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November 19, 2006

Smithfield packers back on the job

Facing South reports that the 1000 workers who walked off the job at the nation's largest pork slaughter house have returned to work for the time being.

Smithfield promised to suspend its flawed Social Security match system.

Facing South wonders if the Smithfield isn't playing up the illegal immigration angle in order to detract attention from the employees' other concerns. The strikers' own literature doesn't put the immigration issue front and center:

Yet in a handbill workers were distributing this morning, they outlined a very different set of concerns, related mostly to retaliation against workers who spoke out about unfair treatment. The handbill, prepared by African American and Latino workers, reads:

“We the workers of Tar Heel Smithfield Plant stand united in the following demands…

• No retaliation now or in the future for any worker participating in the fight for justice at Smithfield including but not limited to points, demotion, or termination.

• An end to the unjust firing of Smithfield workers and the timely rehire of all workers who have been unfairly terminated.”

A spokesman for the workers told the AP:

"Smithfield fired these workers following a spate of activities in which workers began to stand up and demand their rights," said Gene Bruskin, a representative of the union who serves as the Smithfield campaign director. "The timing reeks of Smithfield's continued pattern of intimidation and fear."

Bruskin also claimed Smithfield has failed to address problems of sexual harassment and denial of workers compensation claims.

The implication seems to be that Smithfield is using workers' immigration status as a tool for union-busting. Of course, that's what the national hysteria over illegal immigration is for. Why do illegal immigrants get low-paying, dangerous jobs? Partly because they can get fired the minute they try to unionize.

Of course, most of the employees at Smithfield are legal Americans. They've been struggling for years without a union, partly because the company can play the immigration card to shut down the union drive. So, wages stay low and everyone suffers but Smithfield.

When people worry about immigrants "stealing" their jobs or driving down wages, they don't usually think about the ways that bosses use immigration to divide workers against each other. As long as we penalize undocumented workers instead of penalizing the bosses who hire them, illegal immigration will remain a godsend for exploitative bosses.

Help make sure that Smithfield doesn't retaliate against the strikers, write to Chairman Joseph Luter III and CEO C. Larry Pope urging them to treat their workers fairly and not retaliate against them.

Addendum: If you have tips or materials from the Smithfield struggle, please email them to me, or leave a comment.


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Penalizing employers who hire undocumented workers isn’t an alternative to penalizing the immigrants. It’s a means of punishing them. It prevents & is meant to prevent them from getting work, which they need in order to live. It’s current law & not immigration per se that enables employers to exploit workers.

This is more supply-side economic foolishness. It didn't work in the 80's. It hasn't worked under the current Republican administration except for making the rich richer.
If you penalize the employers who hire immigrants then you drop the demand for immigrant labour, and in the long run that will decrease the number of illegal immigrants if they can't find work north of the border. The thing is, the illegal immigrants can't afford lobbyists and can't vote, but the illegal employers can.

Actually, illegal aliens as a bloc do have very powerful people representing them: politicians, their employers, banks, racial power groups, etc. etc. All of those encourage illegal immigration and support it, and sometimes they work together. For instance, companies that profit from illegal immigration (ex.: WesternUnion) fund nonprofits that support illegal immigration (ex.: IllinoisCoalitionImmigrantRefugeeRights).

The post says: "As long as we penalize undocumented workers instead of penalizing the bosses who hire them, illegal immigration will remain a godsend for exploitative bosses."

They aren't "undocumented workers", they're illegal aliens. Their punishment consists of being deported, sometimes even on air-conditioned airplanes. And, the only way to "penalize the bosses" is to support enforcement of our laws, something that the left and the Dems almost always oppose. In brief, you're blowing smoke.

I continue to find it ridiculous that it's legal for us to ship any amount of American capital abroad, investing our profits elsewhere; to ship whole factories abroad, lock, stock, and barrel; and to move millions of jobs abroad in order to find the cheapest dollar-a-day labor, yet that cheap labor is not similarly allowed to move to where they can earn enough of a living for a person to feed him- or herself. Our borders are completely open to the transport of every resource, except human beings. That's strictly forbidden.

I don't think that illegal immigrants are living the life of Riley.

