Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 19, 2006

Tar Heel Workers Win Prelim—Main Bout Still Ahead
The long simmering Justice @ Smithfield campaign boiled over this week at the world’s biggest pork plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. When the company started firing immigrant workers for “no match”—using Social Security numbers not on file with SS—several hundred spontaneously walked off the job. This action effectively paralyzed the production line that employs 5500 workers.

This led to a complicated scramble. The company doesn’t recognize the union and the union didn’t call the walk out—though they, of course, expressed solidarity. The bosses eventually hammered out an agreement with the strikers through church mediators.

All those initially fired have been reinstated while they get paper work in order. There will be no disciplinary action against those who walked out.

This incident, which didn’t affect wages or working conditions, may not appear to amount to much. But you better believe that both the employer and the workers see it as a big deal indeed. It took a lot of guts for this group of workers to take their first concerted action in the workplace—and they won. This sense of empowerment will spread and ultimately lead to more decisive battles.

The courageous efforts of Smithfield workers deserves all labor’s support. And our old friend Gene Bruskin, leading the union campaign, has earned another tip of the hat as well.

Free the Danbury 11
The city of Danbury, Connecticut first became prominent in labor lore with the Danbury Hatters Supreme Court ruling in 1908. Those judicial activists decreed that union boycotts were a violation of anti-trust laws and the hatter’s union was wiped out with a treble damage award to the company. Boycotts remained illegal for more than a decade until legislation exempted unions from the law intended to curb monopoly corporations.

The town is no longer a center of hat making but is again gaining notoriety for vicious attacks on working people—especially its estimated 20,000 immigrant workers, mainly from Brazil and Ecuador. The city government has collaborated with la migra in sting operations, luring those without papers with a promise of work. Others have been turned over to ICE by cops making stops for minor traffic infractions. Seven of those recently ensnared are being held in a contracted out prison in Texas. (The former federal men’s prison in the city was closed because of subcontracting though the ladies big house is still there.)

Fortunately, the spirit of solidarity also has survived in Connecticut. An impressive defense committee comprised of immigrant, church, civil liberties, peace and union groups has launched a national appeal for support for these victimized workers. They have recently set up an online petition campaign. You can find more information, and sign the petition, by clicking here.

ICE May Go After Unions
The Immigration Prof Blog reports that Julie L. Myers, the assistant secretary of Homeland Security for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told a University of Chicago Legal Symposium that because unions increasingly provide representation for undocumented workers, “we need to look at” whether these activities cross the line into criminal conduct, such as harboring.

Homeless Counselors Get Union Shelter
Did you hear the one about the rabbi, the mayor, the state rep, and a strike threat? That unconventional combination convinced the board of the non-profit Committee on Temporary Shelter in Burlington, Vermont to agree to a “community election” that virtually assures that the UE will be recognized as bargaining agent for 47 COTS workers. When COTS management initially indicated they would force the union to run through all the perilous hoops of an NLRB election UE threatened to shut them down. Clergy and public officials turned on the heat to get the boss to accept this unique face saving form of union recognition.

Thanks to my buddy John Woodruff in UE 222 for passing on both the Prof Log and COTS stories. John also likes to collect weird news stories. There was one about a candidate running against the incumbent president of a Los Angeles Firefighters local because the present leader was seeking too much from management.

‘And A Little Child Shall Lead Them’
Mexico has been a turbulent place lately. The streets of Oaxaca are still pretty much under the control of strikers and protesters seeking to oust the governor. There’s the Zapatista rebels still strong in Chiapas and reaching out to the rest of the country. And, of course, a presidential candidate claims the election was stolen and has appointed an “alternative”cabinet. Nevertheless all parties came together for a unanimous resolution in parliament this week.

What caused this miraculous, if temporary reconciliation? A seven year old lad by the name of Saulito. Little Saul, hailing from Chicago, is an American citizen. His mother, Elvira Arellano, would like to be as well. Unfortunately, she has been in the sanctuary of a church for months evading a deportation order. It seems Homeland Security discovered she had given false information about her immigration status on an application for a cleaning job at O’Hare Airport. Saulito can stay but his single mother must go back to Mexico. Without dissent, the Mexican parliament voted to ask the U.S. government to allow Elvira to stay with her son in the city they now consider home.

Looking Forward To An Erie Experience
In the past, US Labor Against the War has often had national gatherings in Chicago in December. Sensitive to the desire for change the coming one has been shifted from the frigid shore of Lake Michigan—to the balmy shore of Lake Erie. Over December 1-3, USLAW is sponsoring a delegated convention, known as the National Labor Assembly; an open National Labor Conference Against the War; as well as public antiwar rallies in the city of Cleveland.

Some big names will be participating: Gold Star Families for Peace founder Cindy Sheehan; Congress Member Dennis Kucinich; John Wilhelm, President of the Hospitality Div. of UNITE HERE; Baldemar Velásquez of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee; Robert Barner from Iraq Veterans Against the War; Ohio State Federation of Labor President Bill Burga; Clayola Brown , President of the A. Philip Randolph Institute; three courageous leaders of Iraq's labor movement; Nancy Wohlforth, Co-President of Pride at Work; and singer and labor troubadour Anne Feeney. There will be a lot of little names too, including yours truly.

The gathering comes, of course, at a critical juncture for both the labor and antiwar movements. If you can, you should go. You can find all the information you need by clicking here.

In Transit
Thanks to all of you who sent comments about Once Again, KC Transit In Crisis, posted earlier this week. We’ll follow up on this when I return from Cleveland.

Our Schedule
After visiting friends in Ames, Iowa over Thanksgiving, I’ll be hitting the road for Cleveland, arriving there a few days early to help out on preparations for the USLAW events.

The next Week In Review will be posted December 10.

After posting this Wednesday, November 22, the next edition of the Daily Labor News Digest will be up Wednesday, December 6.

That’s all for this week.

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