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The Swift raids: State's gestapo-style revenge for the immigrants rights
Released 01 January 2007  By Fred Bergen

The Swift raids: State's gestapo-style revenge for the immigrants rights
movement
by Fred Bergen

At 6 AM on Tuesday, December 12, over one thousand armed agents of the
Federal Bureau of Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stormed six
plants belonging to Swift & Co, the country's second largest meatpacker.
At plants in Greeley, Colorado, Marshalltown, Iowa, Worthington,
Minnesota, Grand Island, Nebraska, Cactus, Texas, and Hyrum, Utah,
black-shirted ICE cops pulled workers from the lines, separated
"immigrants" from "citizens" by skin color, and hauled nearly 1,300
workers away by the bus-load to concentration camps, known
euphemistically in ICE-speak as "detention centers," most without any
charges, without lawyers, without warning. Hundreds of family and
friends of the workers, alerted to the raids by reports on the radio,
watched through the plant fences with tears of fear and rage as their
loved ones were taken away.

The impact was devastating. In Worthington, where ten cattle-cars/buses
lined up to take the kidnapped workers away to a prison in Sioux Falls,
Iowa, five children were dropped off at a local church by their school
bus driver when they returned home to find their parents disappeared.
Also in Worthington, "Jesus Alcantar, a Swift employee and union
representative, said ... that he had found four children knocking on
doors looking for their mother." (Worthington Daily Globe, 14 Dec. 2006)
In Greeley, Colorado, at least one hundred children lost their parents
to the federal immigration Gestapo. In Texas, four hundred children are
thought to be separated from their parents. In Utah, three hundred
children are thought to be without their parents.

The numbers are uncertain, partly because the immigrant population of
the meatpacking towns has been terrorized, and is wary of speaking to
journalists or government agencies, but primarily because the ICE
Gestapo was clearly unconcerned with the consequences of its mass
kidnappings. The most they offered to shocked families and community
members was an 800 number for inquiries about the disappeared. Arrested
parents were allowed to petition their captors for a thirty-day grace
period to prepare for deportation or present documentation. ICE shut the
prisoners off from the outside world at the remote military bases where
they were held. Lawyers attempting to visit the prisoners at the Camp
Dodge Iowa National Guard base were turned away by guards. On Wednesday,
December 13, lawyer Gail Boliver reported, "I was asked by family
members and friends to meet with immigrant workers now being detained at
the camp, but we were turned away at the gate and told, 'That's it,' for
the day. I even had a list with the names of my clients, but the answer
was no." (Associated Press, 14 Dec. 2006) A priest and a nun from a
church in Marshalltown were turned away from Camp Dodge when they went
in search of the mother of an infant in their care. The "ICE officer at
the facility 'wouldn't tell us anything about anybody,'" says the
Reverend Jim Miller. "The baby doesn't want to eat," says Sister
Christine Feagan, "another [volunteer] tried to breastfeed, but she knew
it wasn't her [mother]." (Des Moines Register, 13 Dec. 2006)

"Operation Wagon Train," the biggest ever government kidnapping of
immigrant workers, hit at the end of a historic year in the history of
the struggle for immigrants' rights. The US House of Representatives'
passage of Resolution 4437, known as the "Sensenbrenner Bill" after its
sponsor, James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), in December of 2005, sparked
massive marches and protests across the country the following spring. HR
4437 would have made it a federal crime to be an undocumented immigrant
in the United States (although the government seems to have no problem
with arresting people who are not guilty of any crime, either.) Massive
rallies were held on April 10. But they were only a prelude to the
historic May Day general strike, when millions of immigrants and their
supporters took to the streets in every major city and hundreds of towns
in the United States.

