Workers Vanguard No. 883
5 January 2007
Down With Feds' Raids at Swift Meatpacking!
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
On December 12, federal agents dressed in SWAT uniforms and brandishing military weaponry charged simultaneously into six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants nationwide. Once inside, they separated employees by skin color, targeting immigrants, and dragged off 1,282 workers in chains and handcuffs. When word of the raids spread, family members and friends gathered to protest outside several of the plants, chanting and shouting at the migra cops as they herded workers onto buses with blacked-out windows. Many were immediately deported, while hundreds of others remain in remote jails and detention centers.
As part of a series of ongoing anti-immigrant workplace raids, this massive sweep at plants in Iowa, Texas, Colorado, Minnesota, Utah and Nebraska was the largest ever at a single company. The raids, carried out by Homeland Securitys Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), were reminiscent of the roundup of thousands of Arab and Muslim immigrants in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The day after the Swift roundup, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff pledged more raids in the future. In fact, there have been a number of well-publicized la migra raids since the spring in an attempt to terrorize and intimidate immigrant workers who turned out in mass numbers to protest proposed draconian anti-immigrant legislation. Reporting on recent raids at upstate New York dairies and farms, a New York Times (24 December 2006) article was headlined: Immigrants Go From Farms to Jails, and a Climate of Fear Settles In.
In a December 28 letter to Chertoff protesting the Swift raid, the PDC stated:
Your threats to carry out more such raids, part of the governments escalating campaign against immigrants as well as the evisceration of civil liberties in the name of the war on terror, are an open attack on the labor movement and all working people.
We demand freedom now for all those detained and the dropping of all charges for those arrested. We further demand: Stop the raids! No deportations! All the detained and deported Swift workers must immediately be allowed to return to their jobs, families and communities!
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which represents workers at five of the six Swift plants, denounced the raids as an effort designed to terrorize the workforce and has sought to assist the workers and families whose lives have been devastated. What the UFCW leaders should have done was to immediately shut down all union meatpacking plants in the country. The potential to do that was shown last May Day when workers idled many of the Swift plants by joining the nationwide protests for immigrant rights.
Instead, the UFCW tops accept the governments drive against illegal immigrants, complaining only about its methods. While the UFCW bureaucracy filed lawsuits challenging the legality of the Swift roundup, a statement it presented to a December 20 Congressional hearing argued that ICE agents could have carried out the raids the way they did it at a Swift facility in Kentucky the previous month, when they calmly whisked away four workers! This is sheer treachery. The unions are supposed to defend the workers! Labor must use its power to fight deportations and organize immigrant workers, demanding full citizenship rights for everyone who makes it into this country.
The UFCW statement also declared the union tops support to law enforcement doing its job and noted the many law enforcement officers in the UFCW nationwide. The job of the cops and all law enforcement officers is to terrorize immigrants, enforce racist law and order in the ghettos and barrios and smash strikes. Cops, prison guards and security guards have no place in the labor movement!
As part of its crackdown on immigrants, Washington has been pushing employers to fire workers whose Social Security numbers do not match government records. The governments no match letters to employers are an open invitation to get rid of union activists and other troublemakers. The uniform manufacturer Cintas, where UNITE HERE has been on an organizing campaign, has fired hundreds of no match workers. The bosses at Smithfield meatpacking tried to do the same at a plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, where the UFCW has been waging a bitter organizing campaign for a decade. Over a thousand workers—mainly Latino immigrants but including black and white workers—walked off the job in protest in November. Production was crippled, forcing the company to temporarily rescind the firings (see Smithfield Walkout Saves Immigrants Jobs, WV No. 881, 24 November 2006). However, the company is still threatening to fire up to 500 workers if they cannot soon clear up their papers.
It will take the fighting unity of Latino, black and white workers against the bosses and their government to defeat the anti-immigrant, anti-union attacks. But this necessity runs straight up against the pro-capitalist program of the labor bureaucracy, which sees allies in the bourgeois politicians, especially the Democrats, the government and the courts. In condemning the raids at Swift, Anna Burger, one of the leaders of the AFL-CIO split-off Change to Win labor federation that includes the UFCW, declared in a 15 December statement: We are hopeful that the new Congress and President Bush will enact a comprehensive immigration solution.
The solution Burger points to is the compromise immigration bill, supported by liberal Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and Republican Senator John McCain, that would further militarize the border, set up new detention centers and mobilize thousands more cops to drive out illegal immigrants. It would set up a guest worker program—i.e., indentured servitude—for millions of immigrants while outlining a path to citizenship for those few who can put up thousands of dollars and prove they have lived in the U.S. for many years. The proposed legislation reflects the interests of employers who rely on low-wage immigrant labor. And in fact, the Swift raid was orchestrated by Chertoff largely to help make the case for just this immigration reform, which stalled in Congress last summer.
Anti-immigrant attacks pose a threat to the rights of the entire population. The pretext for the Swift raids—supposed identity theft by immigrants—feeds into plans to impose real ID national identification cards, expand databases on the activities of the population and offer FBI files to local police forces. The Bush administration has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to build detention centers capable of holding thousands of immigrants and others the state deems undesirable. Meanwhile, the obscenely rich capitalists continue to slash wages, gut pensions, take away health benefits and impose grueling, unsafe work conditions.
The need to organize immigrant workers requires fighting against the class collaborationism of the labor tops, who support the capitalist profit system and identify with the national interests of U.S. imperialism. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the UFCW, today the largest union of workers in private industry, have recently achieved some modest organizing successes. In November, for example, a month-long strike in Houston by mainly immigrant SEIU janitors won the first union contract for 5,300 workers. But at the same time, only some 21 percent of meatpackers are unionized today compared to 46 percent in 1980. It will take hard class struggle to reverse the decades of attacks on labor.
Organizing the unorganized into the unions with full rights and protections will require an uncompromising fight for the class independence of the proletariat from the state agencies and political representatives of the capitalist exploiters. To defeat the capitalists divide-and-rule tactics requires a class-struggle leadership of the unions that will fight every manifestation of prejudice and oppression—an injury to one is an injury to all. Such a leadership would serve the struggle to build a workers party that fights for a workers government.