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Interview with a Working Class Hero

Maria Martinez, Iowa Beef Strike Leader, Speaks Out

by staff |
January 1, 2001
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Maria Martinez is a working class hero. She emerged from a five-week strike against Iowa Beef Processing (I.B.P.) as the clear leader of the rank and file members of Teamsters Local 556 in eastern Washington. This is true because she fought not only the company, but also old-guard union officials who sought to settle short.

Settling short has become a way of life for old-guard International Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa. It was not surprising that he stepped in to help his friends try to squash Martinez and the workers' movement in Local 556. First, they tried to remove her as chief steward. When this effort failed, Jimmy Hoffa had the International Union take over Local 556 through a trusteeship.

These efforts to keep down Martinez and members of Local 556 all failed miserably. Recently the trusteeship ended with members of Local 556 electing Maria Martinez Principle Officer (the top spot) of Local 556 by three to one margin. Now Martinez is running for International Vice President on the Tom Leedham Rank and File Power Slate.

Maria Martinez has emerged as an inspiration to Teamsters, immigrant workers, and oppressed peoples across the country.

The following is an interview Fight Back! conducted with Maria Martinez.

Fight Back!: Why did Iowa Beef Processing workers go on strike?

Maria Martinez: "We got sick and tired of not being respected by management. The issues were wages, pension, and especially the speed of the chain. They were negotiating our level of exploitation. But when it came down to it we demanded respect."

Fight Back!: Did you receive support from outside your local union? How important was this support?

Maria Martinez: "Very important! We were truly inspired by the support from the community, as well as Teamsters Local 206 and Local 174, which also gave us food. Before this strike, we never knew that we could get support. There is no question that this support gave us the courage to stand up. It proved to us that we were right."

Fight Back!: Could you speak to how Latinos were treated at I.B.P.? What has been the relationship between the union and the workers?

Maria Martinez: "Latinos at I.B.P. were constantly being pushed to do more work than was safe for them. Eventually, many would get hurt. The company would then try to terminate them."

"For most Latinos, the union was just the place that you paid dues money. But we learned that it is more than that. It is getting involved. Having a voice in the Local Union and the International Union. When we fought to make the union ours, it reflected the power of the workers."

"The differences can be seen in the upcoming International Union elections in the Teamsters. Jimmy Hoffa has always sought to manipulate and use hispanics. His opponent, Tom Leedham, has a history of supporting Latino and hispanic people. He wants to empower us, not divide us."

Fight Back!: Why are you currently running for Vice President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters on the Tom Leedham Rank and File Power Slate?

Maria Martinez: "I am running because I believe in a strong union. For me that means getting members involved. I especially think Latinos need to be involved in this campaign and in this International Union."

"Tom is like us, he comes from where we do. Tom was a rank and file worker, so he knows what it is like to have the boss on your back."

Fight Back!: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Maria Martinez: "We as immigrant workers need to get involved in our union so that we can have a voice. We don't want others to take this from us."

"Through our involvement we become educated and our voice becomes strong. Management, politicians, and union officials cannot ignore us if we are organized and involved."