The developments following the historic May Day strike, leading up to
this December's racist atrocity at Swift, point to the need for a
class-struggle fight for immigrants rights, independent of the
Democratic Party and of the bosses. The betrayals by the established
movement and union leaders in the months since the May Day strike paved
the way for the Swift raids, and helped to undermine the possibility for
a strong response. Immigrant communities are boiling over with outrage,
but there has been no organized response anywhere near the scale of the
massive marches last spring. The United Food and Commercial Workers
(UFCW) union, which represents workers at Swift & Co. and other
meatpacking plants, has held press conferences condemning the Swift
raids and sought legal injunctions to stop the raids, but this does
nothing to free the hundreds of prisoners who were taken on December 12,
or to stop the ICE Gestapo from deporting over five hundred people every
day (ICE Office of Detention and Removal "Key Accomplishments in Fiscal
Year 2006".)

The May Day strike demonstrated the two contradictory tendencies in the
movement. While the millions of workers and young people who took to the
streets protested the draconian Sensenbrenner bill by exercising their
power as a significant sector of the working class, shutting down
meatpacking, ports, construction, agricultural, and retail industries,
the spontaneous nature of the protest and the lack of an organized
working class party allowed the union bureaucrats, local Democratic
party officials, and religious groups to position themselves in the
leadership of the new movement. Despite the differences that these
sectors may have had with the specifics of the Sensenbrenner
legislation, their goal was not to carry the fight for full citizenship
rights for all immigrants to its conclusion, but to divert the new
movement into a compromise with the bosses and the Democratic Party.

The employers, in general, were uncharacteristically cooperative with
the May Day strike, agreeing in advance to shut down for the day and
give workers the day off. Mainstream business interests do not want the
complete deportation of all or even a majority of undocumented
immigrants - doing so would cause the economy to grind to a halt. This
aspect of Sensenbrenner's legislation was aimed at stirring up the
congressman's far-right ultra-racist base of support for the coming
elections, not responding to the needs of the exploiters of immigrant
labor who bankroll congressional and presidential campaigns. The
consensus position of the business class was expressed by the
legislation that came out of the Senate, bill 2611, alternatively known
as the "Hagel-Martinez" bill after its principal sponsors.

While on May Day, the mass opposition in the streets to Sensenbrenner
briefly and roughly coincided with the tactical legislative program of
the majority of the capitalist class, the bosses were not at all
interested in granting immigrants' demands for equal rights and an end
to racist persecution. Their agenda, best represented by the Democratic
Party, was maintain a reliable supply of oppressed workers who, lacking
the basic rights of citizenship, could be pressured into accepting lower
wages and harsher, more dangerous working conditions. "Law and order"
measures, including massive roundups and deportations, are a necessary
part of this plan. Then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi attacked
Bush's immigration policy from the right:

"The record is clear: for more than five years, the President has failed
to secure our borders and to enforce our immigration laws. Republicans
in Congress have abetted that failure by repeatedly underfunding the
border patrol, refusing to hold the President accountable, and fighting
among themselves to destroy real immigration reform.

Seven times over the last four and a half years, House Republicans
rejected Democratic amendments to increase resources. Had the
Republicans not rejected all these amendments, there would be 6,600 more
Border Patrol agents, 14,000 more detention beds, and 2,700 more
immigration enforcement agents than there are now." (2 Aug. 2006)

In the Senate, Dianne Feinstein, taking a page from the Nazi authorities
who required Jews to display a special identification (the star of
David) to facilitate surveillance and persecution, outlined a new plan
that she called the "orange card" system, involving a process of at
least six years, multiple background checks and measures of state
surveillance, and thousands of dollars in fines for each immigrant
wishing to obtain "legal" status. She boasted that the fines from her
proposed system would bring in $20 billion in revenues for the
government. (Speech from the Senate floor, 22 May 2006). Millionaire
real estate developer, Arizona Democratic Party chairman, and 2006
Senatorial candidate John Pederson pushed a "get tough" law enforcement
policy proposal:

"Compel the federal government to pay the $217 million owed Arizona for
incarcerating foreign nationals and expand the State Criminal Alien
Assistance Program (SCAAP) program, which provides grants to border
states that bear the brunt of Washington's failed policies. ... Improve
coordination and intelligence-sharing between federal enforcement
efforts and state and local law enforcement. ...
Recruit, hire, and train at least 12,000 new, highly-qualified Border
Patrol agents over the next five years. ... Expand the capacity for
detention facilities for foreign nationals. ...

