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   Vol. 68/No. 26           July 20, 2004  
SWP presidential candidate tours Iowa
DES MOINES, Iowa—“Today the Iowa Socialist Workers Party campaign went over our goal in petitioning to get the working-class alternative on the ballot in this state,” Mary Martin announced at a June 26 campaign barbecue here.

“We gathered more than 2,600 signatures to put Róger Calero and Arrin Hawkins on the presidential ballot and 2,700 signatures for Edwin Fruit, our candidate for U.S. Senate.” That was well above the requirement of 1,500 signatures each, she noted.

Calero, who took part in the event, joined supporters in campaigning that weekend, which capped a five-week petitioning effort. The presidential candidate and his running mate Hawkins have kicked off a national tour, visiting cities across the country where socialist candidates in those areas have been campaigning.

Fruit, a production worker at the Tyson Foods slaughtering plant in Perry, Iowa, and a member of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1149, told those at the barbecue that the socialist campaign is part of the bubbling resistance among militant-minded workers and farmers in the region.

“Our campaign champions the fights by workers like those on strike at Maytag and by meat packers in this region who are standing up to the bosses’ assaults on our living and working conditions,” he said. Workers at Maytag, members of the United Auto Workers in nearby Newton, are on strike against the appliance manufacturer’s takeback demands around health insurance and pensions (see article in this issue).

Lisa Rottach, the Socialist Workers candidate for U.S. Congress in Nebraska, told about a recent campaign trip to northwest Iowa and eastern Nebraska. She spoke with UFCW members at Tyson Foods in Cherokee, Iowa, who recently voted down a concession contract, and with meat packers from the Tyson plant in Dakota City, Nebraska, who said the bosses want concessions in the upcoming contract negotiations.

“At the heart of the Socialist Workers Party campaign is support to workers who are fighting to organize unions,” Calero said. “We call for defending the labor movement from the bipartisan assault on workers’ rights.”

He noted that the National Labor Relations Board, a supposedly neutral federal agency, is currently moving to eliminate the “card check” agreement that requires a company to recognize a union if the majority of workers sign union membership cards.

Calero pointed to a series of articles in the Des Moines Register exposing how Iowa officials are using female inmates from the Mitchellville prison to staff the state liquor distribution warehouse, paying them 37 cents an hour for a 10-hour day. They brag that it will “save taxpayers” $1.5 million over the next two years.

“Our campaign demands that all those behind bars be paid wages for their labor, that the federal minimum wage be doubled, and that it apply to prisoners as well,” said Calero.

Two workers from the Tyson plant in Perry who attended the campaign event wanted to discuss how to strengthen their union to fight the bosses’ productivity drive. Last June the company increased the number of hogs processed in the plant from 6,700 to 7,000 in the same eight-hour day.

Rigoberto Aguilar, who served as a union shop steward at that plant for some time, said the bosses get away with jacking up the line speed, claiming it is not barred by the terms of the contract, and threaten anyone who speaks up.

Calero cited the example of workers who have used their collective strength to make some gains, like that of garment workers at the Point Blank factory in South Florida who recently won their first union contract.

“We need to learn to use our collective strength,” said Aguilar. “This discussion has given me a better idea about what is needed.”

Calero visited the UAW picket lines at the Maytag plant on June 27. One of the strikers said he was a hog farmer who was forced off the farm when his banker told him he “couldn’t make a go of it.”

Many farmers in Iowa face a similar situation. Net farm income in Iowa averaged $19,000 per farm in 2002—down nearly $4,400 from the previous year. At the end of 2002, average farm indebtedness in Iowa was $152,000, with commercial banks holding almost half that amount. Since then the number of hog farms in Iowa has decreased by 100, while the number of farms with more than 1,000 head increased by 200. Calero said the Socialist Workers campaign calls for an end to farm foreclosures and for government-funded cheap credit and price supports to guarantee working farmers a secure living.

During a visit to the Tyson plant in Perry, a Sudanese-born worker asked Calero how a small revolutionary party in the United States can grow and have an impact in workers’ struggles. Calero showed him a copy of the book Teamster Rebellion by Farrell Dobbs and explained the role played by class-conscious vanguard workers when they are part of struggles as they occur and are prepared beforehand.

On June 28, a television interview with Calero by Channel 13, an NBC affiliate, was shown on the evening news. Calero was also interviewed by two weekly Spanish-language papers distributed in central Iowa, El Enfoque and El Latino.
Related articles:
Socialist Workers launch New York campaign
Socialists file for ballot status in Utah, Vermont  
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