Keeping processing lines running at workers’ expense is not only a sign of our pandemic times. The meat and poultry processing industry has long treated workers as disposable.
“They just keep running the line,” Southern Black women workers told historian LaGuana Gray (2014) about the twentieth century poultry industry’s processes of exploitation—exploitation that broke their bodies as Americans’ skyrocketing appetite for chicken lined the pockets of plant owners and investors. My work with Black and Latinx immigrant poultry workers in the twenty-first century reveals the same: regardless of the racial, ethnic, gender, or citizenship background of the people slaughtering and processing the meat we eat, this industry has kept its lines running throughout history no matter the cost to those doing the heavy labor (Stuesse 2016). The time of the COVID-19 pandemic has proven no different.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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