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The Jungle Upton Sinclair

Chapter 26

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The "Union Stockyards" were never a pleasant place; but now they were not only a collection of slaughterhouses, but also the camping place of an army of fifteen or twenty thousand human beasts. All day long the blazing midsummer sun beat down upon that square mile of abominations: upon tens of thousands of cattle crowded into pens whose wooden floors stank and steamed contagion; upon bare, blistering, cinder-strewn railroad tracks, and huge blocks of dingy meat factories, whose labyrinthine passages defied a breath of fresh air to penetrate them; and there were not merely rivers of hot blood, and car-loads of moist flesh, and rendering vats and soap caldrons, glue factories and fertilizer tanks, that smelt like the craters of hell--there were also tons of garbage festering in the sun, and the greasy laundry of the workers hung out to dry, and dining rooms littered with food and black with flies, and toilet rooms that were open sewers.

And then at night, when this throng poured out into the streets to play--fighting, gambling, drinking and carousing, cursing and screaming, laughing and singing, playing banjoes and dancing! They were worked in the yards all the seven days of the week, and they had their prize fights and crap games on Sunday nights as well; but then around the corner one might see a bonfire blazing, and an old, gray-headed Negress, lean and witchlike, her hair flying wild and her eyes blazing, yelling and chanting of the fires of perdition and the blood of the "Lamb," while men and women lay down upon the ground and moaned and screamed in convulsions of terror and remorse.

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Such were the stockyards during the strike; while the unions watched in sullen despair, and the country clamored like a greedy child for its food, and the packers went grimly on their way. Each day they added new workers, and could be more stern with the old ones--could put them on piecework, and dismiss them if they did not keep up the pace. Jurgis was now one of their agents in this process; and he could feel the change day by day, like the slow starting up of a huge machine. He had gotten used to being a master of men; and because of the stifling heat and the stench, and the fact that he was a "scab" and knew it and despised himself. He was drinking, and developing a villainous temper, and he stormed and cursed and raged at his men, and drove them until they were ready to drop with exhaustion.

Then one day late in August, a superintendent ran into the place and shouted to Jurgis and his gang to drop their work and come. They followed him outside, to where, in the midst of a dense throng, they saw several two-horse trucks waiting, and three patrol-wagon loads of police. Jurgis and his men sprang upon one of the trucks, and the driver yelled to the crowd, and they went thundering away at a gallop. Some steers had just escaped from the yards, and the strikers had got hold of them, and there would be the chance of a scrap!

They went out at the Ashland Avenue gate, and over in the direction of the "dump." There was a yell as soon as they were sighted, men and women rushing out of houses and saloons as they galloped by. There were eight or ten policemen on the truck, however, and there was no disturbance until they came to a place where the street was blocked with a dense throng. Those on the flying truck yelled a warning and the crowd scattered pell-mell, disclosing one of the steers lying in its blood. There were a good many cattle butchers about just then, with nothing much to do, and hungry children at home; and so some one had knocked out the steer--and as a first-class man can kill and dress one in a couple of minutes, there were a good many steaks and roasts already missing. This called for punishment, of course; and the police proceeded to administer it by leaping from the truck and cracking at every head they saw. There were yells of rage and pain, and the terrified people fled into houses and stores, or scattered helter-skelter down the street. Jurgis and his gang joined in the sport, every man singling out his victim, and striving to bring him to bay and punch him. If he fled into a house his pursuer would smash in the flimsy door and follow him up the stairs, hitting every one who came within reach, and finally dragging his squealing quarry from under a bed or a pile of old clothes in a closet.

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The Jungle
Upton Sinclair

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