Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Jungle, Part 2: Honeycombed With Rottenness

Here's another excerpt from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

Jurgis' new friend (Jurgis is the main character, a strong, earnest young man new to the US from Lithuania) describes the goings-on at Durham's, one of Chicago's main meatpacking plants. (To hear Sinclair describe these businesses, they are veritable countries-within-a-country):
"After Jurgis had been there awhile he would know that the plants were simply honeycombed with rottenness of that sort--the bosses grafted off the men, and they grafted off each other; and some day the superintendent would find out about the boss, and then he would graft off the boss.

Here was Durham's, for instance, owned by a man who was trying to make as much money out of it as he could, and did not care in the least how he did it; and underneath him, ranged in ranks and grades like an army, were managers and superintendents and foremen, each one driving the man next below him and trying to squeeze out of him as much work as possible. And all the men of the same rank were pitted against each other; the accounts of each were kept separately, and every man lived in terror of losing his job, if another made a better record than he.

So from top to bottom the place was simply a seething caldron of jealousies and hatreds; there was no loyalty or decency anywhere about it, there was no place in it where a man counted for anything against a dollar."

The Jungle, Part 1: Breakfast And Dinner
The Jungle, Part 2: Honeycombed With Rottenness
The Jungle, Part 3: Food Was Not As It Seemed
The Jungle, Part 4: Sausage And Lard

Photo of Chicago's Union Stockyards in 1947, from Wikipedia. These stockyards operated until 1971. From the Civil War until the 1920s, more meat was processed here than in any other place in the world. I probably have remnants of meat from these packhouses in the cells of my body, from my mother's, bless her well-meaning heart, tanned pork chops.


barberoux said...

"So from top to bottom the place was simply a seething caldron of jealousies and hatreds; there was no loyalty or decency anywhere about it, there was no place in it where a man counted for anything against a dollar."

So what has changed in American business?

Bix said...

I see so many similarities between 1906 and today.

Dr. Mel said...

Exactly--I was going to say the same thing. Haven't had time to look at your excerpts till now. Yet "every man lived in terror of losing his job" is precisely the reason we needed (and still need) labor unions, as otherwise the people who do the *real* work have no recourse to being fired. As we have seen in abundance in these union-rights-stripping days of ours.

Bix said...

I've begun to hear people say that unions have become too powerful, negotiating more for, say, public service workers than these same workers could make in the private sector. I don't know, just conversing. But I'll agree with you about 1906. It was a terrible time in US history for employees.

Dr. Mel said...

But it's the public sector workers--fireman, teachers, postal workers, govt. agency workers--who are being fired by the 100s of thousands. People can *say* the unions are too powerful, but my husband's union isn't powerful enough, which is why his teaching job is being cut to half-time in the spring. And with so many private sector jobs being outsourced so the corps. don't have to pay what would be a living wage here in the U.S., the situation is dreadful. Personally--just conversing, like you--I think the problem originates w/ the profit-driven, stock-market-driven rising cost of living, which means that U.S. workers can't compete w/ overseas workers, who create so much more profit for the company than American workers can. Just my opinion. I mean, my hub and I are feeling this personally, and we're not as bad off as people who are out and out fired. Though who knows what the future holds.

Bix said...

I've been thinking about this. And what's going on in Greece and Italy.

If a government wants to pay their public sector (firemen, Senators, Representatives, postal workers, teachers, military, IRS workers, Social Security workers, Medicare and Medicaid administrators, EPA/FDA/USDA/CDC Administrators, Justices, White House and Cabinet ... come to think of it, the federal government has to be the largest employer in the US!) a fair and decent wage with good health benefits and pension, as I think they should, as their unions may negotiate for, they pay for it with taxes.

If there isn't enough money from taxes, they borrow. If they borrow close to what they are worth, with poor prospects for future income (Greece), banks may hesitate lending them more for fear of not being paid. One way countries can get out of it is growth, because someone may lend you money if they think in the future you will be able to pay them back. But Greece, it's fair to say many developed countries, aren't growing much right now. (China and India excluded.) Thus cutbacks, austerity, or programs like the "Big Society" that David Cameron used to describe volunteers doing public sector work!

The higher the unemployment rate, the less tax revenue a government brings in. So the less they can pay their public sector, and the less they have as collateral to borrow. Getting the unemployment rate down seems to me a very important part of this very complex puzzle (it's complex to me!).

Then there are unions that represent employees of private business, unions that negotiate a fair and decent salary with good health benefits, safe working conditions. But if their demands are high, I agree with you, employers will look overseas for workers ... to exploit! That impacts our unemployment rate, which in turn affects how much money we have to pay our public sector workers (because even though business may do well, they are adept at paying less tax than workers: 25 Corporations That Pay Less Taxes Than You Do).

This isn't simple ... for me. But I think the jobs issue is key.

Bix said...

Melinda, thought you would find this interesting:

Postal plan: Slower delivery, 28,000 jobs lost

Also, do people really receive a first-class letter the next day? It usually takes us about 3 days, maybe 4. I guess if this goes through it will take close to a week. Makes email that much more attractive.