At the turn of the century America was in the face of economic downfall. Laissez Faire Industrialism had been in place and citizens were at the disposal of big business. Poor working conditions and poverty were the norm in a time where Socialism was an irrelevant ideology. Big business was making the government rich. But according to Upton Sinclair and his “Conditions at the Slaughterhouse,” unsafe and repulsive sanitary conditions were at play, putting thousands of carnivorous Americans and factory workers in danger of death, disease and poverty. Although America had expanded to be the most rapidly industrious nation in the world, few agree that it was worth the expense of its populous’ health and well being.
Upton Sinclair was among a swarm of Muckrakers that erupted during American industrialism. He was among many journalists to expose the wrongs of society and propose ways to fix it. But few muckrakers took their stories as deeply as Sinclair. His depiction of the terrible sanitary conditions at one specific meat packing plant in Chicago touched the publics stomachs rather that their hearts. Although he certainly wanted to give the public a view from the inside, public uproar was his among lesser expectation. The details regarding the unsanitary and disgusting conditions in meat packing factories appear to be background details of a much larger picture. Sinclair’s main fight in his “Conditions at the Slaughterhouse” was to bring about the ideology of Socialism and how government needed to step in and take control.
The grotesque ways in which the meat was being processed in these plants also relates to the ways in which workers were being treated as well. People working in these plants were about as valuable to the owners as the individual pigs themselves. Although they were not necessarily slaves, they were often foreigners and unskilled workers who had no choice but to work for low wages under poor living conditions. Most of these people lived in the plants themselves or in small tenant housings nearby. The beaten workers in the plants found it hard to work in such deprivation and to them their only way to continue living was to drink their problems away. For alcohol seemed to be their only form of enjoyment.
Americans of the 19th century were supposedly granted freedoms to live and work to provide a family and live the American dream with prosperity and happiness. Yet there were several things missing in this dream, and that was prosperity, happiness and a supportive government. The government was created to assist and provide for the people of America in times of poverty and despair. Yet thousands of Americans went home each day broken and famished only to pay taxes to a government unwilling to compete with big business. As these laborers flocked to the slaughterhouse every morning they were just as susceptible to harm as the pigs themselves. They were used for the sole reason to generate immense profits with little or no care for their suffering, much like the squealing hogs thrown down the conveyor belts to be “capitalized” upon. Few people ever threatened to pursue going against the packing industries because not only would they risk losing their jobs, but they also feared never being hired anywhere else due to the overpowering unions. People in these jobs knew nothing more than their own trade, so leaving the union would mean unemployment. For the most part employees were unskilled workers with little or no chance of promotion or pay increase. So leaving the plants meant no money and homelessness rather than low money and a residence.
In “Conditions at the Slaughterhouse,” Sinclair shows how despite people’s best efforts, most found themselves leashed to the grinding poverty of the city slums. The evils of capitalism were brought to the surface and hopefully Socialism would take its place. Workers in the slaughterhouses had little or no choice to make changes in their lives when faced by big business. The voices of workers were not often heard in the struggle towards Socialism. Not because they agreed with the ways things were handled or how they were treated, but because they constantly lived in fear of losing their jobs. It took the ideas and intelligence of Sinclair to make the workers voices heard, so people would no longer have to worry about hazardous jobs and even more so, bio-hazardous meat products.