The Jungle | #8

So out of all this nightmare of horror there was borne a new vision, a new hope; there was a gleam of light in the midnight sky, and men cried out that it was a dawn.

 Through the earlier part of the winter our friends had plenty of work, and if they had not been just starting out house-keeping, they might have been able to lay by a little sum. As it was, however, there seemed never to be an end to the things they had to buy, and to the unforeseen contingencies. Once their water-pipes froze and burst; and when, in their ignorance, they thawed them out, they had a terrifying flood in their house. It happened while the men were away, and poor Teta Elzbieta rushed out into the street screaming for help, for she did not even know whether the flood could be stopped, or whether they were ruined for life. It was nearly as bad as the latter, they found in the end, for the plumber charged them seventy-five cents an hour, and seventy-five cents for another man who had stood and watched him, and included all the time the two had been going and coming, and also a charge for all sorts of material and extras. And then again, when they went to pay their January's installment on the house, the agent terrified them by asking them if they had had the insurance attended to yet. In answer to their inquiry he showed them a clause in the deer which provided that they were to keep the house insured for one thousand dollars, as soon as the present policy ran out, which would happen in a few days. Poor Teta Elzbieta, upon whom again fell the flow, demanded how much it would cost them. Seven dollars, the man said; and that night came Jurgis, grim and determined, requesting that the agent would be good enough to inform them once for all, as to all the expenses they were liable for. The deed was signed now, he said, with sarcasm proper to the new way of life he had learned—the deed was signed, and so the agent had no longer anything to gain by keeping quiet. And Jurgis looked the fellow squarely in the eye as he said this, and so he did not waste any time in conventional protests, but read him the deed. They would have to renew the insurance every year; they would have to pay the taxes, about ten dollars a year; they would have to pay the water-tax, about six dollars a year—(Jurgis silently resolved to shut off the hydrant). This, besides the interest and the monthly installments, would be all—unless by chance the city should happen to decide to put in a sewer, or to lay sidewalk. Yes, said the agent, they would have to have these, whether they wanted them or not, if the city said so. The sewer would cost them about twenty-two dollars, and the sidewalk fifteen if it was wood, twenty-five if it was cement.

 So Jurgis went home again; it was a relief to know the worst, at any rate, so that he could no more be surprised by fresh demands. He saw now how they had been plundered; but they were in for it, there was no turning back. They could only go on and make the fight and win—for defeat was a thing that could not even be thought of.

 Little by little they were paying back their debt to Jonas and Marija—though the latter, with her preposterous soft-heartedness, would spend a good part of it every week for things she saw they needed. Marija was the capitalist of the party, for she had become an expert can-painter by this time. She was getting fourteen cents for every hundred and ten cans, and as she could paint more than two cans every minute she was laying away a neat sum every week. Marija felt, so to speak, that she had her own hand on the throttle, and the neighborhood was vocal with her rejoicings.

 Yet her friends would shake their heads and tell her to go slow; they could not prevail upon her, however, and so when the crash did come, Marija's grief was cruel to see. For her canning-factory shut down! Marija would about as soon have expected to see the sun shut down—the huge establishment had been to her a thing akin to the planets and the seasons. But now it was shut! They had not given her any explanation; they had simply posted a notice one Saturday that all hands would be paid off that afternoon, and would not resume work for at least a month. And that was all that there was to it.

 It was the holiday rush that was over, the girls said, in answer to Marija's inquiries; after it there was always a slack. Sometimes the factory would start up on half time after a while, but there was no telling—it had been known to stay closed until way into the summer. The prospects were bad at present, for the truckmen who worked in the storerooms said that these were piled up to the ceilings, so that the firm could not have found room for another week's output of cans. And they had turned off three-quarters of these men, which was a still worse sign, since it meant that there were no orders to be filled. It was all a swindle, can-painting, said the girls—you were crazy with delight because you were making twelve or fourteen dollars a week, and saving half of it; but you had to spend it all keeping alive while you were out, and so your pay was really only half what you thought.

 Marija came home, and because she was a person who could not rest without danger of an explosion, they first had a great house-cleaning; and then she set out to search Packingtown for a job to fill up the gap. As nearly all the canning-establishments were shut down, and all the girls hunting work, it will be readily understood that Marija did not find any. Then she took to trying the stores and saloons, and when this failed she even traveled over into the far-distant regions near the lake-front, where lived the rich people in great palaces, and begged there for some sort of work that could be done by a person who did not know English. It was very hard for Marija to believe that in all this vast city there was nothing for her brawny arms to do.

