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The Chicken Trail

The Chicken Trail: Following Workers, Migrants, and Corporations across the Americas

Kathleen C. Schwartzman
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Chicken Trail
    Book Description:

    In The Chicken Trail, Kathleen C. Schwartzman examines the impact of globalization-and of NAFTA in particular-on the North American poultry industry, focusing on the displacement of African American workers in the southeast United States and workers in Mexico. Schwartzman documents how the transformation of U.S. poultry production in the 1980s increased its export capacity and changed the nature and consequences of labor conflict. She documents how globalization-and NAFTA in particular-forced Mexico to open its commodity and capital markets, and eliminate state support of corporations and rural smallholders. As a consequence, many Mexicans were forced to abandon their no longer sustainable small farms, with some seeking work in industrialized poultry factories north of the border.

    By following this chicken trail, Schwartzman breaks through the deadlocked immigration debate, highlighting the broader economic and political contexts of immigration flows. The narrative that undocumented worker take jobs that Americans don't want to do is too simplistic. Schwartzman argues instead that illegal immigration is better understood as a labor story in which the hiring of undocumented workers is part of a management response to the crises of profit making and labor-management conflict. By placing the poultry industry at the center of a constellation of competing individual, corporate, and national interests and such factors as national debt, free trade, economic development, industrial restructuring, and African American unemployment, The Chicken Trail makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the implications of globalization for labor and how the externalities of free trade and neoliberalism become the social problems of nations and the tragedies of individuals.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6805-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. 1 Why Follow Chickens?
    (pp. 1-14)

    Displaced labor has many expressions, three of which are depicted in this book: unemployed African Americans, ghost villages in Sonora, and Mexican immigrants to the United States. In following the “chicken trail,” I connect the U.S. labor shortage and the Mexican labor surplus. While transformations in the U.S. poultry industry and its labor-management regime created new demands for cheap labor, changes in the Mexican economy, including poultry production, contributed to labor displacement. Many of the displaced entered the migrant stream to the United States. By the 1990s, that stream was flowing past traditional gateway locations (such as California) into southeastern...

  6. 2 Ethnic Succession in the South
    (pp. 15-29)

    The South has changed. It was Al Parks who showed me around Birmingham. Al is a 60-year-old African American man who had spent the first eighteen years of his life in that city. We visited several places where he and his friends had worked as young men. One such place was a large municipal (wholesale and retail) fruit and vegetable market. According to Al¹ and other locals, African Americans did much of the loading, stocking, and selling through the 1980s. By 2004, the absence of African Americans had become obvious, as had the presence of Hispanic workers. I spoke with...

  7. 3 Where Have All the Workers Gone?
    (pp. 30-52)

    Many southern industries experienced a labor-force turnover after 1990. In poultry, Hispanics became a substantial proportion of a workforce that was previously dominated by African American females. What accounts for this ethnic succession? I present the strongest case for the two conventional explanations: that Hispanics filled vacancies, and that Hispanics supplemented the existing workforce. Then I offer arguments and data that challenge them. My interpretation of the data is that this was labor displacement, an industry solution to labor-management conflict.

    The first explanation—recent immigrants took the jobs that nobody wanted—asserts that labor market vacancies existed because native labor...

  8. 4 Taylorism Invades the Hen House
    (pp. 53-76)

    Immigrants did not enter labor markets that were vacant or simply experiencing shortages. To the contrary, immigrant workers were recruited, frequently in competition with native workers. In this chapter I outline why I believe that the “vacancy” and “shortage” explanations are incomplete. By treating immigrant hiring as the outcome of market forces only, those explanations lack agency and are ahistorical; they leave unexamined those nonmarket agents and elements that also led to perceived vacancies or shortages. My argument is that ethnic succession was principally the byproduct of labor-management conflict.

    During Herbert Hoover’s 1928 presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee inserted...

  9. 5 Solving Industry Crises: Pollos Y Polleros
    (pp. 77-99)

    Industry faced two crises in the mid-1990s.¹ In this chapter, I describe the labor and profit crises. First, I develop a framework for conceptualizing and analyzing the labor-management regime. Then I draw from published reports and my own analysis of the NLRB data to identify changes in that regime. Second, I offer a synopsis of the profit crisis that concerned industry leaders. Third, in evaluating possible solutions, I conclude that immigrant hiring addressed both crises. Hiring illegal immigrant workers was a conscious strategy: it addressed the profit crisis by lowering labor costs, and it addressed labor aggressiveness by substituting a...

  10. 6 Squeezing Out Mexican Chicken
    (pp. 100-112)

    Chapters 1 through 5 described the immigration “pull” or the U.S. labor “demand” side of the immigration story. My objective was to demonstrate the whys and hows of the observed ethnic shift. Conventional explanations such as “job vacancy” or “job shortage” are based on the idea of a self-actuating market. Rather than the invisible hand of the market matching willing workers with vacant jobs, I argued that it was the visible hand of recruiters, acting on behalf of companies that funneled immigrants into jobs. However, both my “socially constructed” labor-conflict explanation and the conventional “market-driven” one recount only the U.S....

  11. 7 Voice: Squawking at Globalization
    (pp. 113-129)

    From the 1950 to 2000, Mexico’s commercial poultry production was transformed. My analysis of the commercial sector does not address directly the question of labor displacement and emigration, but it contributes to my project in three ways. First, it tracks the timing of poultry imports from the United States. Second, it clearly identifies the anticipated devastating consequences of NAFTA. Third, by tracing the evolution and transformation of the commercial sector, it offers a baseline of pre-NAFTA commercial production. Some transformations were due to natural industry maturation, but the industry clearly suffered from exogenous pressures on commodity prices and shifts in...

  12. 8 Exit Mexico: “Si Muero Lejos De Ti”
    (pp. 130-155)

    Emigration from Mexico is not new.¹ Numerous researchers have identified the U.S.-Mexico wage differential as the major factor, even more than joblessness. As Huntington (2004) argues, with a five-to-one income differential between the United States and Mexico (in 2003), migration is inevitable. Beyond the customary cost-benefit analysis that drives migrants, specific historical factors have affected the flow. In addition, improved transportation networks make travel easier for individuals of varying ages and physical capabilities. By the 1990s, many more people could exercise their “exit” option.

    I return to the original question: To what extent did globalization in the form of NAFTA...

  13. 9 The Global Dilemma: Summary and Reflections
    (pp. 156-166)

    Although this book has analyzed only one commodity, it was with the promise that the poultry trail would synthesize the complex processes associated with the recent wave of globalization. Since 1980, poultry production has been altered by U.S. industrial changes, U.S. labor displacement, global trade relations, Mexican industrial changes, Mexican labor displacement, and Mexican emigration. I began with ethnic succession in the southeastern United States. Historically there had been few Hispanics in the five states which now lead in poultry production—Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina. In the 1990s, industries in these five states became new destinations for...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 167-172)
  15. References
    (pp. 173-194)
  16. Index
    (pp. 195-202)