By Daniel K. Buntovnik
“Want some chips?” Henry Schlapansky offered.
“Nah, I’m good,” replied Jack McGillicuddy. “I’m tryin’ to eat healthier.”
“Yeah, eat your fresh fuckin’ broccoli, ya health nut. More of the tasty stuff for me then. Heh,” the nearly middle-aged meatpacker jabbed back, noisily devouring several of the crispy, kettle cooked and genetically modified potato shavings.
“Una huelga? No manches, carnal. Eres loco? No quiero perder mi trabajo,” the meatpacker sitting on the bench further down from the working class Anglos could be heard, though not understood, saying.
Just then, several Sudanese meatpackers walked into the cafeteria, conversing in Dinka language.
“It’s like a little goddamn United Nations we got goin’ here,” Henry scoffed in a hushed tone, his eyebrows raised in exasperation.
“Yeah, sure . . .” said Jack dismissively, trying to listen in on the Latino workers’ conversation.
Henry took the hint and the two men ate their sandwiches without speaking to each other for the rest of the break.
In the past few months, Jack had taken the initiative to make a more concerted effort to actively brush up on his Spanish. He’d reached a very rudimentary level in the couple of years he’d studied the language in high school, but he wasn’t anywhere near the level of proficiency required to effectively eavesdrop on his cheetah-tongued Mexican co-workers. But working at Quality Ham Handlers, Inc. (QHH) afforded him plenty of opportunities to acclimate his ears to the migrant workers’ sociolect. Jack and Henry were among the handful of “Americans” who still worked at the plant. With the exception of Jack, a fair degree of xenophobia coursed through the veins of the majority of them.
It’d been that way since the middle of the 1980s, when the company was founded. You see, Quality Ham Handlers existed as an independent firm largely only on paper. In reality, the company was inextricably linked to the Moorehall Foods Corporation, makers of SHAM–“the minty meat”–a kitsch luncheon meat, originally marketed as “meat by-product”, whose name was a portmanteau of the words “shiso” and “ham”. (Shiso is a culinary herb of the mint family originating in Asia). Moorehall workers had gone on strike in 1985 to protest cuts to pay and benefits at a time when the company was making record profits. Reaganomics was to blame. But a year later, in 1986, when all was said and done, the workers’ strike had been crushed. The National Guard was sent to the small Southern Minnesota town to protect scabs and strikebreakers until, finally, the union gave up. But Moorehall continued to wage war on the working class, setting up Quality Ham Handlers as a proxy company where workers would lack the protection of a union. QHH would handle the unglamorous task of slaughtering tens of thousands of hogs daily, the first step in processing, while the adjacent Moorehall Foods plant would take charge of the second half of processing, as well as packaging and distribution, and continue to be known as the makers of SHAM. Not long after crushing the pesky labor union, Moorehall began actively recruiting workers from Mexico, virtually all of them so-called “illegal aliens”–their documents either forged or purchased from lumpen Chicanos and Puerto Ricans. But all of that was seldom discussed in Augustin, Minnesota–a modern day company town branded “SHAM Town, USA” by its chamber of commerce.
“Alright, back to work, ya goddamn miscreants!” the foreman shouted, putting an abrupt end to the meatpackers’ brief respite.
Jack put his tin lunchbox back in his cubbyhole, while Henry threw his plastic wrapper-filled paper bag and empty aluminum can into the non-recyclable waste bin uncaringly.
The work they went back to was gruelling. The handling of the ham was industrial, comparable to a death camp in an almost non-hyperbolical sense. First the pigs had to be slaughtered. That was Jack’s job. Then they had to be drained, sliced, diced. Many workers suffered from repetitive stress and strain injuries of the hands and arms: carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel, radial tunnel, you-name-it syndrome.
To kill the pigs, Jack used a highly pressurized stick-shaped device that blasted out their brains, creating a fine aerosolized cerebral mist which splashed across Jack each time he blasted out a hog’s brain. He breathed in the fine mist and, in a quasi-robotic fashion, repeated this life termination process hundreds of times.
Hours later, a bell tolled, signalling the end of his shift.
Jack changed out of his work clothes, pinkened by the aerosolized brain mist, and headed home. He lived alone in the northeast part of town, in a small wood-paneled house covered in mold and peeling paint.
