Injustice doesn’t taste right

Fifty people picketed the Harris Teeter grocery store in Greensboro, N.C., March 31 to protest the sale there of items “packaged with abuse” at Smithfield Packing’s Tar Heel plant. The plant, the world’s largest hog slaughterhouse, has been cited by Human Rights Watch for illegal activity to thwart a 14-year drive by workers to unionize, and for creating an environment of intimidation, racial tension and violence for workers who want a voice on the job.

The protest was one of 22 demonstrations held that day at Harris Teeter supermarkets in eight Southern states. “If necessary we will escalate this fight for a boycott until we get whatever we need to bring justice to the workers at Smithfield,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP.

Carolyn Coleman, a Greensboro county commisioner who joined the protest, said, “I just think I don’t want to eat any more Smithfield products. You know, its something about injustice that just doesn’t make the meat taste right.”

In case you guys forgot, that’s illegal

Showing contempt for workers and customers, the management of three huge West Coast supermarket chains joined together April 4 in a “mutual aid pact” designed to beat back employee demands for a fair contract. The move, according to the union representing the workers, violates federal labor and antitrust laws. Under the agreement, rather than agree to a fair deal for workers, the three big chains could shut down simultaneously, lock out all their employees and eliminate options for their customers at the same time.

The California Attorney General’s Office is pressing a lawsuit against Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons supermarkets for breaking antitrust laws with the “mutual aid pact” they made in 2003.

“It appears they may not have learned their lesson,” said Rick Icaza, president of United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 770. “Back in 2003 and 2004 we were negotiating a joint contract with all three employers. This year we are negotiating with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons individually, which makes the agreement even more outrageous.”

Chrysler buyout will trigger new concession push

In the current bidding by the transnational giants that want to swallow up the Chrysler group, the proverb “let the buyer beware” could well be replaced with one that reads “let the workers beware.”

Las Vegas billionaire Kirk Kerkorian’s $4.5 billion bid to acquire Chrysler is less than bids by Magna International Inc., Cerbeus Capital Management LP and Blackstone Group, but Kerkorian is trying to sweeten his bid with appeals to workers.

He has offered the unions a 10 percent equity share in Chrysler and a seat on the board in exchange, of course, for concessions on workers’ benefits. He wants the unions to take over responsibility for paying out health insurance benefits and is offering to put $10 billion into a fund to kick off that process.

Chrysler and all its potential buyers believe that any deal has to include major concessions from the union. sixty-five thousand Chrysler workers are, of course, skeptical and want to see that their jobs and benefits will be protected.

The United Auto Workers contracts with Chrysler, GM and Ford all expire Sept. 14. Workers are keeping a close eye on the Chrysler deal. If the UAW agrees to take over payment of health insurance benefits for Chrysler workers, it is not difficult to guess what GM and Ford are going to be demanding in September.

‘A two-tiered society is not the America we want’

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney issued a statement April 3 blasting the Bush White House proposal for immigration reform, a plan that calls for massive expansion of guest worker programs.

“The Bush plan will put into law a two-tier society in America, with immigrant workers perpetually stuck on the bottom rung,” Sweeney said. He added that “the AFL-CIO has long opposed guest worker programs because they create a secondary class of workers with no enforeable rights. “Guest worker programs force workers to labor in temporary status while doing permanent jobs. Their most basic rights are often violated by the very employers who have the power to send them home if they ever complain.”

The nation should provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who are already working here, paying their taxes and enriching our communities, Sweeney concluded.

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