This film is set during World War One and its purpose is to show the dynamics at work in the Chicago stockyards at the time of great labor unrest. In the slaughterhouses, cattle are killed and butchered to produce meat products. These places were dangerous because of the machinery, the sharp knives and saws, and the lack of proper sanitation.
There have been men who fought hard to organize labor unions to protect workers from these and other conditions which made their workplaces unsafe. Historically, unions have also fought hard to increase pay for workers, often resulting in conflict between workers and management. Despite the dangers inherent in the work itself as well as the tensions within the companies, many African-Americans sought out these relatively well-paying jobs.
Topics addressed in the film are the organization of labor unions, the interaction between ethnic groups, the “invisible” lines which separated and segregated Chicago’s neighborhoods, and the life many African-Americans endured once they had made the move north to Chicago. The film begins as two men travel to Chicago in hopes of finding profitable jobs and affordable housing. Both men find jobs in the stockyards where they observe poor working conditions and poor race relationships among the various ethnic groups. One character, Frank Custer, has a family that he leaves behind in the South until he can establish himself. His friend is a single man who has dreams and high hopes for Chicago, but constantly criticizes and complains about the practices in the stockyards. By the middle of the film, Frank has brought his family North while his friend has joined the Army to fight in World War One. Frank joins with friends in the workplace to organize labor unions. These organizers undergo great criticism and judgment by workers who object to the unions. By the end of the film, Frank has realized the fight for the unions is not worth the pressure and his friend has returned from the war. Both men realize that conditions in the workplace have worsened because of competition with the war veterans to get jobs and the failure of the unions to solidify their strength among the workers.
My purpose for using this film is that it demonstrates the sharp contrast between hopes and dreams for Chicago, and reality in Chicago for African-Americans. As many African-Americans desired to provide better lives for their families, they suffered through similar situations they had encountered in the South. This film will allow the student to determine if migrants to the North found what they had hoped and dreamed for in Chicago.