Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Conditions at the Slaughterhouse"

       Upton Sinclair's The Jungle in 1906 was a book that shocked the public by exposing  the secrets and conditions of the meatpacking houses in Chicago. It worried the public who thought that the wastes of the  packinghouse were mixed in with their food. Conditions of the meatpacking houses were exposed when people started visiting the packinghouse to get a feel of what was going on. One of the guides who was assisting the visitors stated "they don't waste anything here. They use everything about the hog except the squeal." (Slaughterhouse Conditions) One thing that stood out to me were the swift workers. Once a task was completed, it was sent to the next person without wasting any time, because they knew that time was money. They had a specialized labor with each person having a specific task that they had to complete.

        " One scraped the outside of the leg; another scraped the inside of the leg; one cut the throat; another severed the head; then another made a slit down the body; a third cut the breastbone; the fourth loosened the entrails; a fifth pulled them out and slid them through a hole. "
(Slaughterhouse Conditions)

       The carcasses had to pass a government inspector who checked for tuberculosis by feeling the glands in the neck. If you happen to be approachable, the inspector would explain the substances found in pork that had tuberculosis to you. While this went on, a few dozen carcasses would pass the inspector not inspected. This shocked me to know how oblivious some inspectors could be to not notice the great amounts of meat that were being put away without being inspected. People tend to very gullible when they thought that their meat was disease free just because they saw government inspectors. 

     " The people of Chicago saw the government inspectors in Packingtown, and they all took that to mean that they were protected from diseased meat; they did not understand that these hundred and sixty-three inspectors had been appointed at the request of the packers, and that they were paid by the United States government to certify that all the diseased meat was kept in the state. " (Slaughterhouse Conditions)

       I couldn't understand how cruel and heartless inspectors and the government could be to turn their backs on the public by sending them food that could possibly me infected with a disease. They were putting society in great danger by not using proper sanitation methods as well as trying get rid of any existing form of inspection. Packers wanted to get rid of any form of inspection, because they thought that it was an "interference". Meat would fall onto the dirty floor filled with germs. It was stored in places where water from leaks would drip over it. A man who had the job of shoveling would not pick out a rat even if he saw one. Men used the water that was supposed to be for the sausage to wash their hands before eating. The conditions that workers had to go through were terrible. Men who had to push trucks had sore fingers. Those who used knives had countless amounts of cuts all over their hands. Pluckers had to remove sheep pelts by hand, which destroyed their fingers. Some workers even fell into vats which were used to boil meat into soap and lard.

       Workers had dreamed of freedom and an opportunity to learn, and for their children to grow up strong. These conditions didn't stop them from continuing their work because they needed a wage for grocery bills and rent. After a hard day at work, the workers would often go out and drink, which was the only way to cope with their pain and anxiety until they returned to another day of terror at work. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"At a Slaughterhouse, Some Things Never Die"

The New York Times featured an article called, “At a Slaughterhouse, Some Things Never Die- Who Kills, Who Cuts, Who Bosses Can Depend on Race” by Charlie LeDuff. This article is about Smithfield Packing Company, a slaughter house in North Carolina. A reporter went undercover and started working for the company to really see what goes on inside. The reporter wasn’t there to look into health codes or unfair animal treatment; he was there to look at the racial conflicts. The Smithfield plant is made up of mostly Mexicans and Blacks, several Indians and few whites as well as convicts on work release.

“The few whites on the payroll tend to be mechanics or supervisors. As for the Indians, a handful are supervisors; others tend to get clean menial jobs like warehouse work. With few exceptions, that leaves the blacks and Mexicans with the dirty jobs at the factory, one of the only places within a 50-mile radius in this muddy corner of North Carolina where a person might make more than $8 an hour.”

Inside the plant it’s completely broken up by race. Upper management causes some of the problems. They give the “dirty jobs” to the Mexicans and Blacks. They work together on the lines cutting the meat but almost never speak to each other. They tend to stay separated by race, and the noise from the machines are too loud to have conversation anyway. In the cafeteria the races also separate themselves. Each race believes they are better than the other and equally dislike each other. It’s one of the few things they actually agree on, hating each other. Management considers convicts the lowest on the scale, no matter of their race.
The work is hard and tiring, physically and mentally. The article reports that the turnover rate is 100%. Every year they have to hire 5,000 new workers. Due to their location and lack of jobs elsewhere, every year they manage to hire all the new people they need. People in Mexico looking for work have heard about this place and sneak in to work here. Not because it’s a good job, but it pays more than most other jobs that they have available to them.
                They work in hazardous conditions, long hours and are paid unfairly. The workers feel like they need a union to help but they are too scared that any mention of a union will lead to termination. These slaughterhouses used to be located up north where they had union workers. To lower costs the plants moved south for cheaper labor.
What really amazes me about this article is that it was written in 2000. If you didn’t actually know when it was written you would think it was from 50-70 years ago. The management at the plant starts the racial conflict between the people. By assigning certain jobs to certain races and mistreating them it starts a domino effect. The workers are angry and upset with their jobs and bosses, but they can’t say anything in fear of losing their jobs. This makes them even angrier and leads to them taking out their frustrations on each other. They are constantly putting blame on one another for any issues they have with their jobs. It’s so unfortunate that in 2000 this kind of intense racial clashing was still going on.