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The Chicago Stockyards, Upton Essay, Research Paper

The Chicago Stockyards, Upton Sinclair, and The Jungle;

A Fight for Social Justice

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were difficult time, from the end of the civil war to the beginning of the industrial revolution, the moments in that era reflected an unsettled and constantly changing America. The time mirrored an immeasurable amount of conflict and growth, two contradictory actions that rose into one great development in American history. An important part of America s industrial and inner expansions was the formations and operation of the Chicago stockyards. The Chicago stockyards signified the evolution of American industrialization, and a promise of what America could be as a leading world economy. The stockyards also indicated the social justice of the working class people, the hardships that faced working class America, and the position the government should take on insuring public health safety in food and drugs. All of these issues were explicitly written about in Upton Sinclair s novel, The Jungle, a novel written by an American who saw the problems that existed in the American working class, in the stockyards and beyond. He recognized the ways in which the government shunned and neglected the lives of the working class people, as well as how the American government disregarded any responsibility towards regulating the food that industrialized America was now producing. Sinclairs novel The Jungle portrayed the horrible conditions of the workers in the Chicago stockyards, the unsanitary meat products produced there, the effects on the environment and people of the area, and above all the need for social justice within our society. The Jungles depiction of the Chicago stockyards has become a monumental work of literature that continues to remind the American public of the importance that the government plays in regulating business, and the utter importance of social justice within America.

The stockyards were located on the south side of Chicago, located from 39th Street to 47th Street, from Halstead to Ashland Ave. Closing in 1971 to move to the suburbs, and eventually Kansas, the Chicago stockyards became an incredibly important part of the American industrial revolution and economy from the late 1880 s through the mid 1940 s. It proved to be a significant immigration attraction in the first thirty years opened, and eventually became the most important food production center for both the World War I and World War II effort ( Journal of Social History , Spring 1996). The stockyards of Chicago was the largest livestock and meat-processing center in the world, approximately one square mile in diameter. The plant was an intricate network of hundred of inter-connected buildings, all linking together into one massive complex of meat butchering and livestock slaughter. According to Leslie F. Orear, author of the essay The Chicago Stock Yards on the Eve of the CIO , Armour and Company was the largest meat processing company in the world and held an important part in the stockyards production. The Armour and Company plant could slaughter twelve hundred hogs every hour, for approxmiatley 16 hours a day. The Armour and Company plant alone employed over 5,000 employees, an extreme amount of employees for a single company in the times. Along with Armour, many other larger meat processing companies headquarters were based in the yards, which meant that an ample amount of white-collar managers and workers worked at the Chicago stockyards as well.

Employment in the stockyards was forever growing, and the turnover rate for employment positions was great. Roughly 50,000 people were employed in the stockyards area, slowly creating a flourishing urban community in and around the stockyards ( The Chicago Stock Yards on the Eve of the CIO , Leslie F. Orear). Twenty percent of the work force in the yards were woman, usually holding designated woman only jobs such as package handling positions. Woman were typically paid ten cents an hour less that men, which was a significant amount less in the time period. Although many American born citizens worked in the yards, the majority of the workers were immigrants.

Immigration to Chicago greatly increased with the stockyards continuously growing. Many different immigrant groups came to Chicago to work in the yards, and because of the heavy immigration in the early twentieth century Chicago became the American city with the fastest growing population rate (Journal of Social History, Spring 1996). Immigration from Ireland grew because of the religious wars and the potato famine of the time. German immigrants came to America because of the separation of the government and business, and the lack of jobs before the German industrial revolution occurred. Blacks came from American southern states in response to the end of the civil war, and the beginning of the Jim Crow south. Many Slavic Europeans migrated to America because of the fall in the south eastern European economy, and many Mexicans migrated north to the United States because of the corrupt Mexicans politicians that debased the entire Mexican government. The stockyards became a haven for social, ethnic and racial separation, and even in the workplace certain ethnic groups were found in particular departments. The Polish, Lithuanians and African Americans were mostly found on the killing floor, while the livestock handlers were primarily Irish. Mexicans were frequently found in the freezers or hidden cellars stocking and handling the meat.

