Wednesday, December 28, 2011

More On Sister Carrie

I'm continuing reading Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, that I'd begun writing about in my entry of December 22nd 2011.

Although Caroline Meeber (Carrie) had found a job on an assembly line at $4.50 a week - which didn't seem bad at first sight - it didn't go far because her sister Minnie and husband Sven, in whose flat Carrie was staying, wanted $4.00 a week rent. This left fifty cents, which, even in 1889, probably wasn't much.

Carrie's job didn't last long because, not able to afford warm clothes, she soon caught a chill and had to stay home. In those days, in 1889, not many workers belonged to unions, and Carrie didn't. So if you got sick even for a few days, that usually meant the end of your job.

Today it's fashionable to bash unions, and to say that workers who belong to them are lazy bums. But the things today taken for granted in the workplace, like sick-leave, annual leave, statutory minimum wage, maximum working hours, overtime pay, workplace health and safety, and all of that, were all won by unions. But for unions, nothing would have changed.

When well again, Carrie looked for another job, but after four days wasn't able to find one. When asking for work, she would say, "Do you need any help?" or "I'm looking for something to do?" or "I want to know if I can get a position?"

Do young job-seekers today say the same things?

On the fourth day of looking for work, Carrie bumped into Charles Drouet, the travelling salesman and man-about-town whom she'd got into conversation with on the train-journey to Chicago. Charles was glad to see her, and stood her to lunch in a posh restaurant.

I'll continue this another time..........

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