Hog Wild: The Battle for Workers' Rights at the World's Largest Slaughterhouse

Hog Wild: The Battle for Workers' Rights at the World's Largest Slaughterhouse

by Lynn Waltz


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Hog Wild: The Battle for Workers' Rights at the World's Largest Slaughterhouse 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Wendi White More than 1 year ago
In this noteworthy book, Lynn Waltz offers readers a southern take on the perennial struggle for workplace justice in the face of seemingly insurmountable corporate power. Hog Wild: the Battle for Workers Rights at the World's Largest Slaughterhouse follows the stories of whistle blower Sherri Buffkin and union organizer, Gene Bruskin, among others, locked in a fifteen year cage match against Smithfield Food's production practices at the company's flagship plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. The author delivers an impressive feat of reportage with her detailed coverage of three votes to unionize, complex regulatory hearings and bruising civil suits. She also manages in 230 short pages to analyze the rise and fall of federal labor relations regulations in the United States from their inception during the New Deal to their Waterloo in the Reagan years up to their present day toothlessness in the workplace. Where most journalists would find themselves lost in the tangled weeds of federal law, political patronage and corporate intrigue that comprises this saga, Waltz manages to clear a path for the reader by juxtaposing the stories of the workers lives against the plodding response of the government and courts. She drives her tale like a truckload of hogs onto the kill room floor to arrive at a similarly messy conclusion. It's never pretty to watch sausage being made or workers being mangled by a high-speed production line, but Waltz doesn’t shy away from describing what is required to put pork on our plates or profits in a company's pockets. With a keen eye for the telling human detail, she keeps us reading as Buffkin experiences sexual harassment, Bruskin's ancestors escape from the progroms of Russia, and union supporter Raymond Ward is nearly lynched after the UFWC loses a second vote to unionize the plant. Not all of the character sketches are equally compelling, but as a whole they keep the book from becoming a slog through drawn out legal proceedings. Though Hog Wild masterfully maps the historic, racial and economic currents which swept Smithfield Foods into the national spotlight during the Justice@Smithfield campaign, it does omit at least one key piece of context: quarterly returns to stockholders. Certainly Wall Street's insatiable demand for quick returns, in addition to the CEO's zero-sum greed, drove Smithfield to treat its workers, hogs and the environment with the same cruel math. Nevertheless, Hog Wild achieves what all literary works must accomplish; it tells a particular story in a particular place and time, and in doing so, helps us to imagine and resist the universal forces that would slice us up for bacon.
diane92345 More than 1 year ago
Well-researched story of the fight for union representation in Smithfield’s North Carolina hog slaughterhouse. All the players in the union vs. Smithfield fight are examined in Hog Wild. The book also describes how modern vertical integration moved from chicken to hog slaughtering. It includes cringeworthy details of what the hogs endure during the birth to bacon process. Hog Wild has much to say about the use of right-to-work rural states and non-white and/or illegal workforce to lower costs. Smithfield is shown using violence, threats, intimidation and ultimately lawsuits to avoid unionization. Union membership dropped by more than two thirds since the 1950s. Hog Wild postulates that the drop is correlated with stagnant wages and a similar drop in the size of America’s middle class. The book is clearly on the union’s side and anti-Republican. However, that is not my biggest issue with the book. The author is constantly caught up in seemingly extraneous details. Worse, there are large swaths of Hog Wild that were just boring. It reads like a Master’s thesis trying to reach a particular length. Indeed in the preface, the author states that was the genesis of the book. Clearly, Hog Wild includes a tale that needs to be told. But it is a hard slog through so many facts. Consequently, the book receives only 2 stars from me. Thanks to the publisher, University of Iowa, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.