Working Conditions in the Meat Packing Industry

The motif from these blogs is the working conditions experienced by laborers as a direct result of a changing environment. In this particular case, the meat packing industry in major cities in the United States will be analyzed. The time period for these poor working conditions was around the early 1900’s, during a time of unregulated business and a lack of sanitation standards. This blog aims to take a deeper look inside the working conditions of the meat packing industry while also taking into account the environment that was changed a certain way that directly affected the well being of these workers.

As discussed in previous blog entries, the concept of reducing costs and promoting efficiency was the primary thing on the minds of business owners. In the realm of the meat packing industry, there were no regulations put in place in order to aid the laborers that were exposed to such heinous working hazards. Not only were the conditions treacherous, the quality of product being distributed from such factories were not sanitary and quite possibly contaminated. Since washing and personal protective equipment was not a note of concern for business owners, remnants of hair, sweat and dirt would often find their way into the packed meat. These upcoming paragraphs will give further detail on the subject of the working conditions in the meat packing industry, as well as how the conditions were eventually remedied.

More Meat for the Grinder

During the early 1900’s a novel was published by a young journalist by the name of Upton Sinclair. His book, The Jungle, brought to light the sheer horror of the meat packing industry. This was one of the most stunning discoveries that created such a prolific ripple effect that ultimately lead to enactment of the of many food safety laws. Even though the main inspiration for the book was to bring attention to the living and working conditions of the workers, the main topic of discussion as a result of the book was the making and packing of the meat in the factories. Sinclair himself said “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit in the stomach.”

Poster advertising THE JUNGLE, Upton Sinclair’s novel attacking the political corruption and unsanitary conditions of the meat

As an aside, I will give a brief overview of the disgusting nature of the process of making and processing the meat to draw parallels with the working environment. Workers would take scraps and chunks of meat that had fallen off of the hoppers and would simply put the meat right back into the mechanism. The disturbing issue with this was that the meat that had fallen onto the floor was trampled by workers as well as the infestation of rats that would defecate on the rotting meat. In addition to recycling tainted meat, the remnants of burnt ends and chunks of meat would be placed in waste barrels. These barrels would ferment and fester for months on end. Workers would clean out these barrels that contained a plethora of dirt and rust. In order to give the meat a “smoky” flavor, these barrels would be added to the hoppers.

Carving of Meat During the Early 1900’s

Aside from the putrid and repulsive processing of the meat, the working conditions were equally as jaw dropping. Working in the cutting part of the plants required the use of heavy machinery. Fingers and hands were scarred and commonly ripped off in the packing plant. Workers in the tank rooms accepted the risk of falling into open vats. What was truly devastating about this revelation is that, prior to increased inspection regulations, these poor souls that fell into the vats were processed and eventually shipped out with the packaged meat. The working hours added to the misery experience by impoverished laborers during this time.  As stated in my previous blog discussing the Industrial Revolution, companies minimized the amount of pay for workers in order to increase overall profits. Additionally, laborers were required to work around 10 hours every day in the factories.

The working conditions in the meat packing industry during the early 1900’s was primal and barbaric. Stemming directly from the environment, workers had no choice but to endure these conditions. The need for economic growth and profits took precedence over the well being of laborers. It was not until the Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, that legislation became enacted. Not only did it preserve the workers themselves, it also made the final product safer for public consumption. The environment was changed immensely as a result of the Industrial Revolution and was changed even further from the working conditions experienced in the meat packing industry. Much like the effect of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the discovery of a harmful environment created legislation that changed the current status of the environment. These are not the only isolated events of one person’s pursuit causing a paradigm shift in society’s environment. Being able to identify the reasons why and how the environment was changed can help to alter it to our benefit.

References:

  • “Conditions in Meatpacking Plants (1906, by Upton Sinclair).” Dictionary of American HistoryEncyclopedia.com. (November 25, 2017).
  • National Safety Council, Meat Industry Safety Guidelines (Chicago, 1979), p. 33. (November 25, 2017).
  • “Inside a Russian Slaughterhouse, It’s a Far Cry from ‘The Jungle’.” Image.  National Geographichttp://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/26/inside-a-russian-slaughterhouse-its-a-far-cry-from-the-jungle/. (November 25, 2017).
  • “The Meatpacking Industry During The Early 1900’s.” Image.  History Bloghttp://lilmisshistory.blogspot.com/2010/11/meatpacking-industry-during-early-1900s.html.  (November 25, 2017).

