May 2, 2005
The meat packing and poultry industry in the U.S. is based on a brutal line speed and repressive efforts to crush unions, according to a study published in January by Human Rights Watch. This organization, known for investigating inhuman living conditions around the world, interviewed workers who butchered hogs, cattle and chicken in the United States, under conditions that are barbaric.
The three corporations at the heart of this report are Tysons Foods, which calls itself "the world leader in producing and marketing beef, pork and chicken"; Smithfield Foods (half of whose South Carolina hourly employees are immigrants); and Nebraska Beef, founded by a former executive of a beef processor which had closed down and then re-opened with multi-million dollar tax credits.
The inhuman pace on the cutting lines results in repetitive motion injuries and life-threatening wounds. Similar conditions in the meat-packing industry were documented by a book called The Jungle. This book was published 99 years ago!
According to the Government Accounting Office, meat packing remains one of the most dangerous industries in the country. Each year, there are almost 15 injuries for every 100 full-time workers. And those figures come with the GAO's acknowledgment that plants do not report all or – in some cases – even any of their injuries on the job. Neither OSHA nor the Department of Agriculture has ever taken any responsibility for controlling the inhuman speed of the line, which Human Rights Watch pointed out was the cause of most injuries.
At Smithfield, a workforce of 5,000 is slaughtering, cutting, packaging and shipping out 25,000 hogs every day. To process this many animals every single day, the workers face a ferocious intensity of work. A beef worker, one of those handling 50,000 cattle a day, told Human Rights Watch, the company bosses "love you if you're healthy and work like a dog, but if you get hurt you are trash..... they will look for a way to get rid of you before they report [any accident.]"
At Smithfield in both 1997 and 2003, when workers attempted to organize, the company used its own police force to intimidate the workers while it fired union supporters on trumped-up charges and threatened to close the plant.
When workers dared to complain about working conditions, bosses threatened to call Immigration services, a serious threat since a quarter of meat packing workers are not born in the U.S.
Meat packing workers discovered a century ago they could not depend on government agencies to protect them from their companies' inhumane treatment nor to give them unions. Workers organized unions through their own activity – the Amalgamated Meat Cutters in the early part of the century and then the Packinghouse Workers in 1937, during an enormous upsurge of factory militancy. These workers had to fight the companies every step of the way in order to improve their working conditions.
It's the only way.hyperlink