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Breaks in the Chain

What Immigrant Workers Can Teach America about Democracy

Paul Apostolidis

Publication Year: 2010

In Breaks in the Chain, Paul Apostolidis investigates the personal life stories of a group of Mexican immigrant meatpackers who are at once typical and extraordinary. After crossing the border clandestinely and navigating the treacherous world of the undocumented, they waged a campaign to democratize their union and their workplace in the most hazardous industry in the United States.

Breaks in the Chain shows how immigrant workers-individually and sometimes collectively-both reinforce and contest a tacit but lethal form of biopolitics that differentiates the life chances of racial groups. Examining their personal narratives, Apostolidis recasts our understanding of the ways immigrants construct and transform social power.
Apostolidis uses empirical inquiry to spark new reflections in critical theory as he analyzes how immigrant workers' local practices confront structural power within and beyond America's borders. Linking stories of immigration to stories about working on the meat production line-the chain-he reveals the surprising power of activism by immigrant workers and their allies and demonstrates how it can-and should-promote social and political democracy in America.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

From its inception, this book has depended on the labors of many people. My thanks first go to the activists and organizers of Teamsters Local 556 for sharing with me their stories, their time, their hospitality, their friendship, and their political solidarity. ...

List of Acronyms

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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Immigration, Power, and Politics in America Today

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pp. xiii-xlviii

In the fall of 2003, the United States Congress and the Bush administration were getting serious about immigration control. Earlier that year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), founded in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, had assumed full responsibility for border security. ...

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1. Political Narratives, Common Sense, and Theories of Hegemony

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pp. 1-32

What assumptions do people bring with them when they confront the personal life stories of immigrant workers? It would be understandable if one main expectation were that these narratives “tell it like it is”—that they provide an authentic, firsthand account of what it was really like to struggle to keep one’s family afloat in Mexico ...

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2. Hegemony in Hindsight: Immigrant Workers’ Stories of Power in Mexico

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pp. 33-64

In December 2002, in Walla Walla, Washington State, my research assistant and I interviewed Maria Martinez about her experiences leading the movement of Mexican immigrant meatpackers at Tyson/IBP. By that time, the workers had achieved some of their greatest successes and institutionalized their rank-and-file upsurge in the union. ...

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3. Stories of Fate and Agency in the Zone of Illegality

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pp. 65-110

In contemporary America, the politics of border control relies centrally on a politics of the body. Efforts to assert U.S. “sovereignty” by impeding and regulating the movement of undocumented immigrants northward from Mexico commonly evoke anxiety over the vulnerable body of the nation, ...

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4. Labor, Injury, and Self-Preservation in the Slaughterhouse

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pp. 111-160

Having grown up in Mexico doing an assortment of odd jobs to help their families scrape by, and having kept afloat financially north of the border by laboring in the fields, orchards, or other areas of the informal economy, the immigrants we interviewed found their lives to be dramatically changed when they gained legalization and began working at IBP. ...

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5. ¡Nosotros Somos la Unión! Immigrant Worker Organizing and the Disciplines of the Law

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pp. 161-210

As the new century dawned, the misery wrought by the meatpacking industry following the IBP revolution and borne disproportionately by immigrants began to catch the public’s eye. This was partly because of the splash created by Eric Schlosser’s bestselling exposé Fast Food Nation (2002) ...

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Conclusion: Immigrant Workers and Counterhegemony

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pp. 211-234

I began my examination of the Tyson workers’ narratives at the beginning of chapter 2 by discussing an evocative statement that Maria Martinez, the principal leader of the workers’ movement, had made when we interviewed her toward the end of 2002. ...

Appendix: Interview Methods

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pp. 235-238


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pp. 239-270


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pp. 271-282


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pp. 283-290

E-ISBN-13: 9780816674848
E-ISBN-10: 0816674841
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816669820

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2010