The Jungle

How and why does jurgis' attitude change towards his job? How does he now perceive unions?

Chapter 8

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Jurgis’s work on the killing beds has also moved to a grinding pace. Often, cattle do not start coming down the chutes until ten or eleven in the morning. Sometimes they do not come until one or two o’clock in the afternoon. Because it is the rule that all cattle bought must be slaughtered on the same day, it often means that the workers are forced to stay at the factory until midnight or one in the morning to finish the work. The worst part is that men are paid only for the work that they do. Therefore, if a man is standing around on the cold killing-floor, waiting for the cattle buyers to send cattle to be slaughtered, that man does not earn any money. Likewise, men do not get paid if they do not work a full hour. At the end of the day, the floor bosses often try and work the men for fifty minutes, just under an hour. This means the men do not get paid for that work. There is great tension between the workers and the floor bosses because of these tactics.

Jurgis now understands the bitterness that the other workers have for the factories. When he is approached again by union representatives, he accepts their offer “in a far different spirit.” In the unions, Jurgis now has “the first inkling of a meaning in the phrase ‘a free country.’” Every member of his family soon has union cards. Marija is especially vocal. She makes an impassioned speech at a union meeting, though it is all in Lithuanian so no one understands her. Jurgis attends every union meeting. He meets several strange characters there, including Tommy Finnegan, a small Irishman with bad teeth who corners him with crazy stories of “higher intelligences” and spirits. Jurgis becomes a strong advocate of the unions. He makes it his mission to try to sign up all the Lithuanian community to the union cause. With the Lithuanians he will “labor and wrestle in prayer, trying to show them the right,” though many are not willing to accept his message.