From The Jungle
After the elections Jurgis stayed on in Packingtown and kept his
job. The agitation to break up the police protection of
criminals was continuing, and it seemed to him best to "lay low"
for the present. He had nearly three hundred dollars in the
bank, and might have considered himself entitled to a vacation;
but he had an easy job, and force of habit kept him at it.
Besides, Mike Scully, whom he consulted, advised him that
something might "turn up" before long.
Jurgis got himself a place in a boardinghouse with some congenial
friends. He had already inquired of Aniele, and learned that
Elzbieta and her family had gone downtown, and so he gave no
further thought to them. He went with a new set, now, young
unmarried fellows who were "sporty." Jurgis had long ago cast off
his fertilizer clothing, and since going into politics he had
donned a linen collar and a greasy red necktie. He had some
reason for thinking of his dress, for he was making about eleven
dollars a week, and two-thirds of it he might spend upon his
pleasures without ever touching his savings.
Sometimes he would ride down-town with a party of friends to the
cheap theaters and the music halls and other haunts with which
they were familiar. Many of the saloons in Packingtown had pool
tables, and some of them bowling alleys, by means of which he
could spend his evenings in petty gambling. Also, there were
cards and dice. One time Jurgis got into a game on a Saturday
night and won prodigiously, and because he was a man of spirit he
stayed in with the rest and the game continued until late Sunday
afternoon, and by that time he was "out" over twenty dollars. On
Saturday nights, also, a number of balls were generally given in
Packingtown; each man would bring his "girl" with him, paying
half a dollar for a ticket, and several dollars additional for
drinks in the course of the festivities, which continued until
three or four o'clock in the morning, unless broken up by
fighting. During all this time the same man and woman would
dance together, half-stupefied with sensuality and drink.
Before long Jurgis discovered what Scully had meant by something
"turning up." In May the agreement between the packers and the
unions expired, and a new agreement had to be signed.
Negotiations were going on, and the yards were full of talk of a
strike. The old scale had dealt with the wages of the skilled
men only; and of the members of the Meat Workers' Union about
two-thirds were unskilled men. In Chicago these latter were
receiving, for the most part, eighteen and a half cents an hour,
and the unions wished to make this the general wage for the next
year. It was not nearly so large a wage as it seemed--in the
course of the negotiations the union officers examined time
checks to the amount of ten thousand dollars, and they found that
the highest wages paid had been fourteen dollars a week, and the
lowest two dollars and five cents, and the average of the whole,
six dollars and sixty-five cents. And six dollars and sixty-five
cents was hardly too much for a man to keep a family on,
considering the fact that the price of dressed meat had increased
nearly fifty per cent in the last five years, while the price of
"beef on the hoof" had decreased as much, it would have seemed
that the packers ought to be able to pay it; but the packers were
unwilling to pay it--they rejected the union demand, and to show
what their purpose was, a week or two after the agreement expired
they put down the wages of about a thousand men to sixteen and a
half cents, and it was said that old man Jones had vowed he would
put them to fifteen before he got through. There were a million
and a half of men in the country looking for work, a hundred
thousand of them right in Chicago; and were the packers to let
the union stewards march into their places and bind them to a
contract that would lose them several thousand dollars a day for
a year? Not much!
All this was in June; and before long the question was submitted
to a referendum in the unions, and the decision was for a strike.
It was the same in all the packing house cities; and suddenly the
newspapers and public woke up to face the gruesome spectacle of a
meat famine. All sorts of pleas for a reconsideration were made,
but the packers were obdurate; and all the while they were
reducing wages, and heading off shipments of cattle, and rushing
in wagonloads of mattresses and cots. So the men boiled over,
and one night telegrams went out from the union headquarters to
all the big packing centers--to St. Paul, South Omaha, Sioux
City, St. Joseph, Kansas City, East St. Louis, and New
York--and the next day at noon between fifty and sixty thousand
men drew off their working clothes and marched out of the
factories, and the great "Beef Strike" was on.
