"From Lithuania to the Chicago Stockyards--An Autobiography"
Poole (1880-1950), a journalist who would go on to win the Pulitzer
Prize, recorded this memoir when he was investigating the labor
movement in Chicago's meatpacking industry. The story not only supports
Poole's pro-labor position but also casts light on the survival
strategies of immigrants during this period. For the purposes of
Poole's political agenda, in fact, this story seems almost too good
to be true, with its vision of the American dream, with the old
shoemaker's condemnation of John D. Rockefeller, and with the Lithuanian's
unqualified support of the labor movement. It seems possible that
this story is a composite of multiple stories or that Poole fictionalized
some elements.--D. Voelker
week we printed an illuminating article by Ernest Poole on the Chicago
meat strike. The following autobiography was dictated to Mr. Poole
for THE INDEPENDENT. It is a trustworthy narrative, and we believe
a typical one. It is of especial timeliness just now on account
of the side light it throws on the life of a worker in the Stockyards.
THIS is not my real
name, because if this story is printed it may be read back in Lithuania,
and I do not want to get, my father and the ugly shoemaker into trouble
with the Russian Government.
It was the shoemaker
who made me want to come to America. He was a traveling shoemaker,
for on our farms we tan our own cowhides, and the shoemaker came to
make them into boots for us. By traveling he learned all the news
and he smuggled in newspapers across the frontier from Germany. We
were always glad to hear him talk.
I can never forget
that evening four years ago. It was a cold December. We were in a
big room in our log house in Lithuania. My good, kind, thin old mother
sat near the wide fireplace, working her brown spinning wheel, with
which she made cloth for our shirts and coats and pants. I sat on
the floor in front of her with my knee-boots off and my feet stretched
out to the fire. My feet were cold, for I had been out with my young
brother in the freezing sheds milking the cows and feeding the sheep
and geese. I leaned my head on her dress and kept yawning and thinking
about my big goose feather bed. My father sat and smoked his pipe
across the fireplace. Between was a kerosene lamp on a table, and
under it sat the ugly shoemaker on a stool finishing a big yellow
boot. His sleeves were rolled up; his arms were thin and bony, but
you could see how strong the fingers and wrist were, for when he grabbed
the needle he jerked it through and the whole arm's length up. This
arm kept going up and down. Every time it went up he jerked back his
long mixed-up red hair and grunted. And you could just see his face--bony
and shut together tight, and his narrow sharp eyes looking down. Then
his head would go down again, and his hair would get all mixed up.
I kept watching him. My fat, older brother, who sat behind with his
fat wife, grinned and said: "Look out or your eyes will make holes
in the leather." My brother's eyes were always dull and sleepy. Men
like him stay in Lithuania.
At last the boot
was finished. The little shoemaker held it up and looked at it. My
father stopped smoking and looked at it. "That's a good boot," said
my father. The shoemaker grunted. "That's a damn poor boot," he replied
(instead of " damn " he said "skatina,"), "a rough boot like all your
boots, and so when you grow old you are lame. You have only poor things,
for rich Russians get our good things, and yet you will not kick up
against them. Bah!"
"I don't like your
talk," said my father, and he spit into the fire, as he always did
when he began to think. "I am honest. I word hard. We get along. That's
all. So what good will such talk do me?"
"You!" cried the
shoemaker, and he now threw the boot on the floor so that our big
dog lifted up his head and looked around. "It's not you at all. It's
the boy--that boy there!" and he pointed to me. "That boy must go
Now I quickly stopped
yawning and I looked at him all the time after this. My mother looked
frightened and she put her hand on my head. "No, no; he is only a
boy," she said. " Bah!" cried the shoemaker, pushing back his hair,
and then I felt he was looking right through me. "He is eighteen and
a man. You know where he must go in three years more." We all knew
he  meant my five years in the army. "Where is your oldest son?
