An edition of Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle is available and even if you have read the book, get a copy of the complete edition and read it again. It seems that for years we have been cheated out of an even more horrifying story of the unregulated meat packing companies in Chicago in the early twentieth century. First, this edition is longer (about a third longer, I believe) and it presents a fuller and more devastating view of the struggles immigrants went through and an even uglier and more upsetting vision of the meat packing business. Who knew all those older copies of The Jungle were so heavily censored.
Thank goodness we have a Federal government which oversees things like meat packing and looks out for the health and well-being of the citizens. Just imagine what the combination of greed, corruption, and lack of regulations would be like: would it be like the Chicago depicted in The Jungle?
When I was working in Newark, NJ, I used to wait for a ride home up near the wholesale butchers that served much of the state’s meat departments. One day I saw a man walk out of the door of a red brick building with a large box of what appeared to be unwrapped steaks piled high. This was not a strange sight since I had often seen them transferring meat between one building and another. But in this instance it had snowed recently and the melted run-off was still puddling in the streets. Stepping off of the curb, two or three large steaks fell out of the box and into the dirty street water.
The man stooped to retrieve the meat and tossed it back into the box without even bothering to shake it off. If you lived in New Jersey in the early 1970s, you might have enjoyed one of those steaks hot off the backyard grill. The streak sauce probably killed the germs, right?
But as much as The Jungle is an indictment of the meat packing industry early in the last century, it is even more an indictment of the rich and powerful commercial aristocracy that exploited the immigrant workers for their own personal greed. Maybe there’s a parallel with today’s Republican Party … ya think?
… he learned that America differed from Russia in that its government existed under the form of a democracy. The officials who ruled it, and got all the graft, had to be elected first; and so there were two rival sets of grafters, known as political parties, and the one got the office which bought the most votes. Now and then, the election was very close, and that was the time the poor man came in. In the stockyards this was only in national and state elections, for in local elections the Democratic Party always carried everything. The ruler of the district was therefore the Democratic boss, a little Irishman named Mike Scully. Scully held an important party office in the state, and bossed even the mayor of the city, it was said; it was his boast that he carried the stockyards in his pocket. He was an enormously rich man—he had a hand in all the big graft in the neighborhood. It was Scully, for instance, who owned that dump which Jurgis and Ona had seen the first day of their arrival. Not only did he own the dump, but he owned the brick factory as well, and first he took out the clay and made it into bricks, and then he had the city bring garbage to fill up the hole, so that he could build houses to sell to the people. Then, too, he sold the bricks to the city, at his own price, and the city came and got them in its own wagons. And also he owned the other hole near by, where the stagnant water was; and it was he who cut the ice and sold it; and what was more, if the men told truth, he had not had to pay any taxes for the water, and he had built the icehouse out of city lumber, and had not had to pay anything for that. The newspapers had got hold of that story, and there had been a scandal; but Scully had hired somebody to confess and take all the blame, and then skip the country. It was said, too, that he had built his brick-kiln in the same way, and that the workmen were on the city payroll while they did it; however, one had to press closely to get these things out of the men, for it was not their business, and Mike Scully was a good man to stand in with.
Just the other day I heard a discussion on the radio explaining how the Republican Party and the Democratic Party had crossed over and reversed their roles in this country. I can see how the evidence suggests this but both parties are still too easily bought off. Corruption is King. I guess the big difference now is that the Republican Party is openly corrupt and dishonest whereas the Democrats still attempt to give the impression that they are righteous and caring.
I read a review of The Jungle online where the reader declared that the book was awful, full of nasty, despicable lies and other socialistic crap. At least this reader apparently knew that Upton Sinclair was a Socialist. I recommend reading or rereading The Jungle in its uncensored format and at the same time add My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozecki, and maybe even watch Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me.
You might develop a closer relationship to green leafy vegetables … and you also might turn away from the propaganda and begin to see why unions were so important in the development of a modern United States (and also a glimpse of the America individuals such as the Koch brothers want to return to).