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Worker Safety Conditions, Sinclair's "The Jungle" , Unio

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Jennifer
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I remember seeing on some website ages ago some information about how the claims made in Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" were investigated and the places suggested to have these atrocities were found to have not taken place. Is anyone aware of this information or where I can find it?

Also I am curious how we account for safety standards such as in places like meat packing plants and coal mines, etc.

To take some discussion from a friend:

"Unions received tons of support because of some highly misunderstood isolated incidences of employee abuse. I would relate the literature of the time to something like a Michael Moore movie today, but this is obviously entirely speculation on my behalf. The Jungle would be the most easily recognizable example."

I would argue that these "incidents" are neither highly misunderstood or isolated occurrences in pre-union pre-labor law industries. If you don't believe this try working at a meat packing plant for a while. Even with the things that have been won through unionization and fights associated with that it is still not a far cry from "The Jungle."

Having been in more than one plant myself it is easy to make the connections between the abuses that happen in the book and the abuses that are still going on today especially in the meat packing industry. (I could get further into this as well in pms if you like) The working people who are employed at a plant understand perfectly who's interests the management have at heart.

In some cases I would agree though unions are the cause of unnecessary safety precautions that reduce efficiency. (A good example is the company that my dad works at which actually closed a plant down that was unionized, after that they brought the same equipment to my dad's plant and got twice the production out of the same input)

For some industries however extra safety precautions are badly needed, and meat packing is a great example. As far as safety goes the degree of safety largely reflects the degree to which unions have fought for safety measures in the past(but even those have since started to erode in some cases due to the ineffectiveness of the unions). One example is that even though productivity has skyrocketed in the last 30 years there has actually been a decrease in both benefits and real wages for workers in the meat packing industry. Despite increased production from technological advances there is an ever increasing push to be even more production in the name of profit. This comes at significant risk to the workers who all have extremely sharp knives, are standing literally right next to one another cutting away at chunks of meat of varying consistency, in addition heavy equipment is flying around them along with the blades of their co workers. Even though this scene is pretty typical in nearly every single meat packing plant, the degree of which you receive protective equipment varies wildly from company to company, and in some cases from factory to factory.

Many of the companies insist that it is the workers responsibility to provide for their own protective equipment, but since many of these workers can't afford it they go without. Coal mining and meat packing are still some of the most dangerous jobs in the world even with all of the technological advancements that have been made. I would argue that it is not in the interests for bosses to look out for the good of their workers because there is an inexhaustible supply of people who will fill someones position should they lose it due to injury.

Relating Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" to a Michael Moore movie is an extremely unfair thing to say. I realize you did specify that this is speculation but there are untold volumes of accounts of poor working conditions going all the way back to Industrial Revolution England. The Jungle was not anything new or sensational, it was for the most part a reality for tens of thousands or meat packers in the US at the time. The truth of the book was what shocked people in the US the most because there were extensive investigations (not just by the gov't) done to determine the accuracy of the Jungle. It didn't rely on biased information(which I will agree with you 100% Michael Moore movies are biased), it relied on hard facts in existence not only in the setting of the book, but widespread occurrences in all parts of the country. Investigations into the meat packing industry were conducted on a national scale by both federal and private inspectors to confirm this. I can find you sources for that if you wish. Unfortunately the public and inspectors focused more on the health risks associated with practices in the book than the boss's blatant disregard for the safety and well being of the workers(which was also found to be true but less was actually done about it).

