Undocumented and Essential

Posted on 05/30/2020. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

It is ironic that a significant portion of work considered essential during the covid-19 pandemic is being done by undocumented workers. An example is meat packing plants, where ICE could be having a field day if it weren’t in the national interest to ignore the status of the citizenship in this instance. It is hard dirty work that hardly pays a living wage and is in many ways reminiscent of the Upton Sinclair book, The Jungle, that described nineteenth century packing plant sanitary conditions and worker exploitation.

A 21st Century Packing Plant

Publication of The Jungle caused a national concern about the unsanitary conditions in which meat was being processed. This led to laws that forced meat packing plants to adapt processes that produced meat under more sanitary conditions. However The Jungle had little effect in improving the the social and monetary aspects of packing plant workers.

Upton Sinclair was disappointed that the book he had written to highlight the exploitation of the workers resulted in changes to the unsanitary way meat was being processed, but not changes in worker conditions and compensation. The nation was more concerned about their stomachs than the exploitation of the workers.

The worker’s concerns were not addressed until labor unions gained power in packing plants after a long and contentious struggle with meat processing company management.

Initially the large packing plants were concentrated in large cities with good rail connections where animals could be brought to the packing plants from long distances by rail and the processed meat could be distributed by rail. This concentration became a problem for the meat packing company’s when labor union strength grew during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Despite the meat processing companies best efforts, the unions gained power and won improved working conditions and pay for workers.

By the mid nineteen hundreds packing plant wages supported a middle class life style and packing plants attracted all the workers it needed from the general population. This all began to change in the sixties and seventies. Trucks replaced trains as a means of transporting animals to packing plants and distributing the processed meat. Small off label meat packing plants began popping up in small towns through out the Midwest. They featured new factories and non-union labor. The old line companies like Swift couldn’t compete and moved out of the big cities and into the rural Midwest. That was the end of the unions power, middle class wages and improved working conditions. The packing plants soon ran out of local workers who would work in packing plants for the wages being offered. Fortunately there were a lot of people south of the border who would work in the conditions that existed and for the wages offered similar to those described in The Jungle.

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Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

Posted on 02/09/2016. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

Main Street Review

Author Sinclair Lewis


A first impression of the books use of many three syllable words, some of which must be googled to understand, is that this is not a dime store type novel. The prose suggests an author who has been exposed to literary excellence, probably in a prestigious back east university. That would be an apt description of Sinclair Lewis who had grown up in Sauk Center Minnesota. The novel Main Street, takes place in Gopher Prairie Minnesota which is modeled after Sinclair’s Sauk Center birthplace. Sinclair obviously understood the eccentricities small towns of the upper Midwest in great detail and found it wanting after being exposed to the wider world.

Sinclair’s descriptions of the town of Gopher Prairie in the protagonist Carols voice was, “In all the town not one building save the Ionic bank, not a dozen buildings which suggested that in the fifty years of Gopher Prairie’s existence, the citizens had realized that it was neither desirable or possible to make this, their common home, amusing or attractive.” Sinclair’s opinion of the inhabitants was similar, “Carol discovered that conversation did not exist in Gopher Prairie. Even the young smart set, the hunting squire set, the respectable intellectual set, and the solid financial set, they sat up with gaiety as with a corpse.”   Sinclair’s descriptions looked at the underside of the noble pioneers who wrested the land from its natural state to subject it to their will and to claim it as their own. From Sinclair’s description the result had been the planting of ugly little towns inhabited by intellectually impaired people. That Sinclair Lewis, a Midwestern small town reared boy was the first American to receive the Noble prize for literature belies Sinclair’s theses. However, believe that  gifted small town youths migrate to large population centers is valid. The flotsam remains.

It is interesting that the appearance of Midwestern small towns has, if anything, deteriorated during the approximately hundred years since Main Street was first published. The remaining buildings are a hundred years older and in need of maintenance, many buildings are gone and not replaced. Any new structures are usually built on the outskirts of the towns using prebuilt low cost construction methods that have a forlorn appearance on opening day.

Sinclair Lewis’s described the pettiness of small town intrigues and jealousies. There is no upside to Midwest small towns in Main Street, yet Carol returns to Gopher Prairie, accepts it for what it is and knowing that she will not be able to change it except maybe around the edges.

Having grown up in the Gopher Prairie type environment I found the story interesting for that reason. Beyond that, Sinclair is a skilled writer. His character and place descriptions are exceptional and he brings tension and anticipation to otherwise ordinary events.


Main Street


Alfred Wellnitz Published Book and Short Story Information at:


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