Dead. Oh, I know the Russians--the man-wolves! I served my term, I
know how it is. Your son served in Turkey in the mountains. Why not
here? Because they want foreign soldiers here to beat us. He had four
roubles ($2.08) pay for three months, and with that he had to pay
men like me to make his shoes and clothes. Oh, the wolves! They let
him soak in rain, standing guard all night in the snow and ice he
froze, the food was God's food, the vodka was cheap and rotten! Then
he died. The wolves--the man wolves! Look at this book." He jerked
a Roman Catholic prayer book from his bag on the floor. "Where would
I go if they found this on me? Where is Wilhelm Birbell?"
At this my father
spit hard again into the fire and puffed his pipe fast.
"Where is Wilhelm
Birbell," cried the shoemaker, and we all kept quiet. We all knew.
Birbell was a rich farmer who smuggled in prayer books from Germany
so that we all could pray as we liked, instead of the Russian Church
way. He was caught one night and they kept him two years in the St.
Petersburg jail, in a cell so narrow and short that he could not stretch
out his legs, for they were very long. This made him lame for life.
Then they sent him to Irkutsk, down in Siberia. There he sawed logs
to get food. He escaped and now he is here in Chicago. But at that
time he was in jail.
"Where is Wilhelm
Birbell?" cried the shoemaker. "Oh, the wolves! And what
is this?" He pulled out an old American newspaper, printed in the
Lithuanian language, and I remember he tore it he was so angry." The
world's good news is all kept away. We can only read what Russian
officials print in their papers. Read? No, you can't read or write
your own language, because there is no Lithuanian school--only the
Russian school--you can only read and write Russian. Can you? No,
you can't! Because even those Russian schools make you pay to learn,
and you have no money to pay. Will you never be ashamed--all you?
Listen to me."
Now I looked at
my mother and her face looked frightened, but the shoemaker cried
still louder. Why can't you have your own Lithuanian school? Because
you are like dogs--you have nothing to say--you have no town meeting
or province meetings, no elections. You are slaves! And why can't
you even pay to go to their Russian school? Because they get all your
money. Only twelve acres you own, but you pay eight roubles ($40)
taxes. You must work twelve days on your Russian roads. Your kind
old wife must plow behind the oxen, for I saw her last summer, and
she looked tired. You must all slave, but still your rye and wheat
brings little money, because they cheat you bad. Oh, the wolves--how
fat they are! And so your boy must never read or write, or think like
a man should think."
But now my mother
cried out, and her voice was shaking. "Leave us alone--you leave us!
We need no money--we trade our things for the things we need at the
store--we have all we need--leave us alone!"
Then my fat brother
grinned and said to the shoemaker, "You always stir up young men to
go to America. Why don't you go yourself?"
I remember that
the little shoemaker had pulled a big crooked pipe out of his bag.
Now he took a splinter from the basket of splinters which hung on
the wall and he lit his pipe and puffed it. His face showed me that
he felt bad.
"I am too old,"
he said, "to learn a new trade. These boots are no good in America.
America is no place for us old rascals. My son is in Chicago in the
stockyards, and he writes to me. They have hard knocks. If you are
sick or old there and have no money you must die. That Chicago place
has trouble, too. Do you see that light? That is kerosene. Do you
remember the price went up last year? That is Rockefeller. My son
writes me about him. He is another man wolf. A few men like him are
grabbing all the good things,--the oil and coal and meat and everything.
But against these men you can strike if you are young. You can read
free papers and prayer books. In Chicago there are prayer books for
every man and woman. You can have free meetings and talk out what
you think. And so if you are young you can change all these troubles.
But I am old. I can feel it now, this winter. So I only tell young
men to go." He  looked hard at me and I looked at him. He kept
talking. "I tell them to go where they can choose their own kind of
God--where they can learn to read and write, and talk, and think like
men--and have good things!"
He kept looking
at me, but he opened the newspaper and held it up. "Some day,"
he said, "I will be caught and sent to jail, but I don't care. I got
this from my son, who reads all he can find at night. It had to be
smuggled in. I lend it many times to many young men. My son got it
from the night school and he put it in Lithuanian for me to see."
Then he bent over the paper a long time and his lips moved. At last
he looked into the fire and fixed his hair, and then his voice was
shaking and very low:
"'We know these
are true things--that all men are born free and equal--that God gives
them rights which no man can take away--that among these rights are
life, liberty and the getting of happiness.'"
