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Sinclair describes the plight of the immigrant working class in Packingtown as that of wage slavery. Sinclair writes that the immigrant population was "dependent for its opportunities of life upon the whim of men every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers." Immigrants had no real ability to break out of the economic cycles that kept them figuratively chained to their jobs.
Unscrupulous realtors, bankers, employers.... preyed upon these recent immigrants. They took advantage of their desperate circumstances and naiveté. Realtors, for example, sold them houses that for inflated prices that would not even are in their names.
This cycle of poverty and slavery was perpetrated by the capitalist owners of the packing plants and the corrupt politicians of local government. These capitalists would purposefully keep wages low and keep the people in poverty. Those without jobs would then be desperate for any work, and because the immigrant populations kept growing, the demand for work kept wages even lower. On the other side, politicians and local businessmen conspired to take the wages away from these immigrants through scams and poor quality products. An immigrant was thus a slave to the economic conditions that he could not control.