Subcontracting and labour force racialization. The case of Italian meat processing plants.

Presenter Valeria Piro (University di Padova, Italy) is a Visiting Researcher to CERIC.


Valeria Piro, University di Padova, Italy


The paper presents the preliminary results of an ongoing research project focused on social relations and trade union practices in two big slaughterhouses and meat processing plants, with more than 1000 workers, located in the North of Italy. These case studies have been selected as they represent the litmus test of current labour market restructuring in Italy. Here, since the 1990s, employers have hired an increasing number of migrant workers with the aim of performing tougher and "dirtier" activities, such as slaughtering or cleaning, being more "disciplined" and flexible compared to local workforce. Moreover, to contain production costs, meat processing factories reorganised their labour process by subcontracting parts of production to external companies (that in Italy often assume the form of "cooperatives").

The analysis is based on an ongoing fieldwork, started in October 2018, including 90 interviews with Italian and migrant workers and trade unions officers. Data include also observations in trade unions activities (such as weekly help desks, meetings, strikes) and two focus groups with union's delegates concerning the research first results.  

The fieldwork stimulates some interesting insights concerning racialisation and labour processes. On the basis of the research inside Italian meat processing plants, I argue that racialisation is not only a causal factor determining migrants' segregation in the labour market but is also a "product" of a specific way to organise production and to manage labour force. The introduction of new forms of recruitment and management of the workers, as well as the implementation of technological innovation, are often depicted as technical 'devices', adopting a colour-blind understanding of organisation and management. By doing so, the production of race inside workplaces is formally neglected and the hierarchisation among groups of workers is naturalised and de-problematised. On the contrary, I argue that the labour processes materially produce, not only goods and services, but also unbalanced social relations and hierarchical patterns primarily based on race and gender differentiations.

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