August 21, 2010
Pay No Attention to the Worms and Mold
A Packinghouse Worker's Job
Margaret Hawley was 25 years old when she was interviewed in 1939 by Betty Burke for the Federal Writers' Project. Keep in mind that Upton Sinclair's gritty novel, The Jungle, exposing the exploitation and working conditions of stock yard workers, was published in 1906. The result was the Pure Food and Drug Act (now the Food and Drug Administration)and the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. Those two pieces of legislation were supposed to make food safer and conditions better.
I work in Armour's sausage department. They make all different kinds of sausages. Making capicola, that's a hot Italian sausage, lots of spices and garlic in it, well, it has to be skivered. That lets the excess water out of it so that it won't spoil. Well, I do the skivering. I get all wet and greasy and sloppy. Everybody does, working on sausage.
They have sausage that they treat specially so it will have a green, fuzzy mold all over it. I don't know how anybody could want to eat it but it's made specially for Italian stores, so I guess people order it.[see the selection from Armour's, The Business of Being a Housewife at the Chicago History Online Library]
One thing, we're supposed to have trucks that we load the capicola in when it's ready for a different part of the floor, but they never have enough trucks, and we'll have our work tables stacked a mile high with finished work without being able to get rid of it. Then they come around and yell at us because we can't put the work out. It's us girls who lose time and pay, and they act like it's our fault that the company don't furnish the department with enough trucks to keep the place going.
They have the old women hauling on the trucks. The young ones wouldn't do that heavy work, most of them aren't even strong enough to do it if they wanted to, and they sure don't want to.
I worked in there where they put up pressed ham in cans. I packed pressed ham that was full of worms. They know. But I once said something about it to the boss and just got bawled out for not 'minding my own job better' and talking too much. So I shut up. I was glad when they transferred me to sausages again, though. That wormy stuff made me sick through. Sure, it's dirties and wet there where I work now, but there's no worms in the sausage meat. Or if there is, at least I don't have to see them, and then pretend I don't.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940
Chicago Union Stock Yards
"The Jungle" 1914 silent film poster The Chicago Stock Yards on the Eve of the CIO (1936) this film is presumed lost