Jurgis went to his dinner, and afterward he walked over to see
Mike Scully, who lived in a fine house, upon a street which had
been decently paved and lighted for his especial benefit. Scully
had gone into semiretirement, and looked nervous and worried.
"What do you want?" he demanded, when he saw Jurgis.
"I came to see if maybe you could get me a place during the
strike," the other replied.
And Scully knit his brows and eyed him narrowly. In that
morning's papers Jurgis had read a fierce denunciation of the
packers by Scully, who had declared that if they did not treat
their people better the city authorities would end the matter by
tearing down their plants. Now, therefore, Jurgis was not a
little taken aback when the other demanded suddenly, "See here,
Rudkus, why don't you stick by your job?"
Jurgis started. "Work as a scab?" he cried.
"Why not?" demanded Scully. "What's that to you?"
"But--but--" stammered Jurgis. He had somehow taken it for
granted that he should go out with his union. "The packers need
good men, and need them bad," continued the other, "and they'll
treat a man right that stands by them. Why don't you take your
chance and fix yourself?"
"But," said Jurgis, "how could I ever be of any use to you--in
"You couldn't be it anyhow," said Scully, abruptly.
"Why not?" asked Jurgis.
"Hell, man!" cried the other. "Don't you know you're a
Republican? And do you think I'm always going to elect
Republicans? My brewer has found out already how we served him,
and there is the deuce to pay."
Jurgis looked dumfounded. He had never thought of that aspect of
it before. "I could be a Democrat," he said.
"Yes," responded the other, "but not right away; a man can't
change his politics every day. And besides, I don't need
you--there'd be nothing for you to do. And it's a long time to
election day, anyhow; and what are you going to do meantime?"
"I thought I could count on you," began Jurgis.
"Yes," responded Scully, "so you could--I never yet went back on
a friend. But is it fair to leave the job I got you and come to
me for another? I have had a hundred fellows after me today,
and what can I do? I've put seventeen men on the city payroll to
clean streets this one week, and do you think I can keep that up
forever? It wouldn't do for me to tell other men what I tell
you, but you've been on the inside, and you ought to have sense
enough to see for yourself. What have you to gain by a strike?"
"I hadn't thought," said Jurgis.
"Exactly," said Scully, "but you'd better. Take my word for it,
the strike will be over in a few days, and the men will be
beaten; and meantime what you can get out of it will belong to
you. Do you see?"
And Jurgis saw. He went back to the yards, and into the
workroom. The men had left a long line of hogs in various stages
of preparation, and the foreman was directing the feeble efforts
of a score or two of clerks and stenographers and office boys to
finish up the job and get them into the chilling rooms. Jurgis
went straight up to him and announced, "I have come back to work,
The boss's face lighted up. "Good man!" he cried. "Come ahead!"
"Just a moment," said Jurgis, checking his enthusiasm. "I think
I ought to get a little more wages."
"Yes," replied the other, "of course. What do you want?"
Jurgis had debated on the way. His nerve almost failed him now,
but he clenched his hands. "I think I ought to have' three
dollars a day," he said.
"All right," said the other, promptly; and before the day was out
our friend discovered that the clerks and stenographers and
office boys were getting five dollars a day, and then he could
have kicked himself!
So Jurgis became one of the new "American heroes," a man whose
virtues merited comparison with those of the martyrs of Lexington
and Valley Forge. The resemblance was not complete, of course,
for Jurgis was generously paid and comfortably clad, and was
provided with a spring cot and a mattress and three substantial
meals a day; also he was perfectly at ease, and safe from all
peril of life and limb, save only in the case that a desire for
beer should lead him to venture outside of the stockyards gates.
