A picture by Lewis Hine depicting child labor.
For hundreds of years, the topic of having fair and safe conditions for workers has been disputed endlessly by workers, unions, employers, organizations, government officials, and many others. This is an issue that will most likely never be resolved because of how many different aspects are included and because workers and employers will always have a conflict of interests. Issues that are argued about every day include fair wages and hours, fair treatment, safe and sanitary conditions for workers, and many rights for workers including worker's comp and the right to unionize. Through organizations and unions, workers can have a voice and can stand up for their rights, but many companies go so far as to ban unions, leaving many employees helpless. Some of the most infamously oppressive employers include those of fast food companies and other related food packing and processing companies that keep many workers struggling everyday, without the right to unionize.
Fast food nation
Fast Food nation, by Eric Schlosser.
In the book, Fast Food Nation, the author Eric Schlosser did years of research and behind the scenes studying on just about everything that goes into today's multi-billion dollar industry of fast food. Schlosser spends a lot of time talking about the working conditions for employees of fast food companies, as well as the conditions for workers in the plants and factories that supply for these fast food giants. In the chapter entitled, "Behind the Counter," Schlosser follows the lives of a few workers in the industry, all of which are in their teens or adolescence. In this section, Schlosser does an excellent job describing the way young workers are treated in their jobs and how they are viewed as inexperienced and dispensable. He also gives the readers a look-in on how things are in fast food restaurants and how easy it is to make the food because of the high-tech machines that are available in these restaurants that make things more like a factory or assembly line then an actual restaurant. These machines make it possible for fast food companies to hire inexperienced workers that are willing to work for minimum wage, so the fast food giants can walk out with even more money. Another aspect that Eric Schlosser focuses on in Fast Food Nation, is the working conditions in meatpacking plants and factories. During this part of the book, Eric gives the reader a behind the scenes look at what goes on in meatpacking plants. He uncovers the truth about how many injuries actually occur in these plants and how unsanitary they actually are. A problem that both employees in fast food restaurants and in meatpacking plants often run into is that it is nearly impossible to fight for rights as a worker because a large majority of these huge companies ban unions, and are too powerful for any workers to make any significant change for their benefit. Through these and other aspects of the fast food industry, Schlosser does a very good job conveying his point that fast food companies have a lot of corruption, and care much more about how much money they make, than whether or not their workers are happy and safe.
A factory with female workers in the 1800s.
The topic of working conditions was an especially big deal from 1880-1920. During this time, America experienced a boom in immigration, especially from Europe. These immigrants came here in search for the "American Dream," which for many of them, meant finding a good, well paying job that can support their family, and not having to worry about an oppressive government, or bad economy. However, what many of these immigrants experienced was far from what they had hoped. A large majority of European immigrants during the mid and late 1800s ended up working in meatpacking plants where conditions were extremely unsafe and unsanitary and injuries happened at an hourly rate. Workers at these and other factories that produced goods had almost no rights and were taken advantage of completely by the companies. In addition, children were often forced to work, which put them through danger and hardship as well. A reform began, however, as awareness of the situation grew. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle was a big stepping stone, as it uncovered living and working conditions that most people had never even imagined before. After The Jungle, many more people tried to raise awareness. Lewis Hine, a photographer and sociologist, used photography to capture some of the hardships of immigrant workers, especially children, and helped lead to a reform in child labor laws. With all of these reforms coming, a new era began as well around 1900, called the Progressive Era. With the Progressive Era came new regulations concerning many aspects of safety and rights for workers, and new laws keeping large businesses under control. With these new standards came a great improvement in working conditions in America, and poverty began to decrease.
Check it out!
This video is a compilation of photographs by Lewis Hine during the 1800s depicting life for child workers. These among many others were used to raise awareness for bad conditions for immigrants, and ended up helping spark a reform in child labor laws.
In this clever political cartoon, the meatpacking industry is criticized. The author depicts the meatpacking companies as oppressive and unfair, by basically saying the workers are treated no better than the slaughtered animals.
Click the above picture for a link to Fastfoodforward.org, a website created by fast food workers in New York City looking for better working conditions, higher pay, and more rights as workers. Sign the petition!
Click here for a very interesting article by Huffington Post about workers such as farmers that are at the mercy of their employers and are afraid to demand safer conditions and more health benefits in fear of unemployment.
Here is a quick recent news cast about workers striking outside a McDonald's in New York City for higher wages. Currently they do not make enough money to support themselves, even though they have a full time job with McDonald's.
Click here for a good audio recording of an explanation on how Upton Sinclair's The Jungle helped lead to a major reform in working conditions around America, especially in the meatpacking industry.
In the last century, working conditions in America have changed drastically. During the late 1800s, working conditions were unbearable for many immigrant workers, including children. Immigrant meatpacking workers in Chicago would constantly be injured, abused or sometimes even killed on the job, and would be replaced the very next day, almost like farm animals. However, many factors contributed to the end of the Industrial Era and the beginning of the Progressive Era, where reforms began happening left and right to try to put an end to bad working conditions for everyone in the country. Child labor laws were put in place, a minimum wage law was added, and regulations on safety and sanitation were put into effect, all of which changed the way workers are treated for the better. After a hundred years, we have the working conditions of today. Now, there are still many problems with working conditions in America, such as low wages, unfair treatment, few benefits, and sub-standard sanitation. However, most, if not all of these problems are negotiable between the workers with their unions and the employers themselves. Modern-day unions allow workers to get together and fight together for what they want, and they help the workers get what they want from their employers. In the end, in most situations, the workers and employers come to some sort of agreement where they settle in the middle. However, in industries such as fast food and meatpacking that don't allow unions, workers still struggle getting what they want and what they feel they deserve from their employers. In most cases, these employees are still young and have their whole life and other jobs ahead of them, but in some situations, workers have to try to live off the money they make from low paying jobs, which is still a problem, but many workers are trying to make change. Overall, working conditions have improved greatly over the last century, and as long as there are organizations and unions fighting for it, conditions will only continue to improve for workers. Though it would be hard for everyone to be completely happy, steps are constantly being made to improve jobs and life for all workers in America.
Page by Austin Batistoni.