[Marxism] Blacks and Immigrants Bring in the Union

Darrel Furlotte darrel.furlotte at gmail.com
Sun Dec 21 15:39:49 MST 2008

Blacks and Immigrants Bring in the Union

The union strategy relied on organizing resistance to immigration-related firings, and uniting a diverse workforce of African Americans, Puerto Ricans and immigrant Mexicans. In 2007, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and company managers cooperated in two immigration raids that produced a climate of terror organizer Eduardo Pena likened to "a nuclear bomb." Immigrant workers left the plant in droves. The Smithfield raids were two of many in recent years, used to punish workers when they've tried to improve conditions.

    The plant's citizen workers felt the effects along with the immigrants. For months afterwards, the organizing campaign was effectively dead, with many leaders deported and union activity halted by fear. It was only when African American workers who'd fought to win the King holiday became the core of a new generation of leaders that the struggle to build the union could continue.

    If Black and Latino immigrant workers hadn't found a way to work together, the union drive would have ended with the raids. And if the company and ICE had succeeded in convincing half the plant that the other half really had no right to work because they lacked legal immigration status, workers would have been unwilling and unable to defend each other. In the end, both groups found a common interest in better wages and working conditions. But they also had to agree to defend the right of each worker to her or his job, and treat any unfair firing as an attack on the union, whether the victim was Black, Mexican, or Puerto Rican.


  Outside the Tar Heel plant, the union grew roots in working-class communities, and became part of workers' lives. They took English classes in its office and marched in demonstrations for civil rights. That coalition turned the company's anti-labor actions against it, exposing its record in the place where Smithfield was most vulnerable - in the eyes of consumers.

    The election result was the product of a long-term organizing effort and commitment. With a similar commitment, other unions can do the same, no matter how big the plant or anti-union the employer. But it takes a strategy based on building a real union in the workplace and community. That's what workers did at Smithfield.


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