Posts Tagged ‘meatpacking’

Postville and The Shame of Iowa

December 6, 2008

The Des Moines Register reported yesterday on Lt. Gov. Patty Judge’s visit to Postville, where the shutdown of the Agriprocessors plant has thrown the community into turmoil.

Postville, Ia. – Lt. Gov. Patty Judge came here Thursday to face dozens of questions, some of them testy, from former meatpacking plant workers and others left adrift in the near-collapse of the town’s main employer.

“We’re to the point now where we can’t even feed our children,” Ginger Worthen, a former Agriprocessors plant worker, told Judge. “Christmas is coming up. How am I going to explain to my 5-year-old and my 2-year-old that Santa didn’t come this year?”

The lieutenant governor stood behind a folding table, looking concerned. “I hear you,” she said.

Postville has been struggling since last May, when federal immigration agents raided the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant and arrested half its workers on charges of being in the country illegally. The town has spiraled down in recent months, as the plant’s former leader was jailed, the company went into bankruptcy and the production line stopped for nearly three weeks.


The treatment of immigrant workers in Iowa’s meatpacking industry brings shame to our state (and all of the other states that are home to this vicious industry too, for that matter). The saddest part is that this industry used to provide good-paying union jobs and much safer working conditions in many places until the Reagan-era attack on unions destroyed union conditions in this industy (as those of us old enough to remember the Hormel strike and P-9 can testify … boy I’m dating myself here … OK, I’m an old fart, I admit it).

This tragedy illustrates several things –

1) the need for unions and the priority of making it possible for workers to form them again – passing Employee Free Choice Act is the immediate priority. Banning striker replacement and renegotiating the “free trade” deals (which have nothing to do with trade and everything to do with giving goodies to job-shifting union-busting multinational corporations) to include basic workers’ rights is second.

2) the need for a humane and just solution to the plight of immigrant workers. And building a wall isn’t it. If our ancestors could get across the Atlantic ocean to come here for a better life, what kind of idiot thinks a fence is going to stop the oppressed and exploited and starving workers of Latin America from getting here? Well, GOP bigots, for one. But they think Sarah Palin is a genius, so let’s forget about them. These workers are coming here, whether we like it not (although the depression will probably cut down on immigration, since we have fewer good jobs – or jobs that look good compared to rural Mexico, for that matter – to draw hardworking people here). What we need to focus on is, what are the conditions they encounter when they get here. Are we going to let greedy employers pit them against us and drive everyone’s wages down? Or we going to stand together as workers? I seem to recall our grandfathers and grandmothers saying saying something about “an injury to one is an injury to all.” They didn’t let the employers divide them as squareheads and bohunks and dagos and paddies and polacks and all the other ethnic groups. They united and said we are going to fight together for better wages and conditions.

Bottom line – We need immigration law reform that allows workers to come here with labor rights and a path to citizenship. Just like our grandparents and great-grandparents did.

3) the state of Iowa can and should regulate the safety conditions of these meatpacking factories – and make sure the food comes out healthy to eat too. 

A couple of links about Postville and meatpacking generally-
and from the Iowa Independent:

Postville author rips Culver and Judge on Agriprocessors
‘This is akin to foxes guarding the chicken coop’
 By Lynda Waddington 12/3/08 6:44 AM