One Thousand Workers, Religious and Civil Rights Leaders and Activists Rally in Support of Smithfield Workers
On Wednesday, August 29th, 150 Smithfield workers and family members traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia to meet the top corporate leaders of Smithfield Foods, and were joined by 1000 supporters from around the country in a loud, colorful and passionate show of solidarity.
The demonstration, the largest in the history of the historic colonial town, dominated Smithfield Foods' 2007 Shareholders meeting. Moved by a series of inspirational messages from faith, civil rights, and workers' leaders at the First Baptist Church ( click here to see the diverse list of speakers), the overflow crowd took to the streets, chanting and singing to the beat of a dozen drummers and hundreds of whistles. Stopping briefly in front of the Williamsburg Lodge—the site of the shareholders meeting—the crowd shook the walls with their cries for justice at Smithfield's Tar Heel Plant.
The most exciting moment, though, came inside the shareholders meeting. Ten workers from the Tar Heel plant and ten prominent clergy and community leaders went to the shareholders meeting. During the meeting, Reverend Nelson Johnson from the Southern Faith Labor Community Alliance gave an impassioned message of support for the workers cause on behalf of the millions of members represented by the prominent leaders. Terry Slaughter, a livestock worker at the Tar Heel plant, showed CEO C. Larry Pope petitions signed by thousands of Tar Heel employees—representing a strong majority of workers in the plant. The petitions demanded a free and fair choice for selecting a union and called for "A union and a union contract...like unionized Smithfield workers have in other plants...and for Smithfield to remain neutral and let people choose a union without the company interfering" Terry showed thousands of supporting petitions from Smithfield workers around the world-from Poland, Spain and France to Iowa and Nebraska.
After the event, press reports noted that Smithfield executives plan to enter into talks with UFCW representatives. In another press interview, Pope "criticized the union's extensive campaign against the company...'It is costing the company substantially,' Pope said after the meeting." And click here to watch the local television coverage.
As the supporters rallied nearby in Bicentennial Park they promised to continue to stand alongside the Tar Heel workers until the battle is won. When workers brought the news from inside the shareholders meeting, the crowd erupted in a chant that made clear that the movement was just getting started. "We will be back," they cried. "We will be back."