Last year we met Alex, a Romanian, whose job at Vion in Boxtel was to cut the necks of pigs one after the other with a large knife. Thousands of times in one day. He was injured doing this work and was told the next day that he did not have to come back. Vion blamed the employment agency, the employment agency "Mahevia" is located in Luxembourg and did not give respond. Alex was not only fired, he also didn't get his payment and lost his "home", a dilapidated barn he shared with many others.

The situation at Vion today is shockingly similar to how Eastern European migrants were treated in the first industrial slaughterhouses in Chicago, more than a hundred years ago. The so-called Chicago Union Stockyards formed the start of the animal-industrial complex. A few large companies - the first multinationals of that time - had bought up the small ones, got control over the whole chain and could set prices.

In his book "the Jungle" (1906), Upton Sinclair describes how workers were exploited by the bosses. The first assembly lines were found in the Union Stockyards, with carcasses moving around and people performing the same act all day, standing in blood and in constant smell. Dangerous work, where workers often got injured and then lost their jobs. He also describes how an exploitative economy developed around the slaughterhouses , with landlords scamming and exploiting people in all sorts of ways, for example by renting out beds twice.

Sinclair's book led to public outcry, but this, to his dismay, was mainly focused on food safety. The outcry led to regulation of the industry: the state gained greater control over the entire slaughter process. In the end, this even contributed to more consumer confidence in meat and ultimately benefitted the companies (as they were smart enough that the government - i.e. the taxpayer - ended up paying for the inspection).

What can we learn from this?

A company like Vion, a multinational literally covered in blood, cannot and should not be regulated.

Vion exploits workers, the environment and animals, and this is interrelated: Labour costs are kept low so that meat can be sold cheaply. The cheapest protein to feed to animals is soy and leads to the destruction of the Amazon forest. Animals are kept as cramped as possible for cost-efficiency. The meat is exported all over the world while the manure accumulates in the province of North Brabant. And all this ultimately leads to profits and bonuses for the management and 17.5 million in dividends to the shareholder: the ZLTO.

We want the slaughterhouse to shut down; because killing animals is not good for anything. In the factories, other products can be made. For example, the former cow slaughterhouse in Leeuwarden has been converted by Vion into a vegan burger factory. All the other factories can be converted as well and produce an animal and environmentally friendly product. The revenues can be shared with all workers and all stakeholders should be involved in decisions. The only one who loses their job, if you can even call it a job, is the management.

Pic: Curteich-Chicago "C.T. Art-Colortone." Aero Distributing Co., Chicago.

The Jungle is available for free download as an ebook, including here.
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