Delta Pride guts contract
Indianola, Miss. Delta Pride, the largest catfish plant in the world, has
found a new method of exploiting workers. Delta Pride is located in the
deep Mississippi Delta with about 700 workers, 80% of whom are Black single
mothers. In 1986 they fought this company, owned by 178 white farmers, to
stop its plantation-style mentality and to demand dignity, respect, and
better working conditions on the job.
One contract clause we fought hard to achieve is experience pay, which
management has targeted. The contract states that an employee who leaves
Delta Pride and returns within three years can, after probation, receive
the pay their past years of service in the catfish industry have earned
The company says it cannot find workers in the area to work, but this is
not true. The experience pay is one reason this company refuses to hire
experienced workers back.
This May Delta Pride officials asked permission from the Indianola Area
Planning Commission to put trailers on their land to house migrant workers.
This company intends to place six trailers on its property just about a
mile away, where the smell from the plant is terrible, and put eight
workers in each four-bedroom trailer. They will demand that they work every
day-sick or whatever the circumstances-or they'll be shipped back to Mexico.
The reason this company is using Mexicans is for cheap labor, and they
think they will not complain about anything because they do not want to be
sent home. The company thinks that the Mexican workers' goal is to work at
any cost and in any conditions so that they can send money back to support
Delta Pride is following in the footsteps of other catfish factory owners
who have brought migrant workers into the facilities and pay them less
money. It is their strategy to pit the migrant workers against the Black
workers. Black workers are protesting this decision made by the Planning
Commission, not because of any bias, but because they know that these
workers will be used to replace them, and used in ways to break the
contract or keep it from being more radical in the future.
The more migrant workers they bring in, the less the workers within the
community will be hired. We, as workers, took a stand against this company
to build this company into a place where workers have a voice. But this
company will hire workers even more exploited to try and turn it around.
They plan on treating the Mexican workers even worse than they do us.
Several years ago I visited Tijuana, Mexico, and talked to the workers
about their inhumane treatment, including the 14-year-old rape victims who
had been locked in the plant at night and raped by the foreman. This is
what the Mexicans want to change by coming here, but this is the same
treatment that bosses inflicted on all workers until we forced them to stop.
I told them about the way we were treated and what we did to change our
situation. This move that the Delta Pride owners have made to hire the
Mexican workers shows their desire to continue to keep all the workers
under their thumb. We have to find a way as Black and Mexican workers to
not lose control of our destiny. We must fight in unity to keep our
humanity. The Delta Pride workers have to get the Mexican workers to focus
on how we were treated in the past and get them to join forces with us as
workers in unity to keep our dignity and respect.