And even in the exercise of this privilege he was not left
unprotected; a good part of the inadequate police force of
Chicago was suddenly diverted from its work of hunting criminals,
and rushed out to serve him. The police, and the strikers also,
were determined that there should be no violence; but there was
another party interested which was minded to the contrary--and
that was the press. On the first day of his life as a
strikebreaker Jurgis quit work early, and in a spirit of bravado
he challenged three men of his acquaintance to go outside and get
a drink. They accepted, and went through the big Halsted Street
gate, where several policemen were watching, and also some union
pickets, scanning sharply those who passed in and out. Jurgis
and his companions went south on Halsted Street; past the hotel,
and then suddenly half a dozen men started across the street
toward them and proceeded to argue with them concerning the error
of their ways. As the arguments were not taken in the proper
spirit, they went on to threats; and suddenly one of them jerked
off the hat of one of the four and flung it over the fence. The
man started after it, and then, as a cry of "Scab!" was raised
and a dozen people came running out of saloons and doorways,
a second man's heart failed him and he followed. Jurgis and the
fourth stayed long enough to give themselves the satisfaction of
a quick exchange of blows, and then they, too, took to their
heels and fled back of the hotel and into the yards again.
Meantime, of course, policemen were coming on a run, and as a
crowd gathered other police got excited and sent in a riot call.
Jurgis knew nothing of this, but went back to "Packers' Avenue,"
and in front of the "Central Time Station" he saw one of his
companions, breathless and wild with excitement, narrating to an
ever growing throng how the four had been attacked and surrounded
by a howling mob, and had been nearly torn to pieces. While he
stood listening, smiling cynically, several dapper young men
stood by with notebooks in their hands, and it was not more than
two hours later that Jurgis saw newsboys running about with
armfuls of newspapers, printed in red and black letters six
VIOLENCE IN THE YARDS! STRIKEBREAKERS SURROUNDED BY FRENZIED MOB!
If he had been able to buy all of the newspapers of the United
States the next morning, he might have discovered that his
beer-hunting exploit was being perused by some two score millions
of people, and had served as a text for editorials in half the
staid and solemn businessmen's newspapers in the land.
Jurgis was to see more of this as time passed. For the present,
his work being over, he was free to ride into the city, by a
railroad direct from the yards, or else to spend the night in a
room where cots had been laid in rows. He chose the latter,
but to his regret, for all night long gangs of strikebreakers kept
arriving. As very few of the better class of workingmen could be
got for such work, these specimens of the new American hero
contained an assortment of the criminals and thugs of the city,
besides Negroes and the lowest foreigners-Greeks, Roumanians,
Sicilians, and Slovaks. They had been attracted more by the
prospect of disorder than, by the big wages; and they made the
night hideous with singing and carousing, and only went to sleep
when the time came for them to get up to work.
In the morning before Jurgis had finished his breakfast, "Pat"
Murphy ordered him to one of the superintendents, who questioned
him as to his experience in the work of the killing room. His
heart began to thump with excitement, for he divined instantly
that his hour had come--that he was to be a boss!
Some of the foremen were union members, and many who were not had
gone out with the men. It was in the killing department that the
packers had been left most in the lurch, and precisely here that
they could least afford it; the smoking and canning and salting
of meat might wait, and all the by-products might be wasted--but
fresh meats must be had, or the restaurants and hotels and
brownstone houses would feel the pinch, and then "public opinion"
would take a startling turn.
An opportunity such as this would not come twice to a man; and
Jurgis seized it. Yes, he knew the work, the whole of it, and he
could teach it to others. But if he took the job and gave
satisfaction he would expect to keep it--they would not turn him
off at the end of the strike? To which the superintendent
replied that he might safely trust Durham's for that--they
proposed to teach these unions a lesson, and most of all those
foremen who had gone back on them. Jurgis would receive five
dollars a day during the strike, and twenty-five a week after it
So our friend got a pair of "slaughter pen" boots and "jeans,"
and flung himself at his task. It was a weird sight, there on
the killing beds--a throng of stupid black Negroes, and
foreigners who could not understand a word that was said to them,
mixed with pale-faced, hollow-chested bookkeepers and clerks,
half-fainting for the tropical heat and the sickening stench of
fresh blood--and all struggling to dress a dozen or two cattle in
the same place where, twenty-four hours ago, the old killing gang
had been speeding, with their marvelous precision, turning out
four hundred carcasses every hour!
