General Strike hits employers in pockets

General Strike hits employers in pockets

An article about the cost to employers of the 2006 May Day immigration protests, which involved walkouts and sick-outs.

Thousands of businesses across the country closed their doors May 1st -- some because there were no workers, others because managers preferred to avoid a fight with their employees that they could only lose. Many more worked short-staffed.

In Latino barrios throughout Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and Miami, thousands of restaurants, warehouses, newsstands, and money transfer services were closed. Many McDonald's outlets cut hours or shut down.

In Los Angeles, hundreds of sweatshop garment factories were closed. The strike paralyzed construction sites and industrial food production plants across the country.

"It was one thing to march," said Armando Navarro of the California-based National Alliance for Human Rights, referring to the earlier wave of immigrant protests. "Now we're going to hit Ôem where it hurts Ð in the pocketbooks."

Cargill, the country's second-largest beef producer, closed seven meat-processing plants employing 14,000 workers. Tyson, Perdue and other meatpackers followed suit. Tens of thousands of farm workers stayed out of the fields, and the American Nursery and Landscape Association estimated that 90 percent of the half million workers in its industry took the day off.

According to Jack Kyser, an economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., the economic impact of the strike could total $200 million just in Los Angeles County. No one has done similar calculations for the rest of the country, but the total would have to run more than a billion dollars.

While several companies threatened to fire or discipline workers who took off work for the day, and some carried out those threats, many employers' associations urged caution -- warning that such actions could lead to further actions.

"Law firms have been advising their clients that the immigrant labor boycott is protected by the National Labor Relations Act, even though it isn't specifically a union action," reported the May 2 Wall Street Journal, which had real-time coverage of the May Day actions in its online edition.

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker (June 2006)