The horrendous conditions in meatpacking plants

Crusading journalist, novelist, and one-time socialist candidate for governor of California in 1934, Upton Sinclair wrote a novel The Jungle in 1906 that lifted the veil off the horrendous working and living conditions of the workers in the Chicago meatpacking industry in Chicago. Upton’s novel focused on the lives of the recent immigrants from Eastern Europe who took these jobs because they had little choice. He had gone undercover as a worker in the stockyards to experience first-hand the conditions. His novel caused an outcry and led to reforms.

I had not realized that it was Sinclair who wrote that well known aphorism, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”. Sinclair could be considered as one of the originators of the of the movement we now know as democratic socialism.

He also said:

“The American People will take Socialism, but they won’t take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to ‘End Poverty in California’ I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them.”

Bernie Sanders ran as a democratic socialist and got elected multiple times to seats in the House of Representatives and the US Senate and got a lot of votes in his presidential runs, so there has been some change since Sinclair’s times in the willingness of the American public to see through the Big Lie and consider socialism as a viable option.

In the latest edition of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver similarly exposes the plight of workers in the factory farms that now produce almost all the meat products in the US. Their conditions are also awful and once again, the workers are migrants (this time from central and south America) who have little choice of employment and no recourse when the companies abuse them, which is pretty much all the time.

Thanks to the donations they shower on legislators and the decimation of the Occupational and Safety and Health Administration, these companies get little or no oversight from the government and the punishments levied on them for their inhumane treatment of workers, when they are levied at all, are pitifully small. Even before the pandemic, the workers had to process chickens and other meats at high speeds that resulted in injuries. Now in addition, because they are forced to work in cramped conditions, the rates of covid infections and deaths among the workers are high.

We in the US have to realize that the drive for cheap food for consumers and high profits for factory farm owners comes with a very high cost in terms of human suffering.


  1. Kulgur says

    “His novel caused an outcry and led to reforms.”

    Yes, but his eternal regret was that it didn’t lead to the RIGHT reforms. He wrote the book to highlight how terrible the worker conditions were, but the public were more concerned with the terrible stuff that went into their food (leading to stricter food regulations).

    “Sinclair was dismayed, however, when the public reacted with outrage about the filthy and falsely labeled meat but ignored the plight of the workers. Meat sales dropped sharply. “I aimed at the public’s heart,” he said, “and by accident I hit it in the stomach.””

  2. brucegee1962 says

    I don’t know if Bernie could have won the nomination outright if he hadn’t affixed the socialist label to himself, but I hardly think it would have hurt him if he hadn’t.

  3. says

    When every Democratic candidate is a “radical socialist”, the label is bound to lose its power and I think we’re seeing that more now. I suspect this is why “communist” appears to being used more often.

  4. mnb0 says

    “Sinclair could be considered as one of the originators of the movement we now know as democratic socialism.”
    Yeah, because the Gotha Program (1875) and Eduard Bernstein (born 28 years before Sinclair) were not American and we all know that pseudoprogressives also hold America First.

  5. bmiller says


    I love the name calling and purity policing dominant now in the “Left” It makes leftism so much more effective and likely to attract people,

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