Col. Sanderson’s Chickens come Home to Roost (Women’s Voice 1980)

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GLORIA JORDEN has been on strike now for thirteen months. She is a mother of three daughters and a local lnternational Chemical Workers Union official. She has worked at Sanderson Farms for seven years. which she calls seven years of slavery. The factory in Laurel, Missisippi, USA, processes chickens. The owner whom the workers call ‘ole massa` rents the land from Jones County for $70 (£35) per month. Workers in the factory pay $l25 (£63) per month rent for a house.

208 workers, nearly all black women, walked out on strike after the ‘ole massa’ refused to negotiate a new contract.

Gloria starts work at 4 am and officially works an eight hour day. But the workers have to stay until the production line stops. One week Gloria worked 53 hours and her take home wage was $63 (£32). 68 chickens an hour pass down the production line. Gloria and another woman are expected to gut every chicken.

She told Womens Voice. ‘We’re fighting a just struggle for a contract. The boss, ‘ole massa`, has us chained like slaves through low money and long hours. What we are fighting for is simply humane working conditions.

‘A white woman complained to the foreman that the blood from the chickens was making her feel dizzy. The foreman ignored her. She fell right down on the concrete floor and sufferend concussion. All they give us to work in is a plastic apron once a month. They get torn in two days through scrubbing the blood off.

‘Before we went on strike our lunch break was cut from half an hour to twenty minutes and our coffee break from ten minutes to six. lt takes six minutes to wash the blood off you. Sanderson just wants to be a mass hero by union busting, That’s been an issue for 99 years. So we decided that Sanderson Farms weren’t going to operate in Jones County like that any longer. This is 1980 not the fifteenth century and l thought there was no such thing as slaveryl’

One rule in the factory is that you are only allowed to use the toilet three times a week during working hours.

One pregnant women who had already used the toilet three times, asked the foreman if she could leave the line and go again. She was refused. After waiting sometime she left the line without permission, and was found later to have miscarried.

Sanderson runs a multi-million dollar business – or sweatshop. Last year his ‘Miss Goldy’ and ‘Southern Beauty`chickens turned over $58 million (£29 million) in sales.

But it’s not only the anti-union owners the black workers have to put up with but also the Ku Klux Klan. Since the day of the strike Sanderson has kept his factory running by bussing in scabs from mainly outside Jones County. Most of the scab workers are black. They keep on working because of fear – of the Ku Klux Klan.

‘Emarine McGill’  said Gloria ‘wanted to quit working at the plant. She had the job of training the scabs. Every Friday she said she would quit, then one Friday she did. The following Tuesday her house was burnt down. She couldn’t get the fire service to come out to the fire. She phoned her mother, who was still working in the plant.  James White, a KKK foreman took the call, but he didn’t tell Nana May McGill for half an hour.  When she asked to go home he told her she could not leave as he had not replacement for her and that would mean the line would stop. The whole family is still working there.

The strikers picket for 24 hours a day, six days a week. They desperately need cash.

The fight of the Laurel women is a fight that affects all of us. It is a fight against racism. It is a fight against intimidation. lt is a fight against union busting. And it is a fight to control our every day working conditions.

When I was speaking to Gloria l could not help thinking of Grunwicks and the struggle there by Asian women to win the right to join a union. That strike too went on for many months. Why not discuss this strike in your Womens Voice Groups – and if you can’t afford a telegram why not write a note? These women need all the support they can get.

Maggie Rutter

Women’s Voice 42, June 1980

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