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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/20/15

Factory farms and Republican labor policy

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meat in the in the United States comes from "factory farms," aka Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), where thousands of animals suffer mentally and physically from being packed in spaces so small they can barely move. These hellish places generate an abundance of low-price meat for a very carnivorous American public.

CAFOs exhibit the brutal logic of efficiency in capitalist production. Veal calves spend their short lives immobilized in small crates to prevent muscle growth and produce tender meat. To minimize the cost and maximize the profit from raising meat chickens, CAFOs don't let them lose weight by moving around. Instead, they confine thousands of them in large sheds where, as the ASPCA explains ,

"Thanks to selective breeding--combined with low-dose antibiotics, excessive feeding and inadequate exercise--factory-farmed meat chickens grow unnaturally quickly and disproportionately. While their breasts grow large to meet market demand, their skeletons and organs lag behind."

Pigs are very intelligent, sensitive social animals. They need to interact with each other, and root, dig and explore where they live. But efficient meat production calls for rapid weight gain and quick slaughter. So a typical CAFO will confine "1,000 to 2,500 animals in a single building, with as many as 20 hogs crammed inside pens no bigger than a bedroom, with no straw, no mud, and absolutely no way to be a pig" ( CAFO : The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, ed. D. Imhoff).

Factory farms treat animals as pure commodities--objects to produce and sell, not as subjects with perceptions and feelings. Treating sentient beings like things leads to torturous practices such as amputation of chick and turkey beaks and piglet tails, and castration of cows and pigs, all without anesthesia.

There are no federal laws protecting farm animals while they are on the farm. Most state animal protection laws exempt farm animals, and those that don't are loosely enforced, according to the ASPCA . For most people what goes on behind the CAFO walls is out of sight, out of mind. They would be outraged if their cats or dogs were treated like CAFO animals.

CAFO managers spend on their animals only as much as will maximize profit. How much deprivation or pain these animals endure is simply irrelevant unless it affects profits. This ruthless calculus is the capitalist value system unchecked by moral or other values. Factory farms are a moral blight on our society.

No decent person should want a society's managers or rulers to apply such a calculus to human beings. Yet this seems to be the direction in which the Republican Party wants to take us, with only token opposition from Democrats.

From a purely capitalist point of view, the entire nation is a production unit with a gross domestic product (GDP) as output. Labor is a commodity, a factor in the production process just like a plant and its machinery, or hogs fattening up in a CAFO.

Management will spend on labor, as on any other factor of production, as little as possible, and only to the extent that it increases profit. Profit is the difference between the market value of the product and the total cost of producing it, including workers' wages. This profit goes to the investor-owners of the production unit.

Whether the wages paid to workers enable them to afford what is necessary for a dignified human existence is no more relevant to management than the feelings of hogs on a factory farm. This is capitalism minus the pieties that mask its true nature.

As the industrial revolution took hold first in Britain and then in the U.S., factories paid workers, including children, subsistence wages to work long hours six or seven days a week in unhealthy and dangerous conditions. Because of the population surge and the low skill level of most factory work, the market price of labor was low. Factory wages were barely enough to purchase the food and shelter that enabled workers to get through a work day.

However, the combination of union activism and government regulation greatly improved wages and working conditions from the mid-19 th through the mid-20 th century. The capitalist model of society as a production unit seeking capital growth through profit seemed to have yielded to the idea that capital growth is not an end in itself but rather a means toward improving the lives of workers and citizens.

However, this political and moral progress ended in the last quarter of the 20 th century. The political climate turned against labor unions, labor standards were weakly enforced and labor legislation increasingly favored management. Union membership declined drastically. Wages stagnated and wealth inequality soared.

The GOP promises to further weaken unions, cut back on social insurance programs and make labor law even more management-friendly. For instance, Charles Walker, Republican governor of Wisconsin and a presidential candidate funded by the Koch brothers, trumpets his union-busting record.

He has just signed into law a budget which changes the wording of a Wisconsin law requiring workers be paid a "living wage," defined as "adequate to permit any employee to maintain herself or himself in minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being." Walker substituted the phrase "minimum wage" (currently $7.25) for "living wage."

(Article changed on July 24, 2015 at 15:24)

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Brian Cooney Social Media Pages: Facebook Page       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

I'm a retired philosophy professor at Centre College. My last book was Posthumanity-Thinking Philosophically about the Future (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). I am an anti-capitalist.

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