By mobilizing their collective power to stand up to company and government intimidation, the 1,000 workers who walked out of that giant plant November 16-17 set an example for all working people. They compelled the bosses to agree not to discipline anyone involved in the walkout and to take back the fired workers at least temporarily. Now they are in a stronger position to wage the next round.
The protesters, largely Mexican-born and other Latin American immigrants, welcomed the participation of U.S.-born workers. They spoke out against the bosses abusive treatment and the brutal conditions, especially the line speed, that make injuries inevitable. In a plant that processes 32,000 hogs a day, workers lives and limbs are sacrificed on the altar of the bosses profits.
The fight at Smithfield against the victimization of immigrant workers has strengthened the years-long fight for a union at the plant. The firing of workers because of their legal status is a union issue, and should be backed by the entire labor movement.
The government sends no-match letters to companies informing them that some workers Social Security numbers dont match federal records. Feigning innocence and hypocritically voicing concern about not breaking the law, bosses use this as a club to try to divide and intimidate workers.
The U.S. employers and their government have launched such attacks in numerous workplaces around the country. Related moves include the deployment of National Guard troops on the border with Mexico, police raids of workplaces, and local legislation aimed at criminalizing day laborers and other immigrants. The response to these and other attacks has been an unprecedented mobilization of working people in the streets. Millions took to the streets in April and May demanding amnesty for all the undocumented and declaring, We are workers, not criminals!
The historic wave of immigration of the past two decades has strengthened working people as a whole. It is internationalizing the working class, helping break down prejudices and divisions.
Another example of this strengthening is the recent victory by 5,300 Houston janitors who, after a month-long strike, won their first union contract. And in two citiesFreehold, New Jersey, and Mamaroneck, New Yorkday laborers recently pushed back efforts by the authorities to victimize them.
The purpose of no-match letters and other such measures is not to expel most undocumented workers. Its to maintain a large layer within the working class that has fewer rights and is more vulnerable to superexploitation.
We should reject the argument that immigrants steal American jobs. There is no such thing as an American jobits a job. The fight for jobs will be successful only if the labor movement rejects such divide-and-rule arguments and champions the demand for jobs for all.
Its true bosses use immigrant labor to try to push down the wages of all workersthats the nature of competition, which is inherent to capitalism and its dog-eat-dog character. The only way to prevent that is to organize all workers into unions.
Labors demands should be: Stop the use of no-match letters! No firings of workers at Smithfield! Amnesty now! Unconditional legalization of all immigrants!
Workers walk out at N. Carolina meat plant
1,000 protest 'no-match' letters, firing threats
Day laborers win victory in Freehold, New Jersey
5,300 Houston janitors win a union contract
On the Picket Line
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