David Bacon

David Bacon is a California writer and photojournalist; his latest book is The Right to Stay Home (Beacon Press, 2014).

Recent Articles

Feds Crack Down on Immigrant Labor Organizers

Recent immigration raids in North Carolina weren't just about deporting undocumented workers.

Julio Vargas was fired after leading the walkout among contracted workers for higher wages and safer working conditions at the Smithfield pork-processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. (Photo by David Bacon)
RED SPRINGS, North Carolina -- To organizer Eduardo Peña, "the raid was like a nuclear bomb" -- more precisely, a neutron bomb, that ingenious weapon of the Cold War whose radiation was meant to kill a city's residents but leave its buildings standing. After the immigration raid of January 24 at the Smithfield pork slaughtering plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, the factory was still intact, the machinery of the production lines ready to clank and clatter into its normal motion. But many workers were gone, and much of the plant lay still. That day the migra (agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Homeland Security Department) picked up 21 people, while trying not to alert the rest of the plant's laborers. One by one, supervisors went to Mexicans on the line. You're needed in the front office, they'd say. The workers would put down their knives, take off their gloves, and walk through the cavernous building to the human resources department. There ICE agents took...

Murder and Migration

Development projects anywhere in the world often have a high human cost. In Colombia, the price is often measured in human lives and blood. Esperanza (she would risk her life, she says, if her real name appeared in print) saw her neighbors pay that price in 2001. Her house sits on the bank of the Rio Salvajina, in the Afro-Colombian municipality of Buenos Aires in Cauca province. “I saw armed men arrive in cars,” she remembers, “with two, three, four, even five people tied up. They dragged them onto the bridge, shot them two or three times and threw their bodies into the river.” When the paramilitaries came to her own home, she was so frightened she lost the baby she'd been carrying for five months. Today Esperanza is a community activist organizing against the hydropower project for which her neighbors were killed. If ratified by Congress, the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, which President Bush and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe signed in mid-November, could lead to more such...

Justice Deported

In 1947, Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the crash of a plane carrying Mexican immigrant farm workers back to the border. In haunting lyrics he describes how it caught fire as it flew low over Los Gatos Canyon, near Coalinga at the edge of California's San Joaquin Valley. Observers below saw people and belongings flung out of the aircraft before it hit the ground, falling like leaves, he wrote. No record was kept of the workers' identities. They were simply listed as "deportee," and that became the name of the song. Far from being recognized as workers or even human beings, Guthrie lamented, the dead were treated as criminals. “They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves." Some things haven't changed much. When agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested over a thousand workers in six Swift and Company meatpacking plants on Tuesday, they too were called criminals. In Greeley, Colorado, agents dressed in SWAT uniforms even carried a hundred handcuffs with...

And the Winner Is ...

Hiding from the U.S. border patrol in an air-conditioning duct for nine and a half hours, Jorge Mendez couldn't even come down to urinate. As agents passed below, he had to keep from making the slightest noise.

Who Murdered Gilberto Soto?

As evening fell on November 5, Gilberto Soto received a call on his cell phone, at his mother's home in a working-class neighborhood of Usulutan, El Salvador. Unable to understand the caller, Soto stepped out of the door of her house to get better reception. In the street outside, three men lay in wait. According to witnesses, they ran up to Soto, shot him in the back, and then fled in a car and bicycle as he lay bleeding on the pavement. Soto was taken to a local clinic, where he died shortly afterward. A dead body in a the street is not unusual in El Salvador, where violent death has been a plague through a bloody civil war and even into a new era of supposed peace. But Soto's death was no ordinary assassination. Although he'd left his homeland in 1975, and had become a supporter in exile of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, this was probably not the reason he was killed. It is much more likely that his murder was connected to a new campaign to organize trucking workers...

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