Home > Labor > The Impact of Iowa Beef Packers, Inc. On Workers

The Impact of Iowa Beef Packers, Inc. On Workers

From The Messenger

In 1961, Iowa Beef Packers (IBP) opened up its first slaughterhouse in Denison, Iowa, in what was to be known as the “IBP revolution.” This is important for several key reasons. First, the plant was situated in a location outside the traditional union bastions, like New York, Chicago or Minnesota. The bosses understood that in order to compete with other industry giants, their plant needed to remain union free. Secondly, IBP eliminated the need for “skilled” workers in the process of meat production. This is how Eric Schlosser, in his muckraking work Fast Food Nation, describes the plant:

The new IBP plant was a one-story structure with a disassembly line. Each worker stood in one spot along the line, performing the same simple task over and over again…The gains that meatpacking workers had made since the days of The Jungle stood in the way of IBP’s new system, whose success depended upon access to a cheap and powerless workforce. (156)

Using cheap labor on an assembly line to turn sides of beef into ready-to-sell cuts, the company simultaneously de-skilled meatpacking, ran the unions out, and made skilled union butchers who worked in grocery stores obsolete. The “IBP revolution” was going to have a huge impact to the rest of the industry. In fact, it set the standards for the next decades. An example of the impact of the “IBP revolution” was the labor struggles in 1979 between Monfort executives and Greeley workers. Monfort wanted to follow the path of IBP by slashing wages and applying tougher policy on labor unions. Greeley workers who were represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) understood what was underway, and decided to strike. Monfort began to hire scabs and hire thugs to beat up and intimidate striking workers, while president Ken Monfort decide to purchase a new slaughterhouse in Nebraska, from Swift & Company (Schlosser 157). The outcome of this struggle was disastrous for workers. After Greeley workers decided to work without a contract, Monfort closed the plant and fired all workers and in his new plant began to hire undocumented workers. This move allowed him to pay low wages, have access to large numbers of workers, and to prevent unions from organizing the workers. Today the basic pay is $9.25 an hour, if this adjusted by inflation, today’s wages is more than a third lower than when the plant opened forty years ago (Schlosser 160).

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