 The men upon the killing-floor felt also the effects of the slump which had turned Marija out; but they felt it in a different way, and a way which made Jurgis understand at last all the bitterness of the men. The big packers did not turn their hands off and close down, like the canning-factories; but they began to run for shorter and shorter hours. If they had wished to set forth the fact that all their employees together were of less importance to them than a single one of the animals they killed, they could not have managed the thing different than they did.

 They had always required the men to be on the killing-floor and ready for work at seven o'clock, although there was almost never any work to be done till the buyers out in the yards had gotten to work, and some cattle had come over the chutes. That would often be ten or eleven o'clock, which was bad enough in all conscience; but now, in the slack season, they would perhaps not have a thing for their men to do till late in the afternoon—and still every mother's son of them had to be on the killing-floor at seven o'clock in the morning! And there they would have to load around, in a place where the thermometer might be twenty degrees below zero! At first one would see them running about, or skylarking with each other, trying to keep warm; but before the day was over they could become quite chilled through and exhausted, and when the cattle finally came, so near frozen that to move was an agony. And then suddenly the place would spring into activity, and the merciless "speeding-up" would begin!

 There were weeks at a time when Jurgis went home after such a day with not more than two hours work to his credit—which meant about thirty-five cents. There were many days when the total was less than half an hour, and others where there was none at all. Not half a dozen times in the whole long agony of that winter was there work early enough in the morning to justify their coming before daylight. The general average was about six hours a day, which meant for Jurgis about six dollars a week; and this six hours of work would be done after standing on the killing-floor till one o'clock, or perhaps even three or four o'clock in the afternoon. It would be done all in one heart-breaking rush, without allowing a single instant for rest. Like as not there would come a rush of cattle at the very end of the day, which the men would have to dispose of before they went home, often working by electric-light till nine or ten, or even twelve or one o'clock, and without a single instant for a bite of supper. Jurgis tried hard to find out the reason for all this, but the men did not understand it, except vaguely. They knew that they were at the mercy of the cattle. Perhaps the buyers would be holding off for better prices; if they could scare the shippers into thinking that they meant to buy nothing that day, they could get their own terms. For some reason the cost of fodder for cattle in the yards was much above the market price—and you were not allowed to bring your own fodder! Then, too, a number of cars were apt to arrive late in the day, now that the roads were often tied up with snow, and the packers would buy these cattle at night, to get them cheaper; and then would come into play their iron-clad rule, that all cattle must be killed the same day they were bought. There was no use kicking about this—there had been one delegation after another from the men to see about it, only to be told that it was the rule, and that there was not the slightest chance of its ever being altered. Every man who worked for them had to stay and work, over time or any other time, and it made no difference what the hour was. Sundays and holidays, as well as other days. Jurgis was liable to be called out; Christmas eve he worked till nearly one o'clock in the morning, and on Christmas day he was on the killing-floor at seven o'clock!

 All this was about as near to hell as a man would care to get; and yet it was not the worst by any means. For after all the hard work they did, the chances were that they would not get any pay for a good part of it! Jurgis had once been among those who scoffed at the idea of these huge concerns cheating; and so now he could appreciate the full bitterness of the fact that it was precisely their size which enabled them to cheat with impunity. Jurgis saw now that they cheated; that they cheated constantly and systematically, that they cheated anywhere and anyhow—the tenth part of the head of a pin was not too small a thing to serve for a motive. They have made their fortune out of the discovery that the tenth part of the head of a pin is a valuable thing. if you can get a million more to add to it. One of the rules on the killing-floor was that a man who was one minute late was docked an hour; and this was economical, for he was made to work the balance of the hour—he was not allowed to "stand around." It is narrated of Charles Lamb that when rebuked for coming late to work, he replied that he went away early; and with somewhat similar ingenuity the packers had it arranged that a man was not credited with any time he might be made to work if he came ahead of time. Often when the gang was all on hand the bosses would start them up ten or fifteen minutes before the whistle, and get that much out of them for nothing. And this same custom they carried over to the end of the day—they did not pay the gang for any fraction of an hour—for "broken time." A man might work full fifty minutes, but if there was no work to fill out the hour, there was no pay for him. Thus the end of every day was a sort of lottery; and sometimes there would be a struggle, all but breaking into open war, between the bosses and the men—the former trying to rush a job through, and the latter trying to stretch it out. You might tell that story to most people, and they would say it was a fairy tale; and yet it was a regular incident of Jurgis's life, the bitterness of it burning deeper into his soul every day. He blamed the bosses for it, though the truth to be told it was not always their fault; for the packers kept them frightened for their lives, each one having a half dozen trying to supplant him, and liable to succeed if he fell behind the standard. And when one was in danger of falling behind—what was easier than to catch up by making the gang work a while, "for the church?" This was a savage witticism the men had, which Jurgis had to have explained to him. They all read the newspapers, these men, and while they knew that Anderson and Smith and the rest of the packers "hogged" their money, they knew also that there were other great captains of industry who were grinding their men to pieces upon the same horrible system, and yet had a find time posing as philanthropists and public benefactors, scattering largesses of libraries and hosptials and churches. So when the men were set to work a little early, or when they were kept half an hour over to finish up a bunch of steers, they would nod to each other and say grimly, "This is for a library," or "Now we're paying for a church."

