[Marxism] Smithfield Strike

Jon Flanders jonflanders at jflan.net
Mon Nov 20 19:44:01 MST 2006

On Mon, 2006-11-20 at 11:46 -0500, Marvin Gandall wrote:
> Joaquin, I'd be interested to know your reaction to the Smithfield strike.

> It seems to me if you have a perspective that there is no longer, in effect,
> a Western "working class" but only "white racist workers" who are part of
> the oppressor nation, you might logically be warning Latino and other
> minority workers in Smithfield against joining the "white" trade union and
> other organizations - in this case, signing UFCW cards - and encouraging
> them instead to organize independently of the white workers in a parallel
> union of their own.
> Is this what you propose in Smithfield? Or would you still advise Latinos to
> maintain solidarity with the white workers like Bruskin and Ludlum (see
> below) and and to stick with the UFCW organizing drive, in which some
> Latinos like Pena seem even to be in the forefront. Obviously, this doesn't
> preclude caucusing.

I hope Joaquin responds to your question Marvin. Its a good one.

In These Times has an excellent report on the basics of the Smithfield
Check out http://www.inthesetimes.com/site/main/article/2741/ for the
full report of the July 2006 article quoted below.

>>Processing Pain at Smithfield Foods
By Aaron Sarver

Located in Tar Heel, N.C., the Smithfield Packing pork processing plant
is the largest in the country. It employs 6,000 workers who work to
slaughter 33 hogs a minute, 24 hours a day. In 2000, Human Rights Watch
issued a report that chronicles how Smithfield Packing, Inc. abused
workers during union elections held in 1994 and 1997. The report
detailed other practices at the plant:....>>

There often is the view on the left that vast industrial enterprises
like this Smithfield plant are a thing of the past in the US. At least
in the meat processing sector clearly this is not the case. Given the
logistics of moving live animals, it is unlikely that meat packing can
be moved wholesale to Mexico and profit driven economies of scale,
sustainable or not, make fragmenting the industry into smaller plants
unviable for capitalism.

So this battle will be a laboratory for the discussion about nationality
and class. We can take it out of the abstract and look at it live, as it
happens. Of course it is unlikely that CNN will spend much time on it.
Unless the workers lose of course.

My initial take on it is that the class struggle here is being most
sharply expressed through the oppression of undocumented Latinos.
The company obviously hoped to blunt the union effort by silencing this
segment of the workforce through fear of deportation. This has backfired
badly, and the pro-union forces must be feeling pretty good right now.

Given the demographics of North Carolina, we can assume that another
large slice, perhaps a majority of the workforce is African-American.
These workers are not immune from anti-immigrant sentiments, largely
fueled by competition for jobs at places like Smithfield, but I bet a
lot of them are impressed and heartened by this turn of events.

Coming up in the rear will be the white workers, who undoubtably have
the best jobs in the plant. Even here though, there will be a section
who will be energized. So the transmission belt for struggle will be
started by the Latinos, travel through the African Americans and finally
drag along some white workers.

If the workers win, it will be because their class interests trumped
their anti-immigrant prejudice. 

It goes without saying that if the workers win, the Latino immigrant
workers will win as well. What does that tell us about the role of

Jon Flanders

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