North Carolina Organizers hold ‘Statewide Day of Action Against Smithfield’
Posted by raleighfist on January 5, 2007
By Dante Strobino
More than 700 people gathered in 11 cities across the state of North Carolina on Dec. 2 to support the just demands of workers at Smithfield, the world’s largest hog slaughtering plant located in Tar Heel. The statewide day of action was held at North Carolina-based Harris Teeter grocery stores to demand that they support the largely immigrant workforce by stop selling the company’s pork.
Most of the Smithfield plants across the country are unionized through the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). But pork and turkey coming out of the North Carolina plants find their way into several local grocery stores, including Harris Teeter, which actually uses mostly Smithfield meat for its store-packaged pork.
The USDA requires that codes be placed on all meat designating its origin. Any meat containing codes 18079 or 79c is processed at the Smithfield plant by oppressed workers.
Demonstrations organized by UFCW and community supporters were held in Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Hickory, High Point, Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Wilmington and Winston-Salem. At each site there was a media conference where workers–most of whom were Latin@ or Black–spoke out about the conditions in the plant. After the press conference, workers and union organizers marched into the stores and delivered a statement requesting that Harris Teeter stop doing business with Smithfield.
The biggest demonstration was in Raleigh where almost 200 people gathered, including members of the NAACP, the N.C. Council of Churches, N.C. Public Sector Workers Union (UE local 150), Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST), Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), N.C. State University Student-Worker Alliance, College Democrats, Action for Community in Raleigh (ACRe), Teamsters, AFL-CIO, high school students from Raleigh Charter and Athens High, amongst other organizations. Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) also played an important role statewide in mobilizing to support the demonstration.
Participants, stretched at arms length, nearly surrounded the entire parking lot of a Raleigh Harris Teeter and handed leaflets to customers that explained the union’s main grievances are that Smithfield “has used violence, threats and intimidation against workers to suppress their rights; creates a dangerous workplace with fast line speeds and inadequate training; routinely fires injured workers and denies their workers’ compensation claims; and stirs racial tensions among African-American and Latino workers.”
Supporters’ signs read “Power to Immigrant Workers, Union Rights Now” and “Black and Brown Unity–UNIDAD Moren@ y Latin@.”
North Carolina is ripe for class struggle. It is the second-least unionized state in the country and also has the fastest growing immigrant population. Led by two Latina women still wearing their hair nets and work hats, more than 1,000 workers walked out of the Smithfield plant, shutting down two shifts of production on Nov. 16. Even the private police force could not coerce workers back into the plant as they continued to exercise their class power through unity.
It is only through unity amongst the Black and Latin@ workers that the will of workers will be exercised. The majority Black workforce of city workers across the state continues to organize their union, UE 150, and build their power following the historic strike of Raleigh sanitation workers two mornings in mid-September. Durham city workers later held a two-hour work stoppage on Nov. 27.
UE150 is convening a Statewide City Workers Summit on Dec. 9, drawing union workers from Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Durham, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Greenville, Raleigh, Rocky Mount and Wilson.
The struggle continues as these two strong workforces continue to learn from each other and mutually build working-class power in North Carolina.
The writer is an organizer with Raleigh FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together) youth group. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org