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14 May, 2016

Slavery conditions in chicken industry show that robots are ready to take this sector too


A new report by Oxfam revealed shocking data concerning the working conditions in the US chicken industry. They prove that the corporate neo-Feudalism is actually here already. We are talking about slavery conditions inside an increasingly deregulated environment where workers lose rapidly all their rights and benefits. Only a few examples from the report reveal the shocking picture:

  • Routinely, poultry workers say, they are denied breaks to use the bathroom. Supervisors mock their needs and ignore their requests; they threaten punishment or firing. Workers wait inordinately long times (an hour or more), then race to accomplish the task within a certain timeframe (e.g., ten minutes) or risk discipline. Workers struggle to cope with this denial of a basic human need. They urinate and defecate while standing on the line; they wear diapers to work; they restrict intake of liquids and fluids to dangerous degrees; they endure pain and discomfort while they worry about their health and job security. And it’s not just their dignity that suffers: they are in danger of serious health problems.

  • Supervisors deny requests to use the bathroom because they are under pressure to maintain the speed of the processing line, and to keep up production. Once a poultry plant roars to a start at the beginning of the day, it doesn’t stop until all the chickens are processed. Workers are reduced to pieces of the machine, little more than the body parts that hang, cut, trim, and load—rapidly and relentlessly.

  • Supervisors sometimes taunt the line workers for their need to use the restroom at all; they tell them to drink and eat less. Fern, who works at a Tyson plant in Arkansas says, “Our supervisor always makes fun of us. He says we eat too much so we go to the bathroom a lot.” Other workers at Tyson echo the statement; Betty notes, “That’s what they say to us. Don’t drink and eat a lot—if you do, you will end up in the bathroom five times a day.” In a lawsuit against a poultry company in Mississippi, women workers say that their supervisor “charged them money for such things as using the bathroom.

  • Although they are reluctant to talk about it, workers from across the country report that they and their coworkers have made the uncomfortable decision to wear adult diapers to work. Not only do the diapers absorb accidents, they provide a degree of protection from the danger of asking permission to leave the line. Many workers are afraid of being mocked, punished, or fired. Betty, who works at a Tyson plant in Arkansas, says that on her own line, two people regularly wear diapers. One woman does so, Betty says, “because she can’t go to the bathroom when she needs to because they don’t let her.” Marta, from a Pilgrim’s plant in Texas, also reports that people in her plant wear diapers to work.

  • Erma, who worked at a Sanderson plant in Mississippi, notes that “Women have to tell male supervisors why they have to go to the bathroom and only have a few minutes to go and return. The supervisors are not considering the time it takes to walk to the restroom, remove your gear, put your gear back on and return to the line in those few minutes.” At a Tyson plant in Indiana, the second half of the night shift is a solid block of five hours (9pm to 2am). There are no scheduled breaks; workers are given only five minutes to go to the bathroom upon request—hardly enough time for all the steps required to leave the line and use the restroom.



In essence, the workers' rights are nearly vanished because the workers don't dare to report the violations, as they fear that they will lose their job. TTIP-type agreements force for more deregulation concerning the working rights. According to Oxfam (see video above), only four companies control nearly 60% of US chicken production. Where we have powerful lobbies they always push for increasingly reduced labor rights.

Additionally, the loss of jobs in other sectors due to hyper-automation creates oversupply of available workforce. The machines are pushing towards a fierce competition between the workers who seek desperately for a job in sectors that are still occupied by human labor. But this is only an intermediate stage as robots will soon occupy these positions too. Until then, the chicken industry will exploit the human labor "until the last drop" before dumping it like an empty peel of lemon.

The description in Oxfam's report is characteristic. Humans are denied even basic needs and pushed towards robotic behavior. The phrase “Workers are reduced to pieces of the machine, little more than the body parts that hang, cut, trim, and load ...”, shows characteristically that workers in the US do not have to compete with other cheap labor abroad anymore, but with a workforce which appears to be unbeatable: hyper-automated machines.

An additional proof for this new situation can be found, for example, in both China and US, something which, by the way, shows that Donald Trump either doesn't understand the rapidly formed new conditions, or, he is targeting China on purpose.

As the theantimedia reported:

Colonel Sanders is raising a robot army to serve fried chicken at a restaurant near you. KFC’s first automated restaurant, called Original+, went live in Shanghai on April 25th, complete with an artificially intelligent robot manager named “Du Mi” who works at the front counter.

According to Chinese news outlet Sohu, “‘Du Mi’ marks the first commercial use of artificial intelligence in the fast food industry. The artificial intelligence robot was launched by China’s leading web services company Baidu during its World Conference in 2015.” KFC hopes that the hip new automated restaurant will attract young customers with its free wireless phone charging stations and human-less eating experience.

Therefore, it's a matter of time before the machines occupy the chicken industry in the US (where robots could be probably adapted more easily than in a restaurant), and as the example above shows, even managers could be replaced by robots. The process has already started in the US in other sectors as Yanis Varoufakis revealed already two years ago:

When I returned to my office, I went straight to find a colleague who knows well what's going on. He informed me that the workplace I saw, was the new factory of Apple to produce MacBook Pro. It was true that, it was constructed through almost complete automatization. The materials had been selected through a way with which, the automatic machines - therefore robots connected to eachother through a local wireless network (intranet) - to be able to construct without human interference - even the hydraulic structure of the building will be constructed by plumpers-robots. A factory that under normal conditions should employ thousands of workers is functioning with the presence of less than one hundred souls.”

I asked him about the move of Apple to produce computers in America, by bringing back in the US the production from China for the first time after decades. 'How's that?' And the answer was the expected one, although quite impressive: 'Wages are of no importance. The export of productive processes from America to China (off-shoring) was only an intermediate stage. The production has returned to America, but not the jobs. The new factory of Apple, not only is constructed without American workers' sweat, but will also produce MacBook Pro through complete automatization, without hiring Texans. Welcome to the New, Brave World', ended with a smile, referring obviously to the Brave New World of Aldous Huxley.”

[...]

When bulldozers and plumpers-robots that at this moment build the new factory of Apple, will start to learn from eachother and cooperate inside a robotic network, even the few jobs concerning the operation of these robots will vanish.

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