Tennessee trabajadores: Global wage arbitrage comes home to roost

Donna Goda, Florida International University


In the 1980s, the American meat industry began restructuring both its domestic production methods and the distribution of its processing facilities. Many meat and poultry processing facilities have since been relocated into small rural communities. The red meat industry was once highly-paid and unionized, but now work in both meat and poultry processing is a dangerous, low-paid manufacturing job, heavily reliant on immigrant workers who must turn to local social services to supplement their wages and benefits. In an attempt to discover the manner in which the social relations of a specific locale may be enmeshed with global production, this research explored perceptions of social power and alliances after a rural community became host to a foreign workforce employed by the local poultry processing plant. On-site semi-structured interviews were conducted with sixteen local residents, and a content analysis of the community newspaper was undertaken. The research found that as new production relations were inserted into the community, the society continued to reproduce and social relations remained relatively unchanged. The community's cultural standards and social infrastructure dictate that residents are respectful of authority, extend Christian charity to those less fortunate, and are generally accepting of a community known for low wages, low taxation, and low standards of education. Hegemonic ideologies seem to dictate the goals and beneficiaries of social power, and residents are unable to name any power vectors even in the face of sustained community support of, for example, the company that introduced the immigrant labor into the community. While there are indications of displeasure with the influx of immigrants appearing in the newspaper and the interviews, there are tangible examples that the community was proactive in welcoming the immigrants into their community. Thus, given that the last time elements of the community united around an issue was in the mid-1970s and no other issue has evoked any type of tangible struggle since then, there is no indication that any social alliances will be formed in reaction to changes in the community wrought by the globalization of its economy.

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Recommended Citation

Goda, Donna, "Tennessee trabajadores: Global wage arbitrage comes home to roost" (2007). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3279225.