* * *
Almost immediately upon arrival, Jack packed a glass pipe with cannabis–what the locals typically referred to as “a bowl of weed”–turned on his TV, sat back, and began toking. After a long day of slaughtering hogs, smoking dope in the evening was Jack’s preferred method of unwinding. Jack wasn’t the only person for whom this had become a daily ritual. Thousands of workers in SHAM Town, USA self-medicated this way, unable to afford the high cost of traditional health care.
On TV, the local news team was covering what were two of the biggest national stories at the time: marijuana legalization and a recent wave of protest in response to a spate of killings of unarmed Blacks by white cops.
“Today, lawmakers in Nevada voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Nevada joins Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, becoming the fifth state in the Union to completely legalize recreational marijuana, in addition to the nation’s capital, Washington DC,” the anchorwoman spoke.
“Woo hoo!” Jack exclaimed gruffly as a thick fume of weed vapor emerged from his face.
“That’s right, Melanie. But local law enforcement officers say the move is the wrong one,” her co-anchor chimed in.
“Boo!” Jack jeered.
The screen cut to a clip of a local police spokesman rattling on. “Federal law and Minnesota state law continue to uphold marijuana prohibition. Suspected users and distributors of any controlled substance will still get the same harsh treatment we’ve always dished out to pot-smokers here in Bower County. And the biggest fear on our end is that, with the push for legalization out West, these substances will become more readily available on the black market here in SHAM Town, USA.”
Anchorwoman Melanie Peterson continued, “Meanwhile, proponents of the legislation say that the law doesn’t go far enough. Employers in all five states and the District of Columbia are still permitted to administer urine drug screening tests and fire employees found to be using the now legalized drug, a situation which critics say constitutes discrimination against a category of law-abiding citizens.”
The program cut to another camera angle, focusing on Melanie’s co-anchor, Robert Larson, signalling a transition to another news item.
“In other news, protests continue to spread across the Midwest as anger grows over the shooting death of alleged strong-arm robber Giovanni Beasley just five days ago. Beasley is said to have committed a brutal strong-arm robbery at an Omaha, Nebraska billiard hall before being fatally shot down by a police officer named Derek Harding. While at first the protests were said to have been peaceful, reporters with our sister station on the ground have seen lawlessness and disorder quickly prevail. Within twenty-four hours of Beasley’s death, violent copycat riots spread to the neighboring city of Lincoln, Nebraska, before continuing to spread during the ensuing hours like one of the wild prairie fires which plagued the Great Plains of yesteryear to Des Moines, Kansas City, Saint Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Minneapolis.”
Jack tapped the ashes out of his pipe and reached for his baggy, ready to load up another bowl of stress and anxiety-relieving dope.
“That’s right, Robert,” Melanie Peterson read from the teleprompter. “Now governors in Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri have declared states of emergency and are using their state National Guards to quell the uprisings. Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota have managed to contain the predominantly African-American perpetrated violence thanks to the upstanding work of municipal police forces, for now at least.”
“Oh my,” Robert Larson responded. “Let’s just hope things don’t get that crazy up here in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes!”
“Warning. You are experiencing a broadcast signal intrusion,” a woman’s voice interrupted. She spoke in a British accent and Jack’s television set flashed with static and a color bar test pattern. The video feed was then spliced with a pseudo-thermogram. The screen displayed a person wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. She and her environment were colored in neon blues, greens, yellows, oranges, pinks, and reds, as though the viewer were a snake or a heat-seeking surveillance drone, able to optically perceive infrared radiation. Perhaps this choice of visual effect was meant to activate some subconscious aspect of the hivemind by evoking the long forgotten ability of a remote ancestral uncle to sense beyond the sanguine hue through his facial pit organs, or perhaps it was merely an arbitrarily selected aesthetic motif derived from the same nostalgic fascination for the early post-Cold War era that spawned movements as far flung and diverse as sea-, cyber-, and synth-punk. Whatever it was, it caught people’s attention.
“Whoa,” Jack said, dropping his pipe and spilling the bud from his baggy all over his lap.
