Globalization "Southern style" : transnational migration, the poultry industry, and implications for organizing workers across difference
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Since the mid-1990s, Central Mississippi has become home to a new population of migrants from across Latin America. Recruited by the chicken processing industry, these newcomers work alongside a longstanding and disenfranchised Black workforce in the country’s lowest paid and most dangerous jobs. This study addresses the globalization of rural Mississippi, its relationship to capital and labor, and its human implications for established Southern communities as well as new immigrant groups. It explores the ways in which people of different backgrounds understand and experience migration, shaped to a large degree by the historical and contemporary political economies of race and white privilege in this region. It examines the changes in the poultry industry over time that led to its recent recruitment of foreign-born laborers, and it illustrates the ways in which difference is constructed and maintained among people of diverse backgrounds in both communities and workplaces in the area. Through ethnography of discourses and interactions across lines of difference--both inside the plants, where identity categories are exploited for labor control and profit, and outside, as workers go about their everyday segregated lives--the dissertation argues that transnational migration is both transforming and consolidating social hierarchies in the region. Migrants are not entering society at the bottom, but rather are inserted into a precarious space between white and Black, and their positioning in society is often shifting and situational. This conclusion holds vital implications for workers’ prospects for political mobilization. It suggests that in the globalized present, organizers of lowwage workers must understand class as but one of a number of cross cutting axes of identity formation, and that class struggle alone will not bring about social change in a newly multicultural workforce. In a world increasingly driven by neoliberalism and divided by racial and ethnic conflict, the research creates a deeper awareness of the relationships between industrial restructuring, transnational migration, and political economies of race, revealing both challenges and possibilities for newly multicultural communities seeking social, economic, and workplace justice.