Mary L. Marcy

Letters of a Pork Packer’s

(September 1904)

The International Socialist Review, Vol. 5 No. 3, September 1904, pp. 175–178.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


Chicago, Ill., May 190—.

My Dear Katherine:

Mr. King has gone down to Savannah to straighten out a sweet-pickled-spoiled-meat-scandal, and so I am helping first in one department, and then in another, wherever a stenographer is ill, or work is heavy; and, while it brings one down to very fine trim, and excellent speed, it is nerve racking, to say the least.

At present I am temporarily installed in the Legal Department, otherwise known among the employees (because of the depravity of their methods) as the “Skin Department.” There is also a Hide Department, but we never confuse the two, as their functions are quite dissimilar. In the Hide Department Men skin HOGS, and in the Legal Department, Hogs skin MEN.

I have been here only a few days, and the things I could write on the Legal Department would fill a book. I believe I have learned more on the ways and means of corporation success in this, than I have learned in all the other departments where I have worked.

The Legal Department naturally includes also the Accident Department. In the case of the slightest accident that may happen to an employee, it is the duty of this division to immediately take affidavits from all those present, who witnessed, and who did not witness, the accident. They all swear, in order to hold their jobs, to whatever is requested of them; that the machinery was in perfect repair, whether it was or not, and that the accident was due to the man’s own personal carelessness.

I had occasion to write the “statement” of a deaf and dumb man – a “bumper,” they called him – who had never laid eyes on the paper until he was called in to sign and swear to it. It is the customary way. The statements are outlined, and the men are always ready to affirm all that is stated therein.

There is always the foreman of the department, who is on the side his salary comes from, and the corporation doctor, ditto; besides the injured man himself, who is usually so badly in need of money that he would sign away his hope in Heaven for ten or twenty dollars in hard cash. Very often the son of the injured man is given a place on the plant, and his daughter a place in the sausage factory, in order to obtain a release on a clear case of liability. The doctor is friendly, and the attorney’s kind, unless the claimant shows a disposition to demand justice. And he is given every conceivable method, except a written one, to understand that as long as the Graham plant runs, he will continue in the service of his masters, no matter how disabled he may be. And many of them sign purely on their faith in the security of their future jobs. This, of course, is merely a ruse on the part of the Legal Department, and at the first excuse the disabled man is ‘laid off.’

Last month over four hundred accidents occurred on the Graham plant, and only two of the men injured have brought suit. And I heard the attorneys say it would be a very easy matter to either bluff or force these men to drop them.

It seems that none of the other packers in the combine will give one of them, who is a poultry “picker” and is in urgent need of money, a job. The father of the other man is a retail butcher, to whom the combine has raised its prices, and made strictly c.o.d. terms, and to whom they will, if necessary, absolutely refuse to sell meat. So, you see they are not worried over their inability to get these young men into line.

“The Workingmen of America,” said Doctor Hughes, in the Sunday paper, “are an extravagant and improvident class.” Of course! They should have saved their money when they retained all four of their limbs! One of them received $9.00 a week, and only had four children! I wonder why he didn’t lay up a few thousand against a “rainy day!”

Yesterday a despairing workman, who had been injured through the falling of one of the freight elevators, muttered something about a “damage” suit when the attorneys offered him $20.00 as compensation for the loss of his foot. They smiled pityingly upon him and said, “ Don’t you know, my man, that your case will never come up?” Then they turned their backs upon him, and seemed lost in other matters. And this morning the same workman came in anxious to sign the release for the sum that he yesterday scorned.

They tell me there is in Kansas City a judge who has never rendered a decision against a corporation. Think of it – a judge over men, elected by the workingman – and throwing all his influence as well as his decisions for the benefit of the Rich! But of such are the courts.

We received a letter from our ———— Texas house yesterday, enclosing a “bad debt” for collection, along with a statement of the year’s sales, aggregating $2,800,325.89, of which this debt of $102.35 represented the total loss on accounts upon their books. So, you see that any money Father Graham risks in this business is a very small percentage of one per cent.

