Small town takes on Tysons greed

Opinion

They say you should never watch sausage being made, but if you want to see something really disgusting, check out the way Tyson Inc., the world’s largest meat company, is treating the good people of Jefferson, Wis.

Two years ago, Tyson bought the beef-and-pork processing giant IBP, thus gaining control of about 60 meatpacking plants, including the one in Jefferson, a town of 7,300 folks. Instead of embracing its adopted town, Tyson – a highly-profitable, $23 billion a year corporation – promptly got ugly, demanding a four-year wage freeze, a two-dollar cut in the pay of new hires, and an increase in the amount employees must pay for health insurance. When workers balked, Tyson turned its back on them, refusing to negotiate. The workers went on strike, but Tyson promptly hired strikebreakers to replace them – and dumped people who’ve loyally given their entire working lives to this plant.

This is the opening shot of a nationwide class war by Tyson to bust the middle-class wages of beef and pork workers down to the infamous poverty scale of poultry workers. Tyson says that it’s merely bringing the higher-paid workers “in line” with its other workers. In Jefferson, this will devastate the local economy, for knocking down 470 workers means they simply won’t have the spending power to sustain local businesses ... and the town’s middle-class aspirations.

It’s not just the workers, but all of Jefferson that’s under attack by the raw greed of a few rich, aloof executives sitting in Tyson’s faraway corporate headquarters. So, the whole town has joined the strike – “Boycott Tyson” yard signs are everywhere, Jefferson’s two grocery stores won’t sell Tyson products, the Towne Inn Cafe has banned Tyson pepperoni from its pizzas, and others have joined the fight. As one proud local puts it: “I don’t know if this small town can make a difference, but we’re doing as much as we can.”

To lend your support visit: www.tysonfamiliesstandup.org.

Jim Hightower, former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, is a radio commentator, author and social activist. His website is www.jimhightower.com.