After the elections Jurgis stayed on in Packingtown and kept his job. The agitation to break up the police protection of criminals was continuing, and it seemed to him best to "lay low" for the present. He had nearly three hundred dollars in the bank, and might have considered himself entitled to a vacation; but he had an easy job, and force of habit kept him at it. Besides, Mike Scully, whom he consulted, advised him that something might "turn up" before long.
Jurgis got himself a place in a boardinghouse with some congenial friends. He had already inquired of Aniele, and learned that Elzbieta and her family had gone downtown, and so he gave no further thought to them. He went with a new set, now, young unmarried fellows who were "sporty." Jurgis had long ago cast off his fertilizer clothing, and since going into politics he had donned a linen collar and a greasy red necktie. He had some reason for thinking of his dress, for he was making about eleven dollars a week, and two-thirds of it he might spend upon his pleasures without ever touching his savings.
Sometimes he would ride down-town with a party of friends to the cheap theaters and the music halls and other haunts with which they were familiar. Many of the saloons in Packingtown had pool tables, and some of them bowling alleys, by means of which he could spend his evenings in petty gambling. Also, there were cards and dice. One time Jurgis got into a game on a Saturday night and won prodigiously, and because he was a man of spirit he stayed in with the rest and the game continued until late Sunday afternoon, and by that time he was "out" over twenty dollars. On Saturday nights, also, a number of balls were generally given in Packingtown; each man would bring his "girl" with him, paying half a dollar for a ticket, and several dollars additional for drinks in the course of the festivities, which continued until three or four o'clock in the morning, unless broken up by fighting. During all this time the same man and woman would dance together, half-stupefied with sensuality and drink.
Before long Jurgis discovered what Scully had meant by something "turning up." In May the agreement between the packers and the unions expired, and a new agreement had to be signed. Negotiations were going on, and the yards were full of talk of a strike. The old scale had dealt with the wages of the skilled men only; and of the members of the Meat Workers' Union about two-thirds were unskilled men. In Chicago these latter were receiving, for the most part, eighteen and a half cents an hour, and the unions wished to make this the general wage for the next year. It was not nearly so large a wage as it seemed — in the course of the negotiations the union officers examined time checks to the amount of ten thousand dollars, and they found that the highest wages paid had been fourteen dollars a week, and the lowest two dollars and five cents, and the average of the whole, six dollars and sixty-five cents. And six dollars and sixty-five cents was hardly too much for a man to keep a family on, considering the fact that the price of dressed meat had increased nearly fifty per cent in the last five years, while the price of "beef on the hoof" had decreased as much, it would have seemed that the packers ought to be able to pay it; but the packers were unwilling to pay it — they rejected the union demand, and to show what their purpose was, a week or two after the agreement expired they put down the wages of about a thousand men to sixteen and a half cents, and it was said that old man Jones had vowed he would put them to fifteen before he got through. There were a million and a half of men in the country looking for work, a hundred thousand of them right in Chicago; and were the packers to let the union stewards march into their places and bind them to a contract that would lose them several thousand dollars a day for a year? Not much!
All this was in June; and before long the question was submitted to a referendum in the unions, and the decision was for a strike. It was the same in all the packing house cities; and suddenly the newspapers and public woke up to face the gruesome spectacle of a meat famine. All sorts of pleas for a reconsideration were made, but the packers were obdurate; and all the while they were reducing wages, and heading off shipments of cattle, and rushing in wagonloads of mattresses and cots. So the men boiled over, and one night telegrams went out from the union headquarters to all the big packing centers — to St. Paul, South Omaha, Sioux City, St. Joseph, Kansas City, East St. Louis, and New York — and the next day at noon between fifty and sixty thousand men drew off their working clothes and marched out of the factories, and the great "Beef Strike" was on.
Jurgis went to his dinner, and afterward he walked over to see Mike Scully, who lived in a fine house, upon a street which had been decently paved and lighted for his especial benefit. Scully had gone into semiretirement, and looked nervous and worried. "What do you want?" he demanded, when he saw Jurgis.
"I came to see if maybe you could get me a place during the strike," the other replied.
And Scully knit his brows and eyed him narrowly. In that morning's papers Jurgis had read a fierce denunciation of the packers by Scully, who had declared that if they did not treat their people better the city authorities would end the matter by tearing down their plants. Now, therefore, Jurgis was not a little taken aback when the other demanded suddenly, "See here, Rudkus, why don't you stick by your job?"
Jurgis started. "Work as a scab?" he cried.
"Why not?" demanded Scully. "What's that to you?"
"But — but — " stammered Jurgis. He had somehow taken it for granted that he should go out with his union. "The packers need good men, and need them bad," continued the other, "and they'll treat a man right that stands by them. Why don't you take your chance and fix yourself?"
"But," said Jurgis, "how could I ever be of any use to you — in politics?"
"You couldn't be it anyhow," said Scully, abruptly.
"Why not?" asked Jurgis.
"Hell, man!" cried the other. "Don't you know you're a Republican? And do you think I'm always going to elect Republicans? My brewer has found out already how we served him, and there is the deuce to pay."
Jurgis looked dumfounded. He had never thought of that aspect of it before. "I could be a Democrat," he said.
"Yes," responded the other, "but not right away; a man can't change his politics every day. And besides, I don't need you — there'd be nothing for you to do. And it's a long time to election day, anyhow; and what are you going to do meantime?"
"I thought I could count on you," began Jurgis.
"Yes," responded Scully, "so you could — I never yet went back on a friend. But is it fair to leave the job I got you and come to me for another? I have had a hundred fellows after me today, and what can I do? I've put seventeen men on the city payroll to clean streets this one week, and do you think I can keep that up forever? It wouldn't do for me to tell other men what I tell you, but you've been on the inside, and you ought to have sense enough to see for yourself. What have you to gain by a strike?"
"I hadn't thought," said Jurgis.
"Exactly," said Scully, "but you'd better. Take my word for it, the strike will be over in a few days, and the men will be beaten; and meantime what you can get out of it will belong to you. Do you see?"
And Jurgis saw. He went back to the yards, and into the workroom. The men had left a long line of hogs in various stages of preparation, and the foreman was directing the feeble efforts of a score or two of clerks and stenographers and office boys to finish up the job and get them into the chilling rooms. Jurgis went straight up to him and announced, "I have come back to work, Mr. Murphy."
The boss's face lighted up. "Good man!" he cried. "Come ahead!"
"Just a moment," said Jurgis, checking his enthusiasm. "I think I ought to get a little more wages."
"Yes," replied the other, "of course. What do you want?"
Jurgis had debated on the way. His nerve almost failed him now, but he clenched his hands. "I think I ought to have' three dollars a day," he said.