Work in factories, fields, ports at a stand-still

By Andrew Pollack / May 2006 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

Several hundred protesters in Tijuana, Mexico, closed the world’s busiest border crossing, which leads to San Diego. Border crossings at Tecate in California and Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo and Hidalgo in Texas were also temporarily closed.

The combined southern California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle more goods than any other in the country, were largely shut down by trucker strikes. Demonstrating truckers parked their rigs to block roads leading into the port.

Even though it was harvest time, fields in California and Arizona, which contribute more than half the nation’s produce, were largely empty. Almost all of the 60,000 farmworkers in Monterey, Calif., and surrounding counties were absent. About half of Florida’s farm
workers struck, according to the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

Industry analysts estimated that less than half the normal number of cattle and hogs for a Monday were slaughtered. The world’s largest meatpacker, Tyson Foods, closed about a dozen of its plants and saw “higher-than-usual absenteeism” at others. Bosses at Cargill were forced to give 15,000 workers in several states the day off, and Perdue Farms, the nation’s third-largest chicken producer, closed eight plants.

Other manufacturers closing included Atlanta’s Mohawk Industries, a major manufacturer of carpets and flooring. Factories and warehouses in the garment district in L.A. were nearly deserted, including the largest garment factory in the country, American Apparel, which employs 3000. In downtown L.A. about one in three small businesses closed, and the wholesale produce markets supplying city restaurants and supermarkets were virtually empty.

Hundreds of stores along largely-Latino Mission Street in San Francisco were closed. Heavy retail closure rates were also seen in Latino neighborhoods on Long Island, in all boroughs of New York City, and in Chicago. In Camden, N.J., almost all independent grocery stores, mostly Dominican-owned, were closed.

McDonald’s shut some of its outlets and reduced operating hours or tried to operate short-staffed at others. Also shut down were 29 branches of the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain.

Goya Foods suspended delivery everywhere except Florida. The Malone’s Cost-Plus chain, which owns over 800 restaurants and nine Dallas supermarkets, closed down.
The Associated General Contractors of Greater Florida said more than half the workers at Miami-Dade sites did not show up. The vast majority of day laborers on Long Island—who have faced repeated harassment from the fascist Minutemen—stayed away from sites where they gather to find work. According to the American Nursery and Landscape Association, 90% of workers in the landscaping industry took off.

Despite demands by casino owners in Las Vegas that workers show up on May 1 (which UNITE-HERE Local 226 failed to oppose), tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered on the Strip during mid-day.

Scattered reports appeared of firings of workers who had walked out during the March or April protests. But here repression was met with resistance. Workers at Excel meatpacking in Dodge City walked off the job after several workers were disciplined. After they marched into the company cafeteria and announced they wouldn’t return to work, management backed down.

In Chicago and Wisconsin hundreds of workers won reinstatement after protests. The most publicized case was that of 15 Mexican immigrant women fired from their meat-cutting jobs at Wolverine Packing in Detroit. After protests, some were rehired with back pay, but others hated the working conditions so much they turned down the offer.
Other firings included 10 restaurant workers in Bonita Springs, 22 welders in Tyler, Texas, employees of an asbestos removal firm in Indianapolis, a restaurant in Milwaukee, and a factory in Bellwood, Ill. Activists building the boycott argued that a coordinated defense campaign for such workers needed to be launched.

One component of such a campaign appeared on May Day itself, when Change to Win announced it had filed a nationwide Unfair Labor Practice Charge (an NLRB procedure) on behalf of any worker unlawfully disciplined during any of the recent days of action.
CtW said any firings or other victimizations would be a violation of the right under federal labor law to engage in “protected concerted activity,” and that the protests must be considered such as they are political actions related to policies affecting employment conditions. CtW has asked all movement groups to forward names of victimized workers.

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