Just a handful of multinational companies, including Smithfield (China), Tyson (U.S.) and JBS (Brazil), control a critical step in the supply chain for pork and beef slaughter and processing. This industrial system hinges on a small number of massive slaughterhouses and processing plants, and these facilities are uniquely vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. With hundreds of workers standing shoulder to shoulder during a grueling and frenzied eight-hour shift, it is nearly impossible to practice protective measures like social distancing, which is why more than 17,300 meat and poultry processing workers in 29 states were infected with COVID-19 in April and May alone.
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Labor / Economics
Stories about Labor and Economics.
Trucks at Chuquicamata, the world’s biggest open pit copper mine in Calama, Chile. Photo by Martchan/Shutterstock.com
Thinking on its feet, the district administration culled data from the family’s phones and from CCTV cameras in the area. Based on that, it developed a detailed flow chart of all of the exact locations visited by the patients along with approximate dates and times. The flow chart was then widely circulated on social media along with a hotline for those who may have come into contact with the family. The hundreds of calls the administration received in the days that followed helped it plug the gaps in the flow chart.
Such epic contact tracing initiatives, though tedious, have been at the heart of the state’s “people-intensive” pandemic response. People who are identified in contact tracing are — depending on their situation — sent for testing and kept in hospital isolation wards or monitored at home for 28 days.
However, there are people who have been anticipating a moment like this for decades. If we are willing now to listen and learn from post-growth thinkers, the crisis and its aftermath can be a process of adaptation that leaves us more locally resilient, happier, and more connected.
With millions of people put out of work, analysts across the political spectrum have proclaimed that the time has come for an Unconditional Basic Income. But this safety net won’t be enough unless we take on the biggest problem we face — an economic model based on high rents and high personal debts.
The British writer R. H. Tawney once described capitalist management of the workplace as “autocracy checked by insurgency.” And, indeed, a kind of insurgency takes place when workers band together to form unions. Worker unions are a key working class organization because of the potential power workers gain from collective resistance but also because of the potential role of unions in social transformation.
Unionism in USA has not grown in a gradual way but in cycles that are tied to working class insurgency. The two greatest periods of union growth came in large strike waves — in the World War 1 era and again in the early 1930s.From 1909 to 1921 union membership doubled through a vast insurgency that saw thousands of strikes every year. Nearly a million workers organized themselves into industrial unions outside the AFL. The hardest edge of the new unionism was the Industrial Workers of the World. But the IWW was just the tip of the iceberg.
De-growth must be started immediately and urgently planned to combat the ecological crisis. We must produce less and better. The manufacture of certain products vital to the well-being of the population must increase (construction and renovation of decent housing, public transport, health centres and hospitals, drinking water supply and sewage treatment, schools, etc.) but many other productions must radically decline (personal cars) or disappear (arms manufacturing). Greenhouse gas emissions must be drastically and abruptly reduced. A whole range of industries and agricultural activities need to be converted. A large part, and in some cases all, of the public debt must be cancelled.
The failures of the labor movement in the US are legion over the past 40 years. It’s not needed to repeat the failures nor the efforts to revitalize the labor movement, most of the latter which have been unsuccessful to date.