The Negroes and the "toughs" from the Levee did not want to work,
and every few minutes some of them would feel obliged to retire
and recuperate. In a couple of days Durham and Company had
electric fans up to cool off the rooms for them, and even couches
for them to rest on; and meantime they could go out and find a
shady corner and take a "snooze," and as there was no place for
any one in particular, and no system, it might be hours before
their boss discovered them. As for the poor office employees,
they did their best, moved to it by terror; thirty of them had
been "fired" in a bunch that first morning for refusing to serve,
besides a number of women clerks and typewriters who had declined
to act as waitresses.
It was such a force as this that Jurgis had to organize. He did
his best, flying here and there, placing them in rows and showing
them the tricks; he had never given an order in his life before,
but he had taken enough of them to know, and he soon fell into
the spirit of it, and roared and stormed like any old stager.
He had not the most tractable pupils, however. "See hyar, boss,"
a big black "buck" would begin, "ef you doan' like de way Ah does
dis job, you kin get somebody else to do it." Then a crowd would
gather and listen, muttering threats. After the first meal
nearly all the steel knives had been missing, and now every Negro
had one, ground to a fine point, hidden in his boots.
There was no bringing order out of such a chaos, Jurgis soon
discovered; and he fell in with the spirit of the thing--there
was no reason why he should wear himself out with shouting. If
hides and guts were slashed and rendered useless there was no way
of tracing it to any one; and if a man lay off and forgot to come
back there was nothing to be gained by seeking him, for all the
rest would quit in the meantime. Everything went, during the
strike, and the packers paid. Before long Jurgis found that the
custom of resting had suggested to some alert minds the
possibility of registering at more than one place and earning
more than one five dollars a day. When he caught a man at this
he "fired" him, but it chanced to be in a quiet corner, and the
man tendered him a ten-dollar bill and a wink, and he took them.
Of course, before long this custom spread, and Jurgis was soon
making quite a good income from it.
In the face of handicaps such as these the packers counted
themselves lucky if they could kill off the cattle that had been
crippled in transit and the hogs that had developed disease.
Frequently, in the course of a two or three days' trip, in hot
weather and without water, some hog would develop cholera, and
die; and the rest would attack him before he had ceased kicking,
and when the car was opened there would be nothing of him left
but the bones. If all the hogs in this carload were not killed
at once, they would soon be down with the dread disease, and
there would be nothing to do but make them into lard. It was the
same with cattle that were gored and dying, or were limping with
broken bones stuck through their flesh--they must be killed, even
if brokers and buyers and superintendents had to take off their
coats and help drive and cut and skin them. And meantime, agents
of the packers were gathering gangs of Negroes in the country
districts of the far South, promising them five dollars a day and
board, and being careful not to mention there was a strike;
already carloads of them were on the way, with special rates from
the railroads, and all traffic ordered out of the way. Many
towns and cities were taking advantage of the chance to clear out
their jails and workhouses--in Detroit the magistrates would
release every man who agreed to leave town within twenty-four
hours, and agents of the packers were in the courtrooms to ship
them right. And meantime trainloads of supplies were coming in
for their accommodation, including beer and whisky, so that they
might not be tempted to go outside. They hired thirty young
girls in Cincinnati to "pack fruit," and when they arrived put
them at work canning corned beef, and put cots for them to sleep
in a public hallway, through which the men passed. As the gangs
came in day and night, under the escort of squads of police,
they stowed away in unused workrooms and storerooms, and in the car
sheds, crowded so closely together that the cots touched. In
some places they would use the same room for eating and sleeping,
and at night the men would put their cots upon the tables, to
keep away from the swarms of rats.
But with all their best efforts, the packers were demoralized.