"Unions have no value. I would argue that even in the 19th century they had no value. Obviously workers voluntarily migrated from the farm to the city specifically to work for a factory. If the conditions were so horrible, then why did people move to the cities at all? If they started working in a factory and didn't like it, then why not quit? There was clearly some compelling reason that drew the workers in AND kept them working in the factories. So clearly life in the factory was an improvement over the farm life they came from."... See More

To really understand the question of why workers moved from the country to the city you have to start all the way back in the Industrial Revolution in England. Or rather pre-industrial revolution in fact as this was when the feudal landlords began privatizing formerly communal land. (I can give extensive sources for this as I recently took Hist 411x which is named "Financial History of Europe") I won't go into great detail on this, but I do have the books from the class and additional sources if you are interested. The large land owners forcibly took over communal land forcibly evicting the former residents. They used the legal apparatus in existence to justify this, and so when once people could easily make a living off of the land they shared communally, they were forced onto smaller and smaller plots of land until they could no longer subsist off of what they could grow themselves. They did have a choice I suppose, of either starving to death, or leaving for some random country to try their luck farming there(if they could get money to pay passage). As far as choosing a better company vs the one that is closest to you though they did not have a choice in the matter as they did not have transportation to be able to choose without relocating themselves entirely. In essence some left to go to the US to try their luck there. (This process of privatization of communal land took an extremely long time and obviously was not done all at once the literature that we read for class argued that this process was not completed until 1980's.)

These are the sources I found to be most helpful in understanding this question. If you are interested let me know and I can lend them to you.

Sources:

Agricultural Revolution in England - The transformation of the agrarian economy 1500-1850,

Mark Overton

Commoners, Common Right, Enclosure, and social change in England 1700-1820,

J.M. Neeson

Obviously there are vast differences between labor in the US and labor in the UK but there are also similarities. In the US the forcing of working people from the country to the city was and is perpetuated primarily by banks instead of feudal land owners. That is why until fairly recently(40's 50's our parents generation) farming was the mainstay (and a feasible one at that) of the majority of the population. Yes, technical advances aided in this as it made it easier to farm craptons of land by yourself, but bank foreclosures on farms that had been owned by families for 100+ years are the primary reason to blame(and living in iowa you see this all the time). In addition of course was the dust bowl which resulted from over-farming and lack of conservation of resources(also a result of trying to maximize profits) and of course there are various other reasons. In some instances you are correct people choose to work in the city. I would say in the majority of cases though if people could live on their farms and grow their own food and get by they would prefer it. I don't think anyone chooses to have their farm foreclosed and be forced to find some other means of employment and or subsistence.

If you would like I can also provide multiple sources for the information I gave about wages and real wages of the last 30 years in meat packing industry.

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I remember seeing on some website ages ago some information about how the claims made in Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" were investigated and the places suggested to have these atrocities were found to have not taken place. Is anyone aware of this information or where I can find it?

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." - Benjamin Disraeli. Collectivist-socialists always put these "statistics" in our faces, when clearly statistics can be modified and made to suit any viewpoint. We all know what collectivism leads to: look at the totalitarian states like Soviet Union for example. I wouldn't consider any such "evidence" valid unless approved by capitalists, so that a neutral point of view is had. The western capitalist democracies contain the best system where property rights and individual rights can be protected and preserved. As they move towards totalitarianism (like what happened under FDR), they erode the basis for their foundation: reason and rights.

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I'm unsure of "The Jungle"'s truthiness, but from reading about it on wikipedia, it kind of seems like it was used as platform to spread anti-capitalist ideas and later for his political runs. And it was supposed to be fictional, so in both those ways I'm not surprised that some of it might not be telling the truth.

Is your friend trying to say that workers at meat packing plants should be given high wages and have their health taken care of by the business owner with no responsibility on the individual's part? Have you pointed out to him that these workers wouldn't have any wage if it weren't for the business owner?

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Not having read The Jungle I cannot speak for its accuracy. The question no one ever seems to ask is what were the alternatives to the "abuses" (I use quotes because we're interpreting abuse from a modern context without any reference to the real, general living conditions of the 19th century). Any politico-economic system that is a significant departure from its predecessors will be inheriting the problems of that predecessor for some time. It is rather telling how fast the economy and population increased during the 19th century, and provides good indication that they were doing at least something right.

