On August 7, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided seven chicken processing plants in Morton, Mississippi and arrested 680 workers in what acting ICE Director Matthew Albence told the Associated Press “could be the largest-ever workplace operation in any single state.” While about 300 were given a court date and were set free, roughly 380 were detained and sent to detention facilities across the south and east coast. Many of those who were arrested were members of United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
ICE made no provision for the children of the workers who were detained, and people in the town of Morton were reported to have set up a shelter in their community center for the dozens of children who had been left without any kind of family or guardians to take care of them, some of them literally left crying and alone on the streets of Morton. Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services still had not accounted for every known child of those who were deported. The community has rallied to support these children in the short term, but no resources for their care have been forthcoming from ICE or any other federal agency.
Approximately one quarter of those arrested were employees of multi-billion dollar chicken conglomerate Koch Foods. Koch Foods is owned by Joseph Grendys, who founded the company and was the 328th richest person in the United States in 2018 according to Forbes Magazine.
Employees of Koch Foods reached a $3.75 million settlement with the company in 2018 in a case of racial and sexual discrimination brought against Koch by the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission on the employees’ behalf. The suit detailed a climate of hostility on the part of supervisors, as well as sexual harassment, racial discrimination and other forms of abuse leveled primarily at the Latino workers, who make up the majority of employees at those plants.
Koch Foods has been sued repeatedly for racial discrimination and has been singled out for gross safety violations, including those that can result in life-changing injury or even death.
Koch has been accused of retaliation against employees who organize or take steps toward unionizing, as has been alleged in the case of these most recent raids. The short space of time between recent gains in unionizing their workplace and the recent settlement payout and the raids by ICE have caused many to draw a connection between the two.
There have also been previous allegations that ICE was serving as a private army for the capitalists. A 2018 raid of Fresh Mark meat packing plant in Salem, Ohio by ICE agents followed closely on the heels of inroads made by the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union in organizing the workers there. It also came less than a week after OSHA fined Fresh Mark $211,194 for insufficient safety guards which could have prevented the accidental death of Domingo Ramos, an undocumented worker at the packing plant.
It is undeniable that the effect that these raids have had on the people who are being targeted is chilling. “These raids send a real signal to immigrant workers not to speak up, and we feel like these raids enable employers in the most dangerous industry to cut corners and violate labor standards,” said Debbie Berkowitz, former chief of staff of OSHA. The overall effect is an environment of fear that is beneficial to the ruling class and detrimental to the working people.
The workers at these plants, who are trying to earn the best living they can for themselves and their families, have paid the price entirely in this case, while the billionaires suffer no significant consequences, even for the death of one of their workers owing to their desire to cut costs and maximize profits.
The link between big businesses like Koch Foods and law enforcement agencies like ICE are especially clear In this case. Major companies rely on police to be their union-busting muscle and protect their process of exploitation which shows that it is exactly the capitalist class for whom the machinery of the government works, and not for working people like those in the chicken plants.