Ninety per cent of the men had walked out; and they faced the
task of completely remaking their labor force--and with the price
of meat up thirty per cent, and the public clamoring for a
settlement. They made an offer to submit the whole question at
issue to arbitration; and at the end of ten days the unions
accepted it, and the strike was called off. It was agreed that
all the men were to be re-employed within forty-five days, and
that there was to be "no discrimination against union men."
This was an anxious time for Jurgis. If the men were taken back
"without discrimination," he would lose his present place. He
sought out the superintendent, who smiled grimly and bade him
"wait and see." Durham's strikebreakers were few of them leaving.
Whether or not the "settlement" was simply a trick of the packers
to gain time, or whether they really expected to break the strike
and cripple the unions by the plan, cannot be said; but that
night there went out from the office of Durham and Company a
telegram to all the big packing centers, "Employ no union
leaders." And in the morning, when the twenty thousand men
thronged into the yards, with their dinner pails and working
clothes, Jurgis stood near the door of the hog-trimming room,
where he had worked before the strike, and saw a throng of eager
men, with a score or two of policemen watching them; and he saw a
superintendent come out and walk down the line, and pick out man
after man that pleased him; and one after another came, and there
were some men up near the head of the line who were never
picked--they being the union stewards and delegates, and the men
Jurgis had heard making speeches at the meetings. Each time, of
course, there were louder murmurings and angrier looks. Over
where the cattle butchers were waiting, Jurgis heard shouts and
saw a crowd, and he hurried there. One big butcher, who was
president of the Packing Trades Council, had been passed over
five times, and the men were wild with rage; they had appointed a
committee of three to go in and see the superintendent, and the
committee had made three attempts, and each time the police had
clubbed them back from the door. Then there were yells and
hoots, continuing until at last the superintendent came to the
door. "We all go back or none of us do!" cried a hundred voices.
And the other shook his fist at them, and shouted, "You went out
of here like cattle, and like cattle you'll come back!"
Then suddenly the big butcher president leaped upon a pile of
stones and yelled: "It's off, boys. We'll all of us quit again!"
And so the cattle butchers declared a new strike on the spot;
and gathering their members from the other plants, where the same
trick had been played, they marched down Packers' Avenue, which
was thronged with a dense mass of workers, cheering wildly. Men
who had already got to work on the killing beds dropped their
tools and joined them; some galloped here and there on horseback,
shouting the tidings, and within half an hour the whole of
Packingtown was on strike again, and beside itself with fury.
There was quite a different tone in Packingtown after this--the
place was a seething caldron of passion, and the "scab" who
ventured into it fared badly. There were one or two of these
incidents each day, the newspapers detailing them, and always
blaming them upon the unions. Yet ten years before, when there
were no unions in Packingtown, there was a strike, and national
troops had to be called, and there were pitched battles fought at
night, by the light of blazing freight trains. Packingtown was
always a center of violence; in "Whisky Point," where there were
a hundred saloons and one glue factory, there was always
fighting, and always more of it in hot weather. Any one who had
taken the trouble to consult the station house blotter would have
found that there was less violence that summer than ever
before--and this while twenty thousand men were out of work,
and with nothing to do all day but brood upon bitter wrongs.
There was no one to picture the battle the union leaders were
fighting--to hold this huge army in rank, to keep it from
straggling and pillaging, to cheer and encourage and guide a
hundred thousand people, of a dozen different tongues, through
six long weeks of hunger and disappointment and despair.
Meantime the packers had set themselves definitely to the task of
making a new labor force. A thousand or two of strikebreakers
were brought in every night, and distributed among the various
plants. Some of them were experienced workers,--butchers,
salesmen, and managers from the packers' branch stores, and a few
union men who had deserted from other cities; but the vast
majority were "green" Negroes from the cotton districts of the
far South, and they were herded into the packing plants like
sheep. There was a law forbidding the use of buildings as
lodginghouses unless they were licensed for the purpose,
and provided with proper windows, stairways, and fire escapes;
but here, in a "paint room," reached only by an enclosed "chute,"
a room without a single window and only one door, a hundred men
were crowded upon mattresses on the floor. Up on the third story
of the "hog house" of Jones's was a storeroom, without a window,
into which they crowded seven hundred men, sleeping upon the bare
springs of cots, and with a second shift to use them by day. And
when the clamor of the public led to an investigation into these
conditions, and the mayor of the city was forced to order the
enforcement of the law, the packers got a judge to issue an
injunction forbidding him to do it!