The mysterious person spoke in an American dialect now, “Knock, knock. Who’s there? Not. Not who? Not Anonymous!” She took off her Guy Fawkes mask and tossed it aside, revealing that her face was painted like a sugar skull. “Fuck anonymity, yo! It’s time to proclaim our new identity! We are not Anonymous . . . we are the Underground Resistance, and we’re here to say that Black Lives Matter! We say it’s time to dismantle the white bourgeois heterosexual supremacist social order and establish a new one, one that is built on human rights for all! We believe that the only way to get those rights to everybody is for us, the disempowered, to seize power, and wield it against our oppressors! The only way to end discrimination is to indiscriminately eliminate prejudiced folks from positions of power. We must stand together and physically, culturally, economically, and socially overpower the beneficiaries of the system! Giovanni Beasley’s demise is no isolated incident; it’s the inevitable result of this system’s intended functionality. The annihilation of this system begins now!”
Just then, the network regained control of the feed and put an abrupt stop to the hijacking of the broadcast.
“Err . . . sorry about that,” the distressed anchorman said.
“Crazy shit,” Jack mused as he began to collect the scattered bits of cannabis from his lap.
* * *
“McGillicuddy, Jack!” the foreman shouted.
Jack set down the brain-splayer, muttering to the hog before him, “Looks like you got a new lease on life, buddy.”
“McGillicuddy, the head supervisor wants to see you! Get in his office, now!”
The beast’s eyes darted back and forth in terror. Hanging upside down, he was unable to move his limbs, but he was still conscious, perfectly aware of what was about to be done to him due to the fact that Quality Ham Handlers decided to cut costs by drastically reducing the dosage of anesthesia administered to the hogs before they were slaughtered, much to the chagrin of the undercover animal rights activists who had managed to get jobs at the plant in order to document alleged violations of the rights they claimed these living creatures were entitled to. In vain the beast’s brain attempted to activate its righting reflex, but the drugs were strong enough to deactivate that.
Jack made his way to the office of QHH’s head honcho, distinguishable from the others by the gold leaf lettering ornamenting the sign upon its door which read Lawrence C. Kroemblin. He knew this couldn’t be good.
“Surprise drug test!” the vituperative supervisor shouted upon Jack’s arrival, shoving a Dixie cup into his chest.
“What?” Jack said in disbelief. Normally management gave enough of a warning that workers had time to go to the local head shop, where synthetic urine was readily available for purchase, allowing workers and parolees to easily circumvent the costly and inefficient drug tests.
“What?” Mr. Kroemblin mimicked in a harassing tone. “Now get in there and piss,” he said, pointing to his office’s en-suite bathroom.
Jack’s blood began to boil with indignity. His red hot face twitched as he remembered the news of legal recreational pot use’s spread to Nevada, and the defiant message of the broadcast signal intrusion of the Underground Resistance.
“Now you listen here, Mr. Kroemblin . . .” Jack said with clenched fists, “You can shove your damn paper cup up your ass and I’ll keep my piss inside my bladder, cuz whether or not I use an herb whose recreational, medicinal, and spiritual properties have been known to Man for five thousand years or more ain’t none of your damn business! A storm is rolling across this great nation and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. It’s called legalization, and soon it’s gonna be prohibited to prohibit pot!”
Kroemblin was shocked. It’d been years since anyone’d had the guts to talk to the big boss like that.
Jack threw the cup to the ground and stormed out of Kroemblin’s office. He climbed to the top of a steel staircase and thundered to his fellow meatpackers, “Are you guys sick of this random drug testing or what? Prohibition isn’t working! Pot is already legal in five states! Even the politicians who are s’posed to be representin’ us in Washington DC can smoke pot! Who’s drug testin’ them? Enough of this bullshit! I’m fed up with it! I say we go on strike! We shut down the plant until Quality Ham Handlers and Moorehall Foods wake up and smell the coffee! Us meatpackers are pissed off as hell and we need to demand an end to mandatory drug testing! Legalization now!”
Large swathes of meatpackers on the slaughterhouse floor began applauding and cheering.
Many of the Latino workers had only understood the part about legalization, and thought that he meant legalization for undocumented immigrants. But others understood enough English to comprehend the gist of Jack’s message. Some of them were fumadores de mota as well. There had already been hushed threats of strike action rumbling amongst the Latino workers, who lived in constant fear of workplace raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
The Sudanese and Liberian workers, too, had their gripes with management. Mr. Kroemblin, in particular, was known to make microaggressive remarks to them. Kroemblin’s overseer underlings had even on occasion been overheard referring to the African migrants as “Hottentots”. In addition, QHH security collaborated openly with local law enforcement, who seemed to be on a crusade to disproportionately arrest, fine, and otherwise harass people of color in the community surrounding the SHAM factory.
