Ramírez, along with others who used to work for Agriprocessors, invited Róger Calero, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. president, to visit them the day after the march. Originally from Mexico, Ramírez is one of 45 workers arrested in the raid and later released on humanitarian grounds to care for her children. She is forced to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet. Only three of the 45 workers have been given court dates, she said.
We came here to work, said Ramírez. Its what we have always done, and now the government doesnt let us work, and instead we are living on charity from the church and help from other people.
A powerful example
Calero, who marched in the July 27 protest, said the demonstration set a powerful example of the kind of response needed to answer the attacks on workers rights and to press our demand for legalization of undocumented immigrants.
Immigrant and U.S.-born workers are going through experiences together in meatpacking plants in the region, using their unions to fight or organizing to get a union where there isnt one, he added. Calero said the fight at Agriprocessors is part of a broader resistance to the meatpacking bosses in the upper Midwest. The socialist candidate pointed to the successful fight at Dakota Premium Foods in South St. Paul, Minnesota, where workers organized in United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789 successfully fought off an attempt by the bosses to bust the union earlier this year.
Several workers described the spontaneous walkout workers carried out at Agriprocessors in 2007 against the companys use of Social Security no-match letters. Adrian, who was working there at the time, said a good number of workers were interested in joining the union but many were intimidated by the threat of being fired.
Normally a two-shift operation, Agriprocessors is barely running one shift now. The plant employed 900 workers, the vast majority from Guatemala and Mexico. In the May 12 raid, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested almost the entire first shift of 400; most of the remaining Latino workers never returned.
As a result, many workers are finding it difficult to get jobs. With Agriprocessors the main employer in the region, some travel more than an hour by car to work in construction.
Bernardino, who was fired from Agriprocessors for allegedly not having the right documents after working there for several years, said local police have been harassing immigrant workers when they travel for jobs. My cousin, who works in a nearby town, was picked up by the police. Hes been in jail for 22 days now with no charges, he said.
Another worker, Jorge, told Calero he was fired the day before the raid for lack of proper work documents. His wife, who was working when the raid happened and was seven months pregnant at the time, hid in the plant for 12 hours. More than a dozen other workers did the same. Several who hid in the freezer ended up with frostbite.
Calero passed out campaign literature and three workers picked up subscriptions to the Militant so they could follow the socialist campaign and developments in the fight for legalization.
Somali workers at plant
As you approach the Agriprocessors plant here, there are several Hiring Now signs. In a parking lot dozens of workers, the majority of them from Somalia, were waiting to be hired when Calero and a supporter stopped to talk. According to one Somali worker who just started working, there are about 200 Somalis now employed at Agriprocessors, many of them experienced meatpackers who previously worked in beef slaughterhouses in Kansas and Nebraska.
The Somali workers have rented a space in downtown Postville, which will serve as a community center and restaurant. Calero handed out campaign brochures and spoke to about a dozen of the workers gathered there.
Some of them were from Minneapolis and had supported the fight by Omar Jamal, a Somali activist who was threatened with deportation in 2003, at the same time that Calero was fighting his own deportation case. Calero explained how his defense campaign gave support to Jamal and other Somalis threatened with deportation and government harassment.
Agriprocessors promised the Somali workers $12-an-hour jobs and one month of free rent to work at the plant. As with other workers the company recruited, the Somalis are being paid considerably less than $12 and are not happy about it. A few of them talked about their experiences at other plants, including when Somali workers walked out of the Swift plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, in 2007 to protest company denial of prayer breaks.
During the visit, the Somali workers got a subscription to the Militant for their center and picked up several Pathfinder titles. They invited the socialist candidate to come back.
Iowa marchers say No more raids!
1,500 rally for immigrant workers rights
Three arrested in beating death of immigrant in Pennsylvania
Socialist Workers celebrate successful N.Y. petition drive
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home