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Trump Orders Meat Processing Workers to Risk Lives: “Essential” Today, Expendable Tomorrow

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Frank Sharry: “Ordering white, black, Latino and Asian workers to risk their lives so he can gain politically and his business friends can earn profits captures the essence of his corrupt and cruel presidency.”


Last week’s immigration proclamation underscored the Trump administration’s fusion of plutocracy and nativism. Trump’s new executive order forcing workers back to unsafe conditions at meat processing plants turbocharges it.  

A new must-read analysis in The Atlantic by Adam Serwer, “The Sinister Logic of Trump’s Immigration Freeze,” analyzes last week’s executive order in which Trump slashed green cards for families but left untouched temporary visas for workers:

Business interests want to maintain access to exploitable low-wage labor, including both undocumented immigrants and guest worker visas. Nativists want to maintain America’s traditional racial hiearachy, which is endangered less by a captive, temporary labor force, than by non-white immigrants who settle in America permanently…The Trump administration is a coalition forged between those ideologically committed to maintaining an aristocracy of wealth and those committed to restoring an aristocracy of race. Preventing prospective immigrants from becoming citizens while maintaining the flow [of] exploitable immigrant labor to those who depend on it fulfills both aspirations.

In the piece, Serwer quotes America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry

…Families and refugees, no. Workers, yes—but only if the workers are on temporary visas so we can extract their labor without extending full citizenship and rights to them. It says we want expendable workers we can exploit, not new Americans who demand equality.

These assessments are the best ways of understanding yesterday’s executive order forcing workers at slaughterhouses and meat plants back to work. He’s doing nothing to protect workers, most of whom are black, brown, immigrants and refugees, and bringing the full force of the federal government to protect the owners who are profiting from their labor. As the New York Times writes

On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued guidelines calling for physical distancing and other measures to keep workers safe. But the guidelines are voluntary, and food safety and labor advocates said they feared that meat companies would not follow them. 

‘Using executive power to force people back on the job without proper protections is wrong and dangerous’” Richard Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., wrote on Twitter …

… Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said, “We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork and poultry products.

In addition to risking workers’ health, the Trump administration also is planning to provide new legal liability protections for the big companies. As Geoff Bennett of NBC News reported, a senior Trump administration official stated: 

From a liability standpoint, we will issue guidance coming from the Department of Labor that will provide additional liability protections.

Meanwhile, Republican Governors like Iowa’s Kim Reynolds are telling workers that if they fear Covid-19, fail to report to work and are fired, they will forfeit unemployment insurance.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice: 

Trump sees business owners as his people and he sees a diverse group of workers as expendable. The is a Dickensian and disturbing distillation of Trump’s worldview.

For ‘essential workers’ it’s ‘get back to work’ and ‘voluntary’ guidelines at pandemic hot spots. For a CEO class that’s white and wealthy it’s profits and legal liability protections. 

Instead of prioritizing our lives, Trump is prioritizing his reelection. He’s running on two themes: immigrants and people of color are to be feared and blamed, and an economic comeback is just around the corner. Ordering white, black, Latino and Asian workers to risk their lives so he can gain politically and his business friends can earn profits captures the essence of his corrupt and cruel presidency.