BY MALIN KLINGZELL-BRULIN
The deportation of Róger Calero from the United States was stopped thanks to massive support from workers around the world. He is now touring to thank personally all those who helped him in his fight, like the workers at the Samfood plant in Ĺrsta, Stockholm.
Calero was arrested by the U.S. immigration police in December 2002 as he was returning from a reporting trip to Mexico and Cuba for the publications Perspectiva Mundial and the Militant.
He was born in Nicaragua. U.S. authorities wanted to deport him on the basis of a suspended sentence hed received in 1988, despite the fact that he had a green card and a work permit since 1990.
Calero decided to put up a fight. He understood that to be able to stay he had to win public support.
He had been a slaughterhouse worker and active in the union before. He was part of an organizing drive by workers at Dakota Premium Foods in South St. Paul, Minnesota, which succeeded in winning a contract. Now, he has contacted his former union, the UFCW [United Food and Commercial Workers] and asked for support. And he got it.
A defense committee was formed and [UFCW Local 789 president] Bill Pearson signed up as co-chair. The local also contributed funds to a defense campaign to stop Caleros deportation.
The Militant newspaper, the publication he works for, also wrote about his case. This resulted in workers around the world writing letters to U.S. authorities, demanding he not be deported. Petitions were also gathered around the world.
Thanks to the strong support that Calero received, the deportation was never carried out. In other words, he succeeded in the difficult task of winning against U.S. authorities, something considered almost impossible, especially after Sept. 11, 2001.
He is now traveling around the world to thank all the workers who supported his fight, and also to share his experiencesespecially since he has discovered that thousands of immigrants have come up against the same things as he did.
Its a very important question for the union movement to organize and defend immigrants right to live and work in this country. In the United States many immigrants have temporary employment and are treated as second-class citizens, said Calero during his visit to Samfood in Ĺrsta in mid-September.
Björn Tirsén and Anita Östling, two workers there who are regular readers of the Militant, were moved by the cruel fate of Calero and decided to begin petitioning on his behalf.
More than half of the workers at Samfood signed, said Tirsén.
Calero is now meeting those who supported his struggle at the meatpacking plant. He can tell them about its success thanks to the massive support he received.
He was also eager to share his experiences.
A great deal of the support I got came from union militants, many with a background as immigrants, he explained.
I want to show you that it is possible to wage a fight if you are unjustly treated. Together we are strong, he continued
He also talked about his job as a butcher before he became a journalist. He is very familiar with the problems in slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants.
When I was working we had problems with the line speed increasing all the time. We were injured but our bosses didnt care. One day the workers sat down and refused to work until they slowed down the line. After that we started to organize [a union] and won a contract.
He emphasized the importance of organizing to improve working conditions.
The struggle to improve conditions at his former workplace was very successful. And later the members of the local were there for him when he was threatened with deportation.
Many of the workers at Samfood stop and listen to Calero tell his story in the cafeteria. Most of the workers here are immigrants and can identify with him and his struggle. Many of them also signed the petition to stop his deportation.
The union is our strength. To improve our conditions we must use it more, he said, receiving approval from the workers that have gathered around him in the cafeteria.
The defense committee that was formed for Róger Calero has a web site, www.calerodefense.org, where you can read about his case and how he won his victory.
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