Well, 1984, you can't go all Romper Stomper on a CEO -- it's far easier for the xenophobes to target and blame the brown menace.

I continue to find it ridiculous that people can't see the difference between importing refrigerators and importing human beings. Few refrigerators have been known to write symphonies, start riots, have U.S. citizen children, have allegiances to other countries, and so on and on and on. Obviously, those human beings are more complicated than refrigerators, and we need to make sure that those humans we allow to come here are going to be an asset and not a liability.

If someone thinks importing humans is like importing refrigerators, don't trust anything else they say.

It’s not news that humans have properties that nonhuman objects lack, but they also have properties in common, & it’s possible to draw useful inferences based on the similarities. That’s how abstraction works. As it happens, many important results in economic theory fall into this latter category. Everyone understands that these results don’t fully account for all aspects of human personality or social & economic life – all theories intrinsically abstract from some aspects of reality & fail to reflect some of its concrete particularity. But an argument can elucidate important aspects of a complex situation without attempting to account for every possible expression of human agency. People on all sides of the conflict over immigration policy regularly, rationally make use of such arguments, & it’s not a serious response to complain that the arguments don't capture all relevant aspects of reality. Stipulate that people aren’t refrigerators, but an economic analysis that doesn’t fully account for riots, children, or allegiances may nevertheless adequately answer at least some very important economic questions about the effects of freedom of movement. Rustic mistrust of abstraction is not a mark of sophistication.

>Well, 1984, you can't go all Romper Stomper on a CEO -- it's far easier for the xenophobes to target and blame the brown menace.

Posted by: paperwight | November 19, 2006 at 05:57 PM

Exactly--although there are some illegal-bashers that aren't the brush-mustache-men, er I mean Minutemen.

>Rustic mistrust of abstraction is not a mark of sophistication.

And thank you KH. My point, of course, was that immigrants emigrate partly because the fact that whereas our capital, factories, and jobs move freely to wherever maximal exploitation of low-wage workers can occur, those impoverished by such policies have no such freedom of movement. Also, that illegal immigrants aren't riding any sort of gravy train, as the mention of "air-conditioned" airplane rides (my God! People who crossed the border illegally are experiencing air-conditioning!? Call Rush Limbaugh!) seemed to be trying to get away with implying.

If the 900,000 _legal_ immigrants (who come per year) having US citizen children here (like Blather's forefathers, presumably) isn't a problem, then I don't know why allowing the further 300,000 _illegal_ immigrants to enter just as freely is a problem.

1) If it's some sort of attempt to protect US wages, then that is completely destroyed by the free import and export of capital, jobs and factories to other countries that I mentioned (though I never did mention importing refrigerators or any other commodity).

2) If it's a question of the services illegals use, then to do away with quotas or restrictions on numbers of any kind, and allowing any non-criminal to immigrate, would do more than anything else to render under-the-table, illegal work obsolete, thus making immigrant labor for the former illegals taxable, and paying for those services, instead of having things as they are now, with illegals working under the table for fear of being busted, and paying no taxes (and getting paid a pittance, to boot, which drives down those wages we were supposed to be protecting). Finally,

3) if it's a question of law-breaking, then considering that most illegals want nothing more than to work for an honest day's wage once they get here, and break no further laws than that keeping them across the border, I'd say we mostly have natural non-criminals who were forced to break a law here, not natural criminals. Those that _are_ natural criminals, we should deal with as criminals, and are surely much, much harder to find if we tar 300,000 people a year as criminals, than they would be if we threw the doors open and allowed more people in legally, thus isolating the few who would come without filling out the paperwork. If they don't have a criminal record in their own countries, we should allow them in. That would, of course, finally make it possible to police the illegal immigration of the few who _are_ naturally criminal, instead of just grandstanding and making futile gestures, as rightwingers seem to think is a productive way of dealing with the problem now.

But of course, if anyone suggests otherwise, don't trust anything they say.

Katrina vanden Heuvel has an op-ed up at 'The Nation' on line.

There's also an article by author">">author Eric Schlosser. I have his book: Fast Food Nation. He, along with several others including the guy who wrote 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' (whose name escapes me) - Michael Pollan?, had an article in a special issue of 'The Nation' a few months ago regarding food, food sources, agri-business, etc.

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