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The Jungle by Uptown Sinclair was published in the year 1906. In the book, Sinclair depicts an immigrant family that had just emigrated from Lithuania to America in pursuit of better living conditions.
Before they departed their native country, they believed that many opportunities awaited them in the USA. As such, they expected their problems to end once they had relocated to Chicago. In the book, the author illustrates the experiences the family had in Chicago.
All through the book, the author illustrates how the family and other ordinary employees had to sustain the inhumanity and brutality from their employers to make their ends meet.
When Jurgis’ family arrived in the USA, they thought their tribulations had ended. After the family arrived in Chicago, they were surprised to note that the country did not offer many opportunities for immigrants and normal employees.
Within their first year, four out of the twelve family members had gotten informal employment at the meat packing plant. Through their wages, the four family members were able to secure a house enough for the 12 family members.
At the same time, the family realized that the cost of living in Chicago was a lot higher than they had expected. As a result, their wages were spent on satisfying the family’s basic needs.
On their first winter, the family was confronted by several social and economic challenges. As usual, winters in Chicago are challenging. During that winter, Jurgis Grandfather developed some lung complications and died (Sinclair, 2001).
At the meat packing plant, the operations were slowed down, and some of its units were closed down. As a result, several employees including the newly employed family members were laid off.
When summer arrived, everything returned to normalcy. As such, those who had been laid off were able to return to their jobs. Within a short period, everyone was optimistic. However, things changed when Jurgis was injured in his place of work.
While Jurgis was recuperating, he realized that Ona’s behaviors had changed (Sinclair, 2001). He noted that she was pregnant.
Similarly, he noted that she seemed unhappy, often came home late at night, and at times missed to arrive home from her place of work. He later found out that her wife was lying to him. Through his investigations, he learned that her wife’s employer had raped her.
Equally, he learned that her wife’s employer had blackmailed her into prostitution. After that, Jurgis went to her wife’s place of work and assaulted her boss. Later, Jurgis was arrested and charged for assault.
After his sentence, some of the family members lose their jobs because of poor weather. Left with no source of income, the family was later evicted from their house and had to live in a tenement house.
When Jurgis was released from prison, Jurgis found his family in a mess. His wife was extremely sick and eventually succumbed to the disease. It was not long after her death that their child drowned. Faced with these tragedies, Jurgis turned to odd jobs to sustain his drunkenness.
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Later, he turned into a criminal and together with his friend started smuggling people from Mexico. Later on, Jurgis met with her wife’s former boss and assaulted him for the second time.
When he learned that he was going to be jailed for his acts, he used all his saving on post pail to dodge arrest. Later, he had to escape from the city with no money in his bank account.
Jurgis escaped to Packingtown; there he turned into a socialist (Sinclair, 2001). In the town, greedy employers had oppressed workers. As a result, they were planning to elect a socialist leader who had promised to improve their situation. Later, a socialist employed him.
From there he got a chance to hang out with members of the Socialist Party. Through the movement, he had hopes that the future of American workers would improve.
My insights into current unions
Compared to the unions of the mid 20th century, current unions are less aggressive. Over time, improved labor conditions and laws have ensured that employees respect laborers’ rights.
Because of this, there are little conflicts between employers and the employees as it was during the early 20th century. In this regard, I believe that fair rights enjoyed by modern laborers should be accredited to the past unions rather than the present unions.
As such, unlike the present unions, the past unions engaged in riskier protests against their employers. During the protests, some of the members lost their lives while others lost their jobs.
As illustrated in the book, trade unions emerged at the end of the 19th century. Trade unions were formed to act as an intermediary between the employers and the employees. As such, these unions were formed to champion for laborers’ right.
Because of their protests, several labor reforms have been initiated. Before the 1970s, trade unions were at their peak.
For instance, in the UK the number of trade union members was over 13 million before the 1970s. However, starting from the 1980s onwards the number of union members decreased tremendously to 5 million.
