Winston-Salem, N.C.— On Thursday, April 20, 6 to 8:30 pm, the Pro Humanitate Institute at Wake Forest University is sponsoring a screening of the documentary Union Time: Fighting for Workers’ Rights. It will be shown at Pugh Auditorium in Benson University Center on the Wake Forest University campus. Union Time tells the story of the meatpacking workers who fought dangerous working conditions, intimidation, and abuse at the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Tar Heel, NC.
From 1993 to 2008, workers and union organizers from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) struggled to gain support for a union. Smithfield countered their efforts with increased intimidation, interference with two union elections, violence against workers, and lawsuits. In a third union election in 2008, a majority of plant employees voted to bring in the UFCW. Since then, UFCW Local 1208 in Tar Heel has successfully negotiated higher pay rates and safer working conditions. Most of all, the Tar Heel employees now have the satisfaction of being treated with respect.
The documentary is narrated by actor and activist Danny Glover. It also features key figures in the Justice@Smithfield struggle, including North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William J. Barber II. The core of the film, however, is the voices of the Smithfield employees, many African-American and Hispanic. Employee Wanda Blue embodies their courage in one of the most evocative quotes in the film: “I just had to get the fear out. Once I got the fear out of me, I was good to go. There wasn’t no stopping me.”
The Smithfield struggle is an important chapter in the history of unions in the meatpacking industry. It also demonstrates the convergence of labor rights and civil rights, carrying on the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Matthew Barr produced and directed the documentary, filming from 2007 to 2015. Barr is Professor of Media Studies at UNC-Greensboro. His film work, carried out through the nonprofit, the Unheard Voices Project, focuses on the impact of globalization and social change on working people and working communities.
After the screening, Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, Director of the Pro Humanitate Institute will moderate a panel with filmmaker Matthew Barr, former NLRB attorney Jasper Brown, and Smithfield workers Ronnie Simmons and Leonard Walker, who were active in the union struggle. A reception will follow. The event is free and open to the public.