Had Jack’s brazen and impassioned plea for dignity not been the catalyst to unleash this volcano of discontent, there surely was a good chance that something else would have, sooner or later. Jack was no savior, just an angry man at the right time and the right place.
“You’re frickin’ crazy, dude! But I love it!” Henry Schlapansky cried out, raising his fist in a gesture of which he was unaware was once known as a Black Power salute. Henry was a pothead too, as were virtually all of the other meatpackers passing themselves off as members of a social construct known as the white race.
* * *
The meatpackers’ wildcat strike unfolded rapidly.
It began with a walk-out. Not a single worker remained on the job. They spontaneously gathered outside, in the Quality Ham Handlers, Inc. parking lot. The atmosphere was that of jubilee. Workers could hardly believe the action they had just taken part in. It was unheard of. They mingled with one another, the old boundaries of ethnicity, race, gender, and sexuality almost forgotten in the unity of their direct action.
A Oaxacan worker whom Jack had never spoken to before came up to him and slapped him on the back in a friendly fashion. “Debemos fumar un rato juntos, vato loco,” he exclaimed. “Mi nombre es Emiliano. Nice to me you.”
Henry Schlapansky even managed to build an increased sense of solidarity with a group of Dinka workers by telling them a racist joke. It seemed to work because it was self-deprecating.
Meanwhile, a Colombian immigrant worker named Ricardo stood on the edge of the crowd and watched Jack calculatingly. Unlike most workers at the plant, Ricardo did not come to Augustin, Minnesota to try to make a better life for himself or his family. He came to agitate for communist revolution. Ricardo was a member of the Socialist Militants Party (SMP), and he had been directed to infiltrate the meatpacking industry as part of the Trotskyite sect’s political strategy. They called it “the turn to industry”, and they’d been at it since the late 1970s, shipping petit bourgeois left-wing ideologues off from the big burgs of the East and West Coasts to the mines of West Virginia and the slaughterhouses of the Midwest. The goal was communist intrusion into the blue collar world. Of course, this strange Marxian colonialism ought not have been necessary; yearning for communism and proletarian masses going hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly or beef jerky and beer, but during the heyday of the social movements of the 1960s and ‘70s, the SMP experienced an explosion of new members, many of them possessing a middle class psychology alien to that of the workers they sought to make their pawns. Unsure how to integrate these new members, and disoriented given the politically stagnant period following the simmering of the anti-war, civil rights, and gay, Black, and women’s liberation movements, “the turn to industry” seemed to be the answer. Before being recruited by the SMP, Ricardo had came to the United States of America as a graduate student in economics at New York University. The quintessential outside agitator.
QHH security didn’t take long to push the workers off the plant premises.
They left the QHH parking lot and headed across the street, where there was a large pond and a park, regrouping before the decision was made to march down Main Street and rally at City Hall.
* * *
“Goddamn. What the hell are those Mexicans up to now?” a local reactionary questioned as he watched the large crowd of predominantly Latino meatpackers march past a local dive bar whose culturally insensitive name was The Hiawatha Hole.
“Fuckin’ Mexicans!” another drunken asshole shouted, his shrill scream piercing through reverberating chants of “Sí, se puede.”
Many of the drunken old white men at The Hiawatha Hole were former Moorehall workers themselves, among those who had lost their jobs after the strike of ‘85-’86. After Reagan and the meatpacking monopolists crushed the workers’ strike with military force, reactionary views insidiously took root in an unfortunate number of the ex-strikers’ minds, many of them swallowing hook, line, and sinker the age old ruling class bait of dividing and pitting working class folks against one another as the trope of the job-stealing migrant became an almost ubiquitous received idea.
“Argh! Fuck this shit,” another drunk shouted, smashing his bar stool against the wall so as to break it apart and transform one of its legs into a club. “Let’s show those goddamn wetback invaders how we do it in America! Enough soft talk, it’s time to carry a big ass stick! Who’s with me?!”
The large group of drunks began cheering loudly and preparing for a beat down as they smashed the bar’s furniture to use fragments of it as clubs and bats before flowing out of the bar and onto the street.
“Go back to Mexico!” a drunken asshole screamed as he ran up to a meatpacker to club him with the wooden leg of a broken bar stool.
“Pinche racista!” a Latino worker bellowed as he came to his co-worker’s defense.
