The mostly-immigrant workers who toil in the nation’s meatpacking industry face many of the same dangerous conditions and stark exploitation as the immigrant meatpackers depicted in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle 100 years ago.
On May 12, the largest single immigration raid in U.S. history took place in the tiny town of Postville, Iowa, home to the Agriprocessors Kosher meatpacking plant. During the raid, the feds issued 700 warrants and made nearly 400 arrests. The 700 displaced workers represented 75% of the Agriprocessors workforce and a full third of the town’s residents.
As in previous raids, this one resulted in the separation of families. Fathers and husbands were sent to jails, mothers were clapped with house-arrest anklets, and babies and children were threatened with being separated from one or both parents.
The aftermath of the raid will likely be another lesson in the class system. While some managers might be prosecuted for minor offenses, the actual owners are very unlikely to be touched. Can you imagine the feds arresting CEOs and stockholders or confiscating the profits of companies like Agriprocessors, which was forcing workers as young as 15 to work six days per week, 12 hours per day, with no overtime pay?
An impressive protest of 1,000 locals and out-of town supporters marched through Postville (a town of 2,200) on July 27. Workers are calling for immigration reform, providing legal status to undocumented immigrants so they can defend their rights against giant corporations like Agriprocessors.
As Irma, a Guatemalan worker arrested in the raids, said, “We come here by necessity. I ask you to help us. We’re not criminals. We’re workers” (gazetteonline.com, 7/27/08).