<$BlogRSDUrl$> The Cyberactivist

Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.

Monday, January 26, 2004

More Thoughts on Working at Tyson at Such a Horrible Job 

I have been thinking over the past couple of days about the email I referred to before. It has really sparked some remembrances of what that place did to me (as well as most others), and made me really look at the differences between my life now and the one I lived then. It is like two different lives that happened to two different people. And, I didn't really realize it at the time, so insidious is the growing problem that kind of job becomes - creeping into every part of your life and distorting your thought patterns - effectively turning you into a different person. And not a very nice, caring one, at that.

Let me try to illustrate what I mean by this. Try to follow what I am saying here, because it is hard to explain to anyone that has not gone through this before. That is why I have had to think about how to explain what I mean for the past couple of days. Any time I talk about something like this, I get emails from readers that can't comprehend the situations and mindset(s) I describe, and they certainly don't seem to grasp why nothing gets done by anyone about it. Some go so far as to question how true it is until I point them to other people that have said the same thing. That is because it doesn't make sense to the average person that has not been exposed to this warped "little world" that is controlled by such a powerful and heartless corporation (that puts the increase of their profits above all else), much less had their lives affected by the mindset and stress such a job creates.

There is no getting around this truth, though. It is a cruel, heartless industry (as this article clearly confirms, with no concern given to anything but profits - certainly not to the workers, and certainly not to the poor animals being raised and slaughtered.

Let me give you an example to try to illustrate part of what I am talking about.

One thing we used to do at Tyson was to have these competitions to see how many chickens you could hang in a row without missing a shackle. I wouldn't say that it was a regular thing, but it was more likely to pop up on a payday night. This would usually involve two guys (although, occasionally involved more) competing against each other on a bet - usually for beer. Not much - either a 6-pack or a 12-pack. It was more about the bragging rights of being "the best" than it was anything else. I was guilty of this on quite a few occasions, but then I always won during my last 3 years down there.

I started to tone down this practice a bit after I started realizing the many of the new-hires were trying to work at this pace and tearing up the birds in their inexperienced efforts. Although I was experienced enough to do this (at least for short bursts of time under ideal circumstances), none of the new-hires could even hope to match that kind of pace. It didn't stop them from trying, though, and that was unfortunate for the birds that suffered due to the rougher treatment they received.

It also wasn't just the brutality of the competition itself, but a lot of the time, the person losing such a competition would get mad and take it out on the chickens. There was a certain hierarchy among the hangers back there that had nothing to do with supervisors or even seniority. What was respected the most was the ability of a hanger to "gut it out," no matter what the conditions were. And if he could not only prevail over them and do his job, but also go beyond that and be the fastest or the "best" hanger back there, then he was looked up to by everyone else.

Of course, the opposite holds true, too. Anyone that was the opposite of that, or the "worst" hanger, was shunned and/or run off from back there. So, you can see the desire, indeed the necessity, to "prove yourself" in order to work back there where I did on back dock. Also there was an idea that anyone coming back there that was perceived as "weak" somehow "bringing down the whole crew," especially since the other workers were required to "take up the slack" for the new-hires. This led to resentment of anyone that couldn't hack it, and the workers would band together to run them off.

I have seen the time that they would send hangers in there, saying that the line was not staying full. Richard would be really pissed when empty shackles were going out, and it didn't matter whose fault it was. He was known for standing behind the workers with a megaphone, yelling that the next person to miss a shackle would be fired, if too many empty shackles had gone out on a given night.

The problem with that is that it is not always the person(s) responsible for missing most of them that has that happen to them. No matter how experienced you are, you will miss the occasional shackle. Nobody hits every single one of them every single time. So, the workers that had been doing their jobs would feel unfairly targeted by this and resented whoever was responsible for the empty shackles going out.

So, these competitions were one way of running off these people who were deemed to be "bringing down" the whole crew. All it takes is one person not keeping up to make it hard on everyone else, whether intentional or not. The result is the same.

The point of this is that this contributes to the likelihood of adopting a cold-hearted attitude towards other people, even your own co-workers. In fact, there were managers that would sometimes pit the crew against someone they wanted rid of. The manager would come back there and inform the "older hands," like me, to "get rid of" the person causing a problem in another part of the plant. Although, there have been instances of people being targeted simply because they were not well-liked by the manager in question.

These little competitions, if you could bait the person into one, were effective at breaking them down psychologically. No one likes to be made fun of and told they are "less of a man (or a person)" than someone else. And, if this is used in conjunction to single someone out, with other spiteful and hateful treatment by the rest of the workers (some of which "tricks" and "games" I have written about before in earlier posts), it would usually be effective in making the person's life so hellish that they would quit.

I am ashamed to say that I got away with a lot of things down there because of my willingness to be a part of this type of targeted attack. At the time all that started, I was still on parole and had to keep my job and cooperate with whatever they wanted me to do - right or wrong, legal or illegal - because they had the power to make my life harder, even losing my job and my parole. Once I started feeling bad about this and quit cooperating in these tactics, my life started to get a little rough down there, too. They have their ways, for sure. They want complete control over everyone and everything and strive to keep the employees from banding together in any meaningful way. You have probably seen what they think of and do to union plants and workers. I have also written about that here.

Anyway, this was what I have been thinking about since I started mulling over what sorts of things happen in someone's life when they get sucked into this horrible little world. No one in their right mind, if they had any choice at all in the matter, would want to work there. It is indeed a desperate situation that people find themselves in that only seems to get even more desperate as time goes on. You have to adopt an attitude of "looking out for #1 at all costs" in order to work there. There is no room for caring about anything or anyone but yourself. You either get "tough" or you "break"...or you get out.

No wonder Tyson and so many other companies like them are hiring so many illegals and claiming that no Americans want these jobs. Perhaps there is a reason???

Some people may think that this is a great opportunity for these people to get ahead in life and thus improve their life and the lives of their families. Honestly, I believe it will lead to even more exploitation, sicne these people are much less likely to complain about unfair treatment and unsafe working conditions than the workers down there now. and everyone has seen how scared people are to speak up about that. They are scared of losing everything and not finding another job - just like what happened to me. The illegals have more to fear than that. And I highly doubt that getting papers to work legally will make their treatment at the hands of corporations like Tyson any better.

After all, they always have someone else that is desperate enough to do the work and willing to put up with the horrible, unsafe conditions. There is no shortage of desperately poor people trying to survive and better their lives. And companies like this eat them up and spit them out every day.

Anyone that has ever considered working for a place like this needs to take these things into consideration before they decide to step up to that line. Is the little bit of money you will get paid ultimately worth it? Really worth it? Even if it destroys your life and the lives of countless others? Is it worth the weight on your soul for having been a part of the brutal killing of innocent sentient beings for your own personal gain? I sincerely hope for your own sake that it is not.

But, if it is, you'll fit right in. Last time I looked at the job sheet at the unemployment office, my old job was still open.
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