'We're basically livin' here!' Speedups, Slowdowns, and Premature Disability at the Poultry Plant

Authors: Carrie Freshour*, University of Washington
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Food Systems
Keywords: racial capitalism, labor, resistance, Black Radical Tradition, poultry processing
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Plaza Ballroom E, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper I analyze the relationship of federally regulated line speedups and worker resistance. Speedups refer to the maximum allowable number of birds slaughtered per minute, set by the FSIS, a food safety division of the USDA. Here, I show how federal agencies and private industry mobilize notions of time and control space to discipline workers inside and outside the plant, shaping workers’ home lives often rendering their bodies prematurely disabled, and careers cut short. Yet, through ethnography I also show how workers actively resist their exploitation. While worker resistance in the past has included formal tactics such as strikes, walkouts, and unionization, today I focus on contemporary forms of everyday resistances that draw, fundamentally, on workers’ lives outside of their paid employment at the plant. I show how both the "premature disability" of racial capitalism operate across multiple scales, from the musculoskeletal to the federal level in order to trace how and where resistance and sometimes refusal also take place. This paper develops from a 6-month workplace ethnography on the evisceration line of a large poultry processing plant in Northeast Georgia alongside of oral histories with workers moving in and out of the plants from 2014-2016.

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