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Jurgis soon becomes a participant of the Beef Strikes. The Beef Strikes were a series of historical strikes that occurred in the first decade of the twentieth century. On July 12, 1904, almost 30,000 packing plant workers left their jobs to strike for better wages and conditions. The packers had not willingness to concede to these demands, and so they instituted a program of bringing poor labor, many of them poverty stricken African Americans from the US South, to the plants. They had higher wages than normal workers did, even though they were unskilled. These tactics proved successful and packing plant workers such as Jurgis returned to their jobs without gaining concessions from the packers.
These scenes in the novel have been criticized as being racist and inaccurate in depicting immigrant and racial strife in the stockyards. Sinclair’s purpose is to show the way in which workers devolve into animals and how the conditions of Packingtown come to mirror the stockyards full of animals. These poor workers, Sinclair suggests, became sacrifices so that the packers might break the strike and, one day, produce larger profits.