 It might be well to point out that in all this the packers were perfectly within their rights. To lie and to cheat are an essential part of that fundamental privilege of a business man to manage his own business in his own way; for if people do not like the way a man manages his business, their remedy is to leave him alone. Jurgis, for instance, now lived in a free country, and shared in its privileges and if he did not like the way they did things at Smith's, he was perfectly at liberty to leave whenever he felt like it. He might go, let us say, to Anderson's; and when he found that Smith and Anderson, together with all the other packers in Chicago, had gotten together and agreed to treat all their hands alike, it was his privilege to take his family and pay one or two hundred dollars railroad fare and go to New York, or St. Louis, or Kansas City, or Omaha, where there were more packing-houses. And when he discovered that these, too, were owned by Smith and by Anderson, and conducted in the same unsatisfactory manner, he was permitted to take himself out upon the broad, snow-covered prairies of this land of liberty, and to lie down and die there, as a witness to the fact that he was no man's slave. That he did not do this, but stayed and worked on for Smith, and took whatever part of his pay Smith chose to give him, was probably because he was not a free-born American but a low-down and ignorant foreigner.

 The sense of justice was not altogether dead in him, however, and every day there was more hatred in his soul. One of the consequences was that he was no longer perplexed when he heard men talk of fighting for their rights. He felt like fighting now, himself, and when the Irish delegate of the butcher-helper's union came to him a second time, Jurgis received him in a far different spirit. A wonderful idea it now seemed to him, this idea of the men—that by combining they might be able to make a stand and conquer the packers! Jurgis wondered who it was that had first thought of it; and when told that it was a common thing for men to do in America, he got his first inkling of the great fact that might be some real meaning in the phrase "a free country." The delegate explained to him how it depended upon their being able to get every man to join, and stand by the organization; and then Jurgis signified that he was willing to do his share. Before another month was by, four out of the five working members of his family had union cards—the exception being little Stanislovas, because a lard-boys' union was still a thing of the future. They all had union buttons, and wore them conspicuously and with pride; and for fully a week they were quite blissfully happy, thinking that belonging to a union meant an end of all their troubles.

 But only ten days after she had joined, Marija's canning-factory closed down, and that blow staggered them. They could not understand why the union had not prevented it, and the very first time she attended a meeting Marija got up and made a speech about it. It was a business meeting, and was transacted in English; of the girls of the can-painters' union, probably not one-twentieth understood a word of Lithuanian. But that made no difference to Marija. She said what was in her, and all the pounding of the chairman's gavel and all the uproar and confusion in the room could not prevail—she made her speech. Quite apart from her own troubles she was boiling over with a general sense of the injustice of it, and she told what she thought of the packers, and what she thought of a world were such things were allowed to happen; and then, while the echoes of the hall rang with the shock of her terrible voice, she sat down again and fanned herself, and the meeting gathered itself together and proceeded to discuss the election of a recording-secretary.

 Jurgis too had an adventure the first time he attended a union meeting, but it was not of his own seeking. Jurgis went with the desire to get into an inconspicuous corner and see what was done—but it was precisely this attitude of silent and open-eyed attention that marked him out for a victim. Tommy Finnegan was a little Irishman, with big staring eyes and a wild aspect, a "hoister" by trade, and a harmless enough fellow, only badly cracked. Somewhere back in the distant past Tommy Finnegan had had a strange experience, and the burden of it rested upon him. All the rest of his life he had done nothing but try to make it understood; when he talked he caught his victim by the buttonhole, and his face kept coming closer and closer—which was trying, because his teeth were so bad. Jurgis did not mind that, only he was frightened. The method of operation of the higher intelligences was Tom Finnegan's theme, and he desired to find out if Jurgis had ever considered that the representation of things in their present similarity might be altogether unintelligible upon a more elevated plane. There were assuredly wonderful mysteries about the developing of these things; and then, becoming confidential, Mr. Finnegan proceeded to tell of some experiences of his own. "If ye have iver had ony-thing to do wid spherrits." said he, and looked inquiringly at Jurgis, who kept shaking his head. "Niver mind, niver mind," continued the other, "but their influences may be operating upon ye; it's shure as I'm tellin' ye, it's them that has the reference to the immeijit surroundins that has the most of the influence. It was vouchsafed to me in me youthful days to be acquainted with spherrits"—and so Tommy Finnegan went on, expounding a system of philosophy, while the perspriation came out on Jurgis's forehead, so great was his agitation and embarassment. In the end one of the men, seeing his plight, came over and rescued him; but it was a month before he was able to find some one to explain things to him, and meanwhile his fear lest the strange little Irishman should get him cornered again was enough to keep his dodging about the room a whole evening.

