers had made during the hey-day
of the CIO a generation previously.

Since that defeat the meat processing industry has opened its doors
to a flood of low wage immigrant workers. Speedup and horrendous
labor exploitation has been the rule for these new arrivals.

The battle in North Carolina could be a turning point for workers
in this industry. It could inspire similar action at the other
big plants across the country.

Gene Bruskin, by the way, is the National Convener of US Labor Against
the War.

Jon Flanders


Smithfield Workers Return to N.C. Plant 

Sunday, November 19, 2006
TAR HEEL, N.C. (AP) -- Employees at a Smithfield Foods Inc. slaughtering
plant returned to work Saturday after walking off their jobs the
previous two days to protest the recent firing of immigrants.

In all, about 1,000 nonunion workers, mostly Hispanic, participated in
the walkout, and company officials have said they won't be disciplined.
The agreement to return to work came late Friday after Smithfield
representatives met with leaders from a Roman Catholic Church to discuss
the workers' grievances.

Among those who returned to work were workers who had been fired, said
Smithfield spokesman Dennis Pittman. The company is giving the employees
more time to sort out problems with Social Security documents, which
prompted the firings.

But Pittman said Smithfield is still committed to following immigration
laws.

On Tuesday, Tar Heel plant manager Larry Johnson is scheduled to meet
with Smithfield employees to discuss the issues.

Gene Bruskin, a representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers
Union who serves as the Smithfield campaign director, called the
agreement a "historic break" and said in a statement that the company
negotiating "over the workers' concerns is an example of the kind of
process that benefits everyone."

The plant in Tar Heel, located about 25 miles south of Fayetteville,
employs 5,000 workers and slaughters up to 32,000 hogs a day.
Smithfield, Va.-based Smithfield Foods is the world's largest pork
processor.


Smithfield workers protest labor screening

By Claire Parker
Staff writer

TAR HEEL — More than 500 workers walked off the production line at
Smithfield Foods’ pork processing plant Thursday, protesting a labor
screening process that has resulted in 75 firings and is seen as an
intimidation effort to prevent unionization.

Several months ago, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contacted
the Virginia-based company asking it to join a program that required
employees to submit their names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth
and gender, according to company spokesman Dennis Pittman.

There are about 5,000 workers at the facility, which is considered the
largest pork-processing plant in the world. About 600 were found to have
unverifiable information. About 100 were called in and asked to verify
the information, and 75 of those were fired because their documentation
could not be confirmed.

Most of those who walked off the line this morning were Hispanics, who
could be heard crying out, “Justice,” in Spanish.

The walkout lingered through the morning despite waves of severe
thunderstorms. Workers took shelter from the rain under walkways at the
plant’s main entrance and planned to continue the walkout into the
second shift. 

The crowd dwindled to about 200 people by 1 p.m. as some employees went
home and others returned to work. The numbers grew by a few hundred more
later in the day as the second shift arrived.

The company said production was slowed by the demonstration but not
stopped as reported by members of the United Food & Commercial Workers
International Union rallying outside. “We are still running, and no
(delivery) trucks were called off,” Pittman said.

Pittman said the company will consult with its lawyers but will continue
to verify employee information and fire those whose information can’t be
verified.

Voicing anger
Around noon, workers made signs reading “No More Abuse” and “We Want
Justice” as Pittman addressed the crowd through a translator. He said
the company’s choices were to follow the government’s requirements or
wait for ICE to make a raid. 

“I think you know what they would have done,” Pittman said. The crowd
responded with loud boos.

“What we are doing is legal,” he said. “I know this is not easy for
anybody. I hope you understand we’d be breaking the law if we don’t do
this.”

That sparked more angry yells from the workers, and someone cried out
that the company had never followed the law before.

The frustration was in reference to what one union spokeswoman called
the company’s long history of intimidation to stop organization.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in May that
Smithfield was guilty of threatening workers trying to unionize more
than 10 years ago. The court required the company to post notices and
mail letters stating it will never assault, interrogate or intimidate
workers seeking to organize.

Some of the employees standing outside the plant Thursday said
harassment and intimidation still goes on but is now targeted at
Hispanics.

Margarita Vazquez, a Fayetteville resident and worker at the plant, said
she walked out because of verbal abuse she sees other Hispanics endure.

She described a hostile environment inside the plant where supervisors
demand Latinos to work harder and faster than others. “We are not
animals, we are people,” she said. 

Marvin Prioleau, a community relations employee at the plant, said the
claims of discrimination against Hispanics are an overhyped
misunderstanding fueled by the union. He said the company is trying to
prevent a raid, not get rid of those who want to unionize.

Worker support
Communication at the scene was chaotic as only one translator from the
company addressed the crowd. Union workers and employees translated over
bullhorns to workers still wearing their hard hats and ear plugs
dangling around their necks.

Eduardo Pena, one of about a dozen union representatives in yellow
shirts passing out water and petitions to the workers, said the union is
not officially endorsing the walkout and that they were there to support
the workers.

Leila McDowell, a union spokeswoman in Washington, said by phone that
the company has long used firings to threaten those who want to
unionize. 

“What they are doing is trying to intimidate workers trying to stand
up,” McDowell said. The recent firings are only a small part of the
bigger picture of injustice at the plant, she said, and workers are just
trying to organize to protect themselves.

The company has invited the union to hold an election at the plant, but
the union wants to organize in some other way since the election process
seems doomed in their view because of past violations.

As for now, the workers standing outside the plant have told Pittman
they want answers to why the company fired so many and why it plans to
question more. 

