I am trying to understand today’s hate and vitriol and I am having a great deal of difficulty. If I labeled the cause as “fear,” I probably oversimplify. Some random thoughts as I go through this exercise.
A hundred years ago America was still recovering from our civil war (we still are) as well as the Spanish-American War. Industrialization was roaring. The workforce was changing and America was becoming much less agrarian and more industrial…and some would say that there was an imbalance. My dad and I would go round and round about Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” an early 20th century expose of the meat packing industry and a catalyst for unionization for the sake of safety, both food and personal safety. My experience growing up was in the meatpacking industry.
In the 1960s, my dad would say that the unions were rapidly crafting their own doom by increasing wages and benefits without increasing productivity and quality. In our very small midwestern home town when the minimum wage was $1 an hour, Armour & Co meatpacking paid $3.49/hr for unskilled labor. Armour was the largest employer in town taking that honor from the railroad sometime in the early 1960s. Armour was a large complex for our town, at one time processing cattle, sheep, and hogs. It was six stories high, with dozens & dozens of acres, stockyards, huge smokestacks, railroad spurs, 600 employees…quite a place. Then poof. Armour & Co was gone. A victim of labor strikes in other plants.
Nationwide, most meatpackers couldn’t afford the high wages…because, well, no one wanted to pay huge $$ for meat at the grocery store. And so the unions began to lose their hold on the industry and wages went down even while the demand for meat increased. The existing national meatpacker workforce melted away, unwilling to take on the ever increasing and crushing workload for fewer dollars. Then migrant workers arrived. My impression is that now the workforce in larger meatpacking plants comes mostly from south of the US border. Those workers are, in theory, “legal” since the employers have to certify their legality. I’m guessing many are not. I’m also guessing that they exist in an economic and social infrastructure that is culture based and not necessarily legal but absolutely necessary for them to survive.
Hypothetically, if all the migrant workers leave America’s meatpacking industry, will “legal” Americans take their place for $10-15/hr? I don’t know. If the wages were increased to “union scale,” then in theory, the cost of meat and other stuff at the grocery store would increase, perhaps a great deal. I don’t know.
I guess that’s my bottom line, so far. I don’t know. My inclination is that this is all about race. I don’t think it’s about health care, the press, the party, the whatever…I think it’s all about race. But, I don’t know for sure.