LSE Review of Books: Paul Apostolidis

Article from Paul Apostolidis, author of Breaks in the Chain, on COVID-19 impacts on the meatpacking industry

How immigrants’ stories can transform social power

As COVID-19 progresses, it will probably catalyse a long-overdue reckoning with the core structures of the political economy. This will be particularly important for the beleaguered meatpackers in the United States, writes Paul Apostolidis.

“The guy at the plant said they had to work to feed America.” That’s what The New York Times reported Willie Martin said about his mother, Annie Grant. She had been one of the latest of a growing number of meatpacking workers to contract the coronavirus: in her case, it was fatal.

Ten years ago, I published a book about the risks run by immigrant workers in the meatpacking industry. In it, I focused on an extraordinary labour movement that arose among immigrant workers at the Tyson Foods plant near Pasco, in eastern Washington state. These workers protested abusive working conditions in the factory and championed democracy in their union, Teamsters Local 556. Vigorous sales at high volumes had made Tyson enormously profitable. Yet federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports of job-related injuries, in an industry rife with under-reporting, placed the plant in the worst quartile of all US meatpacking plants, in the country’s most dangerous industry.


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