Undocumented workers would be eligible to participate [in a guest-worker
program] if they pay a fine, undergo a criminal and security background
check, and pay back taxes. ... After six years, guest workers would be
eligible to apply for permanent residency, provided they pay a fine
[another fine?!], learn English, and successfully complete a series of
U.S. civics courses. After five additional years, they would be eligible
to apply for citizenship." ("Securing Our Borders and Getting Results",
2006)

As long as a sufficient level of unemployment is maintained, periodic
raids and deportations such as the Swift case, made possible by the
bipartisan law-enforcement-funding bonanza, are no more than a minor
nuisance to the bosses. Replacement workers, often other immigrants, are
easy enough to find. Swift & Co. was back to work the next day, and it
"anticipates no adverse long-term impacts to its operations." (San
Francisco Chronicle, 16 Dec. 2006) The advantages, maintaining a fearful
and disorganized workforce, and preventing union organizing, outweigh
the costs to the business owners. This anti-union conspiracy under the
cover of immigration enforcement was recently exemplified by the
persecution of union activists at Smithfield Foods' Tar Heel, North
Carolina plant. Seeking to intimidate immigrant workers who were engaged
in a union organizing drive, Smithfield began firing workers with
"no-match" letters alleging that the workers used fake Social Security
numbers. Instead, the intimidation attempt provoked a two-day wildcat
strike that forced the company to freeze its firings. (See the Dec. 2006
issue of WCE)

On May Day, the workers marched for an end to racist persecution and for
equal rights. The bosses, represented by the Democrats, used their
obedient servants in the labor bureaucracy to hijack the movement and
use it as a vehicle to promote their, completely opposite, political
program: more racist "law and order" and a permanent second-class "guest
worker" status for immigrant workers.

The labor and non-profit organization misleaders rushed to harness the
energy of the spring protests campaigns coordinated with the Democratic
Party, for "comprehensive immigration reform." What is comprehensive
immigration reform? It is a slogan formulated to mean absolutely
nothing, better yet, to mean whatever the Democrats wanted it to mean.
The draconian Democratic schemes outlined above, among others from both
parties and from President Bush himself, were all touted as
"comprehensive immigration reform."

The major labor unions formed a coalition with business groups and
think-tanks linked to the Democratic Party, the "We Are America
Alliance," with the goal of registering and mobilizing one million new
immigrant voters (that is, those whose voting rights have not been
denied) for the 2006 midterm elections, presumably to vote for the
union-endorsed "law and order" Democratic candidates. This alliance and
its co-thinkers turned the Labor Day marches into massive rallies for
the Democratic congressional hopefuls, despite their open support for
the ICE Gestapo, promoting the slogan Hoy Marchamos, Maņana Votamos
(today we march, tomorrow we vote). Since there was no formidable
socialist alternative at the polls that stood for full citizenship
rights for all immigrants, the vote results, whichever party they
favored, were destined to give a mandate to the state's outrageous acts
of racist cruelty, such as the Swift Raids that followed shortly
thereafter, in spite of the hopes of the millions of voters who were
told that they were voting for "reform."

The betrayals of the pro-capitalist union leaders had the inevitable
demoralizing effect on the workers and the immigrant rights movement. In
contrast to the huge outpourings of last spring, only isolated protests
and vigils have been organized against the Swift Raids. UFCW's actions
in response to the atrocity, limited to legal appeals in the courts,
have been completely ineffective. But this situation, in which righteous
anger at the government's mass kidnappings is counterposed by treasonous
inaction and class collaboration at the top of the workers'
organizations, is untenable. It cannot survive a further shock. The
workers have the power to shut down the entire meatpacking industry with
a general strike, to force the immediate release of the prisoners and
end the racist anti-immigrant persecutions. Workers at the Smith & Co.
plants are organized in the UFCW: the UFCW union must shut down all
meatpacking nationwide in protest! This will only happen when the
workers toss out the reformist betrayers at the head of the union
organizations, and replace them with a revolutionary leadership
completely independent of the "law and order" capitalist state and its
parties, the Republicans, Democrats, and Greens.


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