He stopped, I remember,
and looked at me, and I was not breathing. He said it again.
"'Life, liberty and the getting of happiness.' Oh, that is what you
My mother began
to cry. "He cannot go if his father commands him to stay," she kept
saying. I knew this was true, for in Lithuania a father can command
his son till he dies.
"No, he must not
go," said the shoemaker, "if his father commands him to stay."
He turned and looked hard at my father. My father was looking into
the fire. "If he goes," said my father, "those Russians will never
let him come back." My mother cried harder. We all waited for him
to say something else. In about five minutes the shoemaker got up
and asked, "Well, what do you say,? the army or America?" But my father
shook his head and would not say anything. Soon my brother began yawning
and took his fat wife and went to bed. The little shoemaker gathered
his tools into his big bag and threw it over his shoulder. His shoulder
was crooked. Then he came close to me and looked at me hard.
"I am old," he
said, "I wish I was young. And you must be old soon and  that
will be too late. The army--the man wolves! Bah! it is terrible."
After he was gone
my father and I kept looking at the fire. My mother stopped crying
and went out. Our house was in two parts of two rooms each. Between
the parts was an open shed and in this shed was a big oven, where
she was baking bread that night. I could hear her pull it out to look
at it and then push it back. Then she came in and sat down beside
me and began spinning again. I leaned against her dress and watched
the fire and thought about America. Sometimes I looked at my father,
and she kept looking at him, too, but he would not say anything. At
last my old mother stopped spinning and put her hand on my forehead.
a fine girl," she whispered. This gave me a quick bad feeling. Alexandria
was the girl I wanted to marry. She lived about ten miles away. Her
father liked my father and they seemed to be glad that I loved her.
I had often been thinking at night how in a few years I would go with
my uncle to her house and ask her father and mother to give her to
me. I could see the wedding all ahead--how we would go to her house
on Saturday night and they would have music there and many people
and we would have a sociable time. Then in the morning we would go
to the church and be married and come back to my father's house and
live with him. I saw it all ahead, and I was sure we would be very
happy. Now I began thinking of this. I could see her fine soft eyes
and I hated to go away. My old mother kept her hands moving on my
forehead. "Yes, she is a nice girl; a kind, beautiful girl," she kept
whispering. We sat there till the lamp went out. Then the fire got
low and the room was cold and we went to bed. But I could not sleep
and kept thinking.
The next day my
father told me that I could not go until the time came for the army,
three years ahead." Stay until then and then we will see," he said.
My mother was very glad and so was I, because of Alexandria. But in
the coldest part of that winter my dear old mother got sick and died.
The neighbors all came in and sang holy songs for two days and nights.
The priest was  there and my father bought fine candles. Two
of the neighbors made a coffin. At last it was all over. For a long
time our log house was always quiet.
That summer the
shoemaker came again and talked with me. This time I was very eager
to go to America, and my father told me I could go.
One morning I walked
over to say good-by to Alexandria. It was ten miles and the road was
dusty, so I carried my boots over my shoulder, as we always did, and
I put them on when I came near her house. When I saw her I felt very
bad, and so did she. I had the strongest wish I ever had to take hold
of her and keep her all my life. We stayed together till it was dark
and night fogs came up out of the field grass, and we could hardly
see the house. Then she said good-by. For many nights I kept remembering
the way she looked up at me.
The next night
after supper I started. It is against the law to sell tickets to America,
but my father saw the secret agent in the village and he got a ticket
from Germany and found us a guide. I had bread and cheese and honey
and vodka and clothes in my bag. Some of the neighbors walked a few
miles and said good-by and then went back. My father and my younger
brother walked on all night with the guide and me. At daylight we
came to the house of a man the guide knew. We slept there and that
night I left my father and young brother. My father gave me $50 besides
my ticket. The next morning before light we were going through the
woods and we came to the frontier. Three roads run along the frontier.
