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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 72/No. 8      February 25, 2008


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(lead article)
Minnesota meat packers
fight for new contract
Organize unity in face of boss attacks on union
Militant/Rebecca Williamson
“If we don’t organize, we won’t be able to defend ourselves,” Dakota Premium worker Enrique Flores, in hat, told February 9 union celebration in South St. Paul, Minnesota. At left, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789 representative Rafael Espinoza translates program.

SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minnesota, February 9—“I’ve been getting messages from across the country to congratulate you on your victory,” Don Seaquist, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789, told members of the local at Dakota Premium Foods, at a victory celebration here today. “Now we move to get negotiations going.

Despite subzero weather more than 140 workers, family members, and supporters filled the union hall to celebrate the victory at Dakota and discuss the next steps in their fight. Two weeks ago a company-backed union decertification effort was decisively defeated when workers voted almost 2-1 to stay organized in the UFCW.

Several workers spent the day preparing the meal for the party at the union hall or at their homes, while other unionists organized the music, set up the hall, and made other preparations. While everyone was in a celebratory mood, discussions pointed to the need to organize against continuing company attacks and for a new and better contract.

Seaquist opened the program at the celebration. He described the contract negotiations process the union local was headed into with the company, and how workers in the plant would be involved. “You have a voice at work,” he said. “That’s the point of the union.”

Oscar Salgado, a worker in the boning department, said that what was “important is that we all participate, including in the union meetings… . This way the company will feel the heat.

“If not,” Salgado continued, “we’ll have the same as the last contract. If we don’t organize we won’t be able to defend ourselves.”  
Fight for unity
“Yesterday they gave a warning to a Black worker,” said Enrique Flores, who was part of a fight beginning in 2000 to win the union at Dakota. “There’s discrimination against Black workers on the kill, but we’ll fight against this. Now we have to unite, all of us. Now we have unity. If they call you to the office always take a coworker with you.”

The February 7 issue of the Workers’ Voice, a newsletter produced by workers in the plant, said, “In the past week five of our coworkers were fired. These firings and other harassment have one aim and one only—to cut across our renewed confidence and strength that we, the union members at Dakota, have gained with our victory. We are looking into these firings and our union representatives are helping to fight these attacks.”

“We’ve shown we can overcome the divisions the company is pushing. We’ve shown we can beat back the firings,” said boning department worker Rebecca Williamson. “We’ll keep watching out for each other on the job.”

Williamson, who thanked the relatives and community members present for their support, said that the victory at Dakota “is important not only for us but for other meat packers and other workers. We should also support our fellow union members in the groceries that are in a contract fight. We’ll step up the fight for what we want and we won’t be intimidated.”

“It does look like we have a union and unity,” said Obdulia Flores, a kill floor worker involved in the sit-down strike in 2000 that opened the battle for the union in the plant. “It’s hard work in there. By working together we’ll get it done.”

In closing remarks Seaquist invited the unionists to attend Wednesday meetings at the union hall and said, “Seven years ago we did it. Now we have to show the company—regardless of the color of our skin, or the side of the plant we work on, or whatever—we stand together.”
Related articles:
‘Militant’ helps spread word on Dakota victory

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