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The main elements that are at play in comparing working conditions between the era of Sinclair's writing and now is that there is greater governmental oversight over business practices. At the time of Sinclair's work, big business had colluded with government to blur the lines between them. In this setting, business' interests and government's interests were one in the same, and the latter was an extension of the former. To a certain extent, this is still present today, but in terms of worker's rights and worker's conditions, there has been some improvement. Business owners have to meet certain conditions now in order to maintain viability that they did not have to meet then. I think that a case can be made that the collusion is still present in other ways, but not in the manner in which government has oversight over working conditions and compensation. While far from perfect, this has undergone improvement since the time of Sinclair and the early 1900s.
You seem to have identified a good number of them already. If we look at conditions specifically detailed in The Jungle, the main ones would be
- Food inspections that would, hopefully, prevent the abuses mentioned in the book (like the dead rats and the recycling of spoiled meat)
- Workers' compensation so that people injured on the job don't have to suffer so much financially
- OSHA to hopefully prevent as many on the job injuries
- Yes, there are unions, but unionization is declining dramatically in the US in the private sector. For example, poultry packing plants are not typically unionized and are often staffed by poor immigrants.
More generally, you could talk about minimum wage and maximum hour laws. There are also unemployment benefits now that were not available in those days.
During the era when the book by Sinclair "The Jungle" was written there were no labor laws protecting the common worker. Anyone of any age could be employed and child labor was abundant as many poor and immigrant families struggled to survive. Since human beings were pouring into the cities of America and jobs were in short supply, but the labor force available was large and dispensable, factories could work their employees in deplorable conditions. There was no regulation of hours or salary (minimum wage). The lowest salary possible could be paid meaning that many people worked excessive hours for little pay. Today, we have an established minimum wage that is adjusted periodically to accompany the fluctuating economy.
Working conditions were dangerous. Machines were often the culprit of lost fingers, appendages, and lives. There was no repercussion to the owner’s of the factories or support for the worker when injuries occurred. The worker was simply out of a job even if it meant that he/she would starve to death as the result of the injury preventing them from being able to work or seek alternate employment.
Chemical exposure was excessive within the work environment and community. Under OSHA guidelines exposure to harmful chemicals can not pass the threshold of safety without necessary steps being taken to protect the worker. Inspectors monitor the quality of air in the factories and on job sites.
Injuries and the type of injuries are monitored by OSHA as well. Companies must have policies in place and provide training for their employees that help keep the employees from putting repeated stress on the same parts of the body which can cause permanent or long term injuries.
During Sinclair's time, workers were not allowed breaks or rest periods. The result from being overworked with no time to recoup led to increased job site injuries. OSHA guidelines and labor laws mandate break periods and set work hours so that the worker has time to recuperate. Unions developed to provide protection for certain types of workers. The Labor Commission was also established to ensure protection of the worker.
Foods were not inspected in "The Jungle." In the book the author told how sawdust and dropping on the floor were swept up and added to the processed meats. There were no guidelines or qualifications that addressed for safety or nutrition content. The Federal Food and Drug Administration were established to ensure quality and safe foods.
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