Pittman will continue to have translators from the plant, of which there
are about eight, speak with workers and explain the laws. He is hoping
that most will return and there will be no action taken against those
who chose to walk out today.

Keith Ludlum, a worker at the plant who was fired in 1994 after trying
to organize a union attempt, said he hopes this is the first of many
stands workers take. “I think it’s fantastic,” he said. 

Dressed in a yellow, waterproof suit with “Union Time” written on his
blood-spattered jacket, Ludlum said all workers want is a fair work
environment.

“We just wanted to be treated like human beings,” he said.

Staff writer Claire Parker can be reached at parkerc at fayobserver.com or
486-3582.



                        Tuesday, August 23, 2005

News

Former P-9ers gather for strike anniversary 

By Lee Bonorden/Austin Daily Herald               
                  
                  
                  
                  

                  

No one ever accused Local P-9 of the United Food and Commercial Workers
union of being shy.

They were in-your-face, confrontational and loud as well as proud 20
years ago and they still are today. 

On Sunday afternoon, the remnants of the meat packers union that waged a
strike against Hormel Foods Corporation 20 years ago this month held a
rally and reunion at Austin American Legion Post No. 91.

Some things never change. For instance, the militants' blame-fixing: it
was the International UFCW union's fault along with the community of
Austin, which didn't support the strike, according to former union
president, Jim Guyette.

Judy Himle welcomed guests to the dinner and program at the Legion post.

She also introduced guest speaker Peter Rachleff, college professor and
labor activist.

"I feel so honored to be here with you," Rachleff told the audience.
Behind him on a wall was a large flag with the words "The Fighting Local
P-Niners" and a knife and sharpening steel inside a circle of words.

Rachleff began his remarks with an invitation to the guests to support
the North Western Airlines' mechanics' strike.

Pointing to the impact of immigrant labor, out-sourcing and other means
of big business to control its work force, Rachleff said, "Organized
labor isn't organized and the labor movement isn't a movement anymore."

For more proof, he mentioned the fracturing of the AFL-CIO.

But Rachleff added, "All the answers to what the labor movement needs
was here in Austin."

Rachleff also accepted a check from the Austin United Support Group to
help benefit NWA striking mechanics' families.

Then, an open mike format allowed speakers to come forward from the
audience.

The first was Peter Winkles, a former P-9 union official.

Winkels now drives a handicapped-accessible medical van, where he meets
former meat packers and strikers.

He began his remarks disputing the Austin Daily Herald's article about
labor issues and especially assertions in the newspaper that violence
occurred during the strike against Hormel Foods.

"When you see people going in and taking your jobs day after day, the
potential for violence existed," Winkels said. However, he claimed only
two strikers, Benny Thompson and Ray Gorman, ever went to trial for
their criminal activities, during the strike and a jury found them both
not guilty.

He also said the 20th anniversary of the labor dispute and strike was
"not a celebration, but a commemoration."

Winkels said of the meat packers who reclaimed their jobs, "There were
those who got scared ... they will have to live with that for the rest
of their lives."

Lynn Huston still enjoys "rock star" status. The former P-9 executive
board vice president's long hair, infectious personality and quotable
comments make him a repeater's favorite.

Huston told the story of a reporter who called him a "legend" before
revealing "she was only 19 years old and not even alive when we went on
strike."

Huston told the audience, "We're all a little bit older and grayer and
hopefully we've all gotten a little bit wiser."

"We need to really tell people about what happened 20 years ago. There
are entire generations that don't know," he said of the legacy of the
labor dispute and strike.

Finally, Jim Guyette spoke. Guyette was the president of the P-9 union's
members went on strike against Hormel foods Aug. 17, 1985.

Ray Rogers was hired by P-9 to direct a corporate campaign on behalf of
the union.

In January 1986, Gov. Rudy Perpich activated the Minnesota Army National
Guard in Austin, when local law enforcement could ensure order and when
strikers crossed picket lines to reclaim their jobs.

By June of 1986, Guyette and other P-9 officials were removed from their
union offices by the parent International UFCW union and P-9 dissolved.

The strike was declared over.

"It's certainly good to be back," Guyette said of his return. "This town
has certainly changed."

He poked fun at P-9 nemesis, Lewis Anderson and the International UFCW
and repeated his P-9 vice president's comments that the P-9ers are the
"essence of the labor movement."

Noting organized labor's current troubles, he pointed to the AFL-CIO
clash with the Teamsters union.

He said the P-9 struggle also suffered outside interference two decades
ago. "The problem was we could have beat the company without the
International's interference."

"Our strength was unity," Guyette said of the P-9 effort before the
International union pulled its endorsement of their activities.

Surveying the labor scene today in the home town of Hormel Foods,
Guyette said, "Austin is a microcosm of what's wrong with the labor
movement today."

Guyette went to Michigan after the Hormel Foods labor dispute and strike
of the mid-1980s. He worked to organize nursing home workers and then
went to New York to do similar work. He has also spent time on the
lecture circuit.

Among the questions he is asked is "Would he do anything different?" and
his reply is always "Go after the International."

Guyette told the audience, "I have never forgotten where I came from and
I never will."

When he concluded his remarks, Guyette received a standing ovation from
the hometown audience.

Huston returned to the microphone to remind all that Tom "Gunner"
Hunstigeer, a former P-9 activist, is among the NWA mechanics on strike.

Also, Winkels returned to tell all, another P-9 activist, Rod Huinker
said, "It was not the union who lost the strike. It was the community."










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