On the first road there is a soldier every mile, who stands there
all night. On the second road is a soldier every half mile, and on
the third road is a soldier every quarter of a mile. The guide went
ahead through the woods. I hid with my big bag behind a bush and whenever
he raised his hand I sneaked along. I felt cold all over and sometimes
hot. He told me that sometimes he took twenty immigrants together,
all without passports, and then he could not pass the soldiers and
so he paid a soldier he knew one dollar a head to let them by. He
said the soldier was very strict and counted them to see that he was
not being cheated.
So I was in Germany.
Two days after that we reached Tilzit and the guide took me to the
railroad man. This man had a crowd of immigrants in a room, and we
started that night on the railroad--fourth class. It was bad riding
sometimes. I used to think of Alexandria. We were all green and slow.
The railroad man used to say to me, "You will have to be quicker than
this in Chicago," and he was right. We were very slow in the stations
where we changed trains, and he used to shout at us then, and one
old German man who spoke Lithuanian told me what the man was calling
us. When he told me this I hurried and so did the others, and we began
to learn to be quicker. It took three days to get to Hamburg. There
we were put in a big house called a barracks, and we waited a week.
The old German man told me that the barracks men were cheating us.
He had been once to Cincinnati in America to visit his son, who kept
a saloon. His old, long pipe was stolen there. He kept saying, "Dem
grafters, dem grafters," in a low voice whenever they brought food
to sell, for our bags were now empty. They kept us there till our
money was half spent on food. I asked the old man what kind of American
men were grafters, and he said "All kinds in Cincinnati, but more
in Chicago!" I knew I was going to Chicago, and I began to think quicker.
I thought quicker yet on the boat. I saw men playing cards. I played
and lost $1.86 in my new money, till the old man came behind me and
said, "Dem grafters." When I heard this I got scared and threw down
my cards. That old man used to point up at the rich people looking
down at us and say "Dem grafters." They were the richest people I
had ever seen--the boat was the biggest boat I had ever seen--the
machine that made it go was very big, and so was the horn that blew
in a fog. I felt everything get bigger and go quicker every day.
It was the most
when we came to New York. We were driven in a thick crowd to the railroad
station. The old man kept pointing and saying "Grafters, grafters,"
till the guide punched him and said, "Be quick, damn you, be 
quick." . . . "I will be quick pretty soon," said the old man
to me, "and den I will get back dot pipe in Cincinnati. And when I
will be quicker still, alreddy, I will steal some odder man's pipe.
Every quick American man is a grafter." I began to believe that this
was true, but I was mixed up and could not think long at one time.
Everything got quicker--worse and worse--till then at last I was in
a boarding house by the stockyards in Chicago, with three Lithuanians,
who knew my father's sisters at home.
That first night
we sat around in the house and they asked me, "Well, why did you come?"
I told them about that first night and what the ugly shoemaker said
about "life, liberty and the getting of happiness." They all leaned
back and laughed. "What you need is money," they said. "It was all
right at home. You wanted nothing. You ate your own meat and your
own things on the farm. You made your own clothes and had your own
leather. The other things you got at the Jew man's store and paid
him with sacks of rye. But here you want a hundred things. Whenever
you walk out you see new things you want, and you must have money
to buy everything."
Then one man asked
me, "How much have you?" and I told him $30. "You must buy clothes
to look rich, even if you are not rich," he said. "With good clothes
you will have friends."
The next morning
three of these men took me to a store near the stockyards to buy a
coat and pants. "Look out" said one of them. "Is he a grafter?" I
asked. They all laughed. "You stand still. That is all you have to
do," they said. So the Jew man kept putting on coats and I moved my
arms and back and sides when they told me. We stayed there till it
was time for dinner. Then we bought a suit. I paid $5 and then I was
to pay $1 a week for five weeks.
In the afternoon
I went to a big store. There was a man named Elias. "He is not a grafter,"
said my friends. He was nice to me and gave me good advice how to
get a job. I bought two shirts, a hat, a collar, a necktie, two pairs
of socks and some shoes. We kept going upstairs and downstairs. I
saw one Lithuanian man buying everything for his wife and three children,
who would come here the next week from Lithuania. My things cost me
$8. I put these on right away and then I began to feel better.
