FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle: 100 Years Later

by CONTRATIEMPO

In 1906, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was published. Almost immediately, it had an impact on U.S. society that no other book since Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852, had.

A few short months after its publication, The Jungle arrived in the halls of power in Washington and at the dinner tables of the middle class. In the history of the U.S., few books have achieved the social and political impact that The Jungle had.

In the novel, the protagonist Jurgis arrives in Chicago, works in the Packington district and lives in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. At the dawn of the 20th century, and before Jurgis departs for the U.S., he has the choice of emigrating to Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and other countries in the Americas where there is strong demand for labor.

He could just as well have emigrated to Buenos Aires, working in the meat-processing plants in the El Matador district and lived in a rooming house in a working- class suburb. What would have connected the Jurgis living in El Matador to the Jurgis of Packingtown is that both would have worked for Swift-Armour, the meat packer headquartered in Chicago.

Let’s use the story to envision this character’s life. The Chicago Jurgis comes into contact with workers of other nationalities, including Mexican workers and Blacks who have migrated from the South. The Buenos Aires Jurgis would also have met workers of other nationalities, as well as cowboys (gauchos) who had moved to the city from the plains.

Both characters would have found themselves involved in the workers’ movements of 1919 that shook both Chicago and Buenos Aires. It’s very likely that they would have joined the massive campaigns for unionization that took place during the 1930s and 1940s, decades in which unions in both countries attained a certain level of power.

Thanks to that power, the workers of both countries enjoyed 25 years of prosperity and social welfare (1945-1970) before entering a long period of unemployment, falling salaries and decaying social services. It’s very possible that both would have suffered repression against the workers’ movement and rifts with their communities and families. In that way, they would have lost all that they had gained.

This most recent period has lasted to the present day. There’s no sign that it is nearing an end. What has changed is that today Jurgis doesn’t come from Europe, but rather from Latin America. His only destination is the United States, and his name isn’t Jurgis, but José and Maria (Joseph and Mary).

José and Maria belong to a swelling army: “Globalization’s losers.” And they are losers by virtue of the legal status that today’s economic model assigns them: Neoliberalism, the economic system that allows the market to select the winners and losers.

In their attempt to survive in the jungle of neoliberalism, José and Maria work under conditions that are very similar to those that Sinclair described exactly a century ago.

In this New Jungle, José and Maria understand clearly that they are needed to work, but at the same time, they are rejected as neighbors. Moreover, they have discovered that politicians, journalists and nationalist groups like the Minutemen use them to sow fear in the rest of U.S. society, accusing them of “tropicalizing the United States.”

However, José and Maria begin to realize what their labor represents and what it would mean if this society had “a day without Latinos.”

Throughout the month of March, immigrants took to the streets: a half million in Los Angeles, 300,000 in Chicago, 40,000 in Milwaukee and New Mexico staged the biggest mobilizations ever.

Although the nationalists attacked immigration and immigrants, above all through the English-language media, José and Maria acted with great dignity during all the marches. They didn’t stay quiet and now they’re part of a new social movement that has spread rapidly around the country. It began last July when more than 50,000 marched in the Back of the Yards, the neighborhood Sinclair made famous 100 years ago.

A century after the publication of The Jungle, it would seem that history is repeating itself. It’s yet another time when the poorest and most oppressed offer a way out of the jungle: demanding dignity, equality and justice for all.

CONTRATIEMPO, A monthly Spanish-language review of political and cultural issues published in Chicago, printed this editorial in its April issue, noting the 100th anniversary of Upton Sinclair’s classic novel exposing the meatpacking industry, The Jungle.

Translation by Lance Selfa.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail