David Bacon

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.

Recent Articles

Unions Come to Smithfield

On Dec. 11, Smithfield workers were not just celebrating a vote count. They'd just defeated one of the longest, most bitter anti-union campaigns in modern U.S. labor history.

This article has been corrected . 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. Yet on Dec. 11, 2008, when the votes were counted in the same packing plant, 2,041 workers had voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), while just 1,879 had voted against it. That stunning reversal set off celebrations in house trailers and ramshackle homes in Tarheel, Red Springs, St. Pauls, and all the tiny working-class towns spread from Fayetteville down to the South Carolina border. Relief and happiness are understandable in North Carolina, where union membership is the lowest in the...

Black and Brown Together

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. Throughout the 1990s more immigrants arrived looking for work. Some guest workers overstayed their visas, while husbands brought wives, cousins, and friends from home. Mexicans and Central Americans joined South and Southeast Asians and began traveling north through the state, finding jobs in rural poultry plants. There they met African Americans, many of whom had fought hard campaigns to organize unions for chicken and catfish workers over the preceding decade. It was not easy for newcomers to fit in. Their union representatives didn't...

Mexican Miners' Strike for Life

Copper miners in Mexico face down powerful corporations, company-backed unions, and government corruption to secure basic health, safety, and benefits for workers.

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. The next crusher breaks them into smaller pieces, and then enormous mills below grind them down even further, until they are no longer rocks at all, or even pebbles, but a steady stream of fine sand. Even though the mine has been still for over 50 days, shut down because its workers are on strike, rock dust in parts of this huge complex, called...

No Justice with No-Match Rule

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.

Merry Christmas! You're fired. 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 San Francisco, U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney ruled in favor of unions, along with the ACLU and the National Immigration Law Center, which have drawn the line on tactics the Homeland Security Department is using for immigration enforcement. At issue is a proposal that would have required Social Security to send out letters on September 4 to over 160,000 employers, listing the names of at least eight million workers. The letters would have listed those employees whose numbers don't match Social Security Administration (SSA) records. Workers would then have had 90 days to come up with new...

Time for a More Radical Immigrant-Rights Movement

Congress's failure to pass immigration reform legislation is being used to crack down on undocumented immigrants in several states.

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. The Senate's failure is used as well in Prince William County, Virginia, to justify a local ordinance ordering all public officials to check immigration papers, even teachers, nurses and librarians. They're forbidden to help anyone lacking them. Meanwhile, immigration agents continue detaining and deporting people by the hundreds in workplace and community raids around the country. Some DC supporters of the recent Senate bill are still floundering...

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