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From The Socialist newspaper, 6 May 2020

Trump puts profit before safety (again)

photo Lewis Clarke/CC

photo Lewis Clarke/CC   (Click to enlarge)

US president Donald Trump has invoked a 1950s Korean War-era piece of legislation to re-open meat processing plants, closed because of high rates of coronavirus infections among their workforces.

Many employees being forced back to work are low-paid, migrant workers on precarious contracts. It's widely reported that strict social-distancing protocols - which aren't mandatory - have not been adhered to.

About 50 workers from the Perdue Perry Cook poultry plant in Kathleen, Georgia, walked out on 23 March in protest at the unsanitary conditions inside the plant and demanding the factory was sanitised.

Police arrived in unmarked SUVs, surrounded the workers demonstration, and broke up the protest.

The average salary for a general labourer at Perdue foods is reportedly $12.66 an hour. In 2015 the Perdue family was worth an estimated $3.2 billion.

Blaming workers

One of the country's biggest pork processing factories, Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, temporarily closed after more than 700 of its 3,700 workforce became infected with Covid-19.

It reportedly took Smithfield 18 days after the first case of Covid-19 among its workers to pause operations for 48 hours over Easter to 'deep-clean' the plant. But, the BBC reports that workers continued to operate shifts during this period.

Outrageously, the company suggested that the plant became a hotspot for the virus, not because of the lack of PPE and social distancing, but because of migrant workers' "living circumstances".

A Smithfield spokesperson reportedly said it is hard to know "what could have been done differently" given the plant's "large immigration population."

However, the AFL-CIO union federation in Sioux Falls says its officials approached Smithfield management back in March, before any employee at the plant tested positive, to demand PPE - gloves, masks, aprons, etc. Instead, it's reported that the company provided beard nets, which do not stop airborne particles.

Legal cover

The biggest union in the meatpacking industry, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), has reported 72 deaths and 5,322 workers directly impacted by the coronavirus throughout its total membership of 1.3 million.

The UFCW is demanding PPE, social distancing and so forth, to protect workers at the reopened plants. But the union also reports that Trump's administration is providing legal protection to companies whose employees subsequently contract the virus at work.

Last year the federal government allowed pork processing companies to speed up production lines, thereby increasing the risk of injury to workers.

Yet another example of Trump's deregulation of industry, designed to boost corporate profits at workers' expense.

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In The Socialist 6 May 2020:

What we think

Bosses push to lift lockdown - they only care about profits

Coronavirus news

Dispatches from the NHS front

Bail out the real wealth creators, not the rich

Homes needed to end overcrowding

Homeless left on streets during pandemic

Pay full fees for virtual courses? - No way!


Your donations can keep the Socialist going

Test and trace

Test and trace: workers need a real plan

Tories using pandemic to shift lab testing out of NHS

Workplace news

Nationalise British Airways to stop 12,000 redundancies

Postal workers force Royal Mail back

No increase in transport capacity without adequate safety precautions for workers and passengers

Unsafe Workplace? "It's up to you" PCS tells reps and members

Further protests in Ireland against Debenhams closures - UK fightback needed

Rolls Royce threatens 8,000 job losses

EDF Energy workers furloughed on 100% pay

International news

India: Fighting the curse of capitalism and coronavirus

US: Trump's public health cuts have condemned thousands worldwide

Trump puts profit before safety (again)

Lessons from history

The Tyneside apprentices' strike during WW2


Peter Hadden remembered

Readers' opinion

Going viral: Socialist comments and letters on the corona crisis

TV Review BBC Panorama: PPE shortage - how many lives will be lost?


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