 

Slavery Life and Conditions as a Result of a Changing Environment

This blog aims to examine the harsh working conditions experienced by workers as a result of their changing environment. This entry in particular will tackle the harsh laboring conditions of slaves, more specifically as it relates to picking cotton in the United States. As well as how these slaves were subjected to such devastating condition as they relate to the ever-changing environment, from a variety of different perspectives.

This blog will also specify the specific timeline for when this change in environment occurred as well as why it came to be. Before I take a deeper look into why these slaves experienced such hardship, we must compartmentalize the factors that directly effect their environment. The environment can be broken down into social and economic factors that act as catalysts for changing the environment. These variables act in a way that negatively impacted many people, but in this case, we will be examining how these factors affected slaves in the southern United States in the 1800’s.

How Slavery Came to be

A good starting point for this analysis would be how these slaves ended up where they did. This answer stems from both economic and social driving forces that created a sense of acceptance among the culture of slavery. African slavery did not make its way over to the United States until the late 17th century. Due to an overpopulation of slaves in the sugarcane region of the Barbados, planters in the newly established colonies of the Americas were able to use the labor. This would only be the beginning of a long journey for African Americans in the New World. Aside from the implementation of slavery, there was a wide range of factors that led to the justification of slavery in the minds of plantation owners.

As the years progressed, continual economic growth and development from implementing slave labor created widespread implementation of slavery in the United States. From an economic standpoint, slavery was the most viable option for labor during this time period. The economy of these plantations were extremely reliant on the use of slave labor to harvest crops. Crops such as tobacco, indigo, and most notably cotton, helped to stimulate the economy. Implementing slavery into the harvesting of these crops only cut down cost and increased productivity, making plantation owners very wealthy.  Along with this enormous growth in profit came with it a growing sense of immorality. That will be detailed in this upcoming section.

From a social perspective, the idea of slavery was not seen as immoral in the eyes of plantation owners, as well as the southern United States. The main driving force for the social acceptance of widespread enslavement was the work of powerful governments. The policies enacted by the federal and local governments degraded the rights of people of color, bringing along with it a collective toleration for these policies, making it seem like the right thing to do. Much like how a child’s upbringing, the American people learn by example and from directly from their environment. Being shown and taught that slavery enacted a credence that much like the analogy of child rearing, will actually be passed down from generation to generation. This upcoming section will aim to take a deeper look into the specific treatment and conditions that African Americans had to endure as a result of the environmental changes previously outlined in this blog.

Moral Priorities: ‘If we free slaves, who will pick cotton in the fields?’ – David McElroy

Living in a World of Hell

When one thinks about slavery, one of the first things that comes to mind is whipping. Whipping was a tactic used in order to curb certain behaviors perpetrated by slaves. If they were not working to full capacity, slaves were taken to the whipping post and given lashes. Lacerations and gashes covered the backs of these slaves as they would bleed. These strikingly noticeable wounds would serve as warnings to the other slaves on the plantation. In addition to whipping, some ancillary punishments from slave owners consisted of shackling, starvation, solitary confinement, and even torture. These methods of punishment were both cruel and inhumane. This picture below is one of the most famous representations of the severity of whipping.

This famous photograph is known as the “Scourged Back”

Aside from the looming possibility of torture, daily conditions for these slaves made their world a living hell. Normally the work day consisted of working from sunrise to sunset, with limited food and limited breaks. Back breaking labor accompanied with a hot and muggy climate brought the comparison of Hell even closer to reality. The Narrative of Frederick Douglass provides a first hand account of the daily life experienced by slaves during the 1800’s. After the long hours of laboring in the fields, the slaves struggled to find time to sleep. Douglass wrote in his narrative that: “Very many of their sleeping hours are consumed in preparing for the field the coming day; and when this is done, old and young, male and female, married and single, drop down side by side, on one common bed, the cold, damp floor, each covering himself or herself with their miserable blankets; and here they sleep till they are summoned to the field by the driver’s horn.” These conditions are not humane by any stretch of the imagination. Slaves had to deal with abusive environments without any free will. This environment was created as a result of political, environmental, and societal factors that created a world in which a group of people were enslaved as a result of the color of their skin. Luckily we live in a world today where no such thing exists, however, we should take a look at the environmental history in order to learn from our previous generations.

