Freddie Ash, steward, UFCW Local 1529, works at Pekoe Foods in Brooksville, MS
Magaly Licolli, Director, Venceremos, organizing Latinx poultry workers in 5 plants across Arkansas
Andre Barnett, Secretary Treasurer, UFCW Local 1208, Smithfield foods, Tar Heel, NC
Evelyn, works at Case Farms in Morganton, NC active member of the Western NC Workers Center
Abdul Akalimat, professor of African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign speaking on the research done by the SWA about the meatpacking industry and COVID-19 and the new meatpacking pamphlet.
Ajamu Dillahunt, Black Workers For Justice, speaking about Black Lives Matter and the role of the working class and unions in fighting police murders
Libby Devlin, National Bargaining Director for the National Nurses United
|As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third month, workers’ struggles across the South and around the country are heating up – particularly in the meatpacking industry. More than 230 strikes and job actions have taken place since the crisis began, according to activities being tracked by the Payday Report. This includes walkouts by poultry workers in Columbia, SC; Kathleen, GA; among many other areas.
In addition, an uprising has broken out in response to the murder of George Floyd. It is clear that Black workers in the US face two pandemics – one in the workplace with risk of exposure to COVID-19, and in their communities from killer cops, which is part of a War on Black America.
In April, the Southern Workers Assembly launched the Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign to advance the organization of workers at the workplace and to build solidarity formations such as local workers assemblies. This campaign is especially critical in the South, a region with the lowest union density in the country and with 57% of the Black population in the United States.
The meatpacking industry – which largely employ Black, Latinx, and immigrant workers – has been particularly hard hit by COVID-19 outbreaks. As of May 27, 43 of the 50 largest coronavirus clusters were tied to either meatpacking or prison facilities. Rural communities that have a meatpacking plant have a COVID-19 infection rate that is 5x higher than those without. These communities are already impacted by polluting industries that cause widespread health problems and weakened immune systems.
The SWA issued a statement condemning Trump’s order that meatpacking plants remain open. The SWA urged more struggle and solidarity for these workers as part of building the Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign. We continued to make contact with meatpacking workers and their organizations throughout the South, and are preparing a special pamphlet on the history and conditions of the industry as a tool to aid the struggles now underway and breaking out.
The cruel death of George Floyd by four cops opens wounds of a racist history of killer police shaped by the abuse of power under the capitalist political and economic system. The SWA calls on all workers and their organizations to take actions expressing condemnation of this racist act.
We invite you to participate in our next discussion on how to build the Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign, with a special focus on the meatpacking industry, on Sunday, June 14, at 6pm.