Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Century After "The Jungle," Meatpacking Workers' Wages Again In Decline

Today marks the 100th anniversary of muckraker Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle, which took a harrowing look at the hideous conditions faced by meatpackers a century ago.

While conditions for workers in the industry improved over the decades, peaking in the 1950s and 1960s, it's clear that in Bush's America, the work remains dangerous and pay is declining.

To read The Jungle online for free, go here.

Go here for more on the state of today's meatpacking industry:

In the new meatpacking capitals, historian Roger Horowitz says, paychecks have been shrinking. In 2004, the average annual wage for a worker in a slaughtering plant was about $25,000 — compared with $34,000 for manufacturing, according to federal figures.

It wasn't always that way.

The workers had their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, when the union flexed its muscle and helped push up wages, turning meatpacking into a stable, middle-class job.

"For blue-collar people without much education, packinghouse workers were able to have second homes, send their kids to college so they don't have to do (the same job)," Horowitz says. "It became the American success story."

It didn't last.

In the late 1970s into the 1980s, big changes came. A new tough breed of competitors, mostly nonunion, led by Iowa Beef Processors — now part of Tyson Foods — emerged. Old-line companies went bankrupt. The master contract, one that covered several plants with a standard wage, vanished.

Meatpacking wages that were 15 percent above the average manufacturing salary in 1960 dropped to 20 percent below by 1990, says Don Stull, a University of Kansas anthropology professor and industry expert.

Go here for more.


Anonymous said...

I always find it ironic that you have all these activists who spend all their time complaining about working conditions in other countries, when in fact there are millions of people working in low-paying, dangerous sweatshop type jobs right here in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Average, real wages in general have been in decline in the U.S. now since around 1980. This also marks a period in which labor unions have lost most of their clout in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

In some ways, things are worse today than they were in the days of "The Jungle." The news media back then, for one thing, was more lively---compared to today's bland corporate news media, which spends all its time peddling its junk food "news" stories.