The Hamlet Fire

A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives

320 pages

English language

Published Jan. 4, 2020 by University of North Carolina Press.

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"Just over twenty-five years ago, on the day after Labor Day, a chicken processing factory in Hamlet, North Carolina, burst into flames. The blaze immediately created a wall of heat and split the factory in half. Twenty-five people--eighteen of whom were women, twelve of whom were black--perished behind the plant's bolted doors. In previous decades, Hamlet had thrived thanks to the railroad. But by the 1970s, it was a postindustrial backwater, a magnet for businesses searching for cheap labor and little oversight. One of these businesses was Imperial Food Products, which paid its workers a dollar above the nation's paltry minimum wage--then $4.25 an hour--to scrape gobs of fat off frozen chicken breasts before they were battered and fried into golden-brown tenders. If a worker complained about the pace of the line or missed a shift to take care of children or went to the bathroom too often they were …

2 editions