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Vol. 76/No. 9      March 5, 2012

Calif. foundry workers
fight immigrant firings
Workers’ unity steeled in previous strike battle
(lead article)
BERKELEY, Calif.—Former Pacific Steel Casting workers led a March for Dignity here Feb. 17 to protest the firings of some 200 of their coworkers in recent months following a “silent raid” audit by immigration authorities. The foundry was the site of a successful three-day strike last March.

Starting with a City Hall rally, several dozen members of the Pacific Steel Workers Committee led a three-mile march of more than 400 people down city streets to the foundry, where many of the fired workers had worked for years or decades.

The administration of Barack Obama has stepped up use of the I-9 audits. Last year it conducted “silent raids” at nearly 2,500 companies, five times more than were carried out in 2008 under the George W. Bush administration.

Three seniors from Pinole Valley High School marched behind the banner of their club, Latinos Unidos. “It’s not fair that immigrants work for 20 years and ICE comes and takes their jobs away,” club President Daniela Cardona told the Militant. “We are joining them in their struggle.”

The march route took protesters through the Pacific Steel complex on Second Street to a rally site just past the foundry. “We are hard workers, not criminals!” declared Jesus Prado, fired after seven years at Pacific Steel.

“We are marching for dignity,” fired worker Ana Castaño told the Militant. “We have nothing else. The United States is our place, where we have our families. We have to start fighting.”

Juan Saragoza spoke at a morning rally outside City Hall about the workers’ strike last March. At one point, he explained, they formed a “human wall” to prevent trucks from leaving a company warehouse. “Unfortunately,” Saragoza said, “there was an incident of violence” when a female striker was attacked by Pacific Steel security. The striker was pregnant at that time, he said, but “gave birth to a healthy baby and is here with us.”

The Department of Homeland Security in February 2011 ordered the audit of Pacific Casting’s 600 employees, company spokesperson Elisabeth Jewel told the Militant.

The following month, the union workforce of about 470 rejected the company’s demands that they make new co-payments for health care, which would have amounted to a 10 percent pay cut. After a three-day strike members of the Glass, Molders, and Pottery workers union won a $3.78 raise over the course of a four-year contract and kept the same health care coverage.

As a result of the audits, the company laid off 200 workers in October-December.

“In every cloud there is a silver lining,” said Jewel. “We had a large automobile manufacturing plant close down nearby and were able to get some highly skilled workers” to replace those laid off.

Central protest organizer David Herrera, fired after working at Pacific Steel for 12 years, thanked groups and individuals who supported the action. This included Occupy Oakland and Berkeley Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, who called on the Obama administration to stop the audits.

Other speakers included prominent clergy.

“Keep speaking up, raise your voices,” José Sandoval of the Voluntarios de la Comunidad in San Jose told the rally.

Gerardo Sanchez of the Socialist Workers Party also spoke, calling for the immediate legalization of all immigrants as part of the fight to unite working people to take on all the attacks by the capitalists and their government.
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