Text version of the Militant, a socialist newspaper  
the Militant, a socialist newspaper
about this site directory of local distributors how to subscribe submit a photo or image order bundles of the Militant to sell
news articles editorials columns contact us search view back issues
The Militant this week
La migra raids Wal-Mart; target is workers, union
More than 250 workers arrested in middle of union-organizing effort
Venezuelans carry out literacy campaign with aid and volunteer trainers from Cuba
Utah students organize support for locked-out Co-op miners
EU powers squeeze Iranian gov’t to allow nuclear inspections  
Pathfinder bookstores push six-month sales effort
Perspectiva Mundial
Submit Letter to the editor
submit forum
submit to calendar

A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 67/No. 39November 10, 2003

'Militant' supporters put camera fund over the top!

The Militant thanks all its readers who contributed so generously to make the camera fund a success.
Over the last week, Militant supporters from Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and New York contributed $1,550 toward the Militant's camera fund. These donations put the fund at $4,050-over the top! "If these pictures from Venezuela are a sample of what can be done with these tools, more need to be put into service," wrote a reader from Denver October 21. "Timely pictures like these add a quality to the paper that's exciting."
The fund was launched to replace the paper's brand-new digital camera and three lenses stolen in New York in September-a $4,000 loss. Funds were then borrowed to ensure the reporting team in Venezuela had the proper equipment. "We greatly appreciate the rapid response by our readers," said Militant editor Argiris Malapanis.
lead article
La migra raids Wal-Mart;
target is workers, union
More than 250 workers arrested
in middle of union-organizing effort

Bottom: Vctor Zavala, a janitor at Wal-Mart, and his wife Eunice (left) face deportation to Mexico after being arrested at the Old Bridge Wal-Mart department store in New Jersey October 23.

More than 250 workers were arrested by immigration cops in coordinated pre-dawn raids October 23 at Wal-Mart stores throughout the United States.

Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) agents arrested the workers as they were finishing the night shift as janitors for the retail giant at 60 stores in 21 states. They now face deportation.

“This is the biggest raid in a few years,” said Garrison Courtney, a BICE spokesperson.

The action was cynically dubbed “Operation RollBack,” after the retailer’s price-reduction slogan. Trying to paint a false picture of concern by Washington about the conditions of these workers, Courtney said, “We are always looking at companies that are knowingly exploiting people for the purpose of making money.”

The raids, however, come in the midst of an effort by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) to organize Wal-Mart employees into the union. For years the company has repeatedly attempted to block the unionizing efforts by intimidating workers through firings of union supporters and threats to take away benefits if the workers unionized.

In February 2000, when meat cutters at a Wal-Mart store in Jacksonville, Texas, voted to be represented by the UFCW, the company refused to recognize the union, and instead moved to distribute prepackaged meat and changed the job functions of the meat cutters.

“We are angry about the raids and deportations,” Bernie Hesse, head of the organizing department of UFCW Local 789 in St. Paul, Minnesota, told the Militant. “Once again it is the workers who are getting screwed.”

The stakes in the organizing drive are high for both the bosses and the workers. Wal-Mart is the country’s largest private employer with 1.2 million workers in the United States and another 300,000 in other countries.

Among the detainees the largest group was from Mexico, with 90, followed by the Czech Republic with 35, Mongolia with 22, and Brazil with 20. The other workers were from El Salvador, Uzbekistan, Poland, Russia, Georgia, and Lithuania. Federal officials said they originally intended to arrest 300 in the raids.

In their large majority the workers were employed by contractors used by Wal-Mart to clean its U.S. stores as part of their drive to keep wages and benefits low and to prevent the workers from organizing into a union. Wal-Mart uses about 100 of these contractors to clean about 1,000 stores. Wal-Mart officials have denied having any knowledge that the contract workers did not have immigration papers.

“Of course the store managers knew it,” Vctor Zavala, originally from Mexico, told the New York Times. Zavala was working at one of the stores raided in New Jersey. “The other guys in the crew didn’t speak one word of English. Of course they knew it, but if you asked them, they’ll say ‘we thought they were citizens or residents,’” he said.

Zavala, who was working as a subcontractor for one of the cleaning companies used by Wal-Mart, told the New Jersey Star-Ledger that at the end of each six-day week, a check would be left for the crew hidden in the maintenance closet for him to cash and pay the other workers. He never formally met his supervisors and didn’t even know their names. Zavala described how he was grilled by the immigration cops during the interrogation when he told them he did not know the name of his bosses.

The use of cleaning contractors is a widespread practice throughout the industry. Claiming that these workers are independent contractors and not employees, the bosses get away with paying them less than minimum wage with no over-time pay, providing no benefits, and subjecting them to horrendous conditions. One of the workers arrested at the Wal-Mart store in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, originally from Russia, told the press that last year he had worked 90 consecutive days without a day off.

“We don’t know nothing about nights off, we don’t know health insurance, we don’t know life insurance, and we don’t know anything about 401 (k) plans,” said Zavala.

This is the third time Wal-Mart stores have been raided by the immigration police. In 1998 and 2001, some 100 immigrant workers employed by cleaning contractors were arrested in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri.

According to government officials, the latest round of arrests followed an investigation the immigration police began after the raids in 1998 and 2001. Authorities said they used wiretaps during the investigation and had recorded conversations of Wal-Mart executives, managers, and contractors, showing that the bosses had “direct knowledge” of the immigration status of their employees. No charges have yet been filed against Wal-Mart bosses or contractors.

The October 23 raids were carried out largely in suburbs in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Wall Street Journal reported October 24 that Wal-Mart is in the process of moving to bring all of its cleaning work in house.

According to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2001, there were 5.3 million undocumented workers as part of the U.S. workforce, excluding agriculture. An estimated 1.2 million more are employed as farm workers. The greatest numbers are concentrated in meatpacking, poultry processing, and janitorial work. The study also reports that almost a quarter of those working in private households, along with 9 percent of restaurant employees, are undocumented.

During a congressional visit to Mexico October 24, U.S. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrat from California, said the raids amounted to “terrorizing” workers “who are only trying to earn a living and put food on the table for their family.”

Representatives of immigrant rights organizations have expressed their fears that Operation Rollback signals a return to the scare tactics of the 1970s and 80s, when la migra conducted raids at work sites deporting large numbers of undocumented workers.

In the last two years, under the guise of the “war on terror,” the immigration service has been carrying out a series of arrests in sites the government has deemed sensitive to “national security” such as airports and other “landmarks,” like the Sears Tower in Chicago. At the same time, BICE agents have been raiding neighborhoods and other worksites. Earlier in October, immigration cops arrested 90 workers in Pennsylvania at a distribution warehouse of the retailer TJ Maxx. Last February, some 120 immigrant workers at a safe manufacturing plant in Provo, Utah, were arrested in the biggest raid reported in that state since December 2001, when immigration agents raided the Salt Lake City airport.
Related articles:
Stop the raids and deportations!

Printer logo 
Printer-friendly version of this article

Home | Text-version home