The Meat Industry
The packing and distribution of meat is one of the major industries of the United States. There were in 1939 about 120,000 wage earners employed in meat packing, but this only begins to define the jurisdictional area of the meat unions. The structure of the old AFL trade union in the field, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America, has been described as follows:
Within it are not only packinghouse workers but retail butchers, sheep shearers, and fish workers; workers in canneries, creameries, butter-and-egg and poultry plants; and workers in sausage factories. In its own economic framework, the Amalgamated is an industrial union which organizes workers in the production of meat products from the stages of slaughtering and processing up to their distribution in retail stores. 1
The packing end of the industry has long been dominated by the "Big Four" companies: Swift & Company, Armour & Company, Wilson & Company, and the Cudahy Packing Company, the two first named being the giants of the industry. The Big Four companies together controlled over one-half the total output of the industry, 2 the rest being divided up among 600 to 700 smaller concerns, some of which are nevertheless very substantial firms in their own right. 3 On the retail side, there has been a steady trend away from the independent butcher shop toward the retail chain as the principal outlet for meat products. There were in 1935 some 206,740 employees in independent combination grocery and meat stores, and 151,660 in chain stores of the same description. Only a fraction of these employees were butchers, but the ratio gives some notion of the respective importance of the two groups. These figures exclude the shops engaged exclusively in, retailing meat and fish, which numbered some 42,000 in 1939. Most of these shops were individual proprietorships with few employees.
The structure of the meat industry posed some special problems for the trade unions associated with it. At the retail end, the problem was obvious.