September 5, 2006


A Jungle For Meatpackers (Eric Schlosser, September 5, 2006, The Nation)

While visiting Chicago slaughterhouses for research in 1904, Upton Sinclair met Eastern European immigrants employed at dangerous, dirty, low-wage jobs. Union organizers and injured workers were being harassed and fired. The publication of The Jungle two years later caused a public uproar--about the widespread contamination of meat, not the mistreatment of meatpacking workers. The book helped President Theodore Roosevelt gain passage of two important pieces of legislation, the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.

But it didn't accomplish much for meatpacking workers. Conditions gradually improved in the nation's slaughterhouses, thanks to years of labor organizing. The industry fought hard against unions, pitting one Eastern European immigrant group against another and recruiting African-Americans as strikebreakers. By the 1930s, however, most of the industry was unionized. And by the 1950s meatpacking workers had one of the highest-paid manufacturing jobs in the United States. It wasn't always a pleasant job, but it provided a solid, middle-class income.

In 1970 the typical American meatpacking worker earned about 20 percent more than the typical factory worker. Today he or she earns about 20 percent less. Enormous changes have swept through the industry over the past thirty years, as big companies swallowed up small ones, moved slaughterhouses from urban areas (where unions were strong) to rural areas (where unions were weak), imported poor immigrants from Mexico and ruthlessly cut wages by as much as 50 percent. Today meatpacking workers have one of the lowest-paid manufacturing jobs in the United States--and one of the most dangerous.

Because of which, even illegal immigrants can afford 2000+ calories a day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 5, 2006 8:21 AM

Which would Eric Schlosser rather have? A modern set of high-tech meatpacking plants, next to the feedlots, that employ a lot of Hispanics? Or previously all-white towns like Lexington, NE and Fort Morgan, CO dying on the vine?

Eric Schlosser, please tell me how you're different than Pat Buchanan and John Tanton.

Posted by: Brad S at September 5, 2006 8:47 AM

Rural areas are also less expensive to live, so why would they need to make 20% more than othes?

Mfg. requires math and computer knowledge.

Posted by: Sandy P at September 5, 2006 10:29 AM

One of the hottest news stories the year I moved to Minnesota was the union strike at the Hormel plant in Austin, MN. It was a very bitter affair, but in the end Hormel stuck by it's guns and the union was broken. Governor Rudy Perpich, the DFL (for you non-Minnesotans that stands for the Democrat-Farmer-Labor party) governor called in the National Guard to keep the picketers away from the replacement workers, and was vilified for it by many an old union sympathizer. But the union folks found out that the only leverage they really ever had was the threat of violence. Noone who bought Hormel products cared who packed the product or how much they were paid. The less you made in income, the less you cared. Class solidarity is a myth.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 5, 2006 8:41 PM