When Graham & Company invest one dollar (which covers the price paid to the stockman for cattle, rents, taxes, interest 6 per cent to the banker-labor on the plant and in the offices, the expenses of selling and collecting) they add 50 or 60 per cent as profits, and charge the retail butcher $1.60 for meat costing them one dollar. The dealer, of course, pays the freight – probably 10 cents – which makes his meat cost him $1.70. He then adds 50 per cent of his investment (or 85 cents) in selling to the consumer (which must cover shrinkage, rent, assistants, losses – which usually amount to about 15 per cent – and profits). The consumer pays then $2.55 for meat that actually costs (all profit deducted) only about 60 or 65 cents.

These observations cause one to wonder why the “Legal” rate of interest permitted to banks, should not be applied to interest (or profits made) upon all money invested in business enterprises as well. Surely 50 per cent is robbery! The customer is not getting the worth of his money, nor the employee the value of his labor!

But I know not if it be any the less stealing to take a man’s vest than it is to take his whole suit. If 50 per cent profits are robbery, what are 5 per cent profits?

Of course, I know the man owns the whole suit, but since this is a stealing game, he would rather we took only his vest. He CAN get along without it, but the weather is cold and he needs the coat and trousers. But Papa Graham, and Sylvia, and Sylvia’s count will never be content until they kill the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg.

One of the girls left yesterday to get married. She was thirty-two years old, and had worked for the company twelve years. She confessed to us very frankly that she had made up her mind to accept the first man who could offer her a home, and when that man happened to be all she had previously despised, she fixed her thoughts on the joys of a steady income, and decided to marry the business.

All the girls, I am sure, would like to marry. And a great many men also, but there are few of them who earn salaries large enough to support a wife, and so the girls sigh alone, and the young men go to the dogs.

Women do marry – a smaller percentage every year – and generally for a home. And there are occasionally those who put their “Trust in Providence” and start in on $ 12.00 a week; but they soon learn that Providence does NOT provide, and that existence based upon the things one can live without, is not the best foundation upon which to build a happy home. And now and then there is still a happy, comfortable love match, like the love stories of fifty years ago, but the majority are the thousands of Marys waiting for the thousands of Teddies and the increase in salary that never comes.

So, you see, I am no different from the rest. But I have seen too many of the “trusting” kind come to grief to care to bring children into the world, to fight the dreadful battle of life at this uncertain stage of civilization. And I think the man who goes about spouting a “Multiply and replenish the earth” doctrine, as long as men are not certain that their children will have plenty to eat and wear, good health, and an education -- a chance for happiness is a fool! He would better spend his efforts in bringing about a society that would be fit to bring little children up in.

I see by the papers that Old John Graham is trying to lay the blame upon the workingman for the present high prices on beef. Coal, he also says, is 10 cents per bull higher than it was a year ago. This would, you can easily see, make a vast difference in the cost of a 1,000-pound animal. But his principal howl is about the greedy, greedy workingman, who is getting from 5 per cent to 10 per cent more in wages than he was a year ago. But he forgets to tell the papers of the innumerable methods employed to increase the output of the individual workman, until, in most cases, wages have decreased in proportion to the number of cattle they are compelled to handle now compared to the number they prepared two years ago.

Every day some new way is devised to eliminate some portion of the salary account in the various departments in the offices. They tell me that book-keepers rarely receive more than $50.00 per month – about one-half what they were able to demand fifteen years ago. One of the inspectors came around through all the offices last week and discharged from three to five in every department, merely adding a little extra work to the burdens of the “fortunates” who were retained.

Gradually the Accounting, the Credit and Branch House Departments are being removed from Kansas City and established here in Chicago. W & Company have already laid off almost their entire force in certain departments in Kansas City, which can be managed just as well from the Chicago offices. And it is being whispered about that Graham & Company will soon incorporate similar proceedings.

All the incapable, the useless and outworn, are being daily discarded by Packingtown, under the new and invincible system of combination – all save, Sylvia, and John Graham, and Pierpont – and the other equally useless factors, who are reaping the benefits of the latest scientific step, which is evolving in the Industrial World to-day.

Mr. Robinson (attorney-in-chief) has just come in accompanied by a gang of workmen who were present at an accident where one of “our stickers” was killed. This makes the third man killed on the plant to-day. There will be affidavits galore, so no more for to-day. Will tell you more of the department in my next letter.

Write often to your Loving Mary L. Marcy.

Top of the page

Last updated on 31 May 2022