N.C. alliance supports Smithfield workers

A coalition including the state NAACP, the North Carolina Council of Churches and the United Food and Commercial Workers reached across the state of North Carolina Dec. 2 to hold protests at 11 stores belonging to the Harris Teeter grocery chain, asking the company to stop the sale of Smithfield pork products. The supermarket protests, called by the Southern Faith, Labor and Community Alliance, followed the walkout in mid-November of nearly 1,000 Latino, African American and white workers from Smithfield’s Tar Heel, N.C., plant. The workers were challenging abusive working conditions and the arbitrary firings of immigrant workers.

One leader of the Dec. 2 supermarket protest, the Rev. Hudson Barksdale, pastor of the Gregory United Church of Christ in Wilmington, told the Wilmington Star-News that it was especially important for pastors to protest because “Christ was about justice, and if we sit idly by when our brothers and sisters are suffering … then we are not Christians.”

Demanding universal health care

Labor in North Carolina is giving its attention to the health care struggle as well. The state’s AFL-CIO has become the 15th state labor federation to throw its support to HR 676, the single-payer health care legislation introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) The bill also received the endorsement of Central Labor Councils in Newell, W.Va., Boulder, Colo., and Louisville, Ky., bringing the total of labor council endorsements to 50.

In Lawrence, Kansas, Branch 104 of the National Association of Letter Carriers became the first union local in that state to endorse the bill. Alan Hickey of Branch 104 reported that the local’s endorsement came after NALC President William Young told the union’s national convention in August that the 305,000-member union had asked to be listed as an endorser of the bill.

“We pay more and receive less in health care than any other industrialized nation,” said Hickey, “and the fact that we rank last in infant mortality says all you need to know about our profit-driven health care system. I am over 50 years old and have been told to fear socialized medicine my entire life. Well, I no longer fear universal health care — I demand it for myself, my family, and the entire country.”

Strikers appeal to NASCAR fans

The Goodyear strikers include the highly skilled tire makers who make the tires that race cars run on. Goodyear is the exclusive tire maker for NASCAR. Two hundred strikers took their fight for a fair contract to the New York City site of the NASCAR awards where they rallied Dec. 1, asking NASCAR fans to stand by them, Workers Independent News reports.

Fifteen thousand members of the USW have been on strike since Oct. 5 after the company refused to rule out the closing of two of its 11 plants in the U.S. and Canada. The company recorded an after tax profit of $228 million last year and granted its executives multimillion-dollar bonuses, the union reported. Nevertheless, “Goodyear is trying to wash its hands of its health care obligation to current and future retirees,” the United Steelworkers charged.

But support from the public has been strong, Dennis Battles, president of USW Local 12 in Gadsden, Ala., told the Birmingham News. “One elderly lady whose late husband retired from the plant walked to the picket line the other day and handed out $50 bills to every worker there.”

Green jobs

Nearly 23,000 new jobs could be developed in Ohio if the nation implemented a program to develop 74,000 megawatts of renewable energy, according to a report released in November by the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club along with newly elected Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher. USW President Leo Gerard joined Sierra Club leader Carl Pope in calling for renewable energy policies at the state and national level to create thousands of new jobs and fight global warming. The report calls for a national renewable energy program emphasizing wind, solar, geothermal and biomass technologies, which it says can create a demand for billions of dollars worth of manufactured components.

This Week in Labor is compiled by Roberta Wood (rwood @ pww.org). Reader contributions are invited.