Both the immigrant workers and the local reactionaries began live-tweeting about the fight from their smartphones, summoning more supporters from each side to come to Main Street and participate in the violent spectacle as it rapidly devolved into a massive street brawl.
Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the lawlessness, police were unable to do much more than launch copious amounts of tear gas into the crowds, which only provoked the street brawlers to fan out and begin running amok beyond downtown, spreading and aggravating the mayhem.
* * *
Jack McGillicuddy and Henry Schlapansky managed to make it safely into a local church dining hall with a number of other meatpackers seeking shelter from the rampaging mobs of racists who were being joined now by an array of relatively well-organized right-wing extremist groups, including some of neo-Confederate as well as neo-Nazi persuasion.
The meatpackers sat around, trying to catch their breath. Some were badly injured, having only just barely escaped the racist mobs alive.
“This is all your fault!” Ricardo spat, jabbing his middle and index fingers squarely into Jack’s armpit.
“Whoa there, bud! Don’t be talkin’ to my friend like that!” Henry spoke out in Jack’s defense, rushing up to them.
“What are you talking about, bro?” Jack shot back.
“Working class consciousness isn’t advanced enough for this level of struggle!” Ricardo shouted. “The Socialist Militants Party has been working diligently for years to build up a mass party of the working class, advance the class struggle. But with you coming in here and cavorting around with your adventurist antics, you could set our work back decades! These workers are badly hurt because of you!” he continued, pointing to the gravely wounded meatpackers who lay about, bleeding and moaning in agony.
“Whatever, bud! What are we supposed to do, sit around while Kroemblin gives us shit for smoking pot?! The time for legalization is now!” Jack shouted.
“You idiot, don’t you see marijuana legalization is just a scheme to pacify the workers?” Ricardo shot back. “If you were a dedicated activist like me, you would know that mixing marijuana and the socialist movement is just asking for the FBI to come in with COINTELPRO tactics and discredit us with frame-up charges! We in the Socialist Militants Party know all about that! Besides, a lot of us immigrants are fleeing the violence of the cartels that provide you with that mind-numbing dope in the first place!”
“Bullshit!” Henry interrupted. “Plenty of you Mexicans love smokin’ the good stuff too!”
“I’m Colombian, asshole!” Ricardo shouted. “That’s the problem with you Gringo potheads, you’re too ignorant to know the difference!”
Jack raised his fist in a threatening manner, about to sock Ricardo a good one, when the reverend of the church approached, pleading for the men to put a stop to their altercation. “God loves all His children,” the pastor began. “Love the foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt,” he spoke, quoting scripture at them.
“The number one priority is legalizing our people, I tell ya!” Ricardo argued forcefully. “This push for recreational pot legalization is classic COINTELPRO! If you can’t see that it’s a plot to deactivate the socialist struggle, then you’re a damned fool!”
“My foot!” said Jack. “We gotta legalize ‘em both!”
* * *
After news of the brutal race riot in SHAM Town, USA spread throughout the region, north to Minneapolis, south to Saint Louis, west to Omaha and Oglala, and east to Chicago and Detroit, all still embroiled in the uneasy unrest following the police murder of Giovanni Beasley, grassroots activists resolved to organize a modern day Freedom Ride to put a stop to the right-wing extremist repression and show solidarity with the striking meatpackers.
In the days following the meatpackers’ walk-out and the ensuing race riot, local anti-immigrant sentiments found their outlet in the formation of a new quasi-paramilitarist organization dubbed “Augustinites United Against Illegal Aliens”, or Augunagilliens for short. The Augunagilliens patrolled the streets assaulting anyone who dared to speak out in favor of the meatpackers and demanding photo ID from any brown person they encountered, placing those who were unable to prove legal resident status under citizen’s arrest.
At Quality Ham Handlers, the work stoppage went on.
Jack, Henry, Ricardo, and some of the other meatpackers continued to meet daily, in secret, at the church dining hall where they had sought refuge during the first day of mob violence.
“This is bullshit!” Jack shouted. “I could barely get here without those Augunagillien thugs giving me shit. The papers ran a story about me bein’ the initiator of the walk-out and now the whole town knows. We need to do something about these Brownshirt fucks!”
“Agreed,” Henry shot back. “Don’t get me wrong; immigrants oughtta come in this country legally, but man, the past few days have made me see things in a whole new light.”
