Several hundreds of workers picketed the world’s largest pork plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, US on Friday.
They walked off the job to protest the company’s firing of about 50 employees, all Latino, who were suspected of being illegal immigrants.
Officials at Smithfield said they were forced to fire the workers because of stepped-up scrutiny by US authorities, responsible for work site enforcement.
However, union organisers said the sacking is part of a company campaign to intimidate workers agitating for better conditions. And Latino workers rallying outside the industrial complex complained that they had long suffered abusive treatment at the plant.
The clash highlights the widespread reliance of some US industries on illegal labour.
About 48% of the plant’s 5,000 workers are said to be Latino and about 375 employees, were claimed to be taking part in the walkout. Union observers said the figure was much higher.
In a statement issued by Smithfield, the company said the walkout was apparently orchestrated by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and that it was ‘totally unjustified’.
According to Smithfield the plant is now working at 70% of its capacity. On a daily basis about 32,000 pigs are processed at the plant.