Study Guide

The Jungle Chapter 26

By Upton Sinclair

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Chapter 26

  • Jurgis sticks around Packingtown and keeps his job after the elections.
  • He asks Mrs. Jukniene what has happened to Elzbieta and the rest. Apparently, they have all moved down town.
  • Jurgis starts doing all of the fun things you can do in a city when you have friends and money: he plays pool and cards, he goes to movie theaters, and he dances with the ladies.
  • Meanwhile, there are troubles between the union and the packing plants (as usual).
  • By June, the unions decide to strike across all the big meatpacking centers in the country.
  • So, Jurgis decides to go see Mike Scully about what he should do.
  • Mike Scully asks Jurgis why he can't just stay on at his job.
  • Jurgis is totally taken aback. It has never occurred to him to work as a "scab" – a union word for a person who keeps working even while a labor strike is going on. (For a great article on the history of labor scabs, check this out.)
  • Mike Scully tells Jurgis he can't be useful in the campaign process now anyway – Jurgis is widely known as a Republican, and Mike Scully is a Democrat. It'll be a while before Jurgis can help Mike Scully out again.
  • So Jurgis goes back to the largely empty factory.
  • His boss, "Pat" Murphy, is glad to see Jurgis.
  • In the middle of a strike, suddenly, there is a lot more need for workers than there are workers willing to come in. So Jurgis can demand much higher pay than usual – three bucks a day.
  • Jurgis is having a good time – he's being well-paid and is very comfortable.
  • The one spot of bother comes when he and his buddies try to leave the factory to grab a beer.
  • A bunch of union guys walking the picket line call Jurgis a scab and exchange a few punches with him.
  • The whole fight is over in about two seconds, but the newspapers immediately report, "Violence in the Yards! Strikebreakers Surrounded by Frenzied Mob!" (26.29). This is, of course, ridiculous.
  • (There's a pretty offensive racial description here of what kind of men would keep working during a strike – for more on these passages, check out "Quotes: Foreignness and the 'Other'.")
  • The next morning, "Pat" Murphy calls Jurgis in and asks if he has experience on the killing floors.
  • Jurgis realizes he is about to get a promotion to boss.
  • Jurgis makes sure that he will get to keep his foreman job even after the strike.
  • "Pat" Murphy agrees: the meatpacking plant owners don't want to encourage union members by making them bosses.
  • Being a boss of this temporary labor force is not great: a lot of the workers aren't exactly committed to working hard, and they don't listen to Jurgis's orders.
  • Still, Jurgis doesn't sweat too much over it – if he can't make his men work, he's not going to break his back over it.
  • Life inside the factory is getting pretty grim. There's lots of alcohol available, and plenty of food, but the workforce is disordered and there are hints of violence (and also of swarms of rats) all over the place.
  • Eventually, the unions agree to come back to work after 45 days.
  • Even though the packing companies promise that they will not target union leaders for any kind of punishment, there is still an order from up top that no union leaders should be hired back to their old jobs.
  • This kind of selective hiring totally pisses off the unions.
  • When the unions see that the meatpacking plants are only taking some of their workers and not others, the cattle butchers decide to go on strike again right there.
  • Things are taking a dangerous turn in Packingtown, and being a scab (like Jurgis) is suddenly really not a good position.
  • So the strike continues, and the factories stay under siege.
  • Because scabs can't cross the picket lines for their own safety, they are mostly living in the factories themselves.
  • The packers keep bringing in people they are recruiting from outside of the cities – mostly poor African Americans from the South who have no experience with meatpacking at all.
  • Plenty of criminals take advantage of this sudden influx of new people to start up gambling rings and illegal boxing in the stockyards.
  • So now, the stockyards are not only filled with animals waiting to slaughter.
  • They are also packed full of people sleeping in temporary cots, drinking a great deal, and having sex with the swarm of prostitutes that have come to the yards to make some money.
  • The smell of all of these guys collected in one place – and their dirty laundry, and their awful, awful toilets – is absolutely disgusting.
  • Jurgis comes to hate himself for working against union interests.
  • He becomes bad-tempered and he starts drinking again.
  • One day, the news comes that a couple of cattle have escaped out into the crowd of striking workers.
  • The packers put Jurgis and his crew on a truck so that they can go and fight these workers.
  • See, because the guys outside are all experienced cattle butchers, they quickly manage to knock one of the cattle down.
  • They all have hungry families at home, so they start cutting up the meat for their own use.
  • The police jump into this scene and start using their clubs on every union member they can reach, because this is technically theft.
  • Jurgis and his boys join in the violence.
  • Jurgis and a couple of cops chase a guy into a bar. As the second cop runs after the union guy, Jurgis and the first cop both start helping themselves to drinks inside the bar.
  • And then it gets worse: one of the two cops grabs the Polish woman bartender to hold her back while the second cop goes through her cash register and takes all of her money.
  • Then the three run men run off, and the riot outside dies down.
  • Jurgis gets trashed that night.
  • He finds a woman whom he plans to sleep with.
  • They head into a dark room together.
  • Who should Jurgis find there but Connor, his old nemesis!
  • Jurgis suddenly feels his old rage at Connor welling up again. He leaps on top of Connor.
  • Jurgis starts to pound Connor's head against the floor.
  • Once again, Jurgis bites off a piece of the guy.
  • The cops come and pull Jurgis off after beating him unconscious.
  • Jurgis spends the night at the stockyard police station.
  • The next morning, rather late, Jurgis's old buddy "Bush" Harper comes by.
  • Bail has been set at 500 bucks. "Bush" Harper says he can manage that.
  • When Jurgis tells "Bush" the name of the guy he beat up, though, everything comes crashing down.
  • Connor is Phil Connor – one of Mike Scully's biggest helpers.
  • Mike Scully is out of town, so he can't get Jurgis out of prison before Phil Connor finds out about it.
  • "Bush" Harper can't afford to make Phil Connor angry.
  • "Bush" Harper makes Jurgis this offer: "Bush" can get the bail reduced, and then Jurgis can skip town.
  • Jurgis has three hundred dollars in the bank.
  • "Bush" takes the whole three hundred, pays Jurgis's bail, and Jurgis gets out of jail.
  • Jurgis has about three dollars left to his name.

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