 He never missed a meeting, however. He had picked up a few words of English by this time, and friends would help him to understand. They were often very turbulent meetings, with half a dozen men declaiming at once, in as many dialects of English; but the speakers were all desperately in earnest, and Jurgis was in earnest too, for he understood that a fight was on, and that it was his fight. Since the time of his disillusionment, Jurgis had sworn to trust no man, except in his own family. But here suddenly he discovered that he had brothers in affliction, and allies. They had been into battle, and had lost; and wounded and bloody, crushed and trampled beneath iron hoofs—suddenly they had found a hope of deliverance, in union! And so they had united, with all the fervor of desperation. "Get together! Stay together!"— that was their cry; and they talked it, they preached it, with the ardor of religious devotees; it was their one chance for life, and the struggle became a kind of crusade. So out of all this nightmare of horror there was borne a new vision, a new hope; there was a gleam of light in the midnight sky, and men cried out that it was a dawn. Jurgis had always been a member of the church, because it was the right thing to be, but the church had never touched him, he left all that for the women. Here, however, was a new religion—one that did touch him, that took hold of every fibre of him; and with all the zeal and fury of a convert he went out as a missionary. There were many non-union men among the Lithuanians, and with these, he would labor and wrestle in prayer, trying to show them the right. Sometimes they would be obstinate and refuse to see it, and alas, Jurgis was not always patient. He forgot how he himself had been blind, a short time ago—after the fashion of all crusaders since the original ones, who set out to spread the gospel of Brotherhood by force of arms.

 There was a struggle going on between the unions and the packers, a struggle that never ceased; day and night they were wrestling for the tiniest bit of advantage, and each week at the meeting there were new interviews to be reported, and wars and rumors of war in the air. The men wanted the packers to pay them in money so that they would not have to cash checks in saloons. They wanted to prevent their taking new men on, now that they did not have half enough work for those they already had. They were trying to get them to abandon the rule of not keeping the cattle over—to set a limit to the overtime, and to the lateness of the hour at which a man was liable to work. They wanted also half an hour to eat supper in, when they had to work at night. And most important of all they wanted to put a stop to the "speeding-up."

 Editors of newspapers and statesmen, and presidents of employers' associations and univerisities, and other pillars of things as they are, were busied to see that the public was kept informed about this. "Limitation of the output" it was called, and it was the chief of the outrages of union domination. Lazy workingmen presuming to get together and say to their employers how much work they would do for their wages! Trying to restrict the productive capacity of the factories, and bring ruin upon this great country! Trying to tie up the food industry in Chicage, and raise the price of every poor man's dinner! Many other things they were trying to do, so these wise and powerful ones declared—and charity compels one to believe that not all of them really understood that what the unions were really trying to do was to put a stop to murder. For murder it was that went on there upon the killing-floor, systematic, deliberate and hideous murder—and there was no other word for it, and nothing else to be said about it. They were slaughtering men there, just as they were slaughtering cattle; they were grinding the bodies and souls of them, and turning them into dollars and cents. Jurgis talked with some who worked in the sausage-rooms, and who told him how now and then some one would lose a finger in the dangerous cutting-machines; and how when that happened they would stop the machine, but only for a minute or so; if they could not find the finger, they would let it go and call it sausage. And that was grinding up men, as anyone will admit; yet it was not one bit more actually grinding them than the system of "speeding-up." A thousand devils with whips or white-hot irons could not have filled human creatures more full of terror, or goaded them to more agonized efforts, than did the daily routine of those packing-houses, with spies and bosses prowling here and there, nagging and yelling at men and women and children, cursing them, kicking them, batting them over the heads, sometimes spitting into their faces—while outside the starving thousands struggled and fought for a chance to take their places, when at last they could hold out no longer, but fell in their tracks and dragged themselves home to die.