SPAM is at the center of one of the longest and most contentious labor battles in U.S. history. In 1985, workers at the Hormel Foods plant in Austin, Minnesota, went on strike, demanding better working conditions and stable wages. Generations of meatpackers had worked at the plant, some for most of their lives—and that gruesome, difficult work afforded them a sustainable, middle-class life. So when that way of life was threatened, they fought back. SPAM boycotts spread to cities and towns around the world. The strike went on for almost two years, pit neighbor against neighbor, and turned violent; the National Guard was called in to protect those who crossed the picket line. In the end, the strike is a Rorschach test: either a lesson in what is possible when workers unite, or a cautionary tale about biting the SPAM that feeds.
This episode is the second in a new three-part miniseries from The Experiment—“SPAM: How the American Dream Got Canned.”
A transcript of this episode is available.
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This episode was produced by Gabrielle Berbey and Julia Longoria. Editing by Kelly Prime, Emily Botein, and Katherine Wells with help from Jenny Lawton and Scott Stossel. Fact-check by Michelle Ciarrocca. Sound design by David Herman with additional engineering by Joe Plourde. Transcription by Caleb Codding. Special thanks to Peter Rachleff and Philip Dawkins.
Music by R Mccarthy (“Maria, Just,” “Big Game,” “Fine,” and “Melodi 2”), Parish Council (“Museum Weather” and “Marmalade Day”), Column (“｢THE ART OF FUN｣ (Raj)”), and Keyboard (“Ojima,” “Only One,” and “World View”); provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by Alexander Overington. Additional audio from CBS, CNBC (Clip 1, Clip 2, and Clip 3), NBC, Al Jazeera, Reagan Foundation, WCCO-TV, PBS (Clip 1, Clip 2, Clip 3, Clip 4, Clip 5, Clip 6, Clip 7, and Clip 8), and New Jersey Network.