Is Class Struggle Eternal?
Last week, John Oliver outed the dark reality of the meatpacking industry. With tragicomic skill, he made very clear how horrific working conditions are, ones which no one should have to endure. Ever.
What’s most startling is that public figures like him still find themselves having to educate the public on the obscurities of human exploitation. How can it be that we, as a whole, are still impossibly blind to the atrocities that indirectly make their way to our dinner table every night?
Food Inc. came out over a decade ago and, yet, to this day, meatpackers are still denied the most basic of human needs: bathroom breaks. That's not to say they're denied permission to go potty. Some plants allot their workers a whopping five minutes a day. Others discourage them from drinking water and expect them to wear adult diapers to work.
Productivity crushes time. It's an economy-wide principle and that's only the tip of the iceberg. The lack of job opportunities pushes workers into poverty wages and long hours. Usually, it's the immigrant, black, or LatinX workers who are left with such slim pickings. Meatpacking plants are generally equivalent to safety and health hazards, meaning dangerous work equipment, musculoskeletal disorders, and more.
For those of you who've watched Fast Food Nation, can you ever forget how Wilmer Valderrama’s friend got his leg mangled at work? The storyline might be fictional, but it couldn’t be closer to reality.
Plant workers make up just a small fraction of the perpetual victims of poverty. Oppression of the poor is a tale as old as time. Look at all the progress mankind has made since we first discovered fire. We’ve come from hunting to industrialization, from feudal systems to governments, from fire to LED lights. And yet, despite all of these breakthroughs, human subjugation lives on. And of course, the poor always bear the brunt.
It's a common theme that always makes news headlines, enraging us, passive viewers. There are those of us who take matters into our own hands. We engage in our own silent forms of activism, say, by purchasing our meat from reputable companies — or even removing it from our menus. We have no other weapons.
As conscious shoppers, we hope the "humane" label means no human rights violations and less animal suffering. But how can we ever be sure? In a system defined by bloodshed in favor of profits, it's impossible to know the truth. And, most important yet, why should this responsibility befall us, individual consumers, when we have entrusted our governments with regulatory agency?
We can boycott all sorts of organizations that treat workers as disposable. Yet, there's a lingering fear that all we'll ever make is a dent in this colossal human-eat-human system. After all, meat plants are still standing, their employees' conditions as bad as ever. No wonder the John Olivers of the world still find it necessary to harp on the same string.
So, is class struggle part of the human fabric, or is it the result of our econo-political framework?
If you’re an idealist, like me, you might get persuaded by the optimistic thought that there’s a glitch in the matrix. Humankind has mastered all but one thing: an economic system that works for us all. You’ll find yourself hoping for change, for improvement. You might become impossibly disturbed by the news, and, heck, maybe even try and do something about it.
Then there are the realists. They, along with their pessimistic friends, probably have it best. Class struggle is eternal, they say. Things have always been this way, and forever will be. Opportunism is in the human DNA and the weak always have it worst. Your deterministic mindset will keep your mind at ease. Free from the endless thirst for transformation, and the nagging thought that you must somehow "do something," you'll have enough brain space to live a more collected life.
As for me, I prefer to believe we have yet to figure out how to make the status quo optimal for everyone. The free-market — or extreme capitalism, neoliberalism, whatever you want to call it — thrives on abusing the weak. It's a system that strips societies of regulation, treating both humans and the planet as expendable in an endless conquest for profit.
Not that other systems have fared better in the past, mind you. Injustice against the “other,” against those who are most vulnerable, is a common motif in our history. Even though we got rid of slavery, those with the least are still exploited for the benefit of those with the most.
Meatpackers shouldn’t have to work in fear — for their health, safety, and salary. No one should. Class struggle has got to go. I believe we can refine our economic framework to abolish wage slavery. Until we've accomplished that, simple acts of activism are the only way out. We can be idealists, realists, or pessimists. But that doesn’t justify our complacency in watching as individuals are exploited right before our eyes.