Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 17, 2006

Quite a busy week.

Christmas Season Swift Kick
They brag it was the biggest workplace bust ever. In a political move both mean spirited and bizarre, ICE raided six Swift meatpacking plants this week, rounding up 1300 of the usual suspects, some desperately trying to hide in cattle pens. La migra later acknowledged “dozens” of those led out handcuffed, still in sometimes bloody work clothes, were actually U.S. citizens who were guilty only of fitting a Latino profile.

Those picked up without acceptable paper work will at least be targeted for deportation. A few will face criminal charges for “identity theft.” That sounds bad. Usually identity theft means impersonating someone to gain access to bank and credit card accounts in order to rob them. In this case it is alleged that undocumented workers purchased real names with legitimate social security numbers to avoid being flagged for “no match” violations—assumed names and numbers sometimes given to employers that don’t correspond to social security records. The main impact on the “victims” being impersonated would be additional contributions to their social security account through the work of those now arrested.

Five of the six plants are represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers. The union’s lawyers “can't serve our members, can't provide them with legal counsel, because we don't know where they are,” said Dave Minshall, spokesman for Local 7.

The massive raids broke up families, sometimes leaving children abandoned. There was one case of a nursing mother being separated from her infant child. Many vulnerable workers not arrested had to stop going to work, laying low. A big blow to these working class communities.

As a matter of fact many more would have been apprehended if they had not been tipped off. Swift knew about the planned raids well in advance. The company even tried unsuccessfully to get a judge to issue a restraining order against ICE. Some in Swift management quietly passed warnings along to their workers. ICE later fumed that they had missed at least 400 “suspects” because of management leaks.

Swift was caught up in the hypocritical double dealing of the ruling class on immigration. A few years ago, Swift settled what the Justice Department called the largest employment discrimination case based on immigration status in history for demanding documentation from workers who appeared to be Latino. Now they are threatened with reprisals from Homeland Security for being lax in verifying their workers are “legal.” This morning’s Los Angeles Times quotes the Homeland Security czar: “‘We all know the primary economic engine that draws in illegal migration is work,’ Chertoff said a day after the Swift raids. ‘And when businesses are built upon systemic violations of the law … that is a problem we have to attack.’”

An additional problem for anti-immigrant forces is that this same “economic engine” Chertoff touts as a threat to national security is also the engine that drives profits in key sectors of the economy. Meatpacking, where immigrants now make up a majority of the workforce, is a prime example. AP writer Roxana Hegeman summarized the packinghouse situation well:

“....in the 1960s and 1970s the industry shifted away from the urban areas in the Midwest and located to the Great Plains, where they drew more on immigrant labor.

“During the 60s and 70s meatpacking wages were relatively higher than at manufacturing plants, running about 14 to 18 percent above manufacturing wages at that time... By 2002, meatpacking wages were running 25 percent below manufacturing wages.

“Accompanying the wage drop was the decline of unions in the plants. In the late 1970s, about 45 percent of the meatpacking industry was unionized. By the late 1980s, that had dropped to 21 percent as more immigrants took jobs in the industry....”

Of course, meat packing is not alone. Millions of immigrants toil in unorganized manufacturing plants, often doing work outsourced from union plants. They are a growing component of nonunion mining; a significant part of construction, hotel, and restaurant labor; and probably now a majority in janitor services.

The bosses need these workers. Sometimes belatedly, most unions have come to recognize that they need to organize these workers rather than call for their deportation. So why this massive, well staged raid?

The Bush administration desperately wants to use such cruel stunts to shift the focus of political debate away from the war, and other major issues of concern. They turn to once reliable appeals to national security interests, throwing in the more recent scare of identity theft. With some help from the likes of Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs they also hope to sell the scam that illegal immigrants are the cause of the demise of the “middle class.”

Some reactionary state and city officials try to emulate Washington’s example on the local level, mobilizing their cops to work with ICE. This week, law students at Yale University put together a suit seeking to expose the role of the Mayor of Danbury, Connecticut in a joint sting operation with ICE to lure undocumented workers into a trap with offers of work. The Free the Danbury 11 Committee has a new website with much useful information and a worthy appeal for help that deserves support.

Protests were quickly organized in the communities affected by the Swift raids. Tomorrow, unions will be joining with immigrant rights groups for a rally at the St Paul office of Senator Coleman. But much more is needed.

The labor, immigrant rights, and civil liberties movements need to make a united , massive response to Homeland Security, reactionary local officials, and the new Democrat congress that will be taking up immigration “reform”—no worker is illegal!

Strike Front
Yesterday was a National Day of Action in support of USW Goodyear workers, on strike since October 5. There was leafleting and bannering at 150 Goodyear stores across the country. I participated in the action at a Northland Goodyear dealer in Antioch Center. There were perhaps forty of us from unions such as UAW, SEIU, IAM, and my ATU Local, as well as some USW representatives and strikers. Some of us wore our Labor Party caps and buttons. A candidate for mayor made a cameo appearance as well.

These modest actions come at a crucial time. Both sides are hurting. It’s tough for workers to face Christmas time after so many lost pay checks. While Goodyear has maintained some production with salaried staff and temporary scabs the union estimates they’re only running at twenty percent of normal (the company claims half.) Talks are scheduled to resume tomorrow. But, considering Goodyear took out a billion dollar loan at the beginning of the strike, it’s hard to be optimistic about chances for a quick settlement.

The Financial Times reports discussions about a limited application of a Taft-Hartley injunction to order about 200 (out of 1300) workers at the Topeka plant back to work—on Humvee tires. The Army claims they are running short and Topeka is the sole supplier. Of course, another option would be to park these magnets for IEDs and let the GIs catch up on their mail back home.

The Goodyear strikers are showing remarkable spirit in this battle. If you haven’t yet seen it, check out the moving video–The Goodyear Christmas Story produced by strikers in Buffalo. I was gratified to see they used one of my photos from a November 6 Topeka rally.

The USW is considering a five dollar a month assessment on all members to go to the 15,000 strikers. In the meantime you can help with a contribution by clicking here.

Last week I mentioned another important strike, going on at the Raytheon guided missile plant in Tucson. Our friends at Labor Standard have put together an excellent collection of articles about this battle which you can read here.

‘Goddess of the Yangtze’ Extinct—Who’s Next?
The baiji, a nearly blind white dolphin that flourished in the eastern stretches of China’s Yangtze River for twenty million years, is now extinct. Being worshiped as a goddess wasn’t enough to protect this mammal from the escalating disruption of ship sonar. China’s very pro-capitalist development Communist government had hoped that the species that lived in these waters long before any humans appeared on the scene would become a marketable asset— like the Panda. But increased shipping to serve the demands of the Wal-Marts of the world outpaced efforts to sell the baiji to those able to adopt and profitably display them.

Deferred Transit
Because of space constraints I will hold over to next week comments on important transit worker developments in New York City and British Columbia.

Hang On Comcast Readers
Thanks to all Comcast users who subscribe to this column by e-mail for your patience. The e-mail service we use—IntelliContact—has long been on the so-called “white list” of services that are tough on spammers, and automatically cleared by most ISPs. Nevertheless, we periodically have problems with Comcast blocking all of our list messages.

Some of you have asked what you can do about this. I wish I had a simple answer but I don’t. I will continue to find alternative ways to get these messages to you. You may want to consider using Yahoo, AOL, or some other free web based e-mail for your mailing lists. You can always find the current Week In Review—as well as all the past ones—posted on the Labor Advocate Online page.

As usual, much of the material for this column was based on stories posted on the Daily Labor News Digest, updated Monday-Saturday by 7AM Central.

That’s all for this week.

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