GRAND ISLAND, NEBRASKA, September 19 — About 150 Muslim workers were fired today at the JBS Swift meatpacking plant in a struggle over prayer time during the 30-day period of Ramadan. Of 2,500 workers, about 500 are Muslim, mostly from Somalia and Sudan.
While we don’t believe in prayer and religion, we must unite with Muslim workers and oppose racist anti-Muslim attacks. As the economic crisis deepens and the imperialist oil war expands, the rulers are building a mass fascist movement by getting workers to blame each other for boss-crated problems. The recent immigration raid in Mississippi — where more than 650 workers were rounded up — was called in by the AFL-CIO, and federal agents were cheered on by union workers as immigrants were handcuffed and led away. We cannot allow repetition of this chilling scene.
Last Monday, hundreds of Muslim workers walked off the job, protesting lack of prayer time, especially concerned for evening prayer, which ends the daily fast. Swift supervisors accused Muslim workers of taking too long on their prayer breaks. Some workers complained of being kicked by a supervisor while they prayed. A woman worker protested being followed into the bathroom by a male supervisor as she attempted to pray. They held a similar protest on Tuesday and marched to City Hall.
Break times were changed on the second shift to accommodate the sunset prayer, which forced all workers to work Saturday to get their 40 hours. That sparked a protest by about 400 black, Latin, Asian and white non-Muslim workers, who walked off the job Wednesday and Thursday in what was basically a racist protest against the Muslim workers. The bosses and union leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers no doubt encouraged it.
About 80 Muslim workers were thrown out of the plant after a confrontation with protesters. When they tried to return for their shift Friday, they were fired, along with 70 others. No non-Muslim workers were fired. Also, the bosses reversed themselves on the new break schedules.
One worker said that the Somali workers “have changed everything,” and that “Swift management has given in to the minority.” Another said, “Nobody should have special privileges.” How often have we heard white workers make these same racist comments about black and Latino workers? This is exactly the type of “unity” that Bush-Obama-McCain and the racist rulers are counting on to expand their war on terror to Pakistan, Iran and beyond.
One precondition for communist revolution is the highest unity of the international working class. “Globalization” and mass immigration worldwide, with more internationalized work-forces on the job, make this possible. But it doesn’t just happen. We must set the example of building anti-racist, international friendships, and a revolutionary communist movement that reflects the same. Like the Mississippi raid, we should see this Swift struggle as a sign of things to come, alert our co-workers and build the revolutionary communist PLP, the only antidote to the bosses’ fascist poison.