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Union Campaign to Organize Smithfield Workers at World's Largest Slaughterhouse Interview

...World's Largest Slaughterhouse~Interview with Gene Bruskin, organizer with the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, conducted by Between the Lines' Melinda Tuhus
Union Campaign to Organize Smithfield Workers at World's Largest Slaughterhouse

Interview with Gene Bruskin, organizer with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

The recent raid by U.S. immigration enforcement agents at six meat packing plants around the country points to the importance of Latino immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, in what has become a largely non-union workforce. A century ago, Jewish, Polish and other European immigrants worked in the packing plants of the Midwest, along with African Americans who had recently emigrated from the South seeking better opportunities. They helped unionize the thousands of workers in those plants. But times have changed, and much of the workforce is non-union once again.

The United Food and Commercial Workers, or UFCW, is now organizing the mostly African American and Latino immigrant workforce at the largest hog slaughterhouse in the world, run by Smithfield Farms in Tarheel, N.C. The union condemns what it describes as the poverty wages, brutal conditions, and crippling injuries which it says plagues the 5,500 workers who are employed at the plant.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Gene Bruskin, director of the UFCW organizing campaign, who discusses the intense union drive now going on at the Smithfield plant and provides an overview of labor history in this sector of the workforce.

For more information on the Smithfield campaign call the UFCW at (202) 223-3311 or visit the union's website at www.smithfieldjustice.com

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"Between The Lines" is a half-hour syndicated radio news magazine that each week features a summary of under-reported news stories & interviews with activists & journalists who offer progressive perspectives on international, national & regional political, economic & social issues. Because "Between The Lines" is independent of all publications, media networks or political parties, we are able to bring a diversity of voices to the airwaves generally ignored or marginalized by the major media. For more information on this week's topics & to check out our text archive listing topics & guests presented in previous programs visit:  http://www.btlonline.org
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I have been unimpressed by the 30.Dec.2006 11:49


"progressive" people organizing and reporting about this issue.

The ones MOST harmed by this industry are obviously the animals, who pay for human greed and gluttony with their lives. Some welfarist changes don't mediate that.

And I have yet to see a veg slaughterhouse worker.

You can't expect to be treated well as you are killing another living creature for your own benefit, who is resisting that death with everything inside her. The slaughterhouse industry is a karmic fun-house of mirrors. Fuck everyone who support slaughterhouses - they exist because of cruelty.

organizing workers, slowing slaughterhouse assembly line 30.Dec.2006 14:54

restore the bison

The problems of factory farmed meat consumption would be solved by total eradication of slaughterhouses. Former slaughterhouse workers would be free to find safer and saner employment in other fields, sustainable animal husbandry, permaculture farming, ecosystem restoration, etc..

NO MAS on the factory famrs & slaughterhouses for me also. My preference is that ALL slaughterhouses and factory farms be closed permanantly and safely (ie., NO bombas por favor!). However, we cannot realistically expect to end slaughterhouses overnight, and where jobs exist, they will be filled by the economic desperation this capitalist system breeds. Nobody wants to work at a slaughterhouse, it is one of the most grueling, dangerous and stinky jobs out there..

Boycotting all beef/pork products that come from slaughterhouses and factory farms will reduce the demands on labor. However, long term meat boycotts and constant attempts at encouraging the many apathetic US meat eaters (Please don't come crying to me when ya'll get sick from E. coli, si? That's when the lecture about personal responsibility comes in.) who don't care about where their food comes from isn't going to get instant results either. However, unionizing the slaughterhouse workers to demand safer working conditions would also include a needed slow down of the dangerous animal slaughter assembly lines where most injuries to workers occur. The fast paced machines of slaughterhouse assembly lines also results in accidental rupture of intestines that spray the surrounding carcasses and workers with a shower of fecal matter. No fun on the job aqui!! A slow down of slaughterhouse workers would result in less injuries, even vegans recognize this as an advantage, no matter how gradual the pace until their eventual closure..

The debates between vegans and labor organizers need not be polarized, we can recognize that any incremental changes in slowing down slaughterhouse workers would benefit the animals and workers. Would the animals only die slower?? Or would the slowdown effect the pace of slaughterhouse killings enough to discourage profit at the expense of the animals and ecosystems effected by high nitrate emmissions of factory farms. Workers would benefit from the slow down by not losing thumbs and fingers from cutting the meat at the unnaturaly fast pace of slaughterhouse profit..

Another goal to bear in mind is restoration of native ungulates (ie., bison, antelope, elk, etc..) to their habitat (currently claimed by factory farms/monoculture agribusiness/sprawl/etc.).. Allowing limited hunting of the native ungulates following their succesful restoration to lands claimed by cattle would fulfill the demands of meat eaters without the cruelty of prison conditions of filthy factory farms. Let the recent post-Columbus immigrants of norte america return to the indigenous lifestyle of symbiosis practiced by Lakota and other peoples who coexisted with bison and other ungulates with minimal cruelty to animals (ie., total freedom until quick death by arrows)..