Just at this time the mayor was boasting that he had put an end
to gambling and prize fighting in the city; but here a swarm of
professional gamblers had leagued themselves with the police to
fleece the strikebreakers; and any night, in the big open space
in front of Brown's, one might see brawny Negroes stripped to the
waist and pounding each other for money, while a howling throng
of three or four thousand surged about, men and women, young
white girls from the country rubbing elbows with big buck Negroes
with daggers in their boots, while rows of woolly heads peered
down from every window of the surrounding factories. The
ancestors of these black people had been savages in Africa; and
since then they had been chattel slaves, or had been held down by
a community ruled by the traditions of slavery. Now for the
first time they were free--free to gratify every passion, free to
wreck themselves. They were wanted to break a strike, and when
it was broken they would be shipped away, and their present
masters would never see them again; and so whisky and women were
brought in by the carload and sold to them, and hell was let
loose in the yards. Every night there were stabbings and
shootings; it was said that the packers had blank permits, which
enabled them to ship dead bodies from the city without troubling
the authorities. They lodged men and women on the same floor;
and with the night there began a saturnalia of debauchery--scenes
such as never before had been witnessed in America. And as the
women were the dregs from the brothels of Chicago, and the men
were for the most part ignorant country Negroes, the nameless
diseases of vice were soon rife; and this where food was being
handled which was sent out to every corner of the civilized
The "Union Stockyards" were never a pleasant place; but now they
were not only a collection of slaughterhouses, but also the
camping place of an army of fifteen or twenty thousand human
beasts. All day long the blazing midsummer sun beat down upon
that square mile of abominations: upon tens of thousands of
cattle crowded into pens whose wooden floors stank and steamed
contagion; upon bare, blistering, cinder-strewn railroad tracks,
and huge blocks of dingy meat factories, whose labyrinthine
passages defied a breath of fresh air to penetrate them; and
there were not merely rivers of hot blood, and car-loads of moist
flesh, and rendering vats and soap caldrons, glue factories and
fertilizer tanks, that smelt like the craters of hell--there were
also tons of garbage festering in the sun, and the greasy laundry
of the workers hung out to dry, and dining rooms littered with
food and black with flies, and toilet rooms that were open sewers.
And then at night, when this throng poured out into the streets
to play--fighting, gambling, drinking and carousing, cursing and
screaming, laughing and singing, playing banjoes and dancing!
They were worked in the yards all the seven days of the week, and
they had their prize fights and crap games on Sunday nights as
well; but then around the corner one might see a bonfire blazing,
and an old, gray-headed Negress, lean and witchlike, her hair
flying wild and her eyes blazing, yelling and chanting of the
fires of perdition and the blood of the "Lamb," while men and
women lay down upon the ground and moaned and screamed in
convulsions of terror and remorse.
Such were the stockyards during the strike; while the unions
watched in sullen despair, and the country clamored like a greedy
child for its food, and the packers went grimly on their way.
Each day they added new workers, and could be more stern with the
old ones--could put them on piecework, and dismiss them if they
did not keep up the pace. Jurgis was now one of their agents in
this process; and he could feel the change day by day, like the
slow starting up of a huge machine. He had gotten used to being
a master of men; and because of the stifling heat and the stench,
and the fact that he was a "scab" and knew it and despised
himself. He was drinking, and developing a villainous temper,
and he stormed and cursed and raged at his men, and drove them
until they were ready to drop with exhaustion.
The Jungle Chapter 26 - part 2