Over time, the structures, and functions of unions have changed. Before World War II, it is estimated that there were over 1300 unions.
However, the number reduced to approximately 700 after the war. At present, the number is estimated to be at 226. Currently, the decrease in the number of union members is attributed to some factors.
Their decline is attributed to the mergers and takeovers of some organizations that employed the employees the unions represented. In my opinion, unions have become less popular because some of their tasks have been taken over by committees formed in some organizations.
Currently, organizations that uphold the rights of their laborers have formed some committee to look into the grievances of their employees. Thus, through these committees employees’ grievances can be passed over to the employers.
In such organizations, employees do no find the need to join trade unions. Similarly, through regular meetings, team meetings, and encouraging communication between their employees and employers some organizations have been able to bypass the functions of unions.
This has been achieved as the management team, and the workers communicate freely enabling employees to forward their issues.
Although the current unions’ significance has reduced tremendously, they should ensure that the employers uphold the current labor rights (Fossum, 1979).
These unions are supposed to mobilize their members and collude with similar organizations to ensure that issues concerning migrant rights, trade policies, and workers’ wages are solved.
Similarly, current unions should fight the emerging anti-union programs, which are now coming into play under the support of greedy employers (Fossum, 1979).
In general, I believe that the current unions should work tirelessly just like their predecessors to ensure that laborers welfare is continuously improved as the economy improves.
Personal opinions regarding laborers then and now
As illustrated in the book, the past laborers underwent through many sufferings compared with the current laborers. As such, past laborers suffered trying to make ends meet at the hands of brutal industrialists. Past industrialists focused on their profits rather than on their employees.
As a result, laborers had to survive on little wages, which was a time insufficient to meet their family expenses. As such, in the past, there was no work compensation for injured employees.
For instance, when Jurgis was injured while under duty he had to take a leave for two months to recuperate without salary.
Since Jurgis was the family’s top earner, his family suffered a lot during his recuperation time. To ensure that the family’s expenses were met, the family had to send out two other children to look for employment.
However, at the present laborers who are injured in the line of duty are often compensated through insurance schemes. Equally, injured workers are given time to recuperate as they earn their usual income.
As compared to the current workers, an individual might be tempted to believe that the past workers were desperate and that they were ignorant. In my opinion, I believe these workers were forced by conditions beyond their control to accept the mistreatments from their employers.
Notably, I believe that the increase of immigrants in the USA in the late 19th century and early 20th century worsen the laborers’ condition. With abundant labor force from the semi-skilled immigrants and the absence of effective unions, the employers exploited their laborers.
Also, I believe that it was unfair for the past laborers to engage their children in child labor. Through child labor, children were overworked and paid fewer wages.
Equally, I believe that the past laborers were hardworking than the present laborers were. Through their effort, they managed to industrialize America.
During the better part of the 19th century, the USA underwent through a transformation from an agricultural country to a manufacturing country (Fossum, 1979). Because of industrialization, the country needed more laborers.
As a result, numerous immigrants immigrated to the American cities with the hope of finding employment opportunities. As more people moved into the cities, the cities’ population increased tremendously.
To date, some of the industries that emerged because of the past laborers’ hard work employ thousands of employees across the world. In my opinion, the current laborers have achieved little success compared with past laborers.
The current laborers are more enlighten and can never be subjected to the same working conditions as the past laborers. Currently, workers have formed strong unions that safeguard their interests. In this regard, current labors are luckier than their past laborers were.
Although modern laborers do not enjoy ideal working conditions, their working conditions and welfare is far much better than the past laborer’s conditions.
Even though modern laborers’ welfare has improved tremendously, I believe that with better regulations and effective unions their welfare can be improved further.
Fossum, J. A. (1979). Labor relations: development, structure, process. Dallas: Business Publications.
Sinclair, U. (2001). The jungle (8 ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: R. Bentley.