Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Nation's Meanest, Toughest Corporation

Great article in the Nation about organizing in the "Wal-Mart" of meatpacking: Tyson Foods
A generation ago, meatpacking workers earned some of the highest wages of any industrial workers in the United States. Working in a slaughterhouse was a hard, dirty job, but it provided a stable middle-class income. Today meatpacking is one of the lowest-paid industrial jobs, with one of the highest turnover rates. It is also the nation's most dangerous job, measured by the rate of serious injury. During the 1970s IBP was largely responsible for changing the industry's labor policies, breaking unions, slashing wages and recruiting an immigrant work force. In a very tough business, IBP gained the reputation of being by far the toughest. In 1974 IBP was convicted for collaborating with organized-crime figures in New York City to bribe meat wholesalers and union leaders. Any meatpacking company that hoped to compete with IBP had to cut wages and benefits, too. Over the past twenty-five years some wages in the meatpacking industry, adjusted for inflation, have declined by more than 50 percent.

When Tyson Foods bought IBP in 2001, many workers feared that the company would try to make wages in the beef industry similar to those in the poultry industry, where the pay is even lower. Those fears now seem to be justified. Tyson Foods is the largest meatpacking company the world has ever seen, supplying supermarkets and fast-food chains with beef, chicken and pork.