Here we are renewing the process of bison in the shortgrass/tallgrass prairie ecosystem currently dominated by factory farmed cattle and the biotech (GMO) grains, corn, etc.. grown to feed them. Bison can stand on their own four hooves and don't have such a negative impact on the ecosystem as factory farms, mostly because of their natural tendency to migrate. The Euro-american settlers who nearly made the bison extinct decades ago now can help indigenous peoples like the Lakota (and others) restore the bison. That is the responsibility of our current generation, no longer ignorant we must right the wrongs of our ancestors by restoring the bison today..


remembering Hormel 31.Dec.2006 13:37

Richard Mellor aactivist@igc.org

I often wonder what it is about paid Union organizers and some of the liberals in the movement that moves them to always mention that the workers they are fighting for or organizing are mostly immigrants and/or black folks. I just assune that this is an appeal to the tendency of white liberals to react more strongly when workers of color are beign exploited. It is safer to criticize racial exploitation than class opression, workers in general. This is not to say in any way that racial minorites and women, as well as disabled people etc. don't suffer additional expoitation on the basis of their skin, race or gender; they do. But I am always suspicious of it when it comes from some folks. The other thing is that the wages have been driven so low due to the passive response of the labor leaders to these attacks and the influx of cheap immigrant labor that wages rising from $7.00 an hour to $8, how can anyone object to that?

The other thing is it is somewhat frustrating to read the article when we consider that the UFCW leadership was one of the main contributers in the defeat of the P9 strikers back in 1986. The strike was a response to the increased exploitation of workers in one of the worst and most dangerous industries, meatpacking.

Leading up to the strike Con Agra had bought meat packing plants from Armour and had lowered wages from $10.69 an hour to about $6.00 IBP cut wages at one plant from $30,000 a year to $6.00 an hour by 1982. Wages fell by about 31% in the industry over $15 years.

The heroic struggle in Austen against Hormel was defeated through a combined force of the employers, the UFCW leadership and the AFL-CIO heads. The leadership of P9 has some responsibility but, like many strikes in that period and today, the heads of the AFL-CIO and international unions bear the brunt of the blame; that strike, like Pittston and Greyhound etc, could have been won.

TherUFCW leadership here in California just orchestrated yet another defeat a couple of years ago in the strike here that lasted five months. What has changed with regard to tactics and strategy coming from up above? Nothing.

I am unimpressed by the animal rights movement... 02.Jan.2007 10:40


"You can't expect to be treated well as you are killing another living creature for your own benefit, who is resisting that death with everything inside her. The slaughterhouse industry is a karmic fun-house of mirrors. Fuck everyone who support slaughterhouses - they exist because of cruelty."

You think people really want to be working there? Jesus, get a clue...I have met people who work in dairies and slaughterhouses, and they hate it. You think they wouldn't rather be sitting at a desk, making 2 or 3 times as much money? Well, when you have a family to feed, and you might not be allowed to get an office job or whatever for various reasons, you do what you have to. Fuck you for having no compassion for the workers.

troublemaker: 02.Jan.2007 15:37


Sure, they may have to work there. But they don't have to eat the animals they know are treated brutally (never seen a veg slaughterhouse worker). And the organizers don't have to eat slaughterhouse products (never seen a vegan human labor organizer). And you're not vegan either, I'd bet anything. So no, fuck YOU. The animals are suffering far more than any human in a slaughterhouse. Unless the workers en masse are being dipped in boiling hot water, having their throats slit, and bleeding to death on the goddamn slaughterhouse floor. Fuck you for having no compassion for other sentient creatures. I'm not contributing to the brutal condition of slaughterhouse workers by buying the products of their misery. BUT IF YOU EAT MEAT, YOU ARE. So you're the one with no compassion for the workers or the animals. I have only my words and a boycott. You contribute directly to the misery all around by your dollars. Look in the mirror for the cause of human and animal suffering if you eat meat, dairy, eggs.

You'd bet anything I'm not a vegan? 03.Jan.2007 09:57


Look, you don't know shit about me, and I think that you don't shit about advancing your cause by this diatribe. By pitting the rights of animals against the rights of workers you do neither much good. You have only reinforced my mostly negative feelings about the animal rights movement--good job.

Dude, 03.Jan.2007 19:26

watching this

of course you eat animals, you're defending slaughterhouses. Don't put your willingness to eat the flesh of creatures who suffered because you like the taste of their bodies on AR activists - that's between you and your sorry conscience. It's not up to me to make you feel better about it. And YOU are the one who is contributing to the plight of slaughterhouse workers by buying those products, not me. That makes YOU responsible for both the suffering of the animals and the workers. You are buying the products of animal suffering and human misery because you're too self-centered to stop, and you're looking for other people to blame. AR activists are boycotting that industry - they don't eat meat. This is on you. Every bite you take of a slaughterhouse product contains suffering.

I don't give a shit if you like me or any people in a movement and think they're not trying hard enough to placate you or educate you about things about you know already but don't want to face. If you're using that as a reason to continue to contribute to horrible suffering of innocent creatures - that's on YOU. Watch a movie and try to defend your practices  http://www.meetyourmeat.com

I'm not defending slaughterhouses 05.Jan.2007 10:18


Ugh, this is getting old. I'm not defending slaughterhouses, I'm defending slaughterhouse workers. Like you, I wish slaughterhouses did not exist (and guess what--I DO NOT eat animals). But slaughterhouses do exist, and the folks that have to work there deserve to be treated with respect.