Looking Back to Organize Forward!

As I migrate my old blog to Wholeness4Love I am encouraged to see that certain injustices I have written about have been changed or are in the process of improving. Today at yet another City Hall Rally  I commented to a co-worker that you know times are bad when you are at City Hall rallies every other week. Sometimes as a organizer I can get discouraged because each day it appears that our rights are being eroded more and more, but as I read past blog post I see God is faithful and that justice will prevail!  For instance Domestic Workers United(DWU) helped to get a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights passed in 2010, through the organizing efforts of United Workers members and organizers the ESPN Zone workers are in a class action lawsuit and Smithfield Farms had to change their labor practices after a successful campaign for worker justice (see the blog post below). Though times are hard we have to remember that as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached: “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

When I am starting to feel burned out as a result of my justice work I try to remember Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Vintage Post: Bless the Hands that Prepare Our Food!

This blog was first posted on Sojourners God’s Politics Blog. For more information please visit Justice at Smithfield.

During the BBQ Season of summer I attended the DC campaign kick-off for the Justice at Smithfield Campaign. “Smithfield Foods is the largest pork processor and producer in the world, the fourth largest turkey processor and fifth largest beef processor in the U.S.” In the early 1990′s Smithfield opened its Tar Heel, North Carolina plant, with 5,500 workers who slaughter and process 32,000 hogs per day. The Tar Heel plant is not unionized and overall only about 56% of Smithfield pork processing plant employees are unionized.Though raised in Brooklyn, NY, my family hails from North Carolina which makes this campaign of personal importance to me. At the campaign kick-off two young women testified about mistreatment at the Tar Heel plant. A 22 year-old woman spoke of developing such a serious case of carpal tunnel syndrome that she can no longer lift more than 15 pounds. The testimony of this woman had a profound effect on me because I saw myself in her face. At 22 years-old I was a recent college graduate excitedly planning my future. I did not have to worry about an injury that could leave me disabled for life. If my grandparents remained in North Carolina instead of migrating to Brooklyn, NY, I could have easily been one of the Smithfield workers. What separates me from the workers at Smithfield?Some of the tasks at the Tar Heel plant include cutting the skin off of frozen meat as it comes down the line, a task that is especially difficult when having to work at breakneck speeds. As stated in the Human Rights Watch report: Blood Sweat and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants: Many workers have painful reactions to conditions, but they do not act for fear of losing their jobs. In this report one employee is quoted as saying ‘I am sick at work with a cold and breathing problems and my arms are always sore. But I am afraid to say anything about this because I am afraid they will fire me.’ Workers have also spoken of sexual harassment and racism. How can working conditions like this exist in our modern society? What is the role of race, class and economics in the Smithfield worker struggle? As I reflect on the Justice at Smithfield campaign I am reminded of a common request made during the blessing of a meal–”may God bless the hands of those who have prepared our food.” As we continue this season of BBQ’s let us remember the workers of Smithfield when we bless our meals by asking God to bless their hands and their struggle.

To see my past post on faithful  justice visit my Esther’s Call page.

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