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Why Should Vegans Care About Slaughterhouse Workers?

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Too often, non vegans accuse vegans of not caring about human rights issues, and this is an unfair picture to paint. Vegans must continue to openly discuss the rampant abuse of slaughterhouse workers as they fight for worldwide justice, but there will always be a few naysayers who don’t understand why working conditions apply to the vegan cause. Why should we care about slaughterhouse workers if they’re working in the exact buildings that we so vehemently object to?

Because of who slaughterhouse workers are.

Slaughterhouse workers are, more often than not, simply working parts in a larger capitalist machine. Like you or I, they have families and lives to support, and have been dragged into a largely unfavorable profession because nobody else wants those jobs, and because slaughterhouse workers come from the easiest populations to prey on. The turnover rate for meat processing plants is at an unfathomable one hundred percent in many plants, so meat suppliers will take literally anyone who comes to their doors as a potential hire. While the numbers are obviously impossible to track, there is a massive draw for undocumented and migrant workers by the meat industry, who actively prey upon them by offering faked documentation to carry, and in turn, threaten to out them to the federal government for deportation. The meat industry relies on both the terror of animals and humans in order to keep operating, and to ignore this as a vegan or as a non vegan, is an act of great ignorance and cruelty.

Because it’s supremely ableist to ignore a mental and physical health plight.

Humans exploited by factory farms are deeply affected by the terrible health conditions that come with working in a meat plant. The first thing I usually see when larger vegan organizations write about the health plight of slaughterhouse workers is usually a comment by readers that they “deserve it.” There’s always those that say, “how can you dare care about PTSD in these workers when they are taking part in murder?” I implore you, if you aren’t a person living with mental illness, neurological damage, or trauma, don’t trap yourself in these limited lines of thinking. To live with the mental anguish of post traumatic stress disorder, or any mental illness, is a certain kind of hell that most survivors would not wish on anyone. This doesn’t help the larger conversations about mental health in the United States (or whatever country you live in) to ever say that someone has earned the pain of mental illness. Physically, workers have been affected by motor disorders, injuries from repetitive motions, and dangerous conditions. Employees are not people to the meat industry, they are merely supplies that do not have any kind of health to consider, and the industry must be criticized for this.

Because hidden camera videos only show so much.

When we think of slaughterhouse workers, we think of the assholes kicking over chickens and bashing cow’s heads in from the expose videos that are widely shared in the vegan community. However, consider that the majority of jobs in meat processing plants are violently fast, automatic, and repetitive. The entire industry deserves to have charges pressed against them, not just the workers who break the “rules” of the slaughterhouse. As I’ve repeated, this is a dangerous machine that robs human workers of their humanity without so much as a second thought, so focusing on individual abusers is silly and takes away from the larger issue.

Because it gives credit to the humane meat meat movement- which isn’t humane at all.

The more we paint factory farm workers as evil, the more power it gives to those who “lovingly” raise animals for exploitation in their own backyards. There is no such thing as humane meat, and demonizing the workers in factory farms helps to feed this dichotomy. There is nothing kind, nor humane, about raising an animal as a pet, “giving it love,” and slaughtering it for human consumption, yet this is seen as the most viable alternative to giving up meat by most consumers. Luckily, there’s an ethical alternative, veganism, and it’s actively hurt by the “factory farmed vs. humane meat” argument that people tend to so passionate about.

There’s no reason to not include slaughterhouse workers when we talk about a brighter vegan future, so please do keep this in mind the next time reports come out about the abuse of employees.

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  • Susanne

    Thank you very much for this article. Long overdue indeed. For sure, there are some who possibly enjoy the work, but I am pretty sure that most would choose other jobs if they had a chance. Let’s help and work towards a world, where they do get better chances at better jobs.

  • vegan truth seeker

    I see your point but for me someone who has no ability to do anything else other than killing animals all day doesn’t deserve my compassion – additionally, if someone doesn’t quit such a ‘job’ very soon and make a real effort to find a ‘proper’ job, again, for me they don’t deserve the air they breathe!

    Call me an extremist if you will but I refuse to make excuses for someone who spends the entire day murdering animals!

    • Corey Lee Wrenn

      Try reading the article.

  • BartiDdu

    I guess it’s similar to the situation with soldiers. Whilst I totally abhor war and violence, some of the nicest people I’ve met have been former soldiers. It is easy to label these people as at best puppets of their imperialist masters, and at worst xenophobes who love to kill foreigners, but the truth, as usual, is far more nuanced.
    For example, the last of these I met grew up in a working-class family in a post-industrial town with few employment opportunities. As soon as he left school, he, and all his friends, signed up to the army, as there were so few ways make a decent wage. He didn’t want to kill anyone, and had no ill will towards foreigners, much less did he want to be cannon fodder for the government, but at the time he could see no other way out of the poverty trap.
    After he left the forces, a little older, and perhaps somewhat wiser, he studied hard, got a degree and became a teacher.
    Perhaps the message is that whilst we may hate what people do, we shouldn’t necessarily always hate the people doing it – often they are victims in their own way too.

  • Yea, great piece. I can’t image that people grow up wishing to be a slaughterhouse worker, so for anyone to get into this line of work they probably exhausted all other options. When you live in poverty and have to provide, there’s no room to consider the welfare of another species. We can’t blame the pawns for trying to survive in a flawed system.

