David Bacon is a writer and photographer, and associate editor for New America Media. He is the author of The Children of NAFTA and sits on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Committee of the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition.
When immigration agents raided Smithfield Food's huge North Carolina slaughterhouse two years ago, union organizer Eduardo Peña compared the impact to a "nuclear bomb." The day after, people were so scared that most of the plant's 5,000 employees didn't show up for work. The lines where they kill and cut apart 32,000 hogs every day were motionless. "Workers think it's happening because people were getting organized," said Vargas at the time.
In Mississippi, African American leaders are the foremost champions of the state's growing Latino immigrant population. Some day soon, they hope, the new alliance will transform the state's reactionary politics.
In 1991, seeking to boost its never robust economy, the state of Mississippi passed a law permitting casino gambling. In short order, immigrant construction workers arrived from Florida to build the casinos, and the casinos themselves began using contractors to supply immigrants to meet their growing labor needs. Guest workers, eventually numbering in the thousands, were brought under the H-2B program to fill many of the jobs the developments created.
A striker from the Cananea copper mine, the largest in Mexico, describes the many unsafe conditions at the mine to a group of supporters in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by David Bacon)
CANANEA, SONORA, MEXICO -- In its natural state, Cananea's copper ore is part of a sagebrush-covered mountain in the middle of the Sonora desert 70 miles south of Arizona. To extract the metal indispensable to computers, automobiles, and iPods, the rock is first blown out of the mountainside with explosives and then loaded onto dump trucks so huge the tires would dwarf a basketball player. The trucks then dump their loads -- small boulders, in effect -- into the first crusher on the hilltop overlooking the huge complex. When the crushed rocks pour out down below, into tunnels deep in the hillside, they're still about the size of watermelons.
A Bush administration proposal would have resulted in mass firings of workers just in time for Christmas. But an effort by the labor and immigration movements has led courts to intervene and halt the plan -- for now.
This could be the scenario for over eight million workers this coming holiday season, if a new regulation announced by the Bush administration goes into effect. But within days of a Washington press conference making the rule official, a federal judge stepped into the fray and stopped the administration from going through with its plan -- at least for the moment.
In Worthington, Iowa, a federal prosecutor gets a grand jury indictment against Braulio Pereyra-Gabino, union vice-president at the local Swift meatpacking plant. He's accused of not turning his undocumented members in to Homeland Security. In Arizona, Gov. Janet Napolitano signs a draconian immigration enforcement bill, criminalizing work for those without papers and ordering state agents to enforce the prohibition with a vengeance. Since Congress wouldn't pass the recent Senate bill with the same sanctions, she says Arizona has no choice.