Part 1. In what ways did the meat packing industry in Chicago abuse its workers?
The meat packing industry in Chicago, but also in many other cities in America during the early 20th century was a very inhuman and brutal environment. This was a place of misery, exploitation, crime and corruption. Many immigrants that dreamed of freedom and material success were destroyed by the merciless work, and eventually replaced by other immigrants that shared the same horrible faith.
It would be easier to answer the question how the meat packing industry didn’t abuse its workers, as the opposite question give us numerous responses. The workers lived in poverty and hopelessness. Their exploitation occurred in all daily activities starting from very long working hours in poor working conditions. These long working hours would sometimes be as long as 15 hours a day. Working so hard for so long hours eventually lead to impaired health and high mortality. There were no social programs at all. When workers had an injury they were left without income, although they were injured because of bad and unsafe working conditions. Such situations would force other members of the family, even children, to assume the burden of earning income. Small children were left at home alone, even when sick, with no doctor to assist them as they were too poor to pay for medical care. On top of all these harsh conditions we have also to emphasise the unsanitary practice conducted in the meat packing industry. The workers did not have facilities to wash their hands and no gloves although their worked with dangerous chemicals and spoiled meat covered with rodents excreta. They were not allowed to refuse any kind of work. If they complain about something they would usually get fired.
Crime and corruption were also important problems, making the miserable lives of workers even more desperate. That was especially true for young women. Often they were forced to prostitution by their supervisors and suppose to work hard as man, doing so brutalizing jobs that mere survival was considered a success for them: “It was stupefying, brutalizing work; it left her no time to think, no strength for anything.”
Part 2. In what ways did the meat packing industry in Chicago defile the meat they were in charge of?
The meat packing industry in Chicago was a great business to make money, at least for the company leaders. However, no attention was paid to the quality and safety of meat. Although many times the meat smelled so bad you can barely breathe, it was sold after rubbing it up with soda to cover the smell. Nobody was upset if meat had tumbled out on the floor, which was rarely cleaned, thus extremely dirty. Besides the dirt the floor was a place where many workers spit all day long, so was covered with germs. However, contamination hazard was not coming just from below the working stations, even when you looked up you could see water leaking down from the roofs on the meat for consumption.
Rats were also a major problem: “It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats.”There were thousands of rats walking on the meat and leaving excreta all over the place. Even when the packers killed some of them the meat quality was not better as their bodies were just mixed with the meat for consumption. They used to kill rats with poisoned bread, and afterwards the same poisoned bread was put into the hoppers together with meat and dead rats. It was obvious that you never know what was inside those packages of meat. Dirt, nails, flies and rats were just some of the usual components of sold meat.