“We need to build the socialist party and agitate for higher wages,” Ricardo put forth. “But we need to make sure our demands aren’t too radical. Class consciousness isn’t–”
“Get a load of this,” Jack interrupted, having been looking at the Twitter app on his smartphone when Ricardo was speaking. “Anti-racist activists are pouring into Augustin by the busload as we speak! They say they’re here to counter the Augunagilliens!”
“No way,” Henry replied excitedly.
“This is a dangerous development,” said Ricardo. “This strike movement is precarious enough as it is. We need the genuine Marxist leadership of the Socialist Militants Party to guide us, not the happy-go-lucky liberalism of these inexperienced anti-racist lives matter kiddos! Besides, these outside agitators could turn the townspeople against us!”
“Oh give it a rest, Ricardo. We’ve had enough of your bullshit. You call yourself a militant but all you do is naysay militancy!” Jack replied. “We need all the allies we can get.”
Just then, the meatpackers could hear what sounded like another massive street brawl occurring outside. Curious, they approached the windows to have a look and saw that the members of an Augunagillien patrol squad were being savagely assaulted by Anti-Racist Action and Black Lives Matter activists.
“C’mon, guys, what are y’all waiting for?!” Jack shouted. “Let’s get out there and help them!”
Henry emerged from the acolytes’ closet carrying a fascis of candlelighters as well as a processional cross. “We can use these to beat down our enemies with!” he shouted before tossing the sturdy metal and wooden staffs one at a time to eager meatpackers.
Other meatpackers raided the kitchen adjacent to the church dining hall, arming themselves with knives and cleavers as they prepared to engage the anti-immigrant bigots in close-quarters combat. Their work in the slaughterhouse had already desensitized them to the sight of blood. Furthermore, the industrial relentlessness of killing for mass consumption had forced them to acquire the techniques of the body necessary to mechanically stab, slash, and dismember mammalian bodies, to terminate life without so much as a second thought. Unlike the soldiers occupying Afghanistan for Uncle Sam, who might sit around at a base waiting weeks or even months before getting to experience the excitement of a firefight, a meatpacker was exposed to death, wrought death, in perpetuity. Capitalism had, it seemed, inadvertently set up the conditions for its own violent demise by inculcating the capacity to mechanistically perpetrate mass slaughter in a whole class of individuals whom it had intended only to exploit.
“For the wages of sin is death . . .” the reverend mused quietly as the armed immigrant workers flowed out of his church, knowing that not even the Word of God can negate the Laws of Physics.
The street battle which followed was harrowing, many lives being lost. But when all was said and done, the Augustinites United Against Illegal Aliens were annihilated. The sheer number of Anti-Racist Action and Black Lives Matter activists who’d flowed into the small meatpacking town overwhelmed the bigots and their friends in the police department. And with mass unrest in response to the modern day lynching of Giovanni Beasley continuing to grip all major urban centers throughout the Midwest, the National Guard was spread thin, unable to come and suppress the surge of radicalism in a city which, at a mere 30,000 inhabitants, was deemed to be of relatively low urgency by those responsible for triaging the rustbelt insurrection.
After driving the surviving immigrant-haters into hiding and securing the streets, the meatpackers marched to the Quality Ham Handlers and Moorehall Foods Corporation slaughterhouse complex.
“Down with Quality Ham Handlers!” the workers began to chant as they drew near.
With the huge crowd of ruffians pounding at the QHH gates, head supervisor Mr. Kroemblin grew nervous. Preparing for the worst, he dug deep into his desk and found his trusty pistol. He loaded a single bullet into it.
The plant’s privately contracted security force was no match for the large crowd of radicalized meatpackers and outside agitators for extreme social justice. Like a locomotive, the large mass of working class individuals plowed through the gates and began to run amok through the factory.
Henry Schlapansky and Jack McGillicuddy joined a fraction of the mob who split off in the direction of Mr. Kroemblin’s office.
“Come out, come out, Señor Kroemblin,” a disgruntled meatpacker hissed through the cracks of the supervisor’s locked door, gripping in his right hand a meat cleaver that dripped with fresh blood.
The disgruntled workers began hacking away at the wooden door with their cleavers.
Kroemblin brought the loaded pistol to his temple, ready to be done with life, but he just wasn’t able to bring himself to pull the trigger.
Smash! The door was destroyed, and a dozen or so crazed meatpackers stormed into his office.
“He’s got a gun!” Schlapansky shouted.
