Belabored Podcast #197: Food Workers and the Virus

Belabored Podcast #197: Food Workers and the Virus

The illness in the food chain should remind us that we are all only as healthy as the sickest person in society.

A sign outside the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in South Dakota (KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images)

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We have learned that the biggest coronavirus clusters in the country are, as researcher Gina Neff pointed out, prisons, meatpacking plants, and nursing homes. Meatpacking plants have long been a target for reformers, but they remain, as our guest today tells us, workplaces where injuries are taken as a matter of course. In such conditions, is it really surprising that workers are getting sick with coronavirus? But the illness in the food chain should remind us that we are all only as healthy as the sickest person in society—particularly if that person is handling your dinner. Is the virus in food production a way to get people to care about low-paid, superexploited workers? We talk with Raj Patel, research professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin and the author of Stuffed and Starved and most recently, with Jason W. Moore, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, and Suzanne Adely, co-director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. 

Around the country, workers are fighting for safety on the job, and we check in on graduate student organizing at Harvard with Nishant Kishore, school employees in Minnesota with Sarah Nichols, as well as an attempt to pass an Essential Workers Bill of Rights in New York City and an attempt to map union power around the country in order to build the kinds of big strikes that will be necessary to fight back austerity and keep workers safe in the future. For Argh, we look at the conditions of the unsung, non-medical hospital workers who are also dying of the virus, and more on meat monopolies. 

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Harvard Grad Students Union-UAW 

Hourly school employee bill passes Minnesota House, heads to Senate  (Fox)

Sarah: How Workers Can Win in the Age of COVID-19  (Progressive)

Bargaining for the Common Good | Building Power Together: An Interactive Mapping Tool (The Forge)

City Council Proposes “Essential Workers Bill Of Rights” That Includes Hazard Pay, Paid Sick Leave (Gothamist)


Food Chain Workers Alliance

Raj Patel

A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things

Stuffed and Starved

Coronavirus Has Broken America’s Food Supply (The American Prospect)

Meatless May? Latino civil rights group launches meat boycott as coronavirus hits plant workers (The Gazette)

Argh, I Wish I’d Written That: 

Michelle: Ron Knox, Monopolies in Meat: Endangering Workers, Farmers, and Consumers (The American Prospect)

Sarah: Nicole Hong, 3 Hospital Workers Gave Out Masks. Weeks Later, They All Were Dead. (New York Times)