This contribution focuses on the transformations that took place since the 1990s in the organization of the production processes in the meat-processing industry in the province of Modena (Italy) and on the effects of these transformations on working conditions and on the capacity for workers’ collective action in this sector. The article shows how the companies in the sector have increasingly outsourced large segments of the production process, generally to cooperative enterprises in which workers of foreign origin are employed. These new organizational structures allow a significant reduction of labour costs, and guarantee contracting companies a greater flexibility. At the same time, the fragmentation of production processes led to an increasing segmentation of working conditions between direct and contracted workers, and to the growth of low-paid and vulnerable jobs in subcontracting companies, particularly through the diffusion of phenomena of normative avoidance, strengthened by the normative interventions of the State. These processes also made the development of solidarity between different groups of workers, the exercise of forms of collective action, and the action of trade unions more difficult, even though new representation strategies and new actors are emerging for representing vulnerable workers. The article is based upon 26 in-depth interviews, realized in 5 companies between 2015 and 2018.
Keywords: Outsourcing, Worker cooperatives, Food Processing, Emilia-Romagna (Italy).