The next night
they took me for a walk down town. We would not pay to ride, so we
walked so long that I wanted to take my shoes off, but I did not tell
them this. When we came there I forgot my feet. We stood by one theater
and watched for half an hour. Then we walked all around a store that
filled one whole block and had walls of glass. Then we had a drink
of whisky, and this is better than vodka. We felt happier and looked
into cafes. We saw shiny carriages and automobiles. I saw men
with dress suits, I saw women with such clothes that I could not think
at all. Then my friends punched me and I turned around and saw one
of these women, and with her was a gentleman in a fine dress suit.
I began looking harder. It was the Jew man that sold me my suit."
He is a grafter," said my friends. "See what money can do." Then we
walked home and I felt poor and my shoes got very bad.
That night I felt
worse. We were tired out when we reached the stockyards, so we stopped
on the bridge and looked into the river out there. It was so full
of grease and dirt and sticks and boxes that it looked like a big,
wide, dirty street, except in some places, where it boiled up. It
made me sick to look at it. When I looked away I could see on one
side some big fields full of holes, and these were the city dumps.
On the other side were the stockyards, with twenty tall slaughter
house chimneys. The wind blew a big smell from them to us. Then we
walked on between the yards and the dumps and all the houses looked
bad and poor. In our house my room was in the basement. I lay down
on the floor with three other men and the air was rotten. I did not
go to sleep for a long time. I knew then that money was everything
I needed. My money was almost gone and I thought that I would soon
die unless I got a job, for this was not like home. Here money was
everything and a man without money must die.
The next morning
my friends woke me up at five o'clock and said, "Now, if you want
life, liberty and happiness," they laughed, "you must push for yourself.
You must get a job. Come with us."  And we went to the yards.
Men and women were walking in by thousands as far as we could see.
We went to the doors of one big slaughter house. There was a crowd
of about 200 men waiting there for a job. They looked hungry and kept
watching the door. At last a special policeman came out and began
pointing to men, one by one. Each one jumped forward. Twenty-three
were taken. Then they all went inside, and all the others turned their
faces away and looked tired. I remember one boy sat down and cried,
just next to me, on a pile of boards. Some policemen waved their clubs
and we all walked on. I found some Lithuanians to talk with, who told
me they had come every morning for three weeks. Soon we met other
crowds coming away from other slaughter houses, and we all walked
around and felt bad and tired and hungry.
That night I told
my friends that I would not do this many days, but would go some place
else. "Where?" they asked me, and I began to see then that I was in
bad trouble, because I spoke no English. Then one man told me to give
him $5 to give the special policeman. I did this and the next morning
the policeman pointed me out, so I had a job. I have heard some big
talk since then about my American freedom of contract, but I do not
think I had much freedom in bargaining for this job with the Meat
Trust. My job was in the cattle killing room. I pushed the blood along
the gutter. Some people think these jobs make men bad. I do not think
so. The men who do the killing are not as bad as the ladies with fine
clothes who come every day to look at it, because they have to do
it. The cattle do not suffer. They are knocked senseless with a big
hammer and are dead before they wake up. This is done not to spare
them pain, but because, if they got hot and sweating with fear and
pain the meat would not be so good. I soon saw that every job in the
room was done like this--so as to save everything and make money.
One Lithuanian, who worked with me, said, "They get all the blood
out of those cattle and all the work out of us men." This was true,
for we worked that first day from six in the morning till seven at
night. The next day we worked from six in the morning till eight at
The next day we
had no work. So we had no good, regular hours. It was hot in the room,
that summer, and the hot blood made it worse.
I held this job
six weeks and then I was turned off. I think some other man had paid
for my job, or perhaps I was too slow. The foreman in that room wanted
quick men to make the work rush, because he was paid more if the work
was done cheaper and quicker. I saw now that every man was helping
himself, always trying to get all the money he could. At that time
I believed that all men in Chicago were grafters when they had to
be. They only wanted to push themselves. Now, when I was idle I began
to look about, and everywhere I saw sharp men beating out slow men
like me. Even if we worked hard it did us no good. I had saved $13--$5
a week for six weeks makes $30, and take off $15 for six weeks' board
and lodging and $2 for other things. I showed this to a Lithuanian,
who had been here two years, and he laughed. "It will be taken from
you," he said. He had saved a hundred dollars once and had begun to
buy a house on the instalment [sic.] plan, but something had happened
that he did not know about and his landlord put him out and kept the
hundred dollars. I found that many Lithuanians had been beaten this
way. At home we never made a man sign contract papers. We only had
him make the sign of a cross and promise he would do what he said.