 

References:

  • McElroy, David. Moral Priorities: ‘If we free slaves, who will pick cotton in the fields?’. Blog. David McElroy. Accessed November 16th, 2017.
  • Goodyear III, Frank H. The Scourged Back: How Runaway Slave and Soldier Private Gordon Changed History. Article. America’s Black Holocaust Museum. Accessed November 16th, 2017.
  • Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Book. Library of UNC. Accessed November 16th, 2017.

How the Environment Effects Working Conditions

Industrial Revolution Working Conditions

This blog aims to take a look at different working conditions through different time periods. These harsh conditions stem from a changed environment that created a wide range of predicaments for many different workers. Taking a deep dive into various working conditions provides deeper insight into our history of the environment and how we can learn from it. This blog in particular, will take a deeper look into working conditions as they pertain to the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. This is an important topic to look into because the changing environment directly impacted a specific group of people, mainly those working in these factories. By learning about such a topic we can gain a deeper understanding of our ever-changing environment and how to ensure that we alter it in a way that does not negatively impact an entire enclave of individuals.

Labor conditions during the Industrial Revolution were absolutely terrible. The technological advancements and economic boom required an uptick in workers in order to keep up with market’s demand. With such high demand, companies were resorting to putting children in the workforce. With so many workers readily available to work, the hourly rate was set extremely low. These low rates were  a direct result of the insatiable need for profits by factory owners. Relying solely on profit resulted in corner cutting in all facets of the workplace. Along with the slashing of wages, child labor was also implemented as well as a lack of maintenance in the work environment. This created horrendous working conditions for laborers.

Working in factories created a wide gamut of complications for the laborers; physically, mentally, and even emotionally.  Workers faced long and grueling hours working in factories, predominantly textiles, and even in the mines. One of the biggest issues with working in textiles is that working alongside such heavy equipment poses a higher chance of injury for children. Younger boys were used in the coal mines since their smaller bodies could easily maneuver through the shafts. The biggest issue with working in the coal mines is the fear of coal dust. The inhalation of these fine black particles can result in black lung which can have serious if not fatal health implications.

“Child Mascot of Coal Miners for Wilkes‐Barre Coal”

Aside from the physical ailments suffered daily by workers during the Industrial Revolution, their mental health was also at risk. Working more than 60 hour weeks for children can have lasting mental impacts. The continual wearing down of these poor children created an increased chance for user error while on the job. In addition to sleep deprivation, the dimly lit workshops and coal mines also wore down laborers. Health conditions in the workplace were an area of concern in terms of the well being of workers as the years progressed. Child laws were eventually put in place in order to resolve the moral dilemma of child labor. Working conditions were still of concern even after children were taken out of the workforce.

“Destitute Children Picking up Coal from Waste Piles before Winter”

In order to broaden our scope of the health conditions faced by laborers, their living conditions must also be taken into account. As a result of the massive influx of workers, the cities began to become overcrowded. Workers resided in low income housing, that was overwhelmed with disease due to terrible sanitation conditions. These poor housing developments became breeding grounds for bacteria and only worsened the living conditions of the unfortunate inhabitants. Animals such as rats, flies, cockroaches, and even bed bugs thrived in such disgusting landscapes. It would not be for another half century before the pest outbreak would start to be adequately alleviated.

The level of danger that laborers dealt with on a day to day basis is unimaginable, especially for adolescents working in the factories. One case in particular shows the severity of these working conditions. “There are several dangers connected with this work when children do it. On every hand, one can see little tots toting boxes or pans full of beans, berries or tomatoes, and it is self-evident that the work is too hard.” The letter goes onto say “Then there are machines which no young persons should be working around. Unguarded belts, wheels, cogs, and the like are a menace to careless children.” (Child Labor in the Canning Industry of Maryland). This letter is a first hand account of child labor in the canning industry in Maryland. This brings to light just how terrible laborers had it during this time.

In conclusion, the environment that was created as a result of the Industrial Revolution created hazardous working conditions for factory workers. This environment was brought about from the need to maximize profit for big business while also cutting corners in order to sustain this profit. Children were the main group that was affected by these harsh working conditions and they felt the brute force of this changing environment.

Sources:

1. “History Times: The Industrial Revolution.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Accessed November 2, 2017.

2. “American Industrial Revolution.” Syracuse University Libraries. Accessed November 2, 2017.

3. Hine, Lewis. Child Labor in the Canning Industry of Maryland. Letter. Library of Congress. Accessed November 2, 2017.