Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"At a Slaughterhouse, Some Things Never Die"

The New York Times featured an article called, “At a Slaughterhouse, Some Things Never Die- Who Kills, Who Cuts, Who Bosses Can Depend on Race” by Charlie LeDuff. This article is about Smithfield Packing Company, a slaughter house in North Carolina. A reporter went undercover and started working for the company to really see what goes on inside. The reporter wasn’t there to look into health codes or unfair animal treatment; he was there to look at the racial conflicts. The Smithfield plant is made up of mostly Mexicans and Blacks, several Indians and few whites as well as convicts on work release.

“The few whites on the payroll tend to be mechanics or supervisors. As for the Indians, a handful are supervisors; others tend to get clean menial jobs like warehouse work. With few exceptions, that leaves the blacks and Mexicans with the dirty jobs at the factory, one of the only places within a 50-mile radius in this muddy corner of North Carolina where a person might make more than $8 an hour.”

Inside the plant it’s completely broken up by race. Upper management causes some of the problems. They give the “dirty jobs” to the Mexicans and Blacks. They work together on the lines cutting the meat but almost never speak to each other. They tend to stay separated by race, and the noise from the machines are too loud to have conversation anyway. In the cafeteria the races also separate themselves. Each race believes they are better than the other and equally dislike each other. It’s one of the few things they actually agree on, hating each other. Management considers convicts the lowest on the scale, no matter of their race.
The work is hard and tiring, physically and mentally. The article reports that the turnover rate is 100%. Every year they have to hire 5,000 new workers. Due to their location and lack of jobs elsewhere, every year they manage to hire all the new people they need. People in Mexico looking for work have heard about this place and sneak in to work here. Not because it’s a good job, but it pays more than most other jobs that they have available to them.
                They work in hazardous conditions, long hours and are paid unfairly. The workers feel like they need a union to help but they are too scared that any mention of a union will lead to termination. These slaughterhouses used to be located up north where they had union workers. To lower costs the plants moved south for cheaper labor.
What really amazes me about this article is that it was written in 2000. If you didn’t actually know when it was written you would think it was from 50-70 years ago. The management at the plant starts the racial conflict between the people. By assigning certain jobs to certain races and mistreating them it starts a domino effect. The workers are angry and upset with their jobs and bosses, but they can’t say anything in fear of losing their jobs. This makes them even angrier and leads to them taking out their frustrations on each other. They are constantly putting blame on one another for any issues they have with their jobs. It’s so unfortunate that in 2000 this kind of intense racial clashing was still going on.

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