On October 21, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began its raids against workers in Madelia, Minnesota. In the next two days they spread the dragnet into the neighboring towns of St. James, Butterfield, Lewisville, and Windom. ICE arrested 19 people, all from Latin America.
Word of the arrests spread quickly. Many workers did not come to work and left the area, explained a worker from St. James who asked that his name not be used. Because of the big raid at the Swift plant in Worthington an hour from here, we were a little more prepared, he said. We didnt open our doors so easily. Some of the stores in the area became centers of communication where immigrant workers could exchange information about the raids and discuss how to protect themselves.
Watonwan County is located 120 miles southwest of Minneapolis and 60 miles from Worthington, Minnesota, where ICE arrested more than 200 workers at the Swift meatpacking plant on Dec. 12, 2006. Many workers in the county are employed by meatpacking or other factories. Meat packers at the PM Beef plant in Windom fought to organize a union in 2007 to defend themselves against low pay and harsh working conditions. That year workers in their majority voted for the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW). Workers at the Tony Downs food processing plant in Madelia are organized into the same local of the UFCW.ICE claimed the latest raids were targeting specific individuals, fugitive aliens who have evaded deportation or immigration hearings. But working people in the area told story after story of how ICE stopped and questioned other workers and knocked on homes and apartments of neighbors of those specifically targeted.
On arriving in St. James, this reporter spoke by phone to Edith Rodríguez, who lives in Butterfield. ICE had seized her mother a few hours earlier. I was surprised by the brutality of ICE against my family, she said. They pushed in the door and treated my mother with indignity.
On October 24 some 60 people demonstrated in Minneapolis against the raids. One of the protesters traveled two hours from Watonwan County. Stop the raids! Alto a las redadas! shouted the demonstrators in English and Spanish. The action was called by the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Coalition.
How to advance the defense of immigrant workers was the central topic of discussion among participants at the Militant Labor Forum in Minneapolis that evening after the demonstration. We didnt think a raid in a small town was likely, stated one participant, a worker from Watonwan County.
Among the speakers at the forum was Tom Fiske, the Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Congress in the 4th District. The protest today was very important, he said. An attack on undocumented workers is an attack on the working class as a whole.
The first job of working people who want to defend themselves against the assault of the bosses, he continued, is to fight for legalization of all immigrant workers and to build and strengthen unions wherever we work. Our unions are our first line of defense against the offensive of the bosses. It is clear from what has happened over the last few years that the fight for legalization is totally tied to the fight to organize strong unions that we workers can use to defend ourselves.
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