Antanas Kaztauskis,
"From Lithuania to the Chicago Stockyards--An Autobiography"
1904

Ernest 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


[Last 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. --Editor]

1
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.
2
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.
3
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.
4
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!"
5
"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?"
6
"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 to America!"
7
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 [242] 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?"
8
At this my father spit hard again into the fire and puffed his pipe fast.
9
"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.
10
"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."
11
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."
12
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!"
13
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?"
14
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.
15
"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 [243] 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!"
16
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:
17
"'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.'"
18
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 want."
19
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.
20
"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.
21
"I am old," he said, "I wish I was young. And you must be old soon and [243] that will be too late. The army--the man wolves! Bah! it is terrible."
22
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.
23
"Alexandria is 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.
24
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 [244] 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.
25
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.
26
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.
27
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.
28
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.
29
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 [245] 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.
30
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."
31
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."
32
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.
33
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.
34
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.
35
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.
36
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." [246] 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.
37
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 night.
38
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.
39
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.
40
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 [247] 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:
"Oh, Lithuania, so dear to me,
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."
41
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.
42
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.
43
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."
44
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.
45
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 of good.
46
It has raised my wages. The man who worked at my job before the union came [248] 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.
47
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.
48
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.
49
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.
50
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.
51
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.
52
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.
53
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.
54
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.
55

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.


Discussion Questions:

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?

Source: The Independent (New York), 4 August 1904, pp. 241-8. Paragraph numbers have been added, and the original pagination appears in brackets.

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Revised February 2004