Kroemblin still held the gun in his hand, his arm resting in front of him on the surface of his mahogany desk.
“Pobre de mi patron . . .” one of the disaffected undocumented workers uttered before lopping off Kroemblin’s hand at the wrist with one fell swoop of the meat cleaver, “. . . piensa que el pobre soy yo.”
“Agggghhh!” Kroemblin screamed, raising his stubby arm as torrents of blood gushed forth from the severed extremity.
The gun fell out of his disembodied hand while the cleaver remained upright, lodged into the surface of his luxurious desk.
“Let’s take this piece of shit to the grinder!” Jack bellowed sialoquently.
Jack grabbed Kroemblin by the back of the neck and forced him to march out to the slaughterhouse floor. They climbed a steel staircase to a high platform where the mass of disgruntled workers and their outside agitator allies had a clear vantage point to see justice being rendered to the despised boss.
A chant arose from the slaughterhouse floor: “Ponle en la picadora! — Put him in the grinder!”
“Alright, but first we gotta make sure he fits–wouldn’t wanna jam the grinder!” Jack shouted in response to the popular demand.
Jack and Henry grabbed hold of Mr. Kroemblin by the arms and legs and began to heave and ho before tossing him off the platform. Kroemblin landed on his backside on a conveyer belt twenty feet below, breaking several vertebrae on impact. Rapidly he was swarmed by crazed cleaver-wielding packers.
“No more ICE raids!” a meatpacker shouted before slamming his cleaver into Kroemblin’s left shoulder.
“No more mandatory drug tests!” another employee shrieked, liberating one of Kroemblin’s hindlimbs from his pelvis.
“No more deportations!” a worker screamed, liberating another hindlimb.
“No more classist, sexist, and racist microaggressions!” another worker hurled, lodging his sharp cleaver into the boss’s other shoulder.
“No more exploitation!” bellowed another wage slave, landing her cleaver directly on Kroemblin’s jugular.
“No more capitalism!” the workers finally shouted in unison as they continued to dice Kroemblin’s carcass in a frenzy, like a school of hungry piranhas.
“And so the Empire crumbles,” Jack mused from above.
Suddenly, Jack felt a cold hand grasp his shoulder from behind.
“What the . . .” he muttered as he turned around. Before he had finished his sentence, he was kissing Ricardo’s high velocity wrist.
“Only the Socialist Militants Party has what it takes to lead revolution, you COINTELPRO bastard! The workers’ struggle will go no where without the vanguard to lead it!” Ricardo screamed.
Jack ducked and blocked Ricardo’s next swing, but Ricardo managed to grab hold of Jack by the neck, attempting to strangle him. Jack tilted his head forward, applying pressure to Ricardo’s fingers and slightly weakening his stranglehold before juking left and kneeing the treacherous fiend in the crotch.
Henry, having descended to the factory floor to participate in the dismemberment of Kroemblin, rushed back up the stairs to defend Jack and pummelled Ricardo in the kidneys, causing him to keel over.
Jack wiped away the blood from his swollen lower lip. “Fuck you, Ricardo,” he said. “The class struggle will go on whether your sect is there to try to co-opt it or not! Now get lost!”
Humiliated, Ricardo sulked away, never to be heard from again.
After grinding Mr. Kroemblin to a tender sludge, the workers mixed his remains with shiso and packed him into wholesome cans of SHAM, ensuring that no one would ever know what had become of Lawrence C. Kroemblin.
* * *
“I only came to work here to support my family in Mexico,” Diego, a line worker at Quality Ham Handlers, explained at the tentative first meeting of the democratic workers’ council which QHH employees had organized after appropriating the factory. “Without the remittances I send them, NAFTA would turn them into literal slaves.”
“Exactly. We all do what we have to do to survive,” said Jack. “None of us really believes in that ‘SHAM Town, USA’ image the chamber of commerce and the corporate bloodsuckers push.”
“Yeah, that’s for sure,” replied Henry. “At this point, SHAM is just running on nostalgia.”
“What do you mean, Henry?” asked Juan, another line worker.
“Minty meat was a terrible idea to begin with,” said Henry. “The only reason they added shiso was to cover up the taste of rot. During World War II, they had to be able to store the stuff for years at a time. It kept a lot of Allied troops alive on the front lines in Eastern Europe and the Pacific theaters. After the war, the shellshocked bastards kept eatin’ the stuff out of sheer force of habit. That’s kinda the root of SHAM’s All-American reputation.”
“Damn, how the hell do you know so much about SHAM’s history?” Juan wondered.
“My pa worked at Moorehall back in the day,” Henry replied. “You wouldn’t believe some of the stories he used to tell.”
“Don’t they say that eating processed meat increases your risk for cancer or something?” Diego questioned.
“Yeah, I heard about that too,” said Jack. “Some scientific studies commissioned by the UN or somethin’ like that.”
“Not to mention,” another meatpacker named Priscilla chimed in, “I have serious ethical reservations about killing these animals. I mean, I try to put it out of my mind when I’m dismembering the poor creatures, but don’t they say that pigs are actually, like, super intelligent? And similar to us on a biological level?”
“Yeah,” Jack replied. “Sometimes, I could swear I seen their eyes cryin’ out for mercy just before I blast their brains out.”
“That wouldn’t even happen if those corporate bastards didn’t demand such ridiculous production levels and just slowed down the line a bit to give us the time to properly anesthetize the hogs,” said Henry.
“Them Fortune 500 fucks h’ain’t got time for that!” Jack grunted. “Hell, with the revolving door between the meatpacking industry and the Department of Agriculture, they can flaunt common sense food safety regulations without even breakin’ the law!”
“It’s time us workers set up some regulations of our own then!” Diego shouted.
“Yeah!” Henry screamed.
“I think we all know that SHAM production is socially irresponsible. The amount of resources it takes to fatten up the pigs and transport them is shamefully wasteful. It’s environmentally unsustainable. Plus, a lot of people are saying that the leakage run off is contaminating the river. There’s also the foul stench of the hog carcasses that permeates all around town. Not to mention, SHAM just tastes plain nasty,” Priscilla chimed in.
“What if we just stopped making SHAM and directed production towards something more ethical and socially useful?” Jack thought out loud.
* * *
Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months.
Coming to SHAM Town, USA to stand in solidarity with the meatpackers in their fight against exploitation, oppressive drug testing, and anti-immigrant bigotry was an enlightening experience for the thousands of outside agitators–workers, youth, high school and university activists, and full-time social justice community organizers–who had flocked to this flashpoint of struggle. After the meatpackers’ solidified their hold over the factory, the outside agitators went back to their homes in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Des Moines, Saint Louis, Omaha, Lincoln, Detroit, Pine Ridge, and Green Bay, bringing with them not only the news of the strange happenings in SHAM Town–news which the mainstream, corporate-controlled media tried hard to suppress–but also the wealth of practical knowledge they had acquired through direct participation in the class struggle, knowledge which was informing a radical new kind of praxis.
The meatpackers’ factory takeover became a glorious shining beacon of hope, an inspiring exemplum which working class folks throughout the Midwest sought to emulate.
People began to view police brutality, for-profit food production, scapegoating of immigrants, the War on Drugs, lack of healthcare and education, and environmental degradation not as disparate, isolated phenomena, but as an intricately interconnected constellation of oppressions; parts of one overarching system whose oppression manifested itself in a variety of ways. As more and more persons brought this perspective to bear on everyday social life, the government and the private sector’s control over the populace rapidly deteriorated, authentic democracy beginning to take root as groups of employees banded together to seize control of their workplaces, the masses of unemployed meanwhile looting corporate resource stockpiles which ought to have already been brought under public ownership.
Meanwhile, the transformation of the SHAM factory was a sight to behold in and of itself.
With the exception of Lawrence C. Kroemblin, the rest of the upper management, and the company’s loyal security goons, not another pig was ever again slaughtered at Moorehall Foods Corporation or Quality Ham Handlers, Inc. after the walk-out led by Jack McGillicuddy. Instead, following the establishment of a democratic workers’ council to manage the facility, the workers elected to transform the plant into an organic greenhouse farming co-operative. They grew a small amount shiso, but the main crop was weed. The sprawling abattoir floor provided ample space to set up the lighting needed to get the marijuana plants to grow to their maximum, yielding buds healthy as could be.
Neither the State of Minnesota nor the US federal government ever did get around to legalizing recreational cannabis; both collapsed under the weight of the awakened proletarian juggernaut before getting the chance to try to stave off the revolution by conceding that the draconian War on Drugs was little more than a scheme to fuel the privatized prison industry’s insatiable demand for exponential mass incarceration rate growth.