Thousands of striking meatpackers and supporters from at least 19 states marched through the streets Saturday, one day after a demonstration at a Geo. A. Hormel & Co. plant was broken up by police and 17 people were arrested.
Shouting, “They say give back--We say fight back,” the marchers carried placards and U.S. flags, then nearly filled the 4,500-seat Austin arena to support the strike against Hormel by Local P-9 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
“We’re (here) to help our brothers and sisters,” said Marilyn Thornton, an officer with Local 335 of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union in Chicago. “This company is making millions of dollars and they’re not giving it back to workers.”
Supporters came to this southern Minnesota community from Texas, Illinois, California, New York, Massachusetts, Alabama, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Florida, Minnesota, Washington state, Maine, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, Kansas, Wyoming and Missouri.
“We stand for freedom, we stand for fairness. We will continue to fight against this company with an all-out boycott of Hormel products,” Jim Guyette, president of the local, said at the rally.
“The people in Austin give courage to the people out there,” actor David Soul, who also has supported labor disputes in Pittsburgh, Pa., said before addressing the rally. He said the strike “is a moral issue. It’s not a question of procedures, but a question of morals.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson was to address the rally by telephone, but a hookup through the public address system failed. He was to meet with company and union officials today, both sides said.
“His suggestions, any suggestions, would be most welcome,” Hormel Vice President Charles Nyberg said.
Eight Officers Hurt
Eight police officers suffered head and eye injuries during Friday’s demonstration when protesters threw rocks and sprayed tear gas and other chemicals in their faces, Police Chief Donald Hoffman said.
There were no reports of injuries to demonstrators. The 17 arrested were to be charged with felony riot, Hoffman said.
A warrant was issued Friday charging Guyette with two felonies and three misdemeanors, including aiding and abetting a riot and unlawful assembly, said Mower County Atty. Fred Kraft, who did not know when the warrant would be served.
County Sheriff Wayne Goodnature said Saturday that he suspected that authorities would make “numerous arrests” this week after they had reviewed videotapes of the demonstration.
About 1,500 P-9 members walked off their jobs at Hormel’s Austin plant on Aug. 17 in a dispute over wage cuts. Hormel reopened the plant Jan. 13 and says 500 union members are back at work and 540 non-union replacement workers have been hired.