In Thomas Paine’s 1791 book Rights of Man, he paints an idyllic, almost naive sense of peace and cordiality throughout America. However, by the time one century has passed, corruption and social castes have inevitably settled over the country, ultimately disproving almost everything Paine had lauded America for. This is evidenced by Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle, and the Eric Schlosser’s 2003 book, Fast Food Nation. The 21st century has done nothing to support Paine’s praises of America.
Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly called OSHA, has kept at its goal, since its inception, to bring to light the hazards and trials found in the meat packing plants, the plants have kept at shutting out OSHA and keeping the public from finding out what goes on inside. Undoubtedly, the plants lie and underreport in the logs they are required to turn in to OSHA on a yearly basis. Illegal immigrants working in the meatpacking industry are not entitled to receive minimum wage. Ultimately, they end up working for next to nothing with their chances of escaping of the high-risk jobs unscathed being just as low.
They also do not qualify for medical aid because in order to get help from hospitals, you must prove that you are a citizen, or at least legally living the in the U. S. , neither of which an illegal immigrant can do. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the rushing of the meatpackers reached such extremes that by the end of one year, “one out of every two of the 2,500 workers there had serious job-related medical problems. The first point Paine commends America on is that “…the poor are not oppressed, and the rich are not privileged” (Paine 6-7).
However, in Fast Food Nation, the poor are so oppressed, they are afraid to ask for worker’s compensation after suffering injuries because they already know that the chances of getting any money from the big businesses are slim to none. In addition, the rich, privileged bosses who own the companies not only ignore the option of bettering the lives of the poor who they have employed, but even hire more illegal immigrants, who are willing to work any job for any wage. Furthermore, illegal immigrants are not only hired because they increase the salaries of those already rich, but they are easier to oppress.
Their bosses play off their workers’ illegal status in the United States and due to their fear of being deported, they effectively keep quiet about all the problems they face in their jobs. In Reagan’s presidency, The government “greatly reduced the enforcement of health and safety laws during the same years the meat plants’ line speeds increased and illegal immigrants replaced skilled workers” (Schlosser 3). With the reduction of OSHA’s influence, America’s meat packing plants were able to further repress those working for them.
With the reduction of OSHA’s influence, America’s meat packing plant workers had nobody left to stand by their side. They were effectively left to fend for themselves against their money-hungry bosses who were not at all interested in helping their employees. Finally, Paine extols America for having “nothing to render [the people of America] wretched, there is nothing to engender riots and tumults” (Paine 8-9). By the 1900’s big businesses worked their employees so hard for so little in return, the workers formed unions and united to go on strike.
This is depicted in The Jungle when Jurgis not only joins a union, but also initially plans to go on strike with the unions before Scully commands him to “stick by his job because the strike will be over in a few days and the men will be beaten” (Sinclair 325). Scully, who runs a good majority of Packingtown will not tolerate Jurgis going on strike because the strike will not only hurt the business since the scabs can’t work as efficiently as the former workers, but if the strike is successful, the workers will get better pay and shorter hours, both of which would reduce the profits of Scully.
Everything Mike Scully, the shadow leader of Packingtown, stands for and supports is a cause to engender riots and tumults for the working men living in poverty in his own city. Although in the first stages of America’s conception the country may have portrayed an ideal state, it was quickly corrupted through industry and capitalism. This is shown by Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.