Labor responds to Miss. raid of migrant workers, mass shootings

After 680 workers were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Aug. 7 in the largest immigration raid in U.S. history, targeting seven chicken processing plants in Mississippi, representatives of the labor movement immediately expressed solidarity with the workers and their union, Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) Local 1529. The AFL-CIO, Teamsters and National Employment Law Project noted that these workers prepare food under the most dangerous conditions for employers who knowingly violate labor standards. 

Local 1529 is raising money to support the families

“We must stand with the families in Mississippi and our UFCW family to demand and end to family separation, enough is enough. Trump’s administration blatantly continues to dehumanize our communities and belittle the labor of immigrants. In these times we can either idly stand by or do what the Labor Movement does best — organize. We must organize to mobilize, educate, and empower our members, and their families, and their communities,” said  Rigoberto Valdez Jr., president of the United Latinos of the UFCW. (Aug. 8)  

Teamsters President James Hoffa’s Aug. 8 statement read in part: “The assault on workers must stop now. We want UFCW members and all our brothers and sisters in the labor movement to know that we support you. Our strength is in our unity, and we are calling for an end to policies that hurt workers and tear families apart.” 

Labor statements denounce racism

Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy and Secretary-Treasurer Montserrat Garibay issued the following statement Aug. 5: “We are devastated and angry over the deaths of 20 people and injuries of dozens more in the mass shooting in El Paso. … The related scourges of bigotry, hatred and ultra-powerful guns in the wrong hands must be addressed. … [I]f all of us would speak out against hatred, against racism, against anti-Semitism, against anti-Muslim attacks, against bigotry wherever we see it, we would make future tragedies less likely. … We need to take the next step and fight for a consensus to stop the epidemic of hatred and violence.”

The Stand reported Aug. 5 that union delegates from across Washington state “have identified institutional racism as a labor issue and recommitted to fighting it — both inside and outside the labor movement.” At the 2019 convention of the Washington State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO held July 25-27 in SeaTac, delegates unanimously approved Resolution #30 — entitled “Resolution on Race and the Labor Movement 3.0.” This is “the latest in a series of directives from grassroots rank-and-file union members to advance the WSLC’s ground-breaking efforts to educate union members about the origins and consequences of racism. It notes that unions, which lift wages and working conditions of all workers regardless of color or background, are uniquely positioned to advocate for racial justice and have a responsibility to do so on behalf of not only their members, but also the entire working class.” 

National Nurses United, representing 150,000 registered nurses, issued a statement  Aug. 4 about the mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif.; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio: “The current political climate has fanned the flames of hatred and division, creating fertile ground for white supremacists, racism, and violence,” said NNU President Jean Ross, RN. “We must denounce not only these violent acts, but the rhetoric and policies that denigrate our fundamental belief that all people are entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification, or immigration status.

“As registered nurses, we honor the dignity of each human life and focus on the commonalities that bind us all. Nurses take a sacred oath to care for anyone who needs help, and inherently reject intolerance, racism, hate, and bigotry. … NNU would like to offer thanks and praise to the first responders who jumped into action as these tragedies unfolded in their communities. We are heartened by the response of those in the communities who have offered their support, their blood, and their energy to aid their neighbors in this time of need.”

All these statements are powerful. They are a real contribution to the need to raise anti-racist consciousness among the membership.

However, what is still needed is action to put some muscle behind strong words. Unions and allies from around the country marched on Canton, Miss., to denounce union busting and racist abuse of workers by Nissan in 2017. Why don’t they come back to Canton, one of the towns raided by ICE, and rally in solidarity with the immigrant union members who were so viciously attacked?

Martha Grevatt contributed to this article.

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