But this was no good in Chicago. So these sharp men were beating us.
I saw this, too,
in the newspaper. I was beginning to learn English, and at night in
the boarding house the men who did not play cards used to read the
paper to us. The biggest word was "Graft" in red letters on the front
page. Another word was "Trust." This paper kept putting these two
words together. Then I began to see how every American man was trying
to get money for himself. I wondered if the old German man in Cincinnati
had found his pipe yet. I felt very bad and sorrowful in that month.
I kept walking around with many other Lithuanians who had no job.
Our money was going and we could find nothing do. At night we got
homesick for our fine green mountains. We read all the  news
about home in our Lithuanian Chicago newspaper, The Katalikas.
It is a good paper and gives all the news. In the same office
we bought this song, which was written in Brooklyn by P. Brandukas.
He, too, was homesick. It is sung all over Chicago now and you can
hear it in the summer evenings through the open windows. In English
it is something like this:
Lithuania, so dear to me,
Those were bad days
and nights. At last I had a chance to help myself. Summer was over and
Election Day was coming. The Republican boss in our district, Jonidas,
was a saloonkeeper. A friend took me there. Jonidas shook hands and
treated me fine. He taught me to sign my name, and the next week I went
with him to an office and signed some paper, and then I could vote.
I voted as I was told, and then they got me back into the yards to work,
because one big politician owns stock in one of those houses. Then I
felt that I was getting in beside the game. I was in a combine like
other sharp men. Even when work was slack I was all right, because they
got me a job in the street cleaning department. I felt proud, and I
went to the back room in Jonidas's saloon and got him to write a letter
to Alexandria to tell her she must come soon and be my wife.
But this was just
the trouble. All of us were telling our friends to come soon. Soon they
came--even thousands. The employers in the yard liked this, because
those sharp foremen are inventing new machines and the work is easier
to learn, and so these slow Lithuanians and even green girls can learn
to do it, and then the Americans and Germans and Irish are put out and
the employer saves money, because the Lithuanians work cheaper. This
was why the American labor unions began to organize us all just the
same as they had organized the Bohemians and Poles before us.
Well, we were glad
to be organized. We had learned that in Chicago every man must push
himself always, and Jonidas had taught us how much better we could push
ourselves by getting into a combine. Now, we saw that this union was
the best combine for us, because it was the only combine that could
say, "It is our business to raise your wages."
But that Jonidas--he
spoilt our first union. He was sharp. First he got us to hire the room
over his saloon. He used to come in at our meetings and sit in the back
seat and grin. There was an Irishman there from the union headquarters,
and he was trying to teach us to run ourselves. He talked to a Lithuanian,
and the Lithuanian said it to us, but we were slow to do things, and
we were jealous and were always jumping up to shout and fight. So the
Irishman used to wipe his hot red face and call us bad names. He told
the Lithuanian not to say these names to us, but Jonidas heard them,
and in his saloon, where we all went down after the meeting when the
Irishman was gone, Jonidas gave us free drinks and then told us the
names. I will not write them here.
One night that Irishman
did not come and Jonidas saw his chance and took the chair. He talked
very fine and we elected him President. We made him Treasurer, too.
Down in the saloon he gave us free drinks and told us we must break
away from the Irish grafters. The next week he made us strike, all by
himself. We met twice a day in his saloon and spent all of our money
on drinks and then the strike was over. I got out of this union after
that. I had been working hard in the cattle killing room and I had a
better job. I was called a cattle butcher now and I joined the Cattle
Butchers' Union. This union is honest and it has done me a great deal
It has raised my
wages. The man who worked at my job before the union came  was
getting through the year an average of $9 a week. I am getting $11.
In my first job I got $5 a week. The man who works there now gets $5.75.