Immigration groups were also divided in their everyday lives, and different immigrant groups lived in concentrated areas. The Irish lived in the east of the yards, a neighborhood called Canaryville. The Polish lived west of the yards, called The Back of the Yards , and the Lithuanians and Eastern Europeans lived north of the yards, a neighborhood called Bridgeport. The African Americans lived far east of the yards known as Bronzeville or the Black Belt, and many Mexicans made their communities far south of the yards near Garfield Park. This separation of communities between the different ethnic groups put an enormous racial tension between everyone in the stockyard area. Each ethnic group established ethnically identified churches within every neighborhood, and people not of that ethnic heritage were not allowed in the churches. A culture related lifestyle of each ethnic community was formed, and amongst other things the language barrier became the most significant. Many immigrants did not speak English, and their sole sense of communication was based on living around people who spoke their native tongue. These conditions continued to make the immigrate communities more divided, and even in the best of conditions the racial tension was a serious factor. The Chicago race riots of 1919 were especially violent in and around the yards, effecting the African American community the most. The most important effects the ethnic barrier had among the workers of the yards was the inability to group together as workers and demand better rights. Because the immigrants came from their native countries in poverty, the companies in the stockyards took advantage of their desperation for work and money. This, with the combination of the workers lack of knocking down racial barriers, prevented the workers of the stockyards from uniting against the horrible working conditions at the stockyards.

The working conditions at the stockyards in Chicago were horrible. As Sinclair depicts in The Jungle, as well as Thomas J. Jablonsky in Pride in The Jungle, the work areas were filthy, full of rodents and rats. The killing floors were said to be the worst, a place where the blood of the animals were left to dry, layer upon layer building up. The smell of the blood attracted rats and rodents to the killing floors more that any other area of the stockyards. As well as the conditions of the work place, working hours were also outrageous, especially by today s terms. They worker long hours, usually ten to fourteen hours s day, with little or no breaks. A six day workweek was standard, and in some cases a seven day workweek was implicated ( Fight Like Hell for the Living , Robert D. Sampson, Ph.D.). The long hours coupled with the filth made the stockyard work area a harbor for work related injuries. There were many causes for injuries in the stockyards. In the time, the government regulated nothing when it came down to work conditions, and that included the machines that the companies had their employees use. The machines were often dangerous, sometimes broken and unfixed, other times old and unfit for use. There were no emergency levers for conveyor belts, and according to Leslie S. Orear in her essay, many times workers would get their hands caught in the conveyor belts and the belt would continue to turn, smashing their hands or completely dismembering them. Another cause for injury was disease, especially due to the unsanitary conditions in he yards. In Sinclair s The Jungle there are many parts in the novel where friends and loved ones die of diseases either brought home from the yards themselves or from the neighborhood around the yards. The meat continues bacteria such as E. coli and solemenila, communicable diseases that were fatal, especially with the lack of anti-biotics. People most susceptible to the many diseases of the stockyards were the elderly and the young. Children tended to die and be injured frequently in and around the yards, and a big reason was because of the wide spread use of child labor.

Immigrants in the stockyard area were in desperate poverty, and many resorted to sending their children to work, sometimes as young as five years old. Child labor was standard throughout America, and in 1900 one of every 5 children under the age of sixteen years old worked, including about a quarter of a million under the age of ten. By 1890 all of the industrialized northern states had passed laws prohibiting children under fourteen to work, but the laws were hardly enforced. The immigrant communities especially continued to have their children work because of the cultures were they came from in many European countries it was typical to have the children work. But in Europe, most children found work either in their families or a neighbor s farm, either in the field or in the house. But in Chicago, the children could only find menial hard labor, and the families were forced to allow them to work because of their economic conditions. Children were paid as low as five cents for a twelve-hour day, with little or no break Americas History, Volume II).

Problems that occurred in the Chicago stockyards did not only affect the immediate workers and persons of the stockyard area, but possibly all of American society. Until the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 the United States government did not regulate meat products. Even after 1906 inspectors from the city of Chicago were habitually paid off and neglectful of such plants as the stockyards, and would be for many years until Chicago political system was reconstructed. Being the largest meat-processing center in the world, the yards produced approximately one-third of Americas consumer meat market between the years 1900-1940 (Americas History, Volume II). This meant that hundreds of thousands of Americans consumed meat processed in Chicago yearly, and any impurities contained in the meat could potentially affect a large number of the American population. Meat processed in the stockyards was often polluted, and a huge culprit was the untreated rat, rodent and cockroach problem. Because Chicago was a growing industrialized city next to a massive body of water, Lake Michigan, rats were a growing a continuous problem that was essentially ignored for many years. As well as the diseases spread by the rodents; there were the injuries of workers in the yards that affected the quality of the meat. Because workers were constantly injured and rarely treated, human blood or decapitated body parts would routinely become one with a gross amount of meat products. These problems with the food produced at the stockyards, as well as the other existing problems including the lack of Chicago s political intervention and regulation, the working conditions and unfair treatment were exposed by a single author and his novel. Upton Sinclair and his novel The Jungle gave American society a glimpse into the need of social justice, and helped shape an era.

