August 9, 2019

Earlier this week, 680 people were arrested in one of the largest workplace ICE raids of the last decade at a Koch Foods chicken processing plant.

As an animal protection group that focuses on racial justice, part of what Encompass does is shine a light on the connections people in our movement may not see. Specifically, we spotlight institutional racism because it is typically couched behind the veil of “how things are” and it deserves to be disinfected by sunlight. We care deeply about animals and the people who fight for them, and we also care deeply about those who are stuck in exploitative jobs in the food industry with no other options. The overwhelming majority of these are people of color and/or recent immigrants.

Working in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants are some of the worst jobs our country has to offer: they are extremely dangerous; they pay very little, with no benefits; they are located in economically distressed communities; and they rely on people who have no other options. Most often, undocumented immigrants accept these jobs. Once they get these jobs, workers face some of the highest rates of on-the-job injuries (higher than coal mining), are routinely unable to take bathroom breaks, and are unable to organize or unionize for basic protections. When workers get injured, they do not receive adequate medical care or disability benefits, and they are quickly replaced by another person in the same dire circumstances.

Time and again, the meat industry shows it has no regard for human and nonhuman animals. ICE knows this, and exploits this knowledge to intimidate and detain workers en masse. This exploitation is a clear manifestation of institutional racism in our federal government.

This week’s raid spoke to us deeply because we are immigrants and children of immigrants. We know that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. We know that the plight of these undocumented immigrants is tied to the animal abuse they are forced to perpetuate. Institutional racism erases all traces of suffering—this is by design.

Institutional racism looks like most of us not knowing personally anyone who has worked in one of these facilities or what it must feel like to be so desperate for income that this is where you must work to survive, not having been inside these facilities, not having them located in our communities.

The factory farming system is designed to keep meat processing plants hidden from most of us, allowing us to believe animals belong in there. This same system also allows us to believe there is an us versus them dichotomy between the people who work in these facilities and “us.”

Slaughtered animals and the people slaughtering and processing their bodies represent some of the most marginalized groups in our society, and those that profit from them know this. This week’s raid should challenge our movement to reflect on how we view and treat the people who work in these jobs. We must stand in solidarity with farm workers, slaughterhouse workers, and processing plant workers and support better protections for them, not despite the fact that they’re working in an industry that’s predicated on the abuse of animals, but because of it.

 

Learn more about the harms slaughterhouse workers and meat processing plant workers endure at Food Empowerment Project’s website. 

See also the Food Chain Workers Alliance coalition of worker-based organizations whose members plant, harvest, process, pack, transport, prepare, serve, and sell food. They are organizing to improve wages and working conditions for all workers along the food chain.