It has given me more
time to learn to read and speak and enjoy life like an American. I never
work now from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and then be idle the next day. I work
now from 7 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., and there are not so many idle days. The
work is evened up.
With more time and
more money I live much better and I am very happy. So is Alexandria.
She came a year ago and has learned to speak English already. Some of
the women go to the big store the day they get here, when they have
not enough sense to pick out the clothes that look right, but Alexandria
waited three weeks till she knew, and so now she looks the finest of
any woman in the district. We have four nice rooms, which she keeps
very clean, and she has flowers growing in boxes in the two front windows.
We do not go much to church, because the church seems to be too slow.
But we belong to a Lithuanian society that gives two picnics in summer
and two big balls in winter, where we have a fine time. I go one night
a week to the Lithuanian Concertina Club. On Sundays we go on the trolley
out into the country.
But we like to stay
at home more now because we have a baby. When he grows up I will not
send him to the Lithuanian Catholic school. They have only two bad rooms
and two priests, who teach only in Lithuanian from prayer books. I will
send him to the American school, which is very big and good. The teachers
there are Americans and they belong to the Teachers' Labor Union, which
has three thousand teachers and belongs to our Chicago Federation of
Labor. I am sure that such teachers will give him a good chance.
Our union sent a
committee to Springfield last year and they passed a law which prevents
boys and girls below sixteen from working in the stockyards.
We are trying to
make the employers pay on Saturday night in cash. Now they pay in checks
and the men have to get money the same night to buy things for Sunday,
and the saloons cash checks by thousands. You have to take one drink
to have the check cashed. It is hard to take one drink.
The union is doing
another good thing. It is combining all the nationalities. The night
I joined the Cattle Butchers Union I was led into the room by a negro
member. With me were Bohemians, Germans and Poles, and Mike Donnelly,
the President, is an Irishman. He spoke to us in English and then three
interpreters told us what he said. We swore to be loyal to our union
above everything else except the country, the city and the State--to
be faithful to each other--to protect the women workers--to do our best
to understand the history of the labor movement, and to do all we could
to help it on. Since then I have gone there every two weeks and I help
the movement by being an interpreter for the other Lithuanians who come
in. That is why I have learned to speak and write good English. The
others do not need me long. They soon learn English, too, and when they
have done that they are quickly becoming Americans.
But the best thing
the union does is to make me feel more independent. I do not have to
pay to get a job and I cannot be discharged unless I am no good. For
almost the whole 30,000 men and women are organized now in some one
of our unions and they all are directed by our central council. No man
knows what it means to be sure of his job unless he has been fired like
I was once without any reason being given.
So this is why I
joined the labor union. There are many better stories than mine, for
my story is very common. There are thousands of immigrants like me.
Over 300,000 immigrants have been organized in the last three years
by the American Federation of Labor. The immigrants are glad to be organized
if the leaders are as honest as Mike Donnelly is. You must get money
to live well, and to get money you must combine. I cannot bargain alone
with the Meat Trust. I tried it and it does not work.
Good-by to you, my Fatherland.
Sorrowful in my heart I leave you,
I know not who will stay to guard you.
Is it enough for me to live and enjoy between my neighbors,
In the woods with the flowers and birds?
Is it enough for me to live peaceful between my friends?
No, I must go away from my old father and mother.
The sun shines bright,
The flowers smell sweet,
The birds are singing,
They make the country glad;
But I cannot sing because I must leave you."
My young brother
came over three weeks ago, to escape being sent out to fight in Japan.
I tried to have my father come, too, but he was too old. I wish that
ugly little shoemaker would come. He would make a good walking delegate.
1. Why did the
Lithuanian decide to migrate to the United States? What kinds of problems
did he want to leave behind?
2. Once the narrator
arrived, what new problems did he have to face? How did he find a
place to live and get a job?
3. How does the
narrator address the issue of cultural assimilation? How did he try
to fit himself into American society?
4. To what extent
did the Lithuanian discover that the United States was a land of opportunity?
Independent (New York), 4 August 1904, pp.
numbers have been added, and the original pagination appears in brackets.