The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 39      October 31, 2011

(front page)
Immigrants stand up to
Alabama antiworker law
1-day strike hits plants, schools in parts of state
AP/The Decatur Daily/ Gary Cosby Jr.
Some 300 rally in front of Limestone County Courthouse in Athens, Ala., October 16 to protest Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law, which was upheld by federal judge in September. On October 12 immigrant workers in state took a day off work in protest. Two days after strike, 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary injunction against certain aspects.

ALBERTVILLE, Ala.—Thousands of Latino workers in Alabama held a one-day strike October 12 to protest the passage of an anti-immigrant law in the state.

In schools across the state students boycotted classes, as many as a quarter were absent at some, and hundreds of Latino-owned businesses closed for the day. The strike was strongest here in northeast Alabama, the center of the state’s $2.7 billion poultry industry.

Workers in a half dozen poultry processing plants and at other factories, companies and construction sites forced the bosses to close up shop or drastically reduce production.

“We did this so that everyone can see that we are together, that they have to take us into account,” Pedro Márquez, 30, who stayed at home from his job at a heating and cooling company October 12, told the Militant.

The strike call was initiated a week earlier by Spanish-language radio station La Jefa, which is based in Pelham and has a chain of affiliates heard in nearly half the state.

“After the law was passed, we got call after call after call saying we have to do something,” radio announcer José Antonio Castro said in a phone interview. “So we decided that the strike would give people hope.”

Rubia Velásquez’s husband works at Sunrise Foods here. “The bosses heard that something was going to happen,” she said. “They called the workers together on Tuesday and asked who would work on Wednesday. No one raised their hand, so they said they would close for the day.”

Several Latino workers told the Militant how they have been reaching out to their nonimmigrant coworkers.

“I talk with my white coworkers,” Márquez said. “I tell them I’m not taking away anybody’s job. I came here for a better future.”

Militant reporters went to the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant in nearby Boaz, which was working on Sunday to make up for production lost during the strike. About 45 percent of the workforce is Latino.

“The law is too strict,” said a mechanic who is Caucasian. “It’s wrong to target people who work hard and have families here. They should give people a way to become legal.” A company security guard interrupted the interview and told the reporter he couldn’t talk to anyone on company property without permission.

A couple poultry plants stayed open, including Albertville Quality Foods.

“Most of my coworkers are temp workers. But we had all agreed that we weren’t going to work on Wednesday,” said a permanent Quality Foods worker who asked that her name not be used. “But then the company called all the temp workers into the office and threatened to fire them if they didn’t show up.

“So we came to work, but we’re still very upset with the company,” she said.

Quality Foods did not return calls by the Militant.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley boasted that the new law is “the strongest in the country.”

“The Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act,” like recent laws in Arizona, Georgia, and other states, builds on existing federal law. Among the provisions: instructing police to “determine the citizenship and immigration status” of anyone they stop; requiring schools to determine if each student is a legal U.S. resident “or is the child of an alien not lawfully present”; and banning many contracts and business transactions with undocumented immigrants, including rental and home ownership agreements.

Some undocumented workers left the state. Before the law there were an estimated 185,000 Latinos, mostly Mexican along with many Guatemalans, among Alabama’s 4.7 million population.

“So far we’re not seeing the police doing anything different than they were,” said Horacio Ramírez, 30, who works at a large carpet factory and participated in the strike. “I’m still going out but I worry that I could be stopped.”

The same day that Militant reporters were in Albertville and Boaz, 200 people protested against the law in Athens, 70 miles north.

Two days after the strike and protest actions, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary injunction against parts of the law, including the sections on determining the immigration status of students and their parents.

The appeals court ruling blocks cops from filing misdemeanor charges against individuals who can’t prove legal residence, but upheld their power to check the immigration status of anyone they stop.

The ruling also left intact provisions that deny undocumented immigrants use of the courts to enforce contracts such as a lease and that make it a felony for undocumented immigrants to carry out any “transaction” with the state like getting a driver’s license.

On October 22 a mass rally against the law is planned for the Fair Park Arena in Birmingham and a march is planned for Athens on October 23.

Rachele Fruit contributed to this article.
Related articles:
Legalize undocumented workers!
ILWU workers spread word about union battle at Washington port
On the Picket Line  
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