  • Dylan Wentworth

    This needs to be discussed a lot more.
    Unfortunately the same can be said of the neo-slavery in plant agriculture too. There’s an estimated 60,000 slaves in America today and you can’t say that going vegan is necessarily any better in the workers rights department.

  • Virginia Faubel

    Hmmm….what is it with human supremacists thinking it’s ok to hijack a platform that belongs to our fellow animals. The victims of this animal rights platform. Such a double standard. No one would dare hijack a platform dedicated to a group of humans and try to take the focus off those victims and make it about something/someone else.

    • Gertrude

      Well said, its the animals that should be the focus of attention not the human rights side. Animal rights should be to the forefront in all.

      • LauraSchleifer

        It’s not an either/or. You can–and SHOULD–fight for the rights of the human workers AND of the animals, and liberate both through ending this vicious killing industry.

        Any vegan/animal rights activist who stands against the factory farming and slaughterhouse industry MUST also stand for economic justice and immigrants’ rights, because as long as people are still utterly desperate to survive and to feed and house their families, they will continue to take any job that is available to them, no matter how horrible or unethical. Remove the source of their desperation, and you will soon see them refusing to do this work any longer.

        The continuation of the killing industry depends upon the desperation of its oppressed workers.

        • consumersarethedevil

          No. You are 100% wrong.

          • Nadia Jones

            Yall do realize black people still reached out to other groups during the civillage rights movement, right

    • Kelly Levenda

      Humans are animals, and many systems of oppression are interconnected.

      • Virginia Faubel

        And? I doubt for example you would go to a LBGT rally and tell them what about X,Y,Z.
        Of course others who are exploited matter but the AR platform is for our fellow animals. They are the victims of this platform.

  • Great piece. The vast majority of slaughterhouse workers are undocumented workers desperate to provide for their families (this has been true for at least 110 years, and was a major focus of Upton Sinclair’s Thr Jungle – his grisly 1906 expose of the meat packing industry).
    If you ever notice, most of the people caught on those slaughterhouse videos are the English-speaking higher-ups.

    It’s a horrible, dehumanizing job, and you’d probably have to be a psychopath to want to work there – which is why the industry relies on undocumented workers that they pretty much keep as endentured servants. There were a few really good articles about this in the NYTimes about 5 years ago, if anyone is looking for more info.

  • consumersarethedevil

    It literally is like saying the Auschwitz workers deserved better working conditions. They deserve more breaks and fair pay and benefits. Even if they are killing Jewish people they are still human. Crazy. It’s like saying people wielding whips to make children work in slave labor factories should be treated fairly and felt sorry for. No, they aren’t creating the demand for the products, but yes, they are disgusting and should be treated as such.

    • Nadia Jones

      And this is why vegans are portrayed to lack empathy. First of all, a lot of those German soldiers volunteered. Second, do you understand what “desperate” means? Cause if a Mexican man has to go out of his way to suffer through long hours of intense, gruesome, work only to earn little pay to support him and his family, what should that tell you? He does it for fun? Or maybe because White America forced him to and then you got people like yourself who most likely benefit from the exploitation of the working class(notice how you didn’t say anything about modern slavery for agriculture) yet choose to call them crazy? Why don’t you call all the food industries crazy? Why not racism? Put your gonna compare an oppressed group to Nazis which again, are most likely volunteers. What’s next, you gonna compare MLK to the KKK?

      • consumersarethedevil

        You are killing animals. Innocent, animals. Vegans don’t care how you see them. Vegans do their best to not kill, showing great amount of empathy, while you just care about feelings and appearances. You’re a phony. You said why don’t I address other industries? When I comment, I don’t feel a need to address every problem that exists. White America? You’re a nut. Keep this up, watch DT win another election thanks to your crazy bs. MLK was an abuser of women, maybe mention that? You loser.

        • Nadia Jones

          Oh I get it. You were just trolling. That was a good one I’ll admit. Hopefully people learn to separate trolls from actual vegans

  • TrippieHippie

    I love this article, it’s pretty cool and non-offensive. But some of these comments on here I kind of expected though, I told myself right after reading this title “Psh, no vegans would get behind this, their elitism would perceive this as some sort of Stockholm syndrome”

  • dave avihinsa

    I really cannot find any space to care for slaughterhouse workers..I think this push for animal rights activists to extend our circle of compassion to include these people is a huge step in the wrong direction. What next? Do we campaign for better working conditions? As a seasoned activist I find this a disturbing trend.we cannot ‘include everyone’ . In our struggle for the animals there will always be the ‘others’,those outside of our world view..to believe we can hold hands around the world and campaign for the downtrodden slaughterhouse worker that takes delight in dismembering fully conscious animals is a desperate attempt to see who can be the most inclusive.

    • Nadia Jones

      That’s like saying holocaust survivors had it worst than Black slaves. Dude stop comparing oppression. If you can’t show empathy to other living beings then why should we believe you actually care about these movements? Vegans are supposed to love all living beings. If you’re only going to support animals but tell people of color that they deserve to suffer, how is anyone supposed to differentiate you from a racist? Racists already consider people of color lower than animals(hence why police are careful to capture a ravaging chimpanzee/dog but have no problem shooting a little Black kid). No one told you can’t feel bad for the animals at the same time. But if you can’t show humanity to another group, then no one will take your comment to heart. They’ll only see you as a potential racist. And I’ve seen plenty of racist vegans, that I wish it were just me exaggerating things but as soon as I see “Black people are apes” coming from a vegan, I have to accept the reality that you people exist and so it wouldn’t surprise me.

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