As Upton Sinclair said about The Jungle in his typical self-mockery, (when writing this book) I aimed at the publics heart and by accident I hit their stomach. ( Chicago Tribune , February 19, 1985). And he did. The Jungle was a novel depicting the lives of immigrants moving to Chicago to work at the stockyards, and revealed the problems immigrants faced in the yards. He also uncovered the socially wrong practices of the stockyards, the unsanitary conditions, and the meat products produced, and made the public painfully aware of the social injustice occurring.

Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore on September 20, 1878. He was the only child of Upton and Priscilla Sinclair, born into a very political family. His great-grandfather was an American navel commander in the war of 1812, and his father fought in the Confederate Navy during the Civil War. Although all of his uncles were somehow associated with the government, his father was a lowly hat salesman who became a family disgrace. Sinclair read from the age of five, and was an intelligent child and advocate reader. He was said to have covered eight years of school in only three years, proving that he was a brilliant young boy. Sinclair was raised an Episcopalian, and although later in life he became a religious skeptic, he never lost his faith in God. Sinclair entered the City College of New York at fourteen years old, where he got his BA when he was only nineteen years old. From there he went to graduate school at Columbia University, focusing his studies on writing and journalism. Sinclair was considered a muckraking journalist, meaning a journalist who dug up stories that were conterversal or unexposed. During his life he wrote many newspaper articles, journals, and above all novels. His most influential piece written is The Jungle, a novel exposing the Chicago stockyards, called Packingtown, for what it was. It was a novel focusing on bringing the need for social justice forth, and as Sinclair once said about himself, The English Queen Mary, who failed to hold the French port of Calais, said that when she dies, the word Calais would be found written on her heart. I don’t know whether anyone would care to examine my heart, but if they do, they would find two words there: social justice.

The Jungle revolves around a Lithuanian family emigrating from Europe, coming to America with bright hopes and dreams of an American life here. They make their way to Chicago, hearing that there is a lot of work to be found with the new industrialization occurring. They come and live in the Bridgeport area, just north of the yards with many other people of Slavic heritage. Jurgis, the main character, finds work on the killing room floor in the stockyards. His family buys a house under fraudulent conditions, and ends up losing the house shortly after the joy of owning one sets in. Jurgis and his fianc e have a wedding, and she isn t even allowed to leave her job for her own wedding. His wife had two children, first a boy, and while giving birth to the second one four years later they both die during childbirth. Jurgis family falls apart, and later his little boy was trampled to death on the streets of Packingtown. Finally, all hope is lost, for him and his family. The importance of The Jungle is the desperation that is seemingly inevitable to anyone who comes to live in Packingtown, and the portrayal of the stockyards. From page 92 in The Jungle, Jurgis had come there, and thought he was going to make himself useful, and rise and become a skilled man; but he would soon find out his error for nobody rose in Packingtown by doing good work. Not only was Jurgis desperate with the spark of hope that had died, but it also implied that everything was corrupt. From page 37, This government inspector did not have the manner of a man who was worker to death; he was apparently not haunted by a fear that the hog might get by him before he was finished testing. If you were a sociable person, he was quite willing to enter into conversation with you, and to explain to you the deadly nature of the ptomaine s which are found in tubercular pork; and while he was talking with you, you could hardly be so ungrateful as to notice that a dozen carcass were passing him. This was one of the many quotes out of The Jungle that made people aware of what was really going on in the Chicago stockyards, as well as every other meat packing and processing plant in America.

Upton Sinclair led the way for social justice in industrialized America. The words he wrote in The Jungle touched a chord with the people of America who read it, demanding there to be something done about the injustices; the workers conditions, and the meat produced there. And because of Sinclair s wonderful yet stomach turning novel many things have changed, including the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. Sinclair is a true fighter for social justice, and his words are a timeless treasure to hold and remember what social justice really means, and how important it is.

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