Citing things like the dust bowl to condemn profitability is silly, though - if people were truly looking out for themselves they'd be trying to use farming practices that didn't overwhelm the land; the dust bowl could have either been a result of widespread myopia (a definite possibility). Or some people could have been looking into better agricultural techniques, and were not successful immediately. To the extent it was the first, people learn from crises like that; to the extent it was the second, not much of an alternative existed when farmers are trying to feed people as their most immediate concern.

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I've always found the double standards of Marxism, Socialism, Fascism, etc. etc. fascinating. They need a period of transition, in which a full dictatorship of the workers must be established and blood must flow! Only after peace (defined by Karl Marx as the absence of opposition to socialism) is achieved, will the state wither away (I thought the state was just the interests of the ruling class, how is it supposed to wither away?).

However, Capitalism must have full perfection immediately, and must work no matter what level of government interference is present. If the market doesn't immediately solve all the problems of human existence, it must be destroyed in an orgy of rebellion and war and replaced with a class dictatorship.

tibet_execution_3.jpg

A WORKER'S UTOPIA!!!

tiananmen_tank_man.jpg

PEACE, LAND, BREAD!!!

Frankly, I'd rather take the meat factory.

Edited by Devils_Advocate
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Many people discuss the Industrial Revolution as a horrific time of worker abuse. It is important to keep in mind that this is true, if one takes today's standards of working conditions as the comparison. I find that most often, people who make these claims do have a relatively accurate picture of how much life sucked in a sweatshop or factory (perhaps a bit exaggerated), but by far the more common mistake is to forget about the working conditions prior to the Industrial Revolution. Feudalism was not idyllic, it was oppressive. People did not move from farms out in the country full of plenty of food and leisure time to shitty jobs in factories; they moved from starvation and shitty jobs in the country to slightly less shitty jobs with a slightly smaller degree of starvation in the cities. The crappy conditions of factories were a holdover from feudalism; it was capitalism that allowed workers to slowly save and build up capital and improve living conditions. Crappy conditions in factories during or shortly after industrialization were an indictment against feudalism, not capitalism; capitalism is responsible for the amelioration of these conditions over time. THIS is what people don't understand, and what they need to.

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Not having read The Jungle I cannot speak for its accuracy. The question no one ever seems to ask is what were the alternatives to the "abuses" (I use quotes because we're interpreting abuse from a modern context without any reference to the real, general living conditions of the 19th century). Any politico-economic system that is a significant departure from its predecessors will be inheriting the problems of that predecessor for some time. It is rather telling how fast the economy and population increased during the 19th century, and provides good indication that they were doing at least something right.

Citing things like the dust bowl to condemn profitability is silly, though - if people were truly looking out for themselves they'd be trying to use farming practices that didn't overwhelm the land; the dust bowl could have either been a result of widespread myopia (a definite possibility). Or some people could have been looking into better agricultural techniques, and were not successful immediately. To the extent it was the first, people learn from crises like that; to the extent it was the second, not much of an alternative existed when farmers are trying to feed people as their most immediate concern.

The Dust Bowl itself was a direct result of the Homestead Act, which limited farmers to small plots of land. This structured incentives in such a way as to discourage conservation and protection from erosion; as a result, the droughts of the 1930s were much more damaging than they would have been without government intervention.

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Is your friend trying to say that workers at meat packing plants should be given high wages and have their health taken care of by the business owner with no responsibility on the individual's part? Have you pointed out to him that these workers wouldn't have any wage if it weren't for the business owner?

Are you saying the business owner has absolutely no responsibility in the sort of conditions his workers have to work?

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Are you saying the business owner has absolutely no responsibility in the sort of conditions his workers have to work?

There is no "have to work". Of course the owner is responsible for the conditions, but the worker is responsible for choosing to work there. However, it is important to recognize that even during the Industrial Revolution there were regulations. I'm not sure about the US entirely, but in Britain workers were not allowed to negotiate (that is, it was illegal) for higher wages or form voluntary unions, something that would be allowed in a free market.

Edited by Eiuol
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