Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 2000


Published in Great Plains Research 10 (Fall 2000). Copyright © 2000 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


This self-proclaimed anthropological and historical study about Midwest wage earners confronts many contemporary issues about the workplace in its 201 pages of text and photographs. Globalization, plant closings, deregulation, immigrant workers, repetitive motion disorders, sexual harassment, and employee drug testing are just some of the topics covered. The author gathered first-hand data during five months of employment at a large pork processing plant outside Des Moines, Iowa; she augmented her observations with extant information on Iowa's rural economy for the twentieth century, especially tabulations from the US Census and reports from local newspapers.

The book's main interest is the effect of industrial restructuring on the well-being of wageworkers who cut and package Iowa's pork, beef, and poultry production. For the author, the word "restructuring" is clearly a euphemism for what she sees as a process that has degraded the American workplace since the early 1980s. Foremost, it denotes the downsizing of plant operations associated with the elimination of high wage jobs, the constriction of employee rights and benefits, plus the loss of opportunity for stable, long-term employment among the working class. The economic high point for wageworkers appears to be the 1960s and 1970s, when Oscar Mayer was the area's main employer; and the emergence of "new breed" packers after Oscar Mayer's closing in 1989 seems to mark the onset of a significant decline in their employment conditions.