Immigration Raid Used to Attack Union

February 11, 2007

At the end of January, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided a pork-processing factory, Smithfield Packing, in Tar Heel, North Carolina and arrested 21 workers. The arrested workers will be deported.

The ICE raid was organized at the request of the company, Smithfield Foods. Smithfield, whose Tar Heel plant employs 5,200 workers and is the world's largest pork-processing factory, has been trying to stop the workers from organizing a union.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union has been organizing at Smithfield for several years and last May, even a federal appeals court admitted that the company had been engaged in "intense and widespread coercion" to prevent workers from joining the union.

In July, the company contacted the ICE and began to intensify its threats against immigrant workers.

In November, the company arbitrary fired 50 immigrant workers and, in response, 1,000 workers organized a two-day walk-out.

After the January arrests, UFCW organizers denounced the company for its "history of using immigration laws to threaten and intimidate workers who are standing up for their rights in trying to form a union."

The Smithfield raid is not an isolated incident.

Last April, Michael Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new policy of "worksite enforcement" against undocumented workers and began hiring hundreds of additional ICE agents. Since then, ICE actions have led to the firing, arrest and deportation of thousands of workers across the country.

For example, immediately after Chertoff's announcement, the ICE carried out a coordinated raid in 26 states, arresting 1,200 workers employed by the IFCO Systems Corporation. Hundreds of these workers have already been deported.

In another widely-publicized raid, 1,000 armed ICE agents "locked down" six Swift meatpacking plants in Minnesota, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, Utah and Iowa on December 12. 1,300 Swift workers, also members of the UFCW, were shackled and arrested. Hundreds have already been deported.

Another tactic employed by the ICE to attack immigrants is to supply companies with "no-match" letters, targeting workers whose Social Security numbers, for whatever reason, do not match the ICE database. For example, last November, the Cintas laundry chain, which employs large numbers of immigrants who are organizing a union, fired 400 workers based on "no-match" letters from the ICE.

The ICE program of "worksite enforcement" is part of the government's increasing repression against immigrant workers. It is also a direct attack on the working class and its rights to unionize and struggle for higher wages.

From the earliest days of this country, the capitalists have imported workers from all over the world to work in their factories, to build the railroads, to grow the crops, etc. In order to superexploit immigrant workers, the capitalist government has developed an oppressive caste system of so-called "undocumented workers," "temporary or guest workers," "legal immigrants," and citizens. Millions of "undocumented workers" are at the bottom of this caste system, forced by the capitalists to work in the lowest-paid and hardest jobs. By holding the threat of arrest and deportation over the heads of immigrants, the capitalists try to prevent them from organizing themselves and fighting for their rights. By denying the rights of this section of the workers, the capitalists undermine the collective strength and drag down the wages of all the workers.

In opposition to the capitalists, the people have always struggled to build our country as a land of refuge which guarantees full and equal rights for all human beings. The working class can only rise to its full stature and carry through its struggle for emancipation by fighting against every form